After viewing 'Wild Cherry' recently, I decided I needed something to wash the taste out of my mouth (and/or mind), and decided the best way to do so would be to see the film it so blatantly wanted to be: 'American Pie.' The debut of the Weitz brothers, this teen coming of age/gross out comedy went on to spawn two direct sequels and four direct-to-video spin-offs, and has made a considerable sum of money, with the trilogy costing less than $100 million to make, earning over seven times that in worldwide box office, let alone home video purchases, pay-per-view buys, and television royalties.
Teenage boys trying to lose their virginity is nothing new to cinema, or life in general. It's something most guys all remember, those failed conquests, the pressure, the awkwardness of it all around those who are sexually active. Such is the life for four East Great Falls locals (Jason Biggs as Jim, Thomas Ian Nicholas as Kevin, Chris Klein as Chris/"Oz," and Eddie Kaye Thomas as Paul/Finch), who are all at different states of relationship existence, frustrated at their predicaments so much so that they make a pact after discovering a peer that they look down on lost his virginity before they did: before graduation, each and every one of them is going to get laid! If only they thought of that Freshman year, it wouldn't have been so difficult, but ah well. As the guys try to score on the beautiful gals around every corner (including Alyson Hannigan, Shannon Elizabeth, Tara Reid, Natasha Lyonne, and Mena Suvari), they discover their desperate focus on having sex didn't help their chances.
'American Pie' isn't a spectacular film; never was, never will be. It has some amazingly wooden or annoying performances, to be sure, alongside some questionable side plots occupying valuable runtime. It makes up for that in spades, though, with its strengths. The four guys are all very likable and relatable, with contrasting personalities and their own sets of limitations that make them much more relatable than many similar cinematic characters. The world it exists in is believable, with understandable parental interactions, peer pressure, and the unlimited and untapped sex drives of guys looking for their first. The fact that all four friends are in the same boat is a stretch, especially considering the climax of the film (get it? Climax? Oh, nevermind...), but it's easy to genuinely care for the majority of the cast, as each and every lead character has fathomable traits and life experiences putting them where they are.
The cast isn't one where looking back, twelve years later, it's amazing they were all together, but it's not a bad collection of young talent, either. Biggs, taking on a very risky role, has his breakout performance as the socially awkward lovable loser type, while Klein plays the part he was born to play: a bulky high school jock, one he also played in 'Election.' Nicholas can be a bit frustrating, as the "leader" of the group, partially due to the writing of the character, but also due to the quality of the performance, the distracting facial expressions, while Thomas is a bit out of his league the first time around as Finch, with an intentionally dry performance that can seem forced. Eugene Levy had a career resurrection as Jim's unnamed dad, stealing scene after scene with his spot-on facial expressions and physical acting, and Seann William Scott, making his feature film debut, proved why he's such a bankable comedic talent with his sexed up spoiled jock/bully. The girls are somewhat secondary in the story, despite being the subjects of so much longing, so the lack of breakout depictions isn't that troubling. In fact, it's a good thing the male actors did such a good job, since the gals, well, yikes. Suvari is an absolute disaster, with troubled line readings and a complete lack of believability, while Reid, bless her heart, is more known for her franken-boobies than her acting talents for a reason...and that reason is she's quite horrible. There's a reason Lyonne didn't make it big, and her arrest wasn't it. Hannigan is in the film too little this first installment to comment on her performance (she was given an awfully one dimension character), and Elizabeth? Well...we all love that one scene, so she gets a pass, even if her accent doesn't.
'American Pie' has aged fairly well for a film of its genre, as it is mostly conceivable today (though the lack of cell phones is the big giveaway), and the jokes, even with tons of viewings, they're still sometimes quite funny. Heck, if anything, the background gags are the best, the gags that setup the others, like the fake porn dialogue in the beginning ("Oh yeah, baby, I'm bone smuggling!"), or the background characters at the first party. The film has a brisk pace, with the only slow moments of the film being the ones that are the big payoffs; as such, they're not so much noticeable as they are appreciable little pauses. It's always tough hearing Klein and Suvari sing, and the entire plot point of choir class makes no sense, but as is the case with any comedy, some moments click with some audiences, some don't. This is a film that's honest, and fun, partially due to the lack of a real cruel element that could have happened at any time. Instead, the mood is always light, embarrassment is overcome and not lingered on, and characters grow. Alright, they don't mature one bit from beginning to end, but their coming of age story is still noticeable with their rites of passage. 'American Pie' may feel like an adolescent fantasy, and maybe it is, but it's warm and fuzzy, nostalgic to adults or relevant to teens, a fairly even, positive gross out film that hits almost all of the genre staples. There's a reason people still enjoy this film, twelve years later.
