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Monday, 18 June 2012

AFICIONADO REVIEW: 'MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI' ON BLU-RAY


The Lucas time capsule that is MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI-out now on Blu-ray. Images: UNIVERSAL PICTURES.


MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI


Starring Paul Le Mat, Ron Howard, Cindy Williams, Candy Clark, Charles Martin Smith, Bo Hopkins.

Written and Directed by B. L. Norton

Produced by Howard Kazanjian

Executive Produced by George Lucas

Released on Blu-ray from UNIVERSAL HOME ENTERTAINMENT


Reviewed by Scott Weller

In 1973, everyone went to see George Lucas’s AMERICAN GRAFFITI for it’s big screen nostalgia celebration and colourful music look back at 1962 small town Southern California, amidst the life and times of a charmingly realised core group of young characters about to be let loose on the world. But with its sequel, MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI, originally in cinemas in 1979 (I vividly remember the movie poster outside the Croydon ABC cinema as a nine year old!) finally and deservedly released on Blu-ray after years in the wilderness from UNIVERSAL HOME ENTERTAINMENT, that same innocence and lively sense of the past evolves, bringing with it a darker, more grown up taste to the mouth against the backdrop of an often heady and tumultuous period of late sixties America which, I think, audiences weren’t quite prepared for, or, at that particular time of the late seventies, didn’t quite want to see. And it’s a shame, really, as the film, though no classic, is hardly the cinematic dud I’d expected in my re-visitation.

Terry (Charles Martin Smith, left middle) is having a bad, and darkly comic, time in Vietnam! 

Beyond UNIVERSAL’s commercial need to make a hit sequel to GRAFFITI (after having made so much money on what had once been considered a very small indie film), I genuinely think that Executive Producer George Lucas and writer/director Bill Norton (considered a safe pair of hands for the project by Lucas, who grew up within the same kind of backdrop that he had) wanted to make a decent, entertaining, slightly different sequel to what had been gone before, giving us a further interesting slice of history/comedy that was also, perhaps, a little bit more thought-provoking and responsible, representing the changing times and the changed characters seen here in the mid to late sixties, in a time of Vietnam, student uprisings, the birth of the drug culture and the emergence of flairs, hippies, peace and free love.

Unfortunately, Norton just doesn’t have the cinematic touch here to make a whole film that’s sustainably good (Lucas himself not being available to write and direct due to his heavy behind the scenes commitments to another LUCASFILM sequel then in the works: the rather more successful, and ultimately less frustration inducing, STAR WARS EPISODE V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK), though there are some bright flashes of humour and visual panache dotted throughout, including some colourful drag racing moments that help break the gloom. The aforementioned time frame, of which the film's closing moments reflect a distinctive melancholy seriousness, must have come across as pretty grim to late seventies audiences after the sweetness of AMERICAN GRAFFITI: the sequel's real-life events probably too fresh in their mind’s eye to enjoy- especially with the lingering bitterness of Vietnam lying at the main centre of the movie-at a time when people really went to the cinema to get away from all that- noticeably with the fantasy environs Lucas himself had reawakened with the first of the Classic Trilogy STAR WARS movies!

Additionally, unlike the innovative and ground breaking way that Lucas and co. effectively used music to convey the fun, angst and comedy of AMERICAN GRAFFITI, the selections here, though again well chosen (including the likes of Percy Sledge, Donovan and Simon and Garfunkel amongst others), ultimately feel muted in their collage use in comparison to the brilliantly loud and emotive mixing and matching that helped make the original such a successful enterprise.

Ron Howard returns as Steve Bolander.

