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Released in the early eighties, Fast Time at Ridgemont High was the movie to sneak out and see without telling your parents. As one of the producers says on one of the film’s featurettes, “I never met a kid who was under 17 between the years of 1982 and 1984 who didn’t see it, R rating or not.” Well I was a LOT under the age of 17 at the time, and was still busy watching “The Smurfs”. So count me as one of those kids who didn’t sneak into theaters to see it. The allure of Phoebe Cates was a mystery to me, so watching the Fast Times at Ridgemont High: Special Edition disc was an opportunity for me to discover the magic in the removal of her red bikini.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High often gets a bad rep as the favorite movie of incredibly dumb guys… probably because it is. That’s not however, because the movie itself dumb, but because the typical big dumb guy who doesn’t really watch movies (because movies are for fags) misses a lot of the more intelligent thematic undercurrents to what could otherwise be mistaken for a cheap T&A film. Ok, it is a cheap T&A film, but it also has some depth to it. Most people probably haven’t even stopped to consider the title of the flick, preferring instead to guffaw loudly and beat up nerds with pleasure. Whatever your reason for liking it, whether it be because you’re partially retarded, because you like easy nudity, or because you are a boring guy who prattles on about thematic undercurrents, Fast Times at Ridgemont is a little better than the quality of its biggest fans might suggest. Oh, also Spicoli (Sean Penn) is pretty funny.
In modern films, it compares most closely to The Girl Next Door, which everyone utterly ignored despite my claims that it was quite good. But unlike most teenagers in high school flicks, Fast Times doesn’t exactly revolve around a central character. Instead it seems to randomly float between five or six different characters, wandering throughout a single school year without any specific time reference. We know that at the beginning of the film it is the first day of the school year because we see their first day of class. We know that the film finishes as the end of the school year, because we see the last school dance. Where in that timeline everything else falls is left up to your imagination, it simply happens in a linear fashion somewhere between point A and point B. Director Amy Heckerling just lets the year develop.
Unlike say, The Breakfast Club, the kids of Fast Times aren’t exactly well developed stereotypes. Brad (Judge Reinhold) for instance is a sort of successful guy who works at a fast food restaurant and thinks that makes him something special. He’s not a jock, or a nerd, or a cool guy, or a loser… he’s just Brad, the kid who works at the fast food restaurant and whose perfect life slowly falls to pieces throughout the school year. The low point for him is the famous Phoebe Cates scene, a fantasy Brad indulges in while masturbating in the bathroom in the remnants of his pirate costume.
Brad’s sister (Jennifer Jason Lee) is a fifteen year old girl obsessed with sex and generally found in the company of her supposedly more experienced friend Linda (Phoebe Cates), who unbeknownst to her happens to be the subject of Brad’s bra removing fantasy. Intermixing with those two is Damone (Robert Romanus) and Mark (Brian Backer). Damone is a scoundrel who scalps tickets for cash, and inexplicably a friend of Mark, a guy who could be considered the local nerd, but isn’t exactly. They get wrapped up in dating and fighting over girls, things get pretty serious and Damone drops the ball. That’s really the theme for all of these kids. The point of the film is that they’re dealing with adult issues that they just can’t handle. The times are too fast and they’re too young to cope. The result for all of them is in some small way disastrous, even for that guy Spicoli, who while not exactly a main character, provides a hefty portion of stoner friendly comic relief.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a funny, raunchy, and occasionally poignant film that somehow established itself as a hallowed eighties classic. The Phoebe Cates strip is everything it’s hyped to be, in a pubescent lusting sort of way, but I’m not sure if the movie itself deserves to be mentioned up there in the same breath with the better teen stuff flooding the market back then. Still, it holds its own as a solid teen raunch staple in an era absolutely flooded with them.
As a disc, the Fast Times at Ridgemont High: Special Edition commands quite proudly on its cover, “Hey Bud, Let’s Party!”. Evidently, partying means surfing, because once you pop the disc in you’re treated to a surfing themed menu. Just because Spicoli is a brain dead surfer doesn’t mean the movie is a surfing movie… does it? The DVD menu is decorated like a bad episode of “California Dreams”. It’s functional, but damned annoying. Its only saving grace is the cornucopia of overused Spicoli clips that pop up whenever a menu button is pressed.
As you might expect, the quality of the features included on this thing don’t get much better than the quality of the menu design. I give them credit for actually including the original theatrical trailer for Fast Times on the disc. That would seem like a no-brainer, but so many DVD releases lately have been dropping the ball on doing it that I think we DVD Critics need to start going out of our way again to praise those who get that part right. It’s a little thing, but for an old movie like this it’s always fascinating to see just how the movie was marketed back then, and for those who remember it a little nostalgic. But a lot of the other features are kind of useless.
Included on the disc is a sort of interactive map of all the locations in the movie. The idea is that if you click on one of the map locations, a video will start that tells you something about the actual location filmed to make the scenes that happen there. My problem with this is that the actual informational video clips consist mostly of just in movie footage narrated by a horrible voice-over. A couple of the clips contain actual information about the locations used for the shoot, maybe even a still photo or two, but the video clips are all only about thirty seconds in length and 28 of those seconds are spent replaying footage from the movie we’ve already just seen. The map is a cool idea that they just didn’t bother to put any effort in to.
In that same vein are two sections one labeled “Music Highlights” and another called “Classic Quotes” which you can only access by clicking on a semi-hidden pair of footprints up in the corner of the screen. These are what I like to think of as non-features. They let you select famous quotes from the movie or famous songs from it… and then the disc replays the part of the movie where the selected song or quote occurs. It’s fairly useless and I didn’t waste much of my time on it, since I’d just finished watching the movie and didn’t love it nearly enough to turn around and start watching large chunks of it all over again.
The real saving grace of the Fast Times Special Edition is a making of featurette entitled “Reliving Our Fast Times at Ridgemont High”. They managed to drag just about everyone involved with the film (except Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Jason Lee) in for interviews and retrospectives about filming it, casting it, and everything around it. Yes, they even got Sean Penn, who talks about Spicoli as if he’s a serious character. Then again, maybe that’s just how Sean approaches everything. It’s a great featurette, even if you aren’t that interested in the film itself, though I’m baffled as to why they spend so much time on it talking about Nicolas Cage, whose role in the film was basically that of non-speaking crowd filler.
Also included is the obligatory commentary track, featuring Amy Heckerling and the otherwise absent from this disc Cameron Crowe. It’s fun and informative, though Heckerling often comes off as a bit of a ditz, who succeeded with Fast Times in large part because other people helped her. Crowe is as usual intelligent and informative, and though he tries to give Heckerling credit for just about everything, seems to be the real driving force behind how the film came out.
I still think Fast Times at Ridgemont High isn’t quite worthy of the title classic. But if it’s your thing, the Special Edition is a decent way to add it to your collection.
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