For those of us in the review biz, DVD reissues can be a godsend. Not to complain, but I usually maintain a pretty big backlog of titles that need my attention. One of the most time-consuming aspects of my review-writing process relates to my comments about the movies themselves. My assessments of the various DVD components can take a while as well, especially if the disc in question packs in a slew of extras; I don’t even want to think about the massive undertaking that was the Ultimate Toy Box.
Nonetheless, that part of the equation tends to be fairly easy because it’s a somewhat mechanical process. It doesn’t require a lot of imagination or thought to simply transcribe my opinions. Movie comments, on the other hand, often take a great deal of time to consider and deliver. I often enjoy that aspect of the process, but it definitely can make the whole endeavor slow at times.
As such, I wholeheartedly embrace re-releases of films that I’ve previously reviewed, since they make my life so much easier. However, I recognize that this is a rather narrow viewpoint, and I can understand why many DVD fans are often less excited about these.
Universal have gone hog wild with reissues lately, as they’ve created a new line of DVDs called their “Ultimate Editions” just to cover re-released discs. Some of these seem strange - why did we need a new version of Patch Adams? - but others make more sense. The new UE of The Mummy helped promote the theatrical release of The Mummy Returns, and it did this well, as the new DVD sold nicely. Universal hopes that lightning will strike twice with their newest UE for 1999’s American Pie. What with American Pie 2 due to hit screens soon, this extra piece of publicity seems logical.
The film itself was a surprisingly entertaining experience. I’ve now seen it three times and my opinion remains consistent. It’s a fun and fairly charming work, and it holds up well over repeated viewings. For additional notes about the movie, please consult my original review.
This article will discuss the UE and how it resembles the 1999 DVD. Just as with the original release of American Pie, the Ultimate Edition is available in two versions: rated and unrated. For this review, I watched the unrated edition. What's the difference between the two? Not much - in fact, the additional footage in the unrated cut is so minimal that I might not have noticed much of it had I not been aware of it. We see slightly more explicit shots for a few scenes, including those of Jim and the titular pie, Nadia and her hand, Vicky's first orgasm, and a sex manual. The pie scene differs the most from the theatrical version; in that one, Jim dabbles with the pie while standing, but in the unrated cut he gets a piece while mounting it on a kitchen counter. That instance doesn't show additional footage; it substitutes the alternate version.
Don't take that "more explicit" statement to mean much. It's not like the addition of graphic sex scenes into Caligula. As such, don't be too upset if your local video store only rents the "R"-rated version; you're not missing much.
American Pie appears in both an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen version on these single-sided, dual-layered DVDs; DVD One offers the 1.85:1 presentation, while DVD Two includes the fullframe film. Note that this is the first time the fullscreen version has appeared on DVD. The widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was assessed for this review. As I noted in my review of the original DVD - which seemed to include the same transfer - the image generally looked decent, but it suffered from a number of concerns that made it a disappointment.
Sharpness consistently seemed to be quite strong, with only a little softness creeping into some of the wider shots. Those instances were quite rare, as the majority of the movie appeared crisp and well-defined. Moiré effects appeared on occasion, but they were infrequent, and jagged edges presented no concerns. As for print flaws, I saw some light grain on a few occasions, and a few instances of grit and speckles appeared, but as a whole, the movie looked nicely fresh and clean.
Colors looked outstanding, as they appeared rich, deep and accurate throughout the film. However, they rarely looked very bright, mainly because AP offered one of the most consistently dark pictures I've seen. Some daylight shots looked appropriately lit, but nearly every indoor or nighttime scene appeared far too dark. Within that context, shadow detail actually seemed to be pretty good, as I usually could discern elements within this gloom. However, far too much of the movie took place in the shadows. Was this an issue that stemmed from the source material? Perhaps, but I definitely don't remember the movie looking so dark in theaters. The film remains watchable, but I couldn't help but feel that a lot of nuance was being lost in the murkiness.
For the record, though I always support the presentation of films in their original theatrical aspect ratios, the fullscreen version of AP has its advantages. Since this was a fullframe transfer, it offered additional information at the top and bottom of the screen. Because of this, close examination reveals that we see some additional images of the spectacular Shannon Elizabeth. No complaints here!
