A mysterious fair comes to a small community in the countryside, which could make real the illusions of two kids
"Whenever you've got a problem the United States post office comes to the rescue."
"Yeah they run a pretty tight ship."
The 90s were probably the absolute worst years to release a musical. This is especially true for a beloved musical that ran Off-Broadway for nearly 40 years. In the case of 'The Fantasticks,' the road to cinema screens was a long one. In the 1960s, Barbara Streisand and Elliot Gould were set to appear in a film adaptation that never got off the ground. Rather than let the material slip through her fingers, Streisand would take several of the songs from the show and make them the center pieces of her debut solo album. After a truncated TV production in the late 1960s, a proper cinematic interpretation would finally get off the ground in 1995 under the lighthearted eye of Director Michael Ritchie - and then sit on a shelf for five long years until it was reedited by Francis Ford Coppola and dumped onto six screens in 2000 where it quickly vanished.
Feuding neighbors Amos Bellamy (Joel Grey) and Ben Hucklebee (Brad Sullivan) are at each other's necks day and night over a disputed wall separating their property lines. Caught in the middle is Amos' daughter Luisa (Jean Louisa Kelly) and Ben's son Matt (Joey McIntyre). The two young lovers are forced to sneak about their respective father's expansive farmland properties and into town to steal a few words and perhaps even a kiss as their fathers bicker at each other. Little do Luisa and Matt know that all of this is by design.
Amos and Ben in reality couldn't be better friends and only concocted this faux feud in an effort to spur their budding romantic feelings. After all, what better way to get your children to do what you want than to tell them no? With the two kids squarely in Cupid's sights, Amos and Ben need to figure out a way to end the feud while not tipping their children off to the setup. With the arrival of a traveling carnival, Amos and Ben just might have the solution they need with the mysterious El Gallo (Jonathon Morris). El Gallo helps the two men put a plan in place that lets Matt be a hero, secure the love of Louisa for all time, and help the fathers end their ruse. Even the best laid plans can develop a few bumps and the path this one paves is anything but smooth.
'The Fantasticks' is a nice piece of Americana that ever so subtly tries to recapture the majesty of classic musicals like 'Oklahoma!' With the sweeping landscape and a touch of magic and love in the air, this is a charmingly wonderful little movie. I have no experience with the stage show, so I can't speak to it as an adaptation. I understand this film isn't very popular, largely due to that fact that the stage show is usually very minimalist - some use all of four props in the entire production. But you can't have a minimalist film musical - it would just be weird. Perhaps the biggest issue with the film is this edit that was conducted by Francis Ford Coppola.
One of the songs from the stage show that helped make Barbara Streisand a household name, "Try To Remember," is completely absent from the opening of this film. Numerous other songs were apparently edited out or cut down in favor of a quicker pace and a shorter runtime. While this is a fun and enjoyable movie over all, it does have a shallow feeling to it that is hard to ignore. In order to fully appreciate this nice little story and how it all comes together, you must watch the Original Cut. Running a full 23 minutes longer, the film has so much more room to breathe, take its time, and let its natural charm seep into the audiences hearts, rather than be rammed down their throats.
If you've never seen or heard of the film adaptation of 'The Fantasticks,' that's understandable. If you saw this film and weren't a fan and felt it did a disservice to the stage show, it's time to give it another look with the longer original cut now available. When MGM finally got around to releasing it, it was put into as few theaters as possible in order to meet a contractional obligation. Had it been made just a few years later when musicals were on a rebound, things might have turned out differently for this little movie. The outcome really can't be faulted to Director Michael Richie or its cast. You can see, even in the whittled down 86 minute cut, that this film is a labor of love for everyone involved. I didn't know what to expect going into this movie, knowing of it only as another film like 'Supernova' that saw the editing fingers of Francis Ford Coppola. Thankfully it's a better movie than its reputation depicts. If you're in a sentimental mood and are looking for a nice film to put a smile on your face for an evening, you'll be in good hands with 'The Fantasticks.'
