Clueless (US - BD)
Gabe revisits, like, Amy Heckerlings, like, totally classic Beverly Hills comdey...
Cher (Alicia Silverstone) and Dionne (Stacey Dash), both named after ‘great singers of the past that now do infomercials’, are pampered upper-class girls who care less about getting good grades than wearing the right clothes and being as popular as possible. But Cher, who lives with her tough yet warm-hearted lawyer dad (Dan Hedaya) and older, intellectual ex-stepbrother (Paul Rudd), also has an innate urge to help those less fortunate – like the two introverted teachers she brings together (negotiating herself improved grades in the process) and new friend Tai (Brittany Murphy), who starts out a geek and ends up a Cher prodigy. Cher also possesses her own sensitive side, and she is looking for the perfect boyfriend, whom she ends up finding where she least expected.
I’m sure most of my regular readers, and even close friends and relations would assume that I would not be a fan of Amy Heckerling’s Clueless. I’m not a fan of ‘80s and ‘90s pop culture nostalgia, I’m not a fan of characatures of my generation, and I’m generally not a fan of what the experts would call ‘teen comedies’. I don’t even really like Heckerling’s first and overall more well loved Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but Clueless somehow transcends my usual peeves, and I find it a genuinely entertaining, even smart little film. The transcendence might have something to do with the amount of time that pads the initial sleeper-hit release of Clueless in 1995. The era-specificities don’t really apply anymore, and those of us without warm memories of phrases like ‘as if’ can experience them from more of an anthropological standpoint…even if it continues to be the basis for obnoxious tween and teen dialect 17 years on. I suppose the more likely reasons for the film’s continuing success are the solid literary basis of the screenplay (Heckerling loosely based her script on Jane Austen’s Emma), and the brilliant casting choices.
It has its annoying and unfortunately dated sides and the pop culture nostalgia does burn the back of my esophagus a bit, but Heckerling’s screenplay is a sharp satire of the era and generally much more intuitive one than any of her former collaborator Cameron Crowe’s similar period work (even if movies like Singles are generally more ‘truthful’ in their portrayals of the ‘90s). Most impressive is the fact that she works almost puritanical, face-achingly feel good morals into the mix, and successfully segues into something more emotionally significant without betraying her generally sweet and buoyant tone. Heckerling’s understated direction is very ‘of the time’, which serves the material well. She and cinematographer Bill Pope (Sam Raimi’s long time collaborator, who is also known for his acrobatic and dynamic photography on the Matrix films) keep the frame active without drawing too much attention to the movement and spends a great deal of energy maintaining a consistent production design, which helps her create subtle contrasts in style as the mood changes around the center of the film. She also avoids too many obvious callbacks to other films (save a genuinely amusing 2001 phone gag), which helps set Clueless apart from similar looking ‘90s stuff like Penelope Spheeris’ Wayne’s World movies.
Clueless didn’t exactly introduce us to Alicia Silverstone, a series of Aerosmith music videos and a schlocky Fatal Attraction rip-off titled The Crush hold that distinction, but it was her real breakthrough role and the performance still holds up. Silverstone balances the goofy and emotive aspects of Cher better than many more popular comedic actors of the era, including people like Adam Sandler, who wouldn’t find the poignant side of their characters for years, if at all. It’s actually pretty depressing that she basically peaked here, and that her career was more or less over within two or three years. I could see her aging into something special, and I’m pretty sure Vamps (which is also directed by Heckerling) won’t be the film to turn things around for her. Outside of Silverstone, Clueless is also notable for introducing a cavalcade of future comedy favourites to film audiences. Among the talented, and, at the time, generally untried cast is Judd Apatow favourite Paul Rudd, Brittany Murphy (whose career would take some time to get going, but eventually eclipse everyone else in the cast), Seth Green’s best friend and constant collaborator Breckin Meyer (who had previously only appeared briefly in Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare), heartthrob Jeremy Sisto (who is now old enough to play a father on weekly television), and personal favourite Donald Faison (who found fame on Clueless’ spin-off TV series and nine years of Scrubs).
I don’t actually own a copy of Clueless on DVD to compare to this Blu-ray, but I’m reasonably sure this represents a new transfer, not just an HD version of a DVD quality product. The photography is most obviously defined by bright colours and soft contrast blends, not sharp edges or super high detail levels, so the advantage of the 1080p format is mostly found in the vibrancy of the hues and the lack of compression related artefacts. Not to say that the detail levels are anything less than sharp (background elements are nicely separated and close-up textures are effective), they just don’t spring to life as dynamically as some more contrast and texture heavy productions. There are some minor and consistent sharpening artefacts throughout film, but there’s no sign of DNR enhancement on this naturally grainy (but not too grainy) production. There are occasional flecks of film damage to prove contrary to DNR use as well. The colour quality is plenty remarkable, and the hues are plenty consistent even without the benefit of digital grading processes. There are some minor bleeding effects, mostly due to the softness of the background focus, and the strongest reds show signs of low-level noise, but for the most part colours are clear and cut well against each other and the rich black levels.
The mid-90s are such a fun time for 5.1 surround mixes. Nobody really knows what they’re doing, but they’re trying so hard to do something with the new technology. This uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack fits the type, mixing central dialogue with vague surround ambience and overstated directional elements in the stereo channels. The ambient noise is a bit canned, but not particularly thin, and the directional effects move accurately despite their almost cartoonish volume levels. The film’s most aurally expressive sequence, where Dionne accidentally pulls onto the freeway, is both the mix’s best moment in terms of multi-channel arrangements, and worst in terms of dialogue clarity. The dialogue is rarely perfect due to some obvious ADR issues, but during the freeway scene the high volume screams show signs of distortion. Pop music plays an obvious role in the production, and sounds very good, both when it pours out from no discernable source, and when it is an integral part of the scene and coming from an obvious on screen source (specifically party scenes).
The special features here match those of the previous special edition DVD release and begin with The Class of ‘95 (18:30, SD), a retrospective look back at the casting process including interviews with director Amy Heckerling, director of photography Bill Pope, associate producer/actress Twink Caplan, casting director Marcia Ross, and cast members Breckin Meyer, Brittany Murphy, Stacy Dash, Donald Faison, Paul Rudd, Dan Hedaya, Justin Walker and Alicia Silverstone along with raw behind the scenes footage. Creative Writing (9:40, SD) covers the process of the script’s development and early production with Heckerling, Pope and Caplan, including discussion of the Emma elements and real life inspirations. Fashion 101 (10:50, SD) covers Mona May’s costume design with May herself, Heckerling, Caplan, makeup designer Alan Friedman and cast members. Things are wrapped up with Language Arts (8:10, SD), which covers the film’s slang dialogue, Suck ‘N Blow: A Tutorial (2:50, SD), Driver’s Ed (3:50, SD), a look at the highway scene, We’re History (8:50, SD), concerning the film’s legacy, trailers, and an in-film trivia game.
Clueless is a smarter than average comedy that stands the test of time, and deserves a memorable place in teen-friendly, high school comedy history along side 10 Things I Hate About You and Mean Girls. In fact, those would make a fun triple feature, and are now all available on Blu-ray disc. This particular Blu-ray looks very good for type, especially in terms of its vibrant colour palette, the DTS-HD MA soundtrack features only a few minor issues, and the extras, which were all previously available on DVD, are amusing and informative, despite their generally fluffy nature.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 1st May 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 French, Spanish and Portuguese
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Extras: Clue or False Trivia Game, The Class of '95, Creative Writing, Fashion 101, Language Arts, Suck 'N Blow: A Tutorial, Driver's Ed, We're History, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Amy Heckerling
Cast: Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy, Paul Rudd, Donald Faison
Length: 97 minutes
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