After the shocking suicide of their friend, a group of thirtysomethings reunite for his funeral and end up spending a weekend together, reminiscing about their shared pasts 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 1983 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 hit songs from the sixties, 'The Big Chill' all but invented the consummately curated soundtrack.
After making quite a name for himself working on genre films, as a screenwriter for George Lucas on 'The Empire Strikes Back', 'Raiders of the Lost Ark', and 'Return of the Jedi', and making his feature-film-directing debut with the neo-noir 'Body Heat', Lawrence Kasdan demonstrated a talent for creating characters with storylines audiences could relate to in the Oscar-nominated 'The Big Chill'.
Following in a long line of films where characters congregate in a country house, such as Ingmar Bergman's 'Smiles of a Summer Night', and John Sayles' 'Return of the Secaucus Seven', 'The Big Chill' finds a group of thirty-something Baby Boomers, friends from their time together as students at the University of Michigan, trying to make sense of their lives and relationships in the '80s as they fend off mid-life crises and realizations they have become the people they were rebelling against in the '60s.
Having gone their separate ways across the country over the years, they reunite for the funeral of Alex, who, before the film opens, has committed suicide at the vacation home of shoe-company executive Harold (Kevin Kline) and physician Sarah (Glenn Close, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress). After the burial, the gang decides to stay the weekend at the home, along with Alex's twenty-something girlfriend of four months, Chloe (Meg Tilly), who was staying there with Alex at the time.
Working from Kasdan and Barbara Benedek's Oscar-nominated screenplay, the collection of characters is realized through one of the decade's greatest acting ensembles. Meg (Mary Kay Place) is an attorney and wants a child. She is determined to select one of the men to become the father that weekend since she is ovulating. Sam Whitman (Tom Berenger) is a TV star reminiscent of Tom Selleck in 'Magnum P.I.' and is recently divorced. Michael (Jeff Goldblum) is a writer for People although he looks down on the magazine. He is looking to start a nightclub, meaning he needs investors. Nick (William Hurt) has been affected by his time during the Vietnam War. He is a drug user, is impotent, and used to give advice on a call-in radio show. Karen (JoBeth Williams) is a wife and mother living in the suburbs, who gave up her passion for writing. Her husband Richard (Don Galloway) doesn't fit in with group and leaves early. Kevin Costner played Alex, but all his scenes were didn’t make the final cut.
Over the course of the weekend, the story of these characters and their intertwined lives plays out as they contemplate the choices and actions they've made over the years. There's laughter and tears, sex and death, and opportunities available to revisit the past and to head in new directions.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Big Chill' (#720 in The Criterion Collection) is a dual-format release featuring a 50GB Region A Blu-ray disc in a clear keepcase along with a pair of DVDs. The discs boot up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements. Included is a 20-page booklet containing "These Are Your Parents," an essay by filmmaker Lena Dunham, and "Surviving" by Harlan Jacobson from the September-October 1983 issue of Film Comment.
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 1.85:1. The liner notes state, "this new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a wetgate Oxberry film scanner from the 35 mm original camera negative at Cineric in New York City; the color correction was done at Colorworks in Culver City, California; and the restoration at MTI Film in Los Angeles. The entire process was supervised by director of photography John Bailey and the final result was approved by director Lawrence Kasdan."
The image looks very clean, free of defect and wear, while retaining a natural appearance of grain. The colors are predominantly light hues, as seen in the vacation home that makes use of pastels. There are rare occasions where more vibrant colors appear, such as the bright red robe Karen wears that hints at the passion she has been missing from her life.
Blacks are strong but the shadows tend to swallow up objects. Skin tones lean toward pink. Edges are soft throughout, diminishing the picture's sharpness and at times limiting the depth. Yet, some texture detail still comes through, as seen in the costumes.
The audio is available in English LPCM 1.0 and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. "The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the original 35 mm magnetic tracks. For the alternate 5.1 surround presentation, stereo music masters were used in tandem with elements from the 3-track dialogue, music, and effects stems. The full soundtrack was then remastered and remixed at Chace Audio in Burbank, California, under the supervision of Kasdan. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, AudioCube's integrated workstation, and isotope RX 3."
The Motown and classic rock songs make the best use of 5.1 track. The music fills each speaker and makes the best use of the bass, followed by a car revving up to start driving. The dynamic range is wide as the songs push the loud end while soft sounds like a tie being straightened during the opening come through clearly. In the front channels, vehicles can be heard panning across as they arrive for the funeral and car doors are positioned as they slam shut off screen. Otherwise, the effects are limited. There's a lot of dialogue and it is always clear and understandable.
Lawrence Kasdan's 'The Big Chill' is his lone entry in The Criterion Collection and stands out due to the quality of writing and acting. The Blu-ray offers a good image; two audio tracks, a mono track for the purist and 5.1 track that allows the music to shine; and a few extras that offer insight into the film and its creation. Recommended.