Scorsese fans, rejoice! After Hours debuts on both 4K UHD and Blu-ray at long last, and Criterion's superior release of this beloved black comedy is well worth the interminable wait. A brand-new digital transfer with Dolby Vision HDR approved by editor Thelma Schoonmaker, remastered lossless audio, and a high-quality supplemental package make this the definitive home video edition of Scorsese's rollercoaster film that charts a hapless Yuppie's hellish descent into the bowels of Manhattan. Frenetic, funny, and occasionally frightening, After Hours is vintage Scorsese and it comes very Highly Recommended.
"You're sitting in a Manhattan diner reading The Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, minding your own business, trying to forget your lonely existence and the 9-to-5 job you hate. The young woman at the next table happens to comment on the book in a favorable manner and you strike up a conversation. She's pretty and nice and seems vaguely intellectual...a refreshing change from the self-absorbed airheads you usually date. She gives you her phone number. You call her...and why not? This could be it, you know, the big affair, the one with violins and fireworks, Miss Right. And if not, you might at least get laid, which hasn't happened in a while either. She invites you over for a late-night date. So what if she lives in Lower Manhattan? You're fed up with the Yuppie-infested, oh-so-safe Upper East Side. You go.
What a big mistake."
That's how 22-year-old me began my review of After Hours way back in 1985 upon its original theatrical release. At the time, I was a staff writer for a now-defunct weekly newspaper in Fairfield County, Connecticut, and like many young film nerds, harbored hopes of becoming the next Siskel or Ebert. I was a huge Martin Scorsese fan (still am) and fell hook, line, and sinker for the movie's edgy vibe and darkly comic, nightmarish scenario. Fast forward to 2023 and the release of Criterion's 4K UHD After Hours disc, which prompted me to leaf through my files and unearth the above journalistic relic just to see if that 22-year-old's opinion of a 38-year-old movie even remotely resembled what 60-year-old me thinks of it today.
I'm happy to report my enthusiasm for After Hours hasn't waned, nor has my esteem for Scorsese's wild and crazy, paranoiac chronicle of a straight-arrow, white-collar Yuppie's walk on the Big Apple's wild side. Though it may not be quite as funny or frightening as it was back in the day, After Hours still strikes chords and nerves and engenders plenty of laughs within its farcical framework.
Dated? What movie from the ‘80s about the ‘80s isn’t? Amazingly, as we watch the actors type on word processors powered by MS-DOS, manipulate the maze of switches on an archaic cable box, and talk on rotary phones with squiggly cords, this once hip comedy even feels a little quaint. Remember when Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood was a grimy urban wilderness littered with trash and packed with cavernous lofts that rented for a song and housed a host of counter-culture bohemians? That SoHo doesn’t exist today (it quickly morphed into one of the city’s ritziest areas), but seeing the quirky characters navigate the rough terrain evokes a cozy sense of nostalgia.
That terrain is especially rough for everyman Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne), who becomes the quintessential fish out of water and stranger in a strange land when he ventures downtown at precisely 11:32 p.m. on a rainy weekday night. Much like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (Joseph Minion litters his script with references to the 1939 classic), Paul yearns for adventure and excitement, but instead of a tornado transporting him over the rainbow, a whirlwind cab ride at warp speed whisks him south of Houston Street and deposits him in a barren wasteland populated by characters just as kooky as the Munchkins. The change of scenery initially stimulates Paul, but after he's blindsided by a series of unfortunate events that plunge him into a maddening labyrinth, he realizes there's no place like home.
Getting back to the boring, safe, comfy confines of the Upper East Side, however, isn't so easy. Clicking his heels isn't an option, and because he barely has a nickel to his name (his last bit of cash flew out the cab window), he can't take a taxi, bus, or subway, As his hellish night continues to spiral out of control, Paul, who ultimately becomes the target of a rabid vigilante mob, begins to wonder if he'll survive until dawn. (Of course, he could have just given SoHo the middle finger early on and walked home, but then we wouldn't have such a great movie.)
