The Big Chill
After the shocking suicide of their friend, a group of thirtysomethings reunite for his funeral and end up spending the weekend together, reminiscing about their shared past as children of the sixties and confronting the uncertainty of their lives as adults of the eighties. Poignant and warmly humorous in equal measure, this baby boomer milestone made a star of writer-director Lawrence Kasdan and is perhaps the decade’s defining ensemble film, featuring memorable performances by Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly, and JoBeth Williams. And with its playlist of sixties rock and R&B hits, The Big Chill all but invented the consummately curated soundtrack.
Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill re-enters The Criterion Collection with a new dual-format edition presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The dual-layer Blu-ray presents the film with a new 1080p/24hz high-definition digital transfer. A standard-definition version of the film is found on the first dual-layer DVD and has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
Using the original negative the film was restored in 4K and that master is the basis for this transfer. The Big Chill has a fairly flat look, and this is more by design: Kasdan had no intention of getting overly showy and was more concerned on placement of the camera and letting his actors do their thing. Still, what we get looks very good. Clarity is great, and many long shots, including an early one of Kevin Kline’s character standing in front of field, deliver a superb amount of detail. The colour palette isn’t all that diverse but they’re nicely balanced and saturated. Black levels can be a bit off at times, and darker scenes crush out details in the shadows. Film grain is there and is rendered fairly well.
I didn’t notice any significant instances of damage and the print has been cleaned up nicely. Other than maybe some slight pixilation in places I didn’t notice any digital anomalies that distracted from my viewing; even a scene with fog is cleanly rendered without banding.
The DVD is a little more disappointing on the other hand. The standard-definition transfer is clearly noisier and compression is more obvious. Detail is nowhere near as robust unfortunately. Yet colours look good and are saturated nicely, but blacks are still crushed. Still, when all is said and done, the DVD may be open to improvement but it’s better than Sony’s old one.
Despite a bland DVD presentation the Blu-ray still delivers a solid presentation, the best I’ve seen for the film on home video.
Criterion includes two audio tracks: a mono track and 5.1 surround remix. The mono track is presented as lossless PCM on the Blu-ray and Dolby Digital on the DVD, while the surround track is delivered in DTS-HD MA on the Blu-ray and Dolby Digital on the DVD.
The 5.1 track ended up being my preference. It’s still very much monaural in nature, with dialogue and most sound effects focused to the front, but the music has been remixed to fill out the surround environment. The music is crystal clear with superb range and bass, making decent use of the sub-woofer. It’s also good and loud when appropriate.
The mono track alternatively doesn’t have the same wide range in comparison, sounding a bit flatter. Music isn’t as loud and stays at about the same level as the rest of the track. Yet dialogue is still clear and intelligible, and there are no glaring issues.
Both are fine but the surround track does have a little more life to it.
Upon getting this I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed just looking at this edition. The artwork, though based on a poster (and similar to the LaserDisc’s,) is bland, as is the disc art and the booklet. I guess I shouldn’t expect everything to be so lavish from Criterion but so far this release is feeling pretty generic. The menus also didn’t help but once I actually went through the supplements the release finally felt completely generic.
The one truly new and unique feature to be found here is a 12-minute interview with director Lawrence Kasdan. Here Kasdan talks a little about working in the Hollywood system and how he was able to make films that were still personal. He also goes into a little bit of detail about the film, the story development, scene structures, and influences, but this is covered in more detail in other features. It’s not a bad interview but feels sort of tacked on. It wasn’t part of the original specs when the title was first announced by Criterion, so it’s almost like they figured “might as well get an interview with the guy” and threw it on here.
Unfortunately the rest of the features are lifted from the previous DVD or put on here because they were there and, hey, why not? The Big Chill: A Reunion is the same 56-minute documentary found on the original DVD, and gathers together various members of the cast and crew, who all talk about the making of the film. It follows the same path as most making-ofs, starting with development, trying to sell the idea (unsurprisingly studios were not interested), casting and rehearsals, and then moving on to the actual production and eventual release. There are stories about how the cast got along on set, and thankfully there is some footage to go along with these stories (like Goldblum’s and Kline’s Scottish impersonations.) Cast members talk about their characters, though amusingly enough most everyone wanted to play another role with the women wanting to play Meg (ultimately played by Mary Kay Place) and Kline wanting to play anyone other than who he ended up playing. There’s a couple of surprises, like the fact the kitchen dancing/singing scene was played out without music playing, and then there is more detail on Kevin Costner’s deleted scene: a flashback where we get to see all of the friends in college. For what it is it’s fine but I’m sure most fans of the film have seen it already.
New to this release is footage from a 30th anniversary Q&A following a screening of the film at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. After a 5-minute introduction the host then asks questions of his guests, but most of the material provided was covered already in the documentary or even Kasdan’s solo interview on the disc. It’s nice to get more footage of the cast members (Hurt and Goldblum are unfortunately both missing) and Kline is rather amusing, though gets too little time. It’s not a terrible reunion of the cast, but it’s unfortunately very repetitive. The only part probably worthwhile is where Place and Kline imagine what happened to their characters afterwards. The feature runs 44-minutes.
Also taken from the original DVD is 10-minutes’ worth of deleted scenes. These are the exact same scenes found on that DVD, delivered in the same manner (though enhanced for widescreen) so there is still no Costner scene. Most of the deleted material was taken from the beginning at the funeral, burial, and reception. The scenes aren’t bad, and in fact there’s actually a few good laughs, but it’s easy to see why they were cut as it was probably best to get through the funeral as quickly as possible.
The features then close with the film’s theatrical trailer. The DVD presents the trailer on the first disc with the film while the second dual-layer disc hosts the remaining features.
The included booklet is an odd one. It does include a reprint of a 1983 Film Comment article by Harlan Jacobson, which feels fitting, but it’s the other essay that feels like it doesn’t belong. An essay by Lena Dunham simply titled “These Are Your Parents” attempts to remind us that her/our parents are human (despite what we may think) and went through the same things we did or are going to, and also goes into how the themes in the film are ultimately universal. I’m not going to say it’s bad, because I don’t really think it is, but it feels like an odd inclusion. It’s almost as though Criterion was unsure how to sell the film and added this in as a way to maybe attract Millenials, fearing this film would have no appeal to anyone outside of the baby-boomers. I mean, the title “These Are Your Parents” seems specifically aimed at a certain audience. I could be reaching, though.
It’s an underwhelming roster of extras overall, and I’m not just referring to the obvious exclusions (why is Kasdan so insistent on never showing the cut flashback sequence?) No, it’s underwhelming because it doesn’t feel like any thought or care went into it. And it’s a shame. Despite one’s feelings for the film it is a significant one from the 80s, an unlikely hit that was somehow made in the studio system. There’s a lot that could have been added and it’s sad Criterion didn’t seem all that concerned to do so.
Nice transfer but the slapped together feel in regards to packaging, menus, and supplements makes the overall release a very underwhelming one.