There's an old joke that goes, "If you remember the '60s, you weren't there." I suppose the joke should also apply to the '70s, at least for those of us who will actually admit to having lived through it. Platform shoes, love beads, feathered hair, knee socks, fuzzy black-lite posters, 8-track tapes, blue eye shadow, tube tops -- no wonder most of us survived the decade only through a pot-induced haze. All the better to forget that we once actually bought Shaun Cassidy records -- and liked them.
'Dazed and Confused' is a film that remembers those times with unerring precision. It has become the teen film to define the '70s. As 'Rebel Without a Cause' is to the '50s, 'American Grafitti' is to the '60s and 'The Breakfast Club' is to the '80s, 'Dazed and Confused' is a film that, if you were alive at all during the era, you simply cannot watch without your hand stuck permanently to your forehead, the shock of recognition threatening to knock you straight to the floor.
Fair to say that the "story" of 'Dazed and Confused' matters little. In fact, there really isn't one. Taking a cue from 'American Grafitti,' 'Dazed and Confused' is just another plotless examination of bored youth. Nothing terribly exciting happens. We meet a cross-section of high school students on the last day before summer break. Some are seniors, about to embark with great uncertainty on the next stage of their lives. Others are next year's freshman, subjected to a string of indignities and punishments inflicted upon them as the baton (or, rather, the paddle) is passed to the incoming class. Along the way their will be keg parties, beer bongs, hook-ups, break-ups, fights and new friendships formed. And plenty of pot smoking.
Admittedly, there is little dramatic momentum to 'Dazed and Confused.' But what a wonderful evocation of such a defining period in American culture. The film was obviously a labor of love for director Richard Linklater, who only two years before defined Generation X with the 1991 cult classic 'Slacker.' Linklater is interested little in grand, sweeping statements or overheated melodrama. The real treasures of 'Dazed and Confused' are in the details. The clothes, the props, the locations, the songs -- it is all pitch perfect.
And then there are the performances. The cast list of 'Dazed and Confused' reads like a who's who of "It" actors of the '90s and '00s. Standouts include Parker Posey as the high school bitch, Matthew McConaghay's scarily authentic perpetual high-school senior, Milla Jovovich as a stoned-out beatnik, Ben Affleck's crazed turn as a "disciplinarian of freshman," and even a blink-or-you'll-miss here turn by Renee Zelleweger. Their excitement and passion is infectious, and if nothing else, 'Dazed and Confused' is a testament to their young talent. If you made it through the 70's, you have to see 'Dazed and Confused.'
'Dazed and Confused' makes it high-def debut on HD DVD, and Universal has produced a solid 1.85:1 transfer encoded in 1080p/VC-1 video. This is a good-looking disc, and the source material appears to have been preserved rather well for a now fifteen-year-old film. There are a few minor blemishes noticeable, such as dirt specks, but it is rarely distracting. A thin veneer of grain permeates throughout, but it only adds to the appropriate sense of nostalgia, and the transfer appears very warm and film-like. Colors are also nicely saturated, with only some of the darker scenes looking slightly muddy and ill-defined. Detail, overall, is pleasing. The transfer has nice blacks and contrast, though again it does appear a tad dark in nighttime scenes, so shadow delineation is not the best I've seen. Certainly, this is not the most three-dimensional HD DVD release I've seen, but it does offer a fairly solid upgrade over the standard DVD. All in all, a fine effort.
There really is not much going on sonically in 'Dazed and Confused.' Universal presents the film in a Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track, but it really doesn't offer any noticeable benefit. Here is a mix that is primarily front-heavy, so the best this soundtrack can do is simply get the job done. (Note that there is also a DTS 5.1 surround track included, but it is only on standard DVD side of this HD DVD/DVD combo.)
However, for a fairly low-budget film, 'Dazed and Confused' sounds perfectly fine. Frequency response is solid across the spectrum, with pleasing midrange and no obvious issues with high-end, such as distortion. Low end, however, is decidedly average -- the only real .1 LFE frequencies emitted from the subwoofer are for the film's many '70s-era songs, which all sound just groovy. Surround use, though, is considerably beefed up versus the original, bare-bones Universal DVD release from 1998. There is now at least some rear presence (on the songs, primarily), and some occasional discrete effects. No, this is hardly an aggressive and enveloping mix, but it does suit the film just fine.
Long story short: director Richard Linklater had originally intended to include a wealth of extras on Universal's recent "Flashback Edition" DVD re-issue of 'Dazed and Confused,' but after a reported falling out with the studio over release dates, he opted instead to take his goodies over to Criterion. Hence, the only extras we get on this HD DVD/DVD combo disc are the same as the lame Universal release, which quite frankly suck.
All that is of interest is 14 minutes of deleted scenes, which are all mostly short character snippets and more freshman hazing. The quality is also poor, with all of the scenes presented in grainy full frame and 480i video.
The only other "extras" are "The Blunt Truth," a lame compilation of '70s Public Service Announcement snippets about the evils of marijuana, and "VD is for Everybody," which is another dull PSA. The only snippet I did enjoy was that old anti-pollution commercial featuring the crying indian, which totally scared me when I was a kid.
(Note that 'Dazed & Confused' is another HD DVD/DVD combo disc where all of the extras on the DVD side, so in order to watch these, you'll need to flip over your disc.)
'Dazed and Confused' may lack a coherent story, but it makes up for it with great period detail, fine performances and oodles of nostalgia. This HD DVD release is perfectly fine -- nice transfer and solid soundtrack, though the extras are pithy. Hopefully someday soon Criterion will jump into the next-gen game and release their version on HD DVD, but until then, this will have to do for 'Dazed and Confused' fans. Worth considering if you can pick it up cheap.