After Hours gave Scorsese a chance to blow off some steam and reinvent himself after The King of Comedy flopped at the box office and Paramount pulled the plug on his first attempt to produce The Last Temptation of Christ. Returning to his Taxi Driver and Mean Streets roots, but with a maniacally comic twist, he thrusts us into New York's underbelly and takes us on a fast, furious, and frenetic ride filled with U-turns, dead ends, and potholes galore. The movie seethes with a kinetic energy and infectious sense of the absurd as Scorsese deftly captures the city's erratic pulse, eccentric population, and creepy nocturnal atmosphere. Just like New Yorkers brush up against countless oddballs on the street every day, After Hours provides fleeting glimpses of numerous randos, all of whom pique our interest during their brief time on screen.
In addition to Marcy (Rosanna Arquette), the dream girl who turns Paul's life into a nightmare, there's her kinky artist roommate Kiki (Linda Fiorentino); her seemingly normal ex-boyfriend Tom (John Heard), who tends bar in a local dive; ditzy cocktail waitress Julie (Teri Garr), who wears go-go boots and dons a beehive hairstyle; loudmouth, militant Gail (Catherine O'Hara), who drives a Mr. Softee ice cream truck and spearheads an angry mob; middle-aged cougar June (Verna Bloom), who lives below a punk rock nightclub and barely utters a word; and Mark (Robert Plunket), a quiet man ripe for his first gay experience.
Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong milk some laughs as a couple of burglars, a young Bronson Pinchot crops up in the opening scene as a new hire in Paul's office, and even Scorsese himself enjoys a cameo as a lighting guy in the punk club. All the actors nail their parts, but it's especially fun to see Heard and O'Hara playing such radical, out-there characters with the knowledge that just seven years later they would trade the trendy, urban neighborhood of SoHo for the upper-middle-class affluence of suburban Chicago and portray the most mainstream parents imaginable in Home Alone.
Paul is the glue that holds After Hours together and Dunne's Austin Pendleton-like charm makes him a likable hero. It's tough to play a stereotypical "nice guy," but Dunne mixes the inherent banality of the role with several interesting tics that help us identify with Paul and allow us to feel his confusion, frustration, desperation, and exasperation. Not a single thing goes right for this lonely guy whose only crime is craving an elusive meaningful connection in a cold, unforgiving concrete jungle, and though we laugh at the forces conspiring against him, the fools he must suffer, the messes in which he gets embroiled, and the obstacles he must overcome, he earns our sympathy, too.
Scorsese has helmed a couple of pictures with hilarious overtones (The King of Comedy and The Wolf of Wall Street instantly spring to mind), but After Hours is arguably his only real foray into comedy, and his very Scorsese-like take on the genre helps the film stand out. His high-strung style keeps us off-kilter and uneasy throughout, as he dresses up the narrative with thriller/film noir accents. Scorsese crafts Paul's psychedelic nightmare as both disjointed and cohesive, relatable and obscure, realistic and fantastic...and sprinkles in loads of weird, head-scratching accents. Like Paul, we're exhausted at the end, but Scorsese makes sure this journey is also exhilarating, at least from a cinematic standpoint.
After Hours isn't a film to analyze (it doesn't hold together very well when scrutinized too closely); you just gotta buckle up and enjoy the ride. It's always irked me that this Scorsese gem hasn't gotten as much respect as it deserves over the years (it hasn't even had a Blu-ray release until now), but both 22-year-old me and 60-year-old me hope this Criterion edition will expose this singular Scorsese film to new audiences and inspire old ones to rediscover it.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
After Hours arrives on 4K UHD and Blu-ray packaged in a standard Criterion case. The two-disc set includes both 4K UHD and 1080p Blu-ray discs, as well as a 12-page fold-out booklet that features an essay by film critic Sheila O'Malley, cast and crew listings, transfer notes, and both photos and illustrations. Video codec on the 4K UHD disc is 2160p/HEVC H.265 with Dolby Vision HDR and audio is LPCM mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the full-motion menu with various clips of Griffin Dunne running around New York City immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
According to the liner notes, "Approved by editor Thelma Schoonmaker, this new digital transfer was created from the 35 mm original camera negative, which was scanned in 4K resolution on a Lasergraphics Director film scanner. Director Martin Scorsese's personal 35 mm print was used for color reference." The resulting 2160p/HEVC H.265 transfer with Dolby Vision HDR faithfully honors the naturalistic cinematography by Michael Ballhaus and exudes a lovely film-like feel. The enhanced resolution slightly magnifies the movie's grain structure, but that actually works to the story's advantage, lending it additional grit and a heightened urban vibe. Clarity and contrast are exceptional - no small feat, considering the film takes place almost entirely at night - and the dimensional picture flaunts palpable depth that lends the stark atmosphere greater impact. The driving rain, wet streets, and funky decor of the various interiors are all crystal clear, as are the close-ups that highlight Dunne's unibrow, hair follicles, and Arquette's fresh-faced complexion.
