It's true that one can't judge the success of an adapted screenplay by how much personal affection is held for the source. Novels and films are two disparate types of storytelling. What works in one, doesn't always work in the other. That's why drawing strict parallels between the two always results in faulty arguments. However, tangential comparisons are inevitable and expected. Acknowledging the source, its general ideas, structure, characters, and how they're adapted to film is a noble cause. At least in my opinion. I say this, because before seeing 'The Spectacular Now' at Sundance almost a year ago, I made it a point to read the book before.
'The Spectacular Now' adapted by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber ('500 Days of Summer'), and directed by James Ponsoldt ('Smashed'), was originally a novel penned by Tim Tharp. What first struck me when I read the novel was how unrealistic the dialogue sounded. I remember saying to myself, "This sounds like an old guy trying desperately to write dialogue for teenagers." While the characterizations were strong, and the story was decently absorbing, the dialogue suffered greatly. So, imagine my surprise when Tim Tharp gets up with James Ponsoldt at the Sundance screening I attended, and my assumption about him was dead on. There's no way around it, Tharp is old. Especially when considering the age of the characters he's writing for. Now I'm not saying this isn't something that can be done. What I'm saying is that Tharp's dialogue sounded detached from how real kids speak to each other. A problem Neustadter and Weber remedied in their screenplay.
Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is a drunk. He's only a teenager, but the kid drinks like a seasoned alcoholic. He never stops drinking. Never. The biggest problem is that Sutter seems to be the life of the party. An eternally energetic personality that seems completely unfazed by the amount of alcohol he's consuming on a daily basis. If anyone sees the person Sutter is, they might conclude that drinking that much could possibly be a good thing.
Underneath all the boozing, Sutter is a teddy bear. He's caring, avoids cutting sarcasm, and genuinely cares about the people around him. Perhaps that's what's so refreshing about 'The Spectacular Now.' These aren't the mean, snarky teenagers you see in movie after movie. These are thoughtful characters who have real problems, but also enjoy life with all its imperfections and flaws.
After a drinking binge, and waking up on a stranger's lawn, Sutter meets Aimee (Shailene Woodley). Aimee is an unfortunate, shy girl who goes to Sutter's school. Sutter sees potential where no one else does. He's determined to give Aimee some much needed self-esteem. She needs it, since she lives at home with a deadbeat mom.
'The Spectacular Now' is surprisingly thoughtful in the way it treats teenagers. They're real people here, not crude stereotypes. Even though Sutter drinks like he has a liver made of steel, he isn't an angry party boy. Aimee isn't your conventional introverted teen girl either. Beneath her shy shell is a strong, independent young woman. Watching the two of them grow together is extremely satisfying.
Now, I will say that the ending in Tharp's book is much better, and feels less Hollywood. If there's one drawback to this whole journey it's that the ending of the movie feels like it's been tacked on by a studio executive who was too worried that the original ending might disappoint viewers. However, a less-than-stellar ending doesn't undo all the picture-perfect moments that came before. It's a lovingly sweet tale of two real kids, and in an age where most movie kids are either pretentious socialites or wastoids, it's nice to see a movie that treats them with respect.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Distributed by Lionsgate, 'The Spectacular Now' comes on a 50GB Blu-ray Disc. This single-disc release also comes with a code for a UltraViolet Digital Copy. However, the release is pretty much as bare bones as it gets. The only other thing worth noting is the inclusion of a slipcover. It's labeled as a Region A release.
Lionsgate's 1080p 2.40:1 presentation of 'The Spectacular Now' reminds me of what I saw in the theater at Sundance. It's never a flashy movie. The visuals are as down to earth as the characters, but there's some nice imagery here and there.
You get what you expect when you pop in this Blu-ray. It's a clear, concise picture with some defects. Detail is a little soft, but so is the movie. The softer visuals set a tone for a somewhat whimsical coming-of-age drama. Colors are bright, vividly lighting up the screen. Facial details are unmistakable. From Woodley's fine freckles, to the tears welling up in the eyes of those who find out life might be too much to bear at times.
As for artifacting, the biggest problem is banding. Fades feature quite a bit of banding in the darker areas. It seems par for the course as far as low-budget indies go, but it's noticeable more often than not. Also there are some darker areas that feature crushing and some digital noise. It isn't a deal breaker, but it does make a few transitions hard to watch.
About the same as above. There aren't any moments where the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is going to floor you with its technical prowess. As with many dramas that have come before, 'The Spectacular Now' is a talk-heavy film. Most of the movie's sound is centered up front.
Directionality is as seamless as it comes. The front speakers do a great job handing dialogue back and forth depending on where the characters are standing relative to the camera angle. The center speaker bolsters much of the movie's dialogue, delivering it cleanly, without hiccups.
The rear channels are sparsely populated with ambient sound. A few parties feature some nice surround sound such as excited partiers and music. The sub-woofer gets some low notes, mostly due to some of the movie's sound track choices. The key here is that the sound is effectively presented in a way that helps create the atmosphere the movie warrants.
'The Spectacular Now' was one of my favorite films of 2013. It has so much heart. It's so disarming in the way it treats its young, inexperienced characters. It treats them with respect. It doesn't downgrade them to teenage stereotypes. They're much too complex for that. This is a movie that will stay with you long after you've watched it. With fairly solid audio and video presentations, 'The Spectacular Now' is highly recommended.