When Movie Met was still DVD Town, several people emailed to tell us that they thought we shouldn’t bother reviewing old movies, because people know them well enough; rather, we should concentrate on the bonus features, because that’s what’s important.
Maybe. But I think that the wonderful thing about new releases for home theater is that movies DO get reviewed again from time to time. That periodic review can confirm if a film is still as effective (or ineffective) now as it was when it was first released, and whether it seems dated or remains as relevant as when it was first beamed onto theater screens.
I may be in the minority here (which is the standard disclaimer for a “quirky reading” of a text), but while I couldn’t wait to watch “High Fidelity” on Blu-ray, I also couldn’t believe that the film wasn’t as good as I remembered. I LOVED this film. Now, as it turns out, not so much. Well, at least the first half. The second half picks up right where I remembered.
John Cusack was a big deal back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and “High Fidelity” (2000) and “Grosse Pointe Blank” (1997) were two of his best films—two that are being released on Blu-ray this week for the first time. But while “Grosse Pointe Blank” was every bit as funny, quirky, and fun as I remembered this time around, “High Fidelity” seemed artificial and pretentiously self-conscious to me. Too much performance angst, I thought.
Does that mean I’ve aged beyond the expiration date for a film like this? Or that the film itself isn’t as classic as it once seemed?
Good questions. All I know is that Cusack’s direct address to the camera and his self-reflective narration of his failed relationships doesn’t seem nearly as effective now, at least in the first part of the film, as Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall,” which was made 23 years earlier, or Rob Reiner’s “When Harry Met Sally . . .,” which came out 11 years before this Stephen Frears film. Based on a novel by Nick Hornby, it’s one of the few Hornby novels that didn’t find its way onto Hugh Grant’s plate, and while Cusack holds his own, the film itself seems to have lost a step or two, relying too much on the gimmick of narration when the plot itself and the scenes that advance it seem less intriguing this time around and the dialogue less clever.
Cusack plays Rob Gordon, owner of a record store located in an unsavory area of Chicago, whose love affairs with vinyl are considerably more successful than his relationships with women. The most recent woman to dump him prompts a tortured walk down memory lane as he recounts his most painful break-ups . . . and tries to look up some of them in order to figure out what he’s doing wrong.
At his used record store—Championship Vinyl—two eccentric employees (Jack Black and Todd Louiso) bide their time by making up Top Five lists and poking fun of the occasional customers that the store draws. Two shoplifting teens (Chris Rehmann, Ben Carr) are the bane of their existence. But the focus is on Rob (Cusack), and his character arc involves him working through past mistakes and finally arriving at some conclusions that will help him try to reconnect with one of his former girlfriends.
As I said, while the second half is a pleasure, it’s the first half that’s less impressive. I’ve seen this deadpan narrator with the bottled-up angst so many times that I looked to the lines and the minor characters to see me through. I remembered Black and his quirky counterpart being far more off-the-wall than they seemed this time around, and not nearly as funny. Does that mean it’s a bad film? No, no, not at all. I remembered that first half being more impressive than it struck me now, but that just means instead of an exceptional film it’s now better than average.
Same with the video presentation. Compared some of the other Touchstone catalog titles being released this week, “High Fidelity” looks soft and grainy. It takes a close-up to remind you that you’re watching in hi-def. Then you can appreciate the detail. But the medium shots and occasional long shots (there really aren’t that many in “High Fidelity”) don’t have as strong of edge delineation as you’d expect, and that, in turn, affects the illusion of 3-dimensionality. As for the colors, black levels, and skin tones, all of that comes under the umbrella of “looking soft.” Blacks could be inkier, skin tones less pink-and-orange, and colors more vibrant. That said, it’s still an upgrade over the DVD, which is rougher still. “High Fidelity” is presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio and transferred to a 50GB disc using AVC/MPEG-4 technology. There is some artifacting, as I hinted at, but not so much as to be annoying.
When Jack Black cranks the volume up, you realize that the rest of the soundtrack could have been more full of life. The rear speakers might pump out ambient noise, especially in the exterior shots, but the English DTS-HD MA 5.1 seems like overkill, given how front-loaded the rest of the film seems. And don’t expect your sub to wake up unless Black is at work. “High Fidelity” is a dialogue-driven film, and the audio reflects that. At least the dialogue is crisp and distortion-free. Additional audio options are French Dolby Digital 5.1 and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0, with subtitles in English SDH, Spanish and French.
Not much. “Conversations with Writer/Producer John Cusack” runs just 11 minutes. Rather than being a comprehensive overview, it’s a more random look at the actor-director relationship, the two store’s two employees, the script, and his character.
“Conversations with Director Stephen Frears” is similarly sectioned, with him touching on the casting, musical backdrop, direction, and adaption of Hornby’s novel—which included transporting the shop and main character from London to Chicago.
The only other bonus feature is the theatrical trailer and nine deleted scenes that run a total of 14 minutes.
“High Fidelity” has a reputation for being a film that would merit an 8 or above on the Movie Met scale, but it doesn’t make the meter climb that high this time around. The humor is still as dry as ever, but it’s more like a 7 this time around, all things considered.