Another addition to the Ultimate Edition of American Pie is a DTS 5.1 soundtrack that resides alongside the same Dolby Digital 5.1 mix we found on the original DVD. Note that both audio options appear on both the fullscreen and widescreen versions of the film, something that isn’t the case with some of the other Universal Ultimate Editions. Both soundtracks sounded identical to me; although the DTS mix was louder, once I adjusted for the volume differences, I couldn’t detect any significant divergences between them.
American Pie offered a pretty mediocre auditory experience. Overall quality seemed to be fairly good. Dialogue was always clear and intelligible, but I thought it appeared too loud and prominent in the mix. Because of this, speech came across as somewhat unnatural; I got the impression that much of it was looped. Music sounded solid, with positive dynamic range and clarity. The successful use of modern rock tunes was the highlight of the soundtrack, and these tunes usually sounded clear and vibrant. Effects were very subdued and were a rather inconsequential aspect of the mix, but they appeared to be clean and accurate.
As I mentioned in that last paragraph, the mix heavily emphasized dialogue and music, while it remained light on effects. That was fine - not everything has to be Twister - but I was surprised at how meek this soundtrack appeared. The soundstage was dominated by music, which blasted fairly effectively from all five speakers, though the front channels dominated; the rears mainly provided some reverberation. Effects tended to be fairly quiet and veered toward the ambient range; I never detected activity from the surrounds other than this soft atmosphere. AP offered a decent mix that was fairly adequate for the film, but it still seemed to be somewhat drab.
Now we move on to the package’s supplements, and here’s where things become really complicated. American Pie seems like an odd choice for a new DVD release because the older package was already full of extras. Most of those show up on the Ultimate Edition; supplements that are new to this two-disc release will be noted with an asterisk, and I’ll discuss the few omissions toward the end of the review.
Most of the extras reside on DVD One; as I’ll mention later, some are duplicated on DVD Two, and that disc also includes some unique features. The main supplement is a running audio commentary from director Paul Weitz, producer Chris Weitz, screenwriter Adam Herz, and actors Jason Biggs, Eddie Kaye Thomas, and Sean William Scott. All these guys were recorded together for this running, screen-specific piece.
It's not a great track, but it's a reasonable amount of fun as we hear the men discuss the film and interact with each other. That latter aspect added some charm. At times, mass commentaries can become cacophonic and irritating; such was the case with the track for Clerks. However, at their best, these programs provide an energy that smaller commentaries lack, and that worked well here. I learned a decent amount of interesting details about the movie, and I had a good time along the way, especially via a load of fun anecdotes about the shoot.
Next we find a brief featurette called Spotlight on Location. This ten-minute and 20-second piece offers a perfunctory but entertaining look behind the scenes of the film. Yeah, it's clearly a promotional piece, but I thought it was more fun than most, especially when cast members discussed their own high school experiences; this made the program seem somewhat unique and entertaining. Another video segment provides about a two and a half minutes of “Outtakes”. Most of these fell into the usual “laughing actors” category, but they weren’t bad for the genre.
Next we find 10 *Deleted Scenes. These are all short snippets, as the entire package of them only lasts for five minutes and 50 seconds. Nonetheless, there’s some good stuff here. Most of them are extended versions of existing scenes, but a few are totally new material. These add some minor character depth - especially to Kevin, as we see more of his relationship with his brother - and at least one of them was hilarious; there’s a few seconds of post-coital Jim and Michelle that really should have made the film.
One complaint: the DVD presents these clips all as one running piece. That means you can’t easily access any particular one of them; you have to fast-forward through them to get back to ones you liked. Folks, it’s really not that tough to add chapter stops to these things.
Speaking of running video pieces, we move on to *From the Set: Photograph Montage With Director and Producer Comments. As stated in the title, this seven minute and 10-second program displays production photos while we hear a short interview with the Weitz boys. Their remarks were fairly uninteresting, and the photos didn’t seem too fascinating either.
*American Pie 2 Sneak Preview offers a very promotional look at the sequel. We see clips from the film and hear from cast members as they tell us the plot in this four minute and 55 second piece. As I write this, AP2 has yet to hit screens, so this piece indeed was interesting to me as a preview. However, it’s not something that many will want to rewatch.
In what seemed to be a brief trend for Universal - they also did it for Fast Times At Ridgemont High, which hit shelves around the same time as the original AP DVD - a few disc-access options appear in addition to the standard chapter search. "Music Highlights" lets you skip straight to any of 22 songs featured in the film, and "Classic Quotes" sends you right to any of 20 different phrases in the movie. Neither of these does much for me, but they're thoughtful additions.