Set over four New Year’s Eve’s from 1964 to 1967 (with various back and forths between the years that ultimately proves easy to follow), pretty much all the original cast, with the exception of Richard Dreyfuss, slip effortlessly back into their character roles after a six-year absence (including Ron Howard as moustached square Steve Bolander, Cindy Williams as his life frustrated wife Laurie, Paul Le Mat, as need for speed drag car racer John Milner, Charles Martin Smith as geeky Vietnam solider-to-be Terry (The Toad) Fields, the amiable Candy Clark as his once bee-hive haired girlfriend, Debbie Dunham and, often heard in the background, the unmistakable voice of iconic DJ Wolfman Jack), though sadly for us there’s only one main reunion scene bringing them together at the film’s start. Of our stars, Charles Martin Smith has some of the films best and funniest scenes, his character stranded in Vietnam with ex-Pharaoh’s gang member Joe (Bo Hopkins) for helicopter gun duty company amidst a band of incompetent gung-ho military men and incompetent politicians, and trying desperately hard to injure himself in order to escape on medical grounds. Additionally, Ron Howard and Cindy Williams renew their volatile relationship, now married family life, with some creditable comedy. But those are just about the best moments, really. There’s also occasional pleasure to be had here and there seeing the movies other rising stars, including Scott Glenn, Delroy Lindo, and Rosanna Arquette, as well as character acting stalwarts like Richard Bradford, in their prime and mixing in.

Officer Falfa (Harrison Ford) makes an arrest!

For all STAR WARS fans, though, how could we not mention Harrison Ford’s ultra brief, uncredited cameo in MORE, once more as Bob Falfa, now cowboy hat free and instead wearing the helmet and leathers of a motorcycle cop. The actor's late seventies winning and cocky Han Solo half-smile making a welcome showing here!

Additionally, there’s also an appearance from the mysterious, almost Luke Skywalker, Will Selzer: the other actor who would have been with Christopher Walken and Terri Nunn had Lucas decided to go in a more different way with his heroic trio casting choices. Here, Selzer plays Andy Henderson, Shirley’s peace activist student brother, who gives a competent performance throughout the film, though I couldn’t really imagine him in the role of Luke-Mark Hamill would prove just too well cast, too good and deservedly iconic, and I doubt STAR WARS would have had anywhere near the impact it eventually had with audiences without his serious but kind-hearted presence.

Old-time VHS tape release trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjOPtMoROoA

Dragster racer John Milner (Paul Le Mat) wins another award!

Capably produced by later RETURN OF THE JEDI's Howard Kazanjian, MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI has fine cinematography from Caleb Deschanel, solid sound design from the reliable Ben Burtt (of which he includes the all-important Wilhelm scream at one particular point!), and some noteworthy experimental editing from Tina Hirsch (backed up by later Lucas regular Duwayne Dunham and Marcia Lucas, following an aborted conceptual idea originally thought up by George for the first film), with the kind of inter cutting, differing frame points and changing aspect ratios for the various years and characters that wouldn’t be out of place in TV’s 24 years later, alongside other psychedelic switcheroo’s. The inclusion of real life Vietnam War footage mixed in with the specially graded material of Charles Martin Smith’s Terry Fields is also well handled. (Most of which ended up being shot by Lucas himself, having always been fascinated with the conflict, alongside a second unit.)

The picture and sound transfer for this Region Zero release is excellent, and, as usual, full marks to the UNIVERSAL STUDIOS behind the scenes team for their great transfer work. Sadly, the lack of any good extras on the disc, not even a trailer or commentary from the likes of someone like Kazanjian (which could have been intriguing), is disappointing.

Debbie (Candy Clark) and Rainbow (Mackenzie Philips) enjoy the late sixties.

Available at a decent price, MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI finally emerges from its once movie vault limbo status in pristine quality, and, above all else, is definitely worth seeing for its curiosity value-as shown by its very brisk sales on the likes of AMAZON UK since its release earlier in the month. An interesting look back to a time when LUCASFILM was still young and developing it’s cinematic output (oh, and it’s great to see the original green block LUCASFILM logo at the start of the film, too! Welcome back!), the sequel is certainly a more interesting and experimental movie than the likes of some recent projects to have come out from the Presidio Ranch.

AFICIONADO RATING: Movie: 6 out of 10. Extras (none): 0 out of 10. Overall picture and sound quality: 9

With thanks to UNIVERSAL PICTURES HOME ENTERTAINMENT UK for all their help with the preparation of this feature.

1 comment:

Regularjoe said...

solid sound design from the reliable Ben Burtt (of which he includes the all-important Wilhelm scream at one particular point!),

They need a moratorium on this sound effect. I am sick of hearing this in so many movies.