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The Fantasticks arrives on Blu-ray through Twilight Time. Pressed on a BD50 disc, this edition is limited to only 3000 copies. The inside liner notes feature an extensive essay about the film by Twilight Time's Julie Kirgo.
'The Fantasticks' makes for a nice 2.35:1 1080p Blu-ray debut. This is a very colorful movie and primaries are given a lot of room to pop off the screen. Detail looks to be pretty strong for much of the film, especially in closeups and medium shots, however some establishing and longer distance shots can appear a bit smooth and out of focus - not in a terrible way mind you, but it is noticeable. Black levels and shadows are strong over all with minimal instances of crush present. All in all this is a very good presentation, considering it houses an HD transfer of the theatrical cut and an SD transfer of the original cut. There are occasional instances of nicks or dirt on the print, but they're so minimal and scant that you'd have to be looking really close to spot them. This is a fun movie with a lively HD transfer.
'The Fantasticks' comes with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 and a DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track. Between the two options, I have to recommend the DTS-HD MA 2.0 track - it just feels fuller, warmer and more alive than the 5.1. The surround track does a nice job of keeping some of the sound effects and background music to the sides helping maintain a sense of atmosphere, but when the singing kicks in, things feel kind of flat. This is largely because much of the singing was done live in scene and not prerecorded and wasn't originally intended to be mixed for surround sound. As for the 2.0 track, imaging is strong and vibrant, especially during the larger more boisterous song and dance numbers. Levels are nice and even and clarity is crystal clear. Both tracks are free of any hisses or pops or dropouts ad create a pleasent auditory presentation. I just prefer the 2.0 over the 5.1.
Note: All Audio Commentaries are for the Theatrical Cut of the film and not the Original Cut.
Audio Commentary: Director Michael Richie flies solo here recounting his experiences seeing the stage show and how the film became a passion project of his. Things keep more scene specific and don't dip into much of any details about the behind the scenes drama or the re-editing.
Audio Commentary: Actress Jean Louise Kelly and Broadway Authority Bruce Kimmel talk at length about the film, the history of the show and compare the differences. A very lively and fun track.
Audio Commentary: Film journalist Chris Willman and Film Historian Nick Redman discuss the ins and outs of the production. Chris Willman was on set for much of the production and offers a lot of information about the film as well as its storied release experience.
Original Theatrical Trailer: (SD 2:11) it's a cute enough trailer but its clear that its a quick dash off effort to meet a marketing obligation.
Original Cut of the Film: (SD 1:49:46) If only this had been given a proper HD transfer! This is the cut of the movie that should have been released in theaters. After watching the theatrical edition, I wasn't sure what to expect with this longer cut. I can honestly say that the missing 23 minutes makes all the difference. Pacing is spot on, it keeps the film looking and feeling warmer and not a mad dash to get from song to song. You get a better feel for each and every character, specifically the El Gallo character who now feels much more like a spirit or a puppet master who knows all and delicately pulls the strings tied to the main characters. It's a much nicer, warmer feeling movie at this extended length. Over all picture quality is very strong for a standard definition presentation. There is some modest print wear in the form of the occasional speck or scratch, but nothing so lasting as to call it "damage." Audio also is wonderful as this cut of the film gets a full DTS-HD MA 2.0 track of its own. On par with the Theatrical Cut 2.0 track, there is a lot of auditory warmth here as the sound feels alive and present throughout. Perhaps one day this cut of the film will see a proper restoration effort, until then, this isn't half bad!
'The Fantasticks' is one of those movies that is more famous for its troubled release history than it is for actually being a movie. Given that it holds the record for the longest running Off-Broadway Production of all time, I can see how fans would be upset with the shows treatment for the Theatrical Cut of the film. Now that the true intended Original Cut is available, I encourage fans of the show to give it another look. As a whole it's a charming movie through and through and can make for a nice evening of entertainment. With the strong picture and audio quality and three individual commentary tracks on top of the included original cut - this Blu-ray release from Twilight Time is highly recommended.