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Christopher Guest
Kevin Bacon, Emily Longstreth, J.T. Walsh, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michael McKean, Kim Miyori, Teri Hatcher
Michael Varhol, Christopher Guest

Rated PG-13.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Standard 1.33:1
English Dolby Surround
English, French

Runtime: 102 min.
Price: $24.95
Release Date: 10/8/2002

• Audio Commentary with Director Christopher Guest and Actor Kevin Bacon
• Deleted Scenes
• Filmographies
• Production Notes
• Theatrical Trailers


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The Big Picture (1989)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Before Waiting For Guffman and before Best In Show, Christopher Guest cut his directorial teeth on 1989’s The Big Picture. At the time, folks mainly knew Guest during his one season on Saturday Night Live plus his career-broadening role as Nigel Tufnel in the classic This Is Spinal Tap. Apparently those two efforts seemed sufficient to gain him the reins of a full film, and Picture came as the result.

If you seek more mockumentary fun in the same vein as the other flicks I mentioned, you’ll not find it here. Instead, Picture offers a much more conventional film. Unfortunately, it almost totally falls flat.

Picture focuses on young aspiring filmmaker Nick Chapman (Kevin Bacon). At the start of the piece, he wins a student film contest with his flick First Date. This sets the Hollywood wheels into motion, and he soon gets a contract with studio bigwig Allen Habel (J.T. Walsh) and a schmoozing agent named Neil Sussman (Martin Short). Nick tries to develop a small character piece but Habel and his cronies pressure him to make it more commercial. In the meantime, other temptations greet Nick, mainly in the form of sexy starlet Gretchen (Teri Hatcher); her advances put a strain on Nick’s relationship with live-in girlfriend Susan (Emily Longstreth).

The plot of Picture follows a predictable path. As all the Hollywood folks fawn over Nick, he starts to believe the hype and distances himself from Susan and his other friends. This includes buddy and cinematographer Emmet Sumner (Michael McKean), who Nick ditches to work with a more prominent DP. Inevitably, things collapse when Habel gets the axe. All of Nick’s Hollywood friends desert him, and he slowly must climb back into the hearts of his true pals. Ultimately, he learns to follow his own instincts and be true to himself.

Ain’t that sweet? Yeah, it is, and it’s also pretty trite and predictable. Some tout Picture as a biting and incisive Hollywood satire, but unfortunately, the emperor has no