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THE BIG CHILL
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly, Jobeth Williams
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Audio: DTS HD 5.1, Dolby Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Criterion
Features: See Review
Length: 105 Minutes
Release Date: July 29, 2014

I don’t know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They’re more important than sex.”

Ah, come on. Nothing’s more important than sex.”

Oh yeah? Ever gone a week without a rationalization?”

Film ***

After co-writing a couple of big screen blockbusters (The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark) and experiencing a successful directing debut (Body Heat), Lawrence Kasdan had established something of a reputation as top flight writer/director. And yet, his next desired project, an ensemble piece about a group of friends reuniting following the funeral of another, managed to be a hard sell as nearly every studio passed on it. But with the right producers in tow, Kasdan was able to make The Big Chill, which has since become one of the most popular films of the 1980s.

It’s a film that definitely launched many big time acting careers. Other than William Hurt (the lead in Kasdan’s Body Heat), none of the actors in this lineup had been well established yet. But following the film’s release, we would definitely hear more from the likes of Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, Tom Berenger and Jeff Goldblum.

As mentioned earlier, the film tells of a group of college friends that have reunited under tragic circumstances, as another friend of the college circle commits suicide. Following the funeral, the group resides at a South Carolina winter house owned by married couple Harold (Kline) and Sarah (Close). What lies ahead is a weekend where each of the friends will come to realize where they are at in life, why, and what the future possibly holds for them.

Among these friends are Michael (Goldblum), who writes for a highly regarded magazine and finds the profession equal parts thrilling and despicable. Sam (Berenger) is a famous TV star (and from the looks of it, a dead ringer for Tom Selleck) who is finding things awkward once crossing paths with fellow friend Karen (JoBeth Williams), as the two may still hold feelings for one another. The two wild cards of the group are Nick (Hurt), who relies a little too much on drugs to get by, and Chloe (Meg Tilly), the girlfriend of the deceased.

While the film, for the most part, still holds up pretty well and serves as a landmark showcase for top of the line ensemble acting (which has since become a landmark Kasdan trait), I don’t find myself placing this film as highly as many, especially when it comes to ranking among the director’s best work. It may be the simple fact that the film speaks to a different generation than mine, and that these characters are enduring mid-life crises that I myself have yet to experience...not to mention the fact there is very little payoff by the ending, which also feels strangely abrupt.

I’m also a huge fan of Kasdan’s Grand Canyon, which is basically the 90s take on this film but on a much broader scale and dealing with harsher realities and themes. The fact that I saw that film before The Big Chill could have an effect on my opinion, but Kasdan’s filmmaking had truly evolved with the later piece. Another fine ensemble work from Kasdan is the heavily underrated Mumford, which I hope makes it to Blu-ray one day!

Nevertheless, there remains a lot to admire about The Big Chill, most notably the phenomenal soundtrack (which my parents owned and I listened to endlessly). You simply can’t go wrong with a film whose opening credits are backed up by one of the great songs of all time (Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine”). And tracks by the likes of The Temptations, The Beach Boys, Smokey Robinson, The Rascals and Three Dog Night not only provide great back up, but serve as high points for the film.

Though it may resonate better for those who can better relate to it, The Big Chill does serve as an important benchmark in the career of Lawrence Kasdan, whose knack for crafting rich ensemble pieces was illustrated perfectly here. And this one of a kind cast, which remains one of the best ensembles ever, shines from beginning to end!

BONUS TRIVIA: The role of the deceased friend was to be played by Kevin Costner, whose scenes were cut from the film...but that is actually him being dressed for the funeral during the opening titles.

Video ***1/2

Criterion has ushered in a nice Blu-ray welcome for this release with a quite terrific look presentation. The 4K restoration gives the film a nice warm look, without calling attention too much to the grains while at the same time not completely doing away with them. The outdoor shots around the winter home particularly shine the best, and overall image detail is certainly tremendous for an early 80s release!

Audio ****

Though strictly a dialogue oriented film, the outstanding soundtrack alone serves as a reason to experience it in a new DTS HD mix. Once Marvin Gaye kicks in with the opening credits, the sound system is brought to life beautifully. And from that point on, all of the great music is balanced terrifically with the well handled dialogue delivery. Criterion has also been kind to include an uncompressed mono mix as well!

Features ***1/2

Once again, Criterion delivers their can’t beat touch in the supplements area on this Dual Format Blu-ray/DVD release, which starts off with terrific new interview with Kasdan, as well as a vintage making-of documentary from 1998. The true high point of the disc is a lengthy Q&A from the 2013 Toronto Film Festival, featuring Kasdan and actors Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, Tom Berenger, JoBeth Williams, Mary Kay Place and Meg Tilly. Rounding out the extras are some Deleted Scenes and a trailer.

And like all great Criterion releases, there’s a terrific insert booklet, which features an essay by actress/writer/filmmaker Lena Dunham and a 1983 piece by critic Harlan Jacobson!

Summary:

Lawrence Kasdan has long been a favorite of mine in the realm of filmmaking, and though I don’t exactly consider The Big Chill his strongest work, I still admire it heavily for it’s great cast, the one of a kind soundtrack, and the mere fact that it exists because it helped pave the way for stronger work from him. Lovers of this film owe it to themselves to pick up this new Blu-ray release from Criterion!

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