Looking back over the past two decades a lot has changed for me (and the world in general). To think that this movie was only 5 years old when I started DVD Authority boggles my mind, but as always – time passes. I remember seeing this movie in theaters when it came out way back in 1994. MTV, something I no longer watch, was promoting the film and playing “Stay” just about every hour on the hour. I had a thing for her then. I still do now. I don’t really think the film resonated with me as much then as it does now. And, as I said in my previous review(s), it’s not a perfect movie. But the older I get, the more I realize though the plot is important, a movie means more when it refers to a piece in our history. I look at Reality Bites and think of that time in my life as opposed to trying to pick apart the nuances in the film structure. Maybe that’s just me, but I doubt it. I suppose that I have to comment on the stars of the film and it’s hard to believe that there was a point in time when we weren’t inundated with Ben Stiller. Ethan Hawke has managed to carve out a nice career for himself and it seems as though he’s finally shed the grunge of the mid 90’s (in his 40’s). We don’t see much of Winona Ryder anymore, but at the time she was on the “A” list, for sure. Enough babbling and me walking down memory lane, let’s get to it!
The film focuses on the lives of a group of friends who have just graduated from college. That’s when life gets real, right? Lelaina (Winona Ryder), the class valedictorian and aspiring filmmaker searches for her future and a love life. Troy (Ethan Hawke), a feckless underachiever, has crashed at Lelaina’s place in search of yet another job while trying to hamper the palpable romantic tension he harbors for her. Michael (Ben Stiller), a young executive, happens to bump into Lelaina (literally) and the two start dating, much to Troy’s disapproval. There’s also Sammy (Steve Zahn) who’s trying to come to terms with his sexuality and sexually ambitious Vickie (Janeane Garofalo) who fears she might be dying of AIDS. The film takes us down their respective paths and gives us a snapshot of their lives as youths trying to make that giant leap into adulthood. It’s not easy.
I’m sure by now it’s painfully obvious that this film has resonated with me and there are a few parallels that I draw between me and the film. What are they, you ask? Though not a college graduate in 1994 (I’d have to suffer through a few more years before that honor was bestowed on me), I actually did work at the Gap. Ok, maybe just one parallel. Still, after watching the movie again, it’s no fluke as to why I liked this film. Hell, a few of the songs from the soundtrack are on my current iPod playlist. Still, it does show me that everything is a matter of perspective. No longer do I have to worry about dating and finding “the one.” I don’t have to worry about the fear of having AIDS and though my life might not be precisely focused, I’ve chosen my career and don’t have a lot of regret. Like The Best Years of our Lives and The Big Chill before it, Reality Bites has shown that it can withstand the test of time as a generational piece and, oddly enough, Universal did hit the nail on the head when they chose this as one of their marquee titles to represent the Clinton-era.
Video: How’s it look?
Universal is hit and miss when it comes to their catalog titles. Some look ok while others shine. It was with baited breath that I put this Blu-ray into my player and anxiously wanted to see if we’d be getting a Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde. As it stands, Reality Bites didn’t look that bad and the 1.85:1 AVC HD image has a few trouble spots, but by and large I was pretty pleased with the results. To me, some of the exterior shots seemed a bit on the darker side and while contrast was strong and the detail improved from the DVD, I’ve seen films from this age that have looked better. There’s a fine granular element to the film that doesn’t detract from the overall quality, but it’s there nonetheless. Flesh tones seem to be about average and looking at the then fresh faces of Ben Stiller, Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke, it’s evident how much they’ve aged in the last two decades. It’s a step up, albeit a minor one, from the previously-released DVD, but I think fans will appreciate the transfer.
Audio: How’s it sound?
I think that the more impressive element to this Blu-ray is the DTS HD Master Audio mix. While the vocals retain that crispness and clarity that we’d expect, what really got me was the soundtrack (which plays a bit part in the film). Take “Tempted” by Squeeze which simply resonates out of every channel (as Ryder and Garofalo sing along, no less). Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention “My Sharona” by The Knack and Peter Frampton’s “Baby I Love Your Way”, both of which sound amazing. As movies like this go, there’s not a whole lot of action in the surrounds, so don’t expect to be blown away. Still, I feel that the audio is a step above the video presentation and while it won’t blow the roof off your place, it’s a nice mix that’s sure to satisfy.
Supplements: What are the extras?
A decade ago, Universal released a 10th Anniversary edition with some pretty cool supplements, the most notable being an insightful commentary with Stiller and writer Helen Childress. I’d hoped that another decade would bring some more supplements, especially considering this is the debut of this film on Blu-ray. No such luck. Lastly I usually don’t comment on packaging, but as happy as I am that Universal retained the original movie poster cover art, the included slipcase features a green border with “1990’s Best of the Decade” that are prevalent on some other titles. While not a huge deal, I’d have just preferred the standard slipcase. Thankfully the Blu-ray box itself doesn’t feature this.
Audio Commentary – Actor/Director Ben Stiller and Screenwriter Helen Childress actually offer up a pretty good commentary track. Stiller is, well…himself and though Childress hasn’t done much more in the movie world, she manages to offer up some tidbits here and there. The two divulge little things like the proper use of the “F” word and how many times scenes were shot. It’s a good track and one that most fans will want to listen to.
Deleted Scenes – Seven in all, two of which have an introduction by Stiller.
Lisa Loeb: Stay – A brief segment meant to accompany the video (below).
Music Video – “Stay (I Missed You)” by Lisa Loeb.
Reality Bites: Retrospective – Again, I’d have liked at least one new feature here, but alas this is the same retrospective from 2004. As much time has passed between this retrospective and the Blu-ray as between the retrospective and the release of the film in 1994. Still, the cast reflects on the film, the shoot and the subsequent long-lasting appeal of the movie.