What still surprises me when seeing Fast Times at Ridgemont High almost a quarter century after the film was initially released is the impressive casting. Some veterans did contribute to the film, but check out the laundry list of relative unknowns, and where they’ve gone onto. You’ve got Academy Award nominees (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sean Penn and Martin Brest, who received Directing and Best Picture nominations for Scent of a Woman), an Emmy nominee/Golden Globe winner (Anthony Edwards), a …ony nominee (Eric Stoltz) a Emmy and Tony winner in Mr. Hand himself, Ray Walston, a Cannes Best Actor and likely Best Actor nominee this year (Forest Whitaker), and to round things out, two Oscar winners in then-Nicolas Coppola, later Nicolas Cage, and for the twenty-something screenwriter/director who turned out to be Cameron Crowe.
Crowe went back to high school to write the book that later became the screenplay for the film. Because of his unique childhood and boyish looks, he passed pretty well for a high school kid, and documented the accounts of high school kids. Jocks, stoners, geeks, cheerleaders, it’s arguably the best portrayal of high school ever to come to screen. I talked about the visual effects in Terminator 2 still holding up after only 12 years, but the story of the gang at Ridgemont High still holds up well even after 21 years. The kids deal with topics big and small, from relationships, to drugs to parties, to heavier topics such as sex, abortion, and how to deal with a whacked-out History teacher.
Aside from the brief moments dealing with the serious topics (like the high school girl that has sex with a 26 year old and later has an abortion), the film is a hilarious 90 minute trip into the community. There are plenty of memorable scenes in the film, from Brad’s thoughts about Linda, Mr. Hand’s bizarre handling of his classes, to any and every scene that featured Spicoli (Penn) and his pals (Stoltz and Edwards). The film has become essential viewing material for those entering the world that is high school, and directed to perfection by Amy Heckerling (Clueless), Fast Times at Ridgemont High is the latest catalog title to arrive on HD-DVD from Universal.
Despite being loaded with 80’s music-anything from Tom Petty to Stevie Nicks to the Go-Go’s, the soundtrack is somewhat disappointing, despite a Dolby Digital Plus audio option. The dialogue does sound good with little or no audible hiss, and the music that comes in at various points in the film sounds OK, but has very little depth to it. Maybe it’s a nod to the era and its lack of substance, but by and large it’s a capable soundtrack.
The video is pleasantly a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen format, with the colors presented well and a decent level of contrast throughout the film. The problem I had is that I’d seen the film recently on a high-def broadcast, and the broadcast looked a lot better than this disc does. Granted, the film grain I didn’t see on TV is here, but the characters don’t possess a lot of depth or detail when watching the disc.
The extras are just enough to remind the nostalgic viewer of when the movie came out and the fun that came of it. There is a commentary track that features both Crowe and Heckerling. It’s a bit undetermined in terms of when this was recorded, but both are recorded together, and the two relive a lot of good memories about making the film, and also reflect on what has become of some of the locations. Many humorous anecdotes are mentioned, such as Whitaker’s skipping to his car when he was told he got the role of football stud Charles Jefferson, to Crowe’s joy in getting Penn to say “You Dick!”, along with some other possible Director alternatives before Heckerling (what if David Lynch directed this?). One of the other memorable stories included the “intentional” mistake of the wrong Led Zeppelin song when Rat was taking Linda out to dinner, and the luck the crew had for securing the rights to “Kashmir,” in no small part due to Crowe’s relationship with the band. The two both share their stories-Heckerling on directing the film, and Crowe shares his experiences being on a movie set for the first time, and they have a lot of fun with it, as it ends about 10 minutes after the credits have ended. It’s a good listening companion to the movie. “Reliving Our Fast Times at Ridgemont High” is a new 40 minute documentary that looks at the casting process, and features new interviews with Heckerling, Judge Reinhold (Brad), Stoltz, Watson, Heckerling and surprisingly Penn, to name a few. They talk about some of the casting choices that had to be made (try picturing Ally Sheedy as Leigh’s Linda, and Cage as the part of Brad). Everyone provides their thoughts on it, and their reasons for why it’s lasted like it has, but there’s one part that was there that was a bit incomplete. There is a lot of reminiscing about some of the larger roles in the film, but there isn’t any interview footage from the actors who played the parts. This becomes frustrating, and in some ways, a bit unforgivable. I mean if Sean Penn can sit down and talk about Spicoli, something I understand he RARELY does, then what excuse does Phoebe Cates have for not talking about her role as Linda? Oh yeah, the pool scene…
In other extras, the “Hangouts of Ridgemont High” is an interactive video look into the sites of the film then, where they were actually located, and what became of them in the decades since. Some are still there, others have been torn down for office complexes. Welcome to the 21st century I guess. There are 19 music highlights that allow you scene access in the film to where the songs are featured. 8 cast and director biographies are included that comprise 7 of the actors and Heckerling, and 8 pages of production notes are here too. The trailer caps the package.
Really, if you haven’t seen this yet, you need to get looked at. A great, funny movie, combined with an adequate picture and outstanding commentary, this is one of the few times that the movie would stand on its own without the features. I wish the HD-DVD looked better, I’ve gotta think the Universal folks were on dope when they put this together.
Special Features List
- Director/Writer Commentary
- Making of Featurette
- Location Retrospective
- Production Notes