Blu-ray Review: Fast Times at Ridgemont High

You don’t watch Fast Times at Ridgemont High for any home theater glories. More likely, it’s a favorite movie to get stoned to — er, a series of memorable vignettes of high-school teenagers attempting to lose their virginity while surviving soul-destroying service-industry jobs.

And anyway, in her 1982 film, director Amy Heckerling focuses her attention more on the performances than the visuals — an approach that, in some ways, does justice to screenwriter Cameron Crowe’s highly authentic characters and seriously quotable script. The ensemble cast of then unknowns includes Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Eric Stoltz, Forest Whitaker, Nicolas Cage, and the unforgettable Phoebe Cates. But they’re dominated by a comically masterful Sean Penn as the indomitable surfer dude Spicoli, his gnarly, ad-libbed utterances adding to the common English language of the era.

So, yeah, no home theater glories here, especially since the 1.85:1 image is on the low-budget side, with rather a lot of grain. Clothing textures and hair could’ve had more differentiating detail, and skin tones less schmeeriness. Still, it’s a bright Blu-ray picture with some rich, solid primaries, particularly blocks of school-color scarlet both on and off the football field. Blacks are deep, though whites could’ve been a bit brighter.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound stays consistently in the front channels (and not that well separated), with only slight surround action for the driving ’80s pop soundtrack. Thankfully, all the dialogue is clear, the voices full and natural.

You can watch the film with a PIP that pops up occasionally, providing the day-to-day production goings-on as told by the cast, director, and producers. There’s also the option to have all the songs identified as they turn up on the soundtrack.

Obvious buds Heckerling and Crowe play off each other nicely as they go nostalgic in the scene-specific commentary. A 40-minute documentary with contributions from Penn, Reinhold, and others allows you to compare the young actors with how they turned out. Heckerling’s anecdotes are interesting, as are those by Mr. Hand, our Favorite Martian of another era (and medium), the late Ray Walston. And for once, clip footage is great to see again in the extras, just because it’s so much fun, even in rapid repetition. It also reveals that the Blu-ray transfer, despite its lack of glories, is certainly better than the DVD you’ve been playing over and over and over.

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