Fast Times At Ridgemont High
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Fast Times At Ridgemont High

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The typical teen oriented comedy is a showcase for sex, drugs and rock & roll. While most of this genre is puerile there was one film released in 1982 set the bar, a standard that remains even to today, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Sure, it has more than its share of the aforementioned sex and drugs but unlike most of the films that proceeded or followed, it is actually extremely funny. While this film was originally panned by the critics it has become a cult classic and part of the collective consciousness of the young American audience. This film is also important in movie lore since it launched the careers of many fine actors that make up the A list of Hollywood today. For older audiences this film resonates with the teenager still lurking deep within us, that part of us that will never forget the wide and crazy days of our youth. Technology may have changed a lot since 1982 but the hormonal changes in puberty remains the same. Kids will rebel, act out and go wild.

While the cast is a huge ensemble cast but a few characters and storyline shin out. Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a young high school student working at a shop in the food court of a local mall. Stacy has also just decided that it was time to lose her virginity, a milestone cheered on by her co-worker and best friend Linda (Phoebe Cates). Finding a willing boy is, of course, not the problem, its finding the right willing boy that is the difficult part for Stacy, that and the fact that she is really confused about the whole thing. Stacy winds up throwing it away after an older salesman, leaving her with a lot of regrets. Stacie's older brother Brad (Judge Reinhold) is a type of high school student we all remember. Although he works at a fast food job he takes his responsibilities to a new level of prideful devotion. Of course the breakout character and actor here is Jeff Spicoli beautifully played by Sean Penn in one of his earliest roles. This characterization is the definitive high school surfer stoner, way before Bill and Ted took there most excellent adventure. Usually seen staggering out of a mini van that bellows smoke, Jeff is the kid that never seems to care, he talks back to his teachers and has a general "donít care" attitude.

While this film was largely under appreciated by everyone back in í82 it was a training ground for most of Hollywood today. Almost everyone has gone on from here to the extreme heights of acting success. After all who would have thought that the actor that portrayed Spicoli the stoner would one day stand at the podium and accept the Oscar for best actor? Even the supporting cast was to achieve greatness. For example keep a keen eye out for one of Spicoliís friends, Eric Stotlz or the African American football hero, Forest Whitaker. You might even see in the rolling credits a name that sounds familiar Nicolas Coppola, the first and only time Nicolas Cage used his birth name. Although most of these actors went on to dramatic careers this film demonstrates that each of them has a innate ability to perform comedy. The youthful ensemble cast also must of have a blast doing this film and it shows. They each present their characters with humor, empathy and an off the wall realism.

This film was not only the spring board for the cast but it also help begin the careers of its writer and director, propelling them to the stellar heights of the Hollywood elite. Based on the book by Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous), who also penned the screen play, he went undercover as a high school student for a year. Since he was at that magic age of 22 at the time, legally an adult but not too far removed from high school, he had a great perspective of those around him. Since Crowe spent some of his high school years touring with rock bands for Rolling Stone, perhaps he was trying to get back some of the high school experiences he missed. This was the first big picture for director Amy Heckerling. She would go on to her biggest hit, Clueless, but here you see her ability to tell a story about teenagers that has some depth and emotion but remains true to the expected map capped antics. She uses an extremely fast pace here, you have to hang on to your seat, the scenes change as often and as fast as a teenager changes their mind. Ironically, a female director is responsible for a scene that will live forever in every man and boy that views this film, Phoebe Cates emerging from the pool. You guys out there know what I mean.

Back when DVD was a relatively new media Universal released a special edition of this film that disappointed many. This new release will delight the legion of fans; this is the way the film should be presented, hats off to Universal for listening to their customers and not just giving us a re-release but a remaster. First, the video is now presented in anamorphic splendor. There is not a speck of grain or any other artifact that I could detect. The color balance is excellent; the flesh tones are nothing less than spectacular. The audio of the previous release was one of the sore points to all the fans of this film. Where the original release had a tinny sound this release boasts both a Dolby 5.1 and DTS sound track. Now the sound fills the room, the rock sound track booms out in all its glory. Again, Universal saw something wrong and corrected it. If you see this title in a store check the UPC you want 025192544521, settle for nothing else. The commentary track with Heckerling and Crowe is one of the best I have ever heard. They reminisce about the film like two friends look back at the best times of their lives. Speaking of reunions there is a featurette that brings together some of the cast to look back at this start to their careers. Get this film not only because of its place in cinema history but because it is a great flick to watch over and over.

Posted 10/28/04

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