Though colors are true and the wider spectrum of Dolby Vision showcases the finer gradations of various hues, the muted palette that's baked into the film keeps the image from exhibiting the wow factor. And that's exactly as it should be. Nobody wants a glossy, lush After Hours, and thankfully Criterion doesn't give us one. Flesh tones are natural, shadow delineation is terrific, and not a single speck dots the pristine print. This is a spectacular presentation that will thrill fans who have waited what seems like forever for a high-def edition of this Scorsese gem.
The 1080p Blu-ray looks strikingly similar to its 4K UHD counterpart, especially when upscaled. The picture appears smoother and flatter, but the clarity, contrast, and shadow delineation are not compromised. Colors are duller, but only marginally so. If you don't yet have 4K capability, you'll still be pleased as punch with the Blu-ray rendering.
The liner notes state, "The original monaural soundtrack was remastered from the magnetic track." The audio is surprisingly strong and adds plenty of atmosphere to the action. A wide dynamic scale handles all the highs and lows of Howard Shore's music score and the eclectic array of pop, punk, and classic songs without any distortion, while strong bass frequencies deliver necessary impact during key scenes. The innovative ticking sounds that punctuate Shore's score are wonderfully crisp, as are other sonic accents like thunder, screeching tires, and driving rain. All the dialogue is clear and easy to comprehend and no surface noise mars this well-balanced, vibrant mix.
Criterion supplies a hefty supplemental package to honor this Scorsese film.
Audio Commentary - This informative but rather sedate commentary from 2004 features remarks from Scorsese, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, director of photography Michael Ballhaus, actor and producer Griffin Dunne, and producer Amy Robinson. (All the participants were recorded separately.) Scorsese reflects on the changing face of the film industry at the time he embarked on After Hours and how the project presented itself at a pivotal point in his career; Ballhaus calls After Hours "one of the most important movies in my career in the United States" and compares the working method of Scorsese with that of his mentor Werner Fassbinder; Dunne and Robinson share how they became involved in After Hours; and Schoonmaker talks about the difficult editing process and removal of many fine scenes. Other topics include casting, the construction of several shots, New York City's nocturnal atmosphere, and the on-set camaraderie. Newly recorded comments from Dunne and Robinson play over the closing credits.
"After Hours: Fran Lebowitz Talks with Martin Scorsese" (HD, 20 minutes) - The director sits down with the renowned author and New Yorker to chat about the genesis of After Hours, the sense of freedom he felt directing the film, living in Lower Manhattan in the '80s, and crazy New York cab drivers. They also analyze Paul's character, praise the ensemble cast, and talk about the film's staying power in this lively 2023 piece.
Featurette: "Filming for Your Life: Making of After Hours" (SD, 19 minutes) - This breezy 2003 featurette includes interviews with Dunne, Robinson, and Schoonmaker and covers how Dunne and Robinson got Scorsese involved in the project, the fast-paced production schedule, the film's nightmarish tone, the execution of one particularly dangerous shot, and the search for a suitable ending.
Featurette: "The Look of After Hours" (HD, 18 minutes) - Film clips, production stills, and After Hours "ephemera" underscore 2023 audio interviews with costume designer Rita Ryack and production designer Jeffrey Townsend, who discuss the film's distinct look and array of fashions. Both reveal interesting tidbits about various sets and outfits.
Deleted Scenes (SD, 8 minutes) - Seven excised scenes are included and most were well left on the cutting room floor. The best one is the first one, which showcases Catherine O'Hara's comic brilliance.
Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2 minutes) - The film's original preview completes the extras package.
Thirty-eight years later, After Hours remains a rollicking, quirky, and very cool black comedy, and it's debut on both 4K UHD and standard Blu-ray is long overdue. Director Martin Scorsese's breathless chronicle of a Yuppie's hellish misadventures in Lower Manhattan one dark and stormy night has lost some of its edge over time, but still perfectly captures the vibe of New York City in the '80s. Criterion's brand-new transfers struck from the original camera negative bring the location to life like never before and the strong audio and nice array of supplements add luster to this very welcome release. Highly Recommended.