Production Notes add some useful and interesting background information on the film through their text; unlike the first AP DVD, a *second set of text appears in the package’s booklet. In the Cast and Crew area, we find reasonably solid biographies for eleven of the actors plus the director and the producer. Note that although these cover the same personnel found on the original AP DVD, the listings have been updated to cover the last two years.
When you open the music video for Tonic’s “You Wanted More”, you’ll encounter the same program provided in the old DVD’s "Soundtrack Presentation". After a 30-second ad for that album, "You Wanted More" starts. This is mainly a conceptual piece that shows a rather lovesick high school; these scenes are intercut with movie snippets and some semi-straight performance shots of the band. It's a decent little clip and is more interesting than most music videos, especially those that accompany movies.
In addition, we find a *Live Performance from Tonic. After a brief interview snippet, we see them perform “Future Says Run”. Another interview clip then pops up before we watch “Mean to Me”. All in all, the piece lasts for 10 minutes and 50 seconds, and although the music did little for me, I thought this was a nice addition to the package. As was the case with the “Deleted Scenes”, these pieces also fail to provide chapter stops, so it will be annoying to attempt to skip to the songs.
Next we find Trailers for both AP and *AP2. The latter essentially offers a shorter version of the “Sneak Peek” found elsewhere on the DVD. *Poster Concepts offers seven and a half minutes of advertising ideas. This was a very comprehensive collection, and it even included many that used the discarded film title of Great Falls. It’s a cool conglomeration of ads that I thought was very interesting to see.
In the DVD-ROM area, you’ll find a mix of additional pieces. Most of these are text pieces that recreate the movie’s Website. “Story” covers the film’s plot and also offers some brief credits, while “Cast” provides biographies of 13 actors; these include the same 11 found on the main DVD plus listings for Jennifer Coolidge and Chris Owen. “Filmmakers” gives us another entry for the Weitz brothers as well as nine other members of the crew. “Behind the Scenes” offers four pages of decent production notes.
In addition to links to the websites for Universal Studios, Universal Theme Parks, Universal Home Video and Universal Pictures, the DVD-ROM area offers two different other extras. One is the semi-standard *“Script to Screen” feature. This shows the film in a small box on the left side of the screen, while the original script appears on the right. It’s fun to compare the differences; these didn’t seem to be major, but some existed.
Lastly, the DVD-ROM section provides a game called *“Rock the Potty”. Based on one of the movie’s more distasteful scenes, this contest requires you to run to the bathroom and let loose. It’s not something I’d care to play again.
Disc One includes nearly full roster of AP extras, while Disc Two provides a more limited menu. That platter features these elements:
- Audio commentary;
- “Music Highlights”
- “Classic Quotes”
- “Poster Concepts”
- “Production Notes”
- “Cast and Filmmakers”
- DVD-ROM Materials
That last one was odd in that “Recommendations” actually has material not found on DVD One. In that section you can find trailers for The Blues Brothers, American Graffiti, and Animal House. Why not include these on both discs? I have no idea; that platter’s “Recommendations” mentions all of those movies, but it doesn’t give us the trailers.
The only materials found on the original AP DVD that don’t also make it to the UE are some trailers. The old one had a “Universal Showcase” section that included trailers for the then-current theatrical releases of Snow Falling On Cedars and Man On the Moon. Their omission makes sense since these movies are now old news, so I certainly won’t gripe about their absence.
When I deal with repurchases, I always have to provide two recommendations. For those who don’t already own the original DVD release of American Pie, this new Ultimate Edition merits your attention. It duplicates almost all of the materials found on the old disc, and it adds a few new ones. Most of these are fairly drab, but since the DVD omits nothing significant, the added pieces caused no harm. As such, those new to American Pie on DVD should be pleased with this package.
However, anyone who already owns the old disc has no reason to pick up the new one. The extra supplements are not even remotely compelling enough to merit a repurchase of the title. Many re-releases improve enough on the old discs to warrant the extra expense, but American Pie doesn’t fall into that category.
Note that early purchasers of the American Pie Ultimate Edition will get an extra bonus. The package will include a “MovieCash” ticket that will get you into American Pie 2 for free. However, the period in which this will work is limited; I couldn’t find the expiration date, but I expect the coupon will die by the end of August 2001. The MovieCash is a nice extra for anyone who grabs the DVD within the appropriate timeframe; it’s not enough to make the package worthwhile for owners of the original DVD, but those new to the disc will get a good bonus from it.