Greg Mottola’s first feature film, The Daytrippers—long out-of-print on DVD—comes to Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection, who present the film on this dual-layer disc with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The presentation comes from an all-new 4K restoration, scanned from the 16mm original A/B negative.
As a 16mm independent 90s film I can’t say I was expecting much, despite the fact this managed to get a 4K restoration (a bit of a surprise honestly), but the final presentation looks outstanding, one of the more impressive surprises I’ve had recently in a wave of surprises. The 16mm source is obvious as the film is very grainy and detail can be limited, but none of that matters as the digital presentation is so strong it delivers an image that really looks like a projected film. Grain is rendered perfectly: it’s there and it’s obvious, but it looks natural and clean, never noisy or blocky. And despite limitations on detail the image is still quite sharp around the edges and onscreen textures look great. Colours aren’t all that bold but they’re still saturated well and there are some nice pops of reds and yellows. Black levels are also very strong and darker shots look good, with some details getting lost in the shadows (though this feels to be related more to the photography and low-lighting of said scenes).
The restoration work has also cleaned up everything. Not once do I ever recall any sort of blemish: no scratches, marks, fading, or anything, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t look anywhere near this good when it originally played theatrically. Overall it has received an incredibly thorough and top notch restoration and encode and it’s really stunning just how incredible this film looks. 9/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
With heavy participation from director Greg Mottola Criterion puts out a terrific little special edition for the film, which had only received a barebones DVD release previously from Columbia-TriStar (which I believe was also full-frame). On the disc there are a pair of interview features, one between Mottola, Parker Posey, Live Schreiber, and Campbell Scott, and another between Mottola and Hope Davis. The former (running 38-minutes) first features Posey (and her dog), Schreiber (and his dog), and Mottola (sans dog) discussing the film’s production, first sharing the lengthy backstories on how each actor became involved, mostly from each knowing somebody that knew somebody, and then talk about the quick shooting schedule (it was only 16 days, which Mottola learned quickly was not enough time) and just the wonderful experience it was. They also talk about the performances found within the film, Schreiber praising Posey and her improvisational skills (he says there has to be a large number of outtakes of her somewhere, though sadly not on this disc), and talk about how shooting with film back then (which was a limited resource for a film with no budget) could impact a performance compared to today, where digital is becoming the norm. Eventually the three call up Campbell Scott (he seems surprised as to why they’re calling so maybe it wasn’t planned) who shares how he became involved before talking about how wonderful it is playing a jerk and talking to Schreiber a little about Big Night.
It’s a funny interview, feeling like a group of friends getting together to talk about “the good ‘ol days.” It also gets personal as Mottola talks about his own parents, hesitant elsewhere on this disc to acknowledge they’re influence on the parents in this film, finally linking them here. And this personal (though still fun) vibe carries on into the next interview between Mottola and Davis, which runs a brisk 21-minutes. Like the others Davis explains how she became involved (Campbell Scott had suggested her) and they discuss specific scenes and the difficulties in filming them, particularly a final confrontation at the end. Mottola also talks about the difficulties in finding distribution (despite having the help of Steven Soderbergh), with Miramax even turning the film down.
They’re a good set of interviews but the real gem to this release is the new audio commentary recorded exclusively for this edition, featuring Mottola, editor Anne McCabe, and producer Steven Soderbergh. Though Soderbergh did have a hand in the film, sharing his own recollections of the production, he acts here more as a moderator, asking questions of the other two, keeping the conversation going. There is a lot about the development of the script, the production, and working with the film’s cast, but the track is at its best when Mottola talks about the film as a learning experience, recalling the advice Soderbergh gave to him throughout and solving the issues he came across during the short production (which started with equipment being stolen the first day of shooting). I also enjoyed Mottola recalling his career after the film, from his failure to getting another film off the ground (that he’s still hoping to make) to doing television work, which got him off of the idea of only directing his own material, which led to him taking on Superbad. It’s a rich, entertaining track, one of the more insightful ones I’ve heard about make an indie film back in the 90’s.
Criterion also includes Mottola’s first short film, the 5-minute Hatbox. It’s silent but does come with an optional commentary track by the director. It’s an odd short, focusing on a woman and the mystery behind a hatbox that may contain something nefarious. In his track Mottola laughs a little about the film and admits he’s not entirely sure what it’s about (though likes the idea the main character may be a serial killer), but he explains it was really just for him to learn the technical aspects behind the camera in making a film in general.
The included insert then features an essay by Emily Nussbaum, who recalls first seeing the film, its impact on her at the time, and writing about the standout moments of the film and its characters.
There’s a lot of talk about deleted material and outtakes, none of which, disappointingly, makes it on to here (I assume it is lost). That would have capped things off nicely, but as it is Criterion provides a set of fun and informative features around the film, all of which I recommend going through. 8/10