American Graffiti - 4K Ultra HD Blu-rayOverview -
Before Lightsabers and Death Stars, George Lucas made the quintessential coming-of-age slice of Americana with American Graffiti. Cruising onto 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, the film sadly has been subjected to some DNR revisions making its standing as a better home video release another frustrating debate for longtime fans hoping to celebrate this film’s 50th Anniversary in style. It's still a wonderful film, but this disc might not be what everyone wanted to see. Worth A Look
From director George Lucas (Star Wars) and producer Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather), American Graffiti is a classic coming-of-age story set against the 1960s backdrop of hot rods, drive-ins and rock 'n' roll. Starring Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Harrison Ford, Cindy Williams, Mackenzie Phillips and Suzanne Somers in their breakout roles, this nostalgic look back follows a group of teenagers as they cruise the streets on their last summer night before college. Nominated for five Academy Awards®, including Best Picture and Best Director, American Graffiti features the howling sounds of Wolfman Jack and an unforgettable soundtrack with songs by Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys and Bill Haley & His Comets.
- The Making of American Graffiti
- Screen Tests
- Theatrical Trailer
- Feature Commentary with Director George Lucas
- U-Control: Video Commentary with Director George Lucas
- U-Control: The Music of American Graffiti
- My Scenes
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
There once was a time when George Lucas was a struggling up-and-coming filmmaker. He wasn’t always the multi-billionaire with a space opera empire. There was a time when he made a small film about everyday people, kids facing the prospect of growing up, and maybe never seeing their friends again. The film was a hit earning five Oscar nominations including Best Director and Best Picture. It was called American Graffiti and Lucas never made another movie like it.
Curt (Richard Dreyfuss) and Steve (Ron Howard) are enjoying their last night in town before they fly off to college. Or at least that’s the plan. While Curt is having second thoughts about going, Steve is set on breaking up with his girl Laurie (Cindy Williams) and giving their pal Toad (Charles Martin Smith) the tall task of caring for his car. Meanwhile, motorhead racer John (Paul La Mat) faces some new competition with newcomer Bob Falfa (Harrison Ford). As Wolfman Jack spins the tunes on the radio, the friends will face the reckoning of growing up and leaving the life and town they knew and loved behind.
Growing up with a movie, it's tough to judge it without wearing nostalgic goggles. A favorite film of my parents, I saw American Graffiti more times than I can count. Similar to the numerous childhood viewings of Conan: The Barbarian, I have a tough time being objective with George Lucas’ second feature film. As a kid I loved the cars and the music was like a greatest hits collection of my Dad’s album collection. Once I hit my teens, I started to connect with the characters as their priorities changed and friendships frayed. As an adult, I still hold those feelings, but I’m not completely blind to the film’s overly sentimental nostalgic trappings. The film meanders around a lot and can feel aimless for long stretches. Points of character conflict are easily resolved as they cruise from one car ride to the next. It could be argued that if you took away the cars and the music there really wouldn’t be much of a film. I can see that point, but I like the film anyway. It's just a nice show to sit back and relax to.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
American Graffiti rolls onto 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray in a two-seater set plus digital from Universal. Pressed on a BD-100 disc with the same old BD-50 filling in for 1080p, the discs are housed in a two-disc case with identical slipcover.
If you saw how George fiddled and wriggled around with his Star Wars films on 4K, you have an idea of what to expect here. To be fair, there are moments where it’s absolutely beautiful watching those classic cars cruise around town with the bright bold '60s color pallet. Then there are many, many areas where the smoothing and noise reduction is so egregious it’s difficult to look at. But then, the old Blu-ray (which was recycled for this set) wasn’t much of a peach to look at either.
The worst offenses are most noticeable when you have a lot of characters in closeup. Faces, clothing, hair - they’re lacking anything resembling a clean line. At times faces don’t have any textures and hair can look like plastic-fabricated lumps. In these moments the fine film grain is almost completely gone. But because there are numerous scenes with a lot of character faces in the frame, you get plenty of time to absorb and digest this frustration. On the other side, when smoothing isn’t nearly as severe, it can look better than ever! Namely, these moments are reserved for the cruising scenes letting you appreciate all of Detroit’s finest gleaming in the neon light with a high polish. Film grain makes a welcome return and can actually look genuinely like a film! But then the next shot it can all disappear. One shot to the next it can vacillate like that.
HDR is the main bright spot of this release. Primaries look terrific letting you appreciate every striking red, icy blue, and bright yellow piece of vintage motor carriage. Flesh tones are nice and healthy without looking peached or sickly. Black levels are nice and inky without the serious crush issues of the old Blu-ray. Whites are nice and crisp. While you can argue that it looks better than the old Blu-ray, it’s still a very problematic transfer.
On the audio side, American Graffiti rolls into town with the previous alright-ish DTS-HD MA 2.0 track and an also alright-ish new DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix. The older 2.0 track, more or less, was content with checking off the boxes. Dialog was decently captured, sound effects were adequate, and the use of early 60s rock tunes filled in the gaps. That’s basically what you’re getting but in 5.1. The music is moved into the sides and rears giving the front/center the full breadth of dialog - which can sound a bit loud at times. Kind of like when you’re talking close to someone at a party and they feel like they have to talk over the music when there isn’t any music so you have to take a step back. I felt like I kept having to take a step back, but in this case with my volume button. Like the video, the cruising scenes sound the best with car engines, horns, and great tunes weaving in and out of the soundscape. Not a terrible track by any stretch but not an amazing one either.
On the bonus features front, we have a collection of archival extras that cropped up in past releases. Thankfully they’re on the 4K disc itself so no need to throw in that old Blu-ray just to enjoy the audio commentary.
- Audio Commentary featuring George Lucas
- The Making of American Graffiti (SD 1:18:11)
- Screen Tests (HD 22:55)
- Theatrical Trailer
It might not be a favorite for everyone, but I have a soft spot for American Graffiti. With a great young cast of up-and-coming actors, amazing music, and some of the flashiest cars ever to roll out of the Motor City, the film is still a classic fifty years later. Sadly fans hoping for the definitive full-body restoration will have to settle for a better but still problematic release. Too much smoothing knocks down an otherwise lovely HDR transfer and the new 5.1 audio mix is alright but it’s not exactly a revelation either. Throw in archival extras without any kind of new cast/crew retrospective to celebrate this film’s 50th, and you have another debatable release of a George Lucas film on disc. It’s not altogether terrible, but I can’t quite celebrate it either. Worth A Look
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