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  • Jeff Beck

American Graffiti: The Coming-of-Age Classic Turns 50 (4K/Blu-ray)


The Film:


Just a few years before the very first "Star Wars," George Lucas directed and co-wrote the film that truly sparked his career, the coming-of-age classic "American Graffiti," which is commonly cited as one of the very best of its genre. From its very first release, it was seen as something rather special, garnering an impressive five Oscar nominations that included Best Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay. Now, with the film turning 50 this year, Universal is celebrating by giving it a grand 4K upgrade, so as usual, that gives us the perfect excuse to go back and revisit this beloved film to see how well it holds up all these years later


Taking place on the final night of summer vacation in 1962, the film primarily follows four youths: Curt (Richard Dreyfuss), Steve (Ron Howard), Terry (Charles Martin Smith), and John (Paul Le Mat). Curt and Steve are leaving for college in the morning, though the former is having second thoughts as to whether he really wants to go, while the latter sparks a problem by suggesting to his girlfriend Laurie (Cindy Williams) that they see other people while he's away, something he thinks will help their relationship.


Meanwhile, Steve has allowed Terry to borrow his car, in which he picks up a random date named Debbie (Candy Clark), a girl he spends the evening trying to impress. Finally, there's John, a famed drag racer who never loses. While attempting to pick up a date of his own, he inadvertently gets stuck with Carol (Mackenzie Phillips), the younger sister of an acquaintance. We sit back and watch as these kids go about their evening, with some just looking to have fun, and others trying to decide what they want their future to be.


"American Graffiti" is one of those fascinating films that falls into a rather special group. It's not what you would call a plot-heavy film, and it's not really overly-concerned with where the various storylines are going, but rather it's more concerned with establishing a particular kind of mood and developing its somewhat commonplace characters to the point where we simply want to hang out with them for this one evening. Sure, most of the film's threads are a little silly (the only serious one is Curt's, who is trying to decide about college), but this is more so a film that wants you to feel like you're hanging out with your friends, and these are indeed some silly things that could occur (though the whole drag racing thing may be just a bit dated at this point).


It does seem fair to say, however, that as a consequence of that, the film does come off as a little episodic. These various stories are rather amusing to watch, and are fine for the mood the film is aiming for, but the only one that really comes across with much in the way of substance is Curt's, and even he finds himself getting into some strange adventures throughout the night. That said, the stories taken all together are delightfully entertaining, though you may find that they don't linger in the memory for a particularly long time.


As for the film's strongest elements, there are two that must be mentioned. First, the phenomenal cast is perhaps the biggest reason the film works as well as it does. Their performances, particularly those of the four leads, are a very big part of why these characters are fun to be around in the first place. Without their charms, it would simply be a bummer to spend two hours with these guys. The other element is the film's magnificent soundtrack. For practically the entire film, there are wall-to-wall classics of the period playing, doing a marvelous job of helping to set that vital, aforementioned mood.


Overall, "American Graffiti" is a good film that has held up well over the years. It's one that I hesitate a little to call "great," though I certainly wouldn't argue with anyone finding it so. The writing, which suits it fine for what the film wants to achieve, just holds it back a little bit. This is still a very amusing & entertaining film, with a wonderful cast. It's fun to spend a little time with these guys on this special night, and it's not that hard to see why some folks have wanted to do that again and again over the decades, and you can be sure that there will be those who continue to do so for many years to come.


Video/Audio:


This 50th Anniversary Edition of "American Graffiti" features the film on 4K (UHD HDR10) and Blu-ray (1080p High Definition) in 2.35:1 transfers of excellent quality. The film has been beautifully restored, highlighting its remarkable production design and making it look better than ever. Likewise, the 5.1/2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks are phenomenal, giving you all of the dialogue and the marvelous soundtrack in outstanding quality. Overall, you simply couldn't have asked for better treatment.


Special Features:


Commentary with Director George Lucas: Fascinating & informative commentary on select scenes from Lucas himself.


The Making of American Graffiti (78 minutes): An in-depth series of seven featurettes that look at the making of the film, covering areas like how the idea came about, the cast, and the production.


Screen Tests (23 Minutes): An intriguing series of four screen tests featuring the four leads, as well as Cindy Williams and Mackenzie Phillips.


Conclusion:


George Lucas' "American Graffiti" is a classic coming-of-age flick that holds up rather well after 50 years. It may not be too heavy on plot, but it more than makes up for it with its charming characters, brought to life by a tremendous cast, and its rockin' soundtrack packed with wall-to-wall classics, ultimately making it rather easy to see why the film has had such longevity.


Score: 3.5/5


Available on 4K/Blu-ray starting tomorrow.


Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.



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