The Disc: Vital Stats
There has not been any announcement for the American release of any part of the original 'American Pie' trilogy, though with 'American Reunion' being filmed right now, the chances of seeing these three titles (more than likely as a collection) is incredibly strong in 2012. In Germany, this film is already available on Blu-ray, through Constantin films, on a BD25 disc that is Region A friendly, meaning it will play in American players.
The film is presented in its "uncut" form, which really doesn't add too much to the film. Later 'American Pie' films would throw random nudity in to the longer versions, but here we see a nastier "pale ale," more close ups (read: no nudity) of Shannon Elizabeth in her infamous scene, and a few minor additions that flesh out the story, barely. The version found in theaters here is not included through branching of any kind.
The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode is at least in the right aspect ratio (1.78:1 from 1.85, close enough), so that's something.
Crush is a constant problem, and hair often found itself indistinct and undefined, regularly collapsing under the weight of the slightest shadow. Skin tones are random and inconsistent, with excessive heat early, then far too much pale and washed out moments, not even counting the ridiculous lack of tan Nicholas was sporting. There's plenty of random tiny blips, and more than a few scratches. Grain is inconsistent, as well, noise doesn't spike but can be seen on more than a few occasions, and light artifacting can also be found for those with a discerning eye (the most obvious moment in the entire film: keep an eye on Chris Klein's green shirt, the first one we see him in). The picture is regularly flat, with less depth than any of Stiffler's ladyfriends, and the less said about the amount of detail on display, the better.
What's really bad is the blue tint. The first half of the flick has a few sequences that get invaded with blues, where skin tones are considerably bizarre, with a few sequences appearing like characters were in a pool at times they're so heavily tinted. Elizabeth's skin suffers greatly from this, as her heavy tan makes her look brown due to the added "accent." Toilets should never be blue, either. Ever. This issue pops up again in some exteriors with Klein and Suvari at the end, as well.
Amazingly, this release did try to undig the whole it done dug for itself. Skin tones in the second hour are much more natural, strangely, and random debris is knocked down considerably. Detail levels are slightly stronger, though flatness remains. Artifacting was much more difficult to notice, but noise was a bit more obvious. Throughout the film, edges are solid, with nary a sign of tampering. But one average half (and calling it average is a slight overstatement) does not make up for one hideously ugly one.
They blew it.
Constantin really didn't do a great job on this release. See, the reason the video was so ugly for the most part was compression. The audio? Yeah, sure, it's probably got some issues due to compression, as well. It also has a DTS-HD HR (High Resolution) 5.1 track instead of a lossless 5.1 one. Please note: this disc defaults to the also DTS-HD HR German dub. It's no better than what's found in English, but it can be pretty damned hilarious, having seen the film so many times over the years, then hearing it like that.
So, how exactly did they blow it? Let's start with music that doesn't hit the rear channels, sometimes only hitting the center channel, not even the front sides. Let's then move on to how severely limited the range is, how excessively wimpy and reserved the entire track is, and how I get more bass when I fall off the couch than my subwoofer gave out in the entire runtime here, soundtrack and all, and I have a pretty damn short couch, all things considered, so that's bad. The rears get some random ambience, in more densely populated scenes, but it's very inconsistent, and the speakers are often dead. I had to put my ear up next to them to see if there was even any noise at all to them at some points! Localization is very light in this mix, and even worse, it only localizes front left or front right, never rear. Dialogue, I had no problem understanding the words; of course, I can recite most of the film as it plays, so that's not exactly a vote of confidence or anything. I had no problems with the spoken word, clarity and fidelity-wise, and the only odd moments were obviously added in later, like the Finch line the morning after prom when Stiffler finds him. I'm disappointed greatly here, even with low expectations due to the genre.
Despite the fact that most of the extras on this release are not playable on a Playstation 3 (incompatible video format), the scoring for this section remains the same as if all were. Please note that any extra with an asterisk before it can only be played on players compatible with 1080i/50 resolution.
I can't get enough of the original film in the 'American Pie' series. It was, and is, a breath of fresh air in a genre that is often very stale. A hip, young cast, a fun script, and Shannon Elizabeth at her career peak, it's all good. Sadly, the German Blu-ray isn't all good. To quote some Latin homework from the film, "go home (bird teacher), I've had enough!". Or, you know, something like that. There is just too much content crammed on a single layer of a disc, content that most consumers can't even play. I'd love to recommend this release. I'd also love it if this release didn't look and sound like it just wet itself. With 'American Reunion' filming, who knows, we may see a proper release soon enough. That, or Universal will DNR this release so hard that it will end up looking like it were rotoscoped by a drunk lemur.