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John Milius is the director responsible for this surfin' movie whose further writing credits have included Clear & Present Danger, Miami Vice, Conan The Barbarian and Apocalypse Now (this had surfers being blown up in the water which I'm sure was devised on purpose and it must have been the inspiration for the opening musical sequence in the parody Top Secret! where everyone sings "Skeet-Surfing").

Ever since the dawn of filmmaking, a movie is usually judged great by how much money it makes at the box-office - this is an unfortunate conclusion to make when profit margins are really only a reflection of how many people suddenly became interested in the film at once.  A great movie therefore can only be determined by the individual when it appeals to them on a personal level, but it still has to take in a large enough populace (often called a community) of similarly interested people to give it any reputation.

Big Wednesday

It is here that Big Wednesday simply did not have the numbers to appeal to anyone other than maybe the extremely small surfing community at that time, but ever since then our world has been getting smaller as our population grows ever bigger so that eventually this movie has found a new life in today's ever more diverse world of surfing enthusiasts.  At the same token, our society has evolved into such a rich tapestry of various interests, activities and pursuits now that nearly anything can be made to attract enough people into it, which makes the lines between greatness and mediocrity more blurred than ever.

Back to 1978, Big Wednesday was overshadowed on its release by the two biggest mega-hits of that year (if not the decade), Star Wars and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, so unfortunately it pretty much feel victim to what was the most appealing thing at that time.  The average Joe Blo would never admit to liking anything remotely to do with Science Fiction (then and now), but the cold hard facts of the movie business spells otherwise.  You will find that year after year the most popular flicks in cinema have always had something to do with elements that occur beyond the realms of normalcy and, unfortunately for Big Wednesday, this was about as real as you could get when issues such as care-free surfer-dudes and Vietnam War draft-dodgers were about as controversial as a pork-chop at a bar mitzvah.

So depending on who you are in the world this movie can have varying layers of attraction to it from the nostalgic value right up to the simply wonderful surfing cinematography.  The story itself is full of wonderful key character developments with many insightful looks into the attitudes of the day - the acting could have been better but the skilful direction and editing has helped to minimise the impact of it.  Add to this, the fighting scenes are actually more realistic and effective in tone than the ones I've ever seen in most other movies from the last 10-15 years (it's also wonderfully cheesy in places) - this was a time when fists were the only things that was used to settle personal differences which showed that there was still some honour between enemies, not like today where guns and knives are now the weapons of choice just like they apparently were back in Mexico portrayed within this movie.

Big Wednesday

This story takes place over twelve years yet is being told within a two hour window so the situations may end up becoming quite clichéd in places, but this is a movie after all not a documentary.  It is a beautifully realised cinematic treat which exhibits some of the best surfing imagery every captured on film as well as providing characters that we can care about in the journey.  I can't say whether all surfing junkies out there will end up liking it since you are probably into the more Xtreme Sports variety of Hanging 15 (or whatever it is you do nowadays) so this film might probably be the equivalent of a snail on Valium - it does get completely sentimental and philosophical sometimes (the way the director likes to tell it).  But either way, if you have ever enjoyed watching Point Break or Blue Crush for whatever reason, chances are that you may be the least bit curious about Big Wednesday as well.

Movie
Matt, Jack and Leroy (Jan-Michael "Airwolf" Vincent, William "The Greatest American Hero" Katt & Gary "Point Break" Busey) are three well-known gods of the local rip-curl set and life-long buddies.  Matt is as legendary for his surfing prowess as is his love affair with the bottle, Leroy is a full-on masochist who just won't say no to a good fight and Jack is the level-headed and sensible one of the bunch.  The story begins in the early 1960s where all the local teenagers want nothing more than to surf, have a good time and remain forever young, but the times they are a-changin'.

Bear (Sam Melville) is the local respected "oldie" of the surfing community who finds himself another victim of progress as he is forced to move inland away from the beach and he makes the initially reluctant decision to capitalise on his skills as a surfboard-maker to set up a popular shop for his wares in the heart of the town.  Matt has become a father through his girlfriend Peggy (Lee Purcell) but slips further into alcoholism to escape the harsh realities of life, Jack is in love with Sally (Patti D'Arbanville) but his sense of responsibility eventually sees him going to war in Vietnam, whereas Leroy seems not to have taken growing up lying down.

Everyone's past has had a wicked way of catching up with them as they are taught the hard lessons in life where everything they have done (or not done) will ultimately affect their futures unless they make some serious changes for the inevitable transition into adulthood.

Big Wednesday

Video
Apart from some unavoidable technical shortcomings in a couple of the scenes, I must say that I am mightily impressed with this transfer as it is one of the clearest images I have ever seen from a flick made 25 years ago now, although technically it has a relatively soft focus throughout.  It would have been a crime to have relied upon an old video transfer of this film in the same way that Warner Bros have done with their more recent catalogue of DVDs (regular readers will know my opinions on this issue).  But for now, I appreciate the effort that Warner Bros has made on this particular piece of celluloid.

For the majority of this picture the detail is incredibly striking, although admittedly it contains quite a few anomalies that I don't think will dampen the experience of watching this movie.  The colours are well saturated but they also show their age in many places, although the crystal blue waters of the ocean and the quite limited variety of colourful surfboards would still make a surfer out of anyone.  Film artifacting is so few and far between that it is ultimately unnoticeable when they do show up and there is virtually no grain anywhere except for some major instances in a couple of the signature surfing shots (as well as the sand on the beach, hehe).  There are no digital encoding faults of any kind here.

Blacks are quite deep in nearly every scene but this also exhibits limitations in shadow detail in the more difficult sections of the shoot ... from the shaded outdoor area of Bear's surfboard studio to the dusk, night-time and overcast scenes which did not have the luxury of proper lighting conditions.  There are also a couple of instances of darkened halo's around the entire frame of the image which would almost have passed off as dreamy flashback sequences had these been purposely white and foggy.

There were also a couple of noticeable jumps between edited scenes in the film which caught me off guard, but the film as a whole is rock-steady with no telecine wobble to make you the least bit seasick.

Audio
This soundtrack carries itself with dignity and it is a shame that the recording technology was very limited at the time, so unfortunately only the biggest of expected blockbusters were ever given the best of aural reproduction.  What we have here is the original Pro-Logic surround mix encoded into Dolby Digital 2.0, the experience is at best sufficient for this movie but is such a crying shame that more couldn't have been done with this.  The French and Italian dubs are DD 1.0 mono.

Big Wednesday

Dialogue is for the most part understandable although the quality of the voices themselves are typically underwhelming for its time and it can sometimes be hard to make out some of the words, but that's when subtitles can help fill in the gaps.  The thing that suffers most in the mix is the sound effects where all of the mountainous surf ends up being little more than a storm in a teacup, but luckily the majestic score by Basil Poledouris (of Starship Troopers fame) does more than its fair share of bringing out the magnificence of what we see on-screen.

The left and right channels are used as much as possible to help envelop us into the surfer's paradise by providing much needed ambience for the sound effects and great support for the music (which almost doesn't include any classic surfing songs, not even the slightly irritating Beach Boys ones).

Ultimately, the soundtrack is quite serviceable but it truly deserves the Point Break or Blue Crush treatment with a much-needed 5.1 remix, however this probably would have been too costly an exercise for a movie such as this to make it a reality at this time.

Extras
Not a lot on the quantity side of things, but the quality of these extras is nonetheless a very welcome addition which enhances the background mythology of this movie.  Everything here is purely the input of director & writer John Milius who was a surfer himself back in his hey-day of riding these veritable ironing boards on the water swells, so he should know exactly the way things were like back then.

There is a 13 minute featurette entitled Capturing The Swell which is an interview with John Milius about his motivations for the movie as well as him gratefulness for having had the chance to film it since this was almost going to be the subject of a book, but as he states this should be a purely visual medium to be conveyed.  The audio commentary is again by the same man who casually looks back on his film as he lets us know if what we see on-screen is what did or didn't happen in that time, his insights are well worth the listen to which can further our perceptions about what life was like back then.

Big Wednesday

Overall
This film is honestly a welcome change from the mind-numbing thoroughfare that is streaming out of Hollywood currently, I don't mind being taken for a more intellectual ride nowadays - I must be getting older, that's what it is.  The best thing that this film shows is that even old men were young once too as it shows the passage of time that we all eventually go through. It also lets us know that it doesn't take much effort to respect the efforts of our elders, you don't have to bag them just because they don't meet up with our own younger ideals - it's a common trait our youths tend to latch onto only because they have so much energy to burn yet not enough wisdom to truly appreciate what they have in front of them.

Even if the first hour seems like little more than a TV soap opera drama without much of the surfing itself, this movie at least shows us what their era and society was like living in when there was truly much less to worry about in life and that riding the waves meant more than a quick adrenaline rush ... it symbolised friendships and forged them into something of mutual respect regardless of where their lives eventually took them.  A well recommended DVD to those who want more out of their movie-watching other than pointless gunfights and car chases.


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