After experiencing the enhanced image and audio of these two party classics, Judge Dennis Prince realized it was high time he finally upgraded his bong.
Our reviews of Dazed and Confused (Blu-ray) (published August 1st, 2011), Dazed and Confused (Blu-ray) Criterion Collection (published October 25th, 2011), Dazed And Confused: Criterion Collection (published May 29th, 2006), Fast Times At Ridgemont High (published December 9th, 1999), and Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Blu-ray) (published August 9th, 2011) are also available.
"All I'm sayin' is that if I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself."—Randall "Pink" Floyd
"Hey bud, let's party!"—Jeff Spicoli
In case you ever doubted whether you'd be able to recount those teen adventures of a misspent youth—recollections fuzzy and nondescript thanks to a cloud of 420 haze or a keg of Burgie—dive in to this new "Ultimate Party Collection," a tempting two-pack featuring 1982's Fast Times at Ridgemont High and 1993's Dazed and Confused. Upon spinning the disc appropriate to your glory days decade, I guarantee your mind will go whizzing back to a time when careers and politics and upward mobility were meaningless concepts that had no impact on your decision-making processes; all that mattered is whether you could drink it or smoke it, and where you might find more.
Whoa, head rush.
If your happy, hazy, horny days spanned the capitalistically indulgent decade of the 1980s, slip Fast Times at Ridgemont High into your DVD tray and take a trip to the Sherman Oaks Galleria. There, you'll meet up with Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the proverbial good little girl who works at Perry's Pizza and is eager for a pepperoni passion of a different sort. Friend Linda Barrett (Phoebe Cates) is eager to see Stacy pop her ch…cherub disposition, but is caught up in her own promiscuous preoccupations. Mark Ratner (Brian Backer) is the awkward movie theater usher from across the concourse who'd love to service Stacy's desires if he could only muster up the courage, find his wallet, and keep that new pimple from erupting at precisely the wrong time. Mike Damone (Robert Romanus), on the other hand, seems to have the world knocking at his door, thanks to his enviable mastery of "The Attitude." Stacy's brother Brad (Judge Reinhold) is a man with a plan, certain to be the next manager of Bronco Burger. Incurable stoner Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) is only concerned about his next bud, his next wave, and his next pair of Vans. Ridgemont's American History teacher (and perpetual foil to Spicoli) is Mr. Hand (Ray Walston), whose greatest achievement would be to figure out why teenagers these days are so caught up in sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll.
"What are you people—on dope?!"
Fast Times at Ridgemont High is an open-ended adventure into the lives, loves, and lost opportunities of high school students. Writer Cameron Crowe actually infiltrated a high school in suburban San Diego, posing as a student and chronicling the lives of the kids around him. After publishing the book version of "Fast Times," Universal Pictures and director Amy Heckerling put his exploits on the big screen. Released in August 1982, the film went on to be a top draw at megaplexes and mall theaters across the nation. The film would gross almost $30 million and would remain a first-run theatrical attraction into the first quarter of 1983. Most notable to many in hindsight, this was the picture that would establish Sean Penn as a legitimate box-office star. Although he would only portray a stoned and unseemly character like Jeff Spicoli once, he's still largely identified with the pot-smoking, checkered-Vans wearing party bud that became the role model for every beleaguered teen struggling with an identity crisis. Schoolrooms across the country were soon afflicted with Sex Wax-shirted, "Hey, I know that dude" drawling wannabes eager to earn a bit of the same attention as Penn's character. Lame attempts all.
If, on the other hand, you were a teenage thing in the decade prior, then Richard Linklater's 1993 masterpiece Dazed and Confused is what you should pack into your bowl…er…DVD tray. Clearly the superior feature of this two-pack, Linklater's film chronicles the last day of school, 1976, and the city-wide partying that ensues. You'll meet the jocks, Randall 'Pink' Floyd (Jason London), Don Dawson (Sasha Jenson), and Benny O'Donnell (Cole Hauser). They're eager to bust some cherry Freshman ass, an annual ritual that targets graduating eighth-graders Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins), Carl Burnett (Esteban Powell), Tommy Houston (Mark Vandermeulen), and John Hirschfelder (Jeremy Fox). As luck would have it, these unwary underclassmen will also have to weather the wrath of Senior flunk-out Fred O'Bannion (Ben Affleck). After the painful ass-paddling has ended, Pink and the gang are eager to party down with party host Kevin Pickford (Shawn Andrews) and the perpetually drug-induced Ron Slater (Rory Cochrane). It's not just a boys' night out, though, as Jodi Kramer (Michelle Burke), Simone Kerr (Joey Lauren Adams), and Darla Marks (Parker Posey) are eager to partake, too, after an afternoon of humiliating the incoming "Freshman bitches." Former graduate David Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey) hangs with the gang to enjoy the tempting batch of new Freshman ladies. Tag along as the classmates party, shoot pool, and scale the light tower in search of something more meaningful that what the 1970s have to offer.
"The Fifties were boring, the Sixties rocked, the Seventies—oh my God—they obviously suck, right? Maybe the Eighties will be radical, y'know. I figure we'll be in our twenties and, hey, it can't get any worse."
Dazed and Confused is an absolute slice of Heaven, a prescient masterpiece that went practically unnoticed upon its release in September 1993, going up against the likes of Fatal Instinct and Look Who's Talking Now. Grossing a mere $7 million during its six-month stint in movie houses, the film appeared to be an unmitigated bomb, a nostalgic romp that had absolutely no appeal to moviegoers of the '90s, emerging as a sleeper hit, a cult classic buoyed by a rabid fan following in the home video market. While writer and director Linklater (the same fellow responsible for Slacker and The School of Rock) seems to dismiss the 1970s as a turgid time in history (as he tells it in the film's companion book, now out of print), the picture itself arguably betrays a begrudged affection for the laid-back era of acid rock, muscle cars, and conspicuous cannabis consumption. Not only is the film overflowing with accurate pop culture references that will make you smile—everything from Pee-Chee folders, Wacky Packages, and those sexy Dittos hip-huggers—but it also presents accurately referenced characters who embody the look, style, and attitude of teens of the day. Not mere caricatures that would only offer extreme stereotypes of behavior and beliefs of the decade, but personalities that seem so real (and so excellently portrayed by every actor in the picture) you'll swear one or more of them sat next to you in homeroom. If you spent your formative years in the mid-Seventies, you simply must see this film. You'll be drawn in faster than you can flick your Bic.
Both of these films had been previously released by Universal Home Video, Fast Times in 1999 and Dazed and Confused the year prior. The promise of these new "ultimate" editions had party-hounds salivating at the sorts of goodness that would surely saturate these updated discs. Unfortunately, someone at Universal got a hold of some bad bud, because these new releases are hardly what I'd call "ultimate." Fast Times at Ridgemont simply tries to relight a dusted bowl by delivering the same anamorphic transfer and extra features as were available on the initial release (a review for which can be found here). The only differences are the new Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS audio tracks. These certainly outperform the 2.0 mono track of the previous disc but…ultimate? Probably not.
Dazed and Confused fares a bit better; it's presented in a newly mastered anamorphic transfer that's much crisper, much fresher, and much better than the prior release. The audio is also stoked up in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS tracks that, from the first strains of Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion," promise to surround you in aural ecstasy. Is it ultimate, though? F*** no, not with this bullsh*t Universal calls "extras." All you'll find on this "Flashback Edition" are some raw deleted scenes (nice though they are to see) followed by some completely junk educational films and public service announcements from the '70s. That's it! Now, rumor has it that Linklater wanted to lay down a commentary track and also include some material from the cast and crew reunion event, but Universal seemed more interested in meeting a targeted street date than in issuing a proper special edition. Hopes are Linklater will strike an agreement with Criterion to do the disc right. Incidentally, you'll struggle with four concurrent releases of these new discs: the individual films on separate full screen and widescreen discs, as well as the two-pack, encased in a dual-opening cardboard locker-like slipcase, also offered separately in full screen and widescreen versions. Seems that some peeps at Universal need to set the bong down and go sleep it off.
In all, while I enjoy both films (with my obvious preference being Dazed and Confused), the promise of an Ultimate Party Collection is a studio rip-off in a cheap cardboard wrapper. If you don't have either film, I suppose I'd recommend the set since it's rather reasonably priced, but if you're looking for a meaningful upgrade, I could only recommend Dazed and Confused as being the more worthwhile improvement. Of course, if we're lucky and Linklater ultimately releases the special edition he had envisioned, you might as well just roll a fatty and kick back with the headphones until it arrives.
Oh, did I mention the pervasive drug references in both films? I can't seem to remember.
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• Audio Commentary (Fast Times at Ridgemont High)
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• Deleted Scenes (Dazed and Confused)
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