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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Teens > Fast Times At Ridgemont High (HD-DVD/DVD Combo format)

Fast Times At Ridgemont High (HD-DVD/DVD Combo format)


Picture: B/B-     Sound: B     Extras: B-     Film: B-



Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982) is one of those hit films that was never good, always overrated and actually trivializes the 1980s as much as it always distracted from what was really going on at the time.  Later teen films like Donnie Darko (reviewed elsewhere on this site) got it right and Martha Coolidge’s Real Genius (1985) remains the best film form the period in the cycle.  However, it was this Cameron Crowe-penned film that was the bigger hit (his screenplay is based on his book) and the first problem is the incoherency of his young 1970s look at what we now call Classic Rock and Heckerling’s more Punk aesthetic.


The film stars Jennifer Jason Leigh as the young pizza maker who becomes involved in a love triangle that pits Matt (Robert Romanus) and Mark (Brian Becker) against each other despite being best friends.  She handles the relationships and sex very well to her credit, as well as interesting side characters including constantly job-switching Brad (Judge Reinhold, underrated in his comic timing here), Phoebe Cates, Forrest Whittaker, Eric Stoltz, James Russo, Anthony Edwards, a then-unknown Nicolas Cage, Ray Walston as the no-nonsense teacher and Sean Penn as the forerunner of spaced-out California Valley Guys as Jeff Spicoli.


The film has been singled out for favoring women because of its female director, but Crowe is the underlying author and intended or not, the film runs into interesting trouble about sexuality.  The quest to loose virginity (read becoming possibly gay) is more obviously so and using a Led Zeppelin song at that time was considered the kind of music only “straight” guys listened to because it was not weak (read gay) while the girls express sexual desires though dialogue and action that are extremely aimed at males only.  The message is, to some extent, that this is a gay-free movie zone.


There are barely even any comic gay characters, so in a time where it seems gay characters are thrown in just to be politically correct, is this the idea of a film that is about straight teens only and one anyone still wants?  Well, with the other aspects that work and the fact that the film was not trying to be political.  Thanks to Heckerling, the guys even have some vulnerable moments that do not scream homophobic, so any such results are limited by her at least.  How this extends to Crowe is not clear and reading his book would not necessarily give us an answer, though his later successes (Almost Famous and …Say Anything, still his best film) show otherwise and/or a maturing.  To say any more about the plot would spoil it, but there is more to see.


Some feel that this film is the beginning of the current cycle of teen films for better and worse, but it is more than a few times trying to knock-off from George Lucas’ American Graffiti (1973) all the way down to Judge Reinhold’s character having his hands on a vintage car.  One film with a more strongly male cast that came out closer to Heckerling’s film as responsible for contributing to the cycle is Barry Levinson’s Diner, released the same year as this film and covering the same decade as the Lucas classic.


Even worse, director Joel Schumacher’s badly written knock-off of Diner, 1985’s St. Elmo’s Fire, which gave us “The Brat Pack” and was the first film about the group known as Yuppies.  You really do not see them here, but they were on the rise in 1982.  Heckerling’s film is better than Schumacher’s, but it does not have the realism of Levinson’s film or the later rare realistic teen films like Scott Smith’s Roller Coaster (reviewed elsewhere on this site) and Larry Clark’s films (Kids, Wassup Rockers and especially Bully) that are not as popular because they are not as pandering.


Despite the things that do work and are interesting here, Fast Times At Ridgemont High ultimately is more about producing plastic pop culture than reflecting anything realistically, but we give the Heckering/Crowe team credit for being ambitious and it is obvious (especially as compared to Almost Famous and …Say Anything) not the film it could have been thanks to studio interference.  Too bad a new cut by Heckerling with her original song choices were not included.


The print is in decent shape for both versions in its original 1.85 X 1 aspect ratio, with the anamorphically enhanced standard DVD version not bad and the 1080p digital High Definition version being just a little better throughout.  Color is not bad, though the source can show its age.  Cinematographer Matthew F. Leonetti started as a cameraman for TV and that was perfect for an early 1980s mall movie, with this one literally set at one often.  Color is not bad, but nothing special.  At his best, he went on to work with director Walter Hill and more commercial fare like Weird Science and Commando.  His films always have a slightly prefabricated look to them and this is one of the standouts in that respect.


The monophonic sound has been upgraded to Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 for the HD-DVD side and DTS on the DVD side, which you can notice from the information coming more form the front channels and having only so much separation.  The best song is The Go Go’s We Got The Beat, then the film goes into decline from there, despite boasting a Led Zeppelin classic.  The Go Gos have a second cut, The Cars get a cut and (prophetically) Oingo Bongo has a song.  More annoying than ever is the Jackson Browne hit Somebody’s Baby, where many felt he sold out and then started taking himself too seriously.  It is even used more than once, but it is still not as annoying as the theme of St. Elmo’s Fire, which is an achievement of musical terror and idiocy all its own!


On the audio commentary with Crowe and Heckerling, she explains how she had little control over the music and it shows, especially in the odd ways the film has dated.  She says she wanted more Punk songs (ala Rock N Roll High School reviewed elsewhere on this site) and that might have given it both a better edge and allowed it to hold up better.  Other extras include text production notes, the original theatrical trailer, an interactive video map of the film’s locations and featurette about the film.  Fans will be happy for the most part, though it does not capture as much of the early 1980s as many think.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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