"Awesome! Totally Awesome!" Cameron Crowe's true story about high schoolers living it up in early 80's California. Is the new special edition DVD worth upgrading to? Find out.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
Directors: Amy Heckerling
Producers: Art Linson and Irving Azoff
Writers: Cameron Crowe (book and screenplay)
Features: * 5.1 and DTS Surround * Commentary * Fast Times Documentary * Ridgemont Video Map * Music Highlights * Production Notes * Trailers * Classic Quotes
Jeff Spicoli...Sean Penn
Stacy Hamilton...Jennifer Jason Leigh
Brad Hamilton...Judge Reinhold
Mike Damone...Robert Romanus
Mark 'Rat' Ratner...Brian Backer
Linda Barrett...Phoebe Cates
Mr. Hand...Ray Walston
A few years after finishing school, writer Cameron Crowe started to wonder how high school had evolved. He decided to find out. Posing as a high school student, Cameron went back to school and began to observe the new generation. What he discovered, he published in a book that, to this day, is often considered the best portrayal early 80’s, California high school culture.
Not long after the book was published, Crowe was hired to adapt his book into a feature film. Amy Heckerling was brought on board to direct. A top notch cast of cool up-and-comers was brought on board and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” was born. “Fast Times” became an immediate critical and box office success.
Virtually everyone involved became huge stars, especially Academy Award winner Sean Penn, whose scene stealing surfer dude, Spicoli, was enormously popular. Today the surfer dude imitation is so cliché people can’t even remember where it came from.
After a few years on video shelves, the success of “Fast Times” spawned a television series featuring some of the film’s cast. This show premiered in 1986, but didn’t garner nearly the audience the film once had. Unfortunately, that show would only last a mere seven episodes. Many critics, however, consider “Fast Times” to be among the greatest high school shows of the 80’s.
Many have suggested that “Fast Times” success was mainly fueled by its soundtrack presale. Released a few weeks before the film, fans of bands like The Go-Go’s and Oingo Boingo traveled out in drones to pick up the latest hits and, as a result, traveled in drones to see the film.
“Fast Times” is not a perfect film. In fact, it’s very flawed. Heckerling is a great director, but she often can’t find a balance between drama and ‘durpy’ or silly humor. Rather than taking the film in a natural direction, she balances the issue of abortion with a zany Spicoli moment to even the playing field.
Oddly enough, Heckerling also has a problem with gratuitous nudity. Often she focuses on the female body as though she’s making a softcore Cinemax after dark film. It’s very strange considering she’s a female herself.
Despite its flaws though, “Fast Times” is one the greatest portrayals of early 80’s culture we have. The film is like a time capsule, taking us to a place most of us have either forgotten or want to forget.
I’m hoping that Cameron Crowe returns to this film some day. A remake or even a sequel would be fantastic. It would be easy to return to high school and make new observations. Crowe’s writing style seems to only fit his own filmmaking style. I’m glad “Almost Famous” was not made after “Fast Times” (it nearly was too). Crowe should keep his personal stories, well, personal.
Using the same transfer from the previous disc, Fast Times has never looked so good. Now, that’s not to say that the film isn’t without its flaws. Shot in the early 80’s, Fast Times is a very gritty and drab looking film and the transfer tries it’s best to make the film look bright and colorful, but you can only polish something so long. Color is dead on. Black levels look perfect. A decent transfer. I’m guessing a remaster would not have improved the film in any way.
Originally presented in 2.0 Mono, now “Fast Times” features a new Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track as well as a brand new DTS 5.1 Surround track. I was excited that Universal finally decided to remaster this cult legend, but the result is less than stellar. The film still sounds like it’s in mono. I really don’t like it when tracks boast that they’re in 5.1, but the mono track is merely transferred into a 5.1 field with no separation to speak of. I heard virtually no rear surround use at all. Disappointing. Neither the DTS of the Dolby Digital sounded very good.
A French 2.0 Mono track is included in addition to Spanish and French subtitles. English captions are also available.
Most, if not all, of the extras are ported over from Universal’s previous release. Fans will undoubtedly be very angered by this as there are nearly 15 minutes of deleted scenes still missing from this disc. Oddly enough, several of the production stills used for the film’s inner booklet feature those deleted scenes. It’s as though Universal is toying with the film’s many fans. Most of the deleted scenes can be seen during the edited television cut. This version deletes all of the film’s nudity.
Most of the bits include more Spicoli moments as he was the most popular character at the time. Director Amy Heckerling has been outspoken about her distaste of these scenes, but not to include them is just unfair to those of us who know about the scenes and like the scenes. Why not include them and offer a commentary about why you hate them? We’re not asking for a fan cut of “Fast Times” here. We’re just collectors and we want what we know exists.
You can read about the deleted scenes at the IMDB's alternate versions page.
Even though there aren’t any new features added to this disc, the special features are still top notch.
First up, we can access some of the more famous Spicoli and other funny quotes in the ‘Classic Quotes’ section. This feature can be accessed by clicking on the two feet at the top of the various menus. I suppose this is an ‘Easter egg’ of sorts but since all the quotes are spliced throughout the other menus; it’s not much of a find.
The best feature we are presented with is the ‘Scene-Specific Audio Commentary’ from director Amy Heckerling and writer Cameron Crowe. This commentary is phenomenal. It’s awesome to hear Cameron Crowe talk about his experiences traveling back to high school. Cameron Crowe is one of my favorite directors and his commentaries are always worth a listen. He and Amy work very well together as they compare and contrast the book to the film. An interesting listen for hardcore and casual fans of the film.
The second best feature, ‘Reliving our Fast Times at Ridgemont High’, is a cool forty minute documentary featuring the cast and crew of Fast Times as they reminisce about shooting the film. Thankfully, Sean Penn is included despite his hatred of the Spicoli character, but missing are the film’s two female leads. What the hell is Phoebe Cates so busy with that she can’t talk about the film that made her a star? And Jennifer Jason Leigh—where are you? A side from its flaws, this is a very worth while view.
Next up, we have the ‘Ridgemont Interactive Video Map’. Here you can explore Ridgemont’s more popular hangouts. An interesting, if not redundant special feature.
‘Production Notes’ is an insightful press book, detailing the making of the film. Universal very rarely includes this feature these days so it’s nice to see it make a glorious return as there is usually a wealth of information presented in this section.
‘Musical Highlights’, a feature similar Classic Quotes, takes you to film’s more popular songs.
Cast and Crew Highlights merely points out who’s in the film and who directed it. This was one of the early special features that DVDs included in the late 90s, but would later drop because they were rather pointless.
Finally, we are treated to the film’s theatrical trailer as well as a few trailers for upcoming Universal titles. A Vans commercial is also accessible at the top the film’s main menu.
“Fast Times” can also be found in an ‘Ultimate Party Pack’ along with “Dazed and Confused”. Retail on the two disc set is $27.98.
While I wish this film would be remade, the original is still a classic. For those who already have the original special edition, you needn’t bother picking this version up. If you’re new to “Fast Times”, sit back and enjoy the ride. And remember, if you’re on a date and you want to set the mood, try Led Zeppelin IV. You won’t be disappointed.
As entertainment: * * *
As a film: * * *
Overall: * * *
* List Price: $19.98
* Available on DVD November 2nd 2004.
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----R. L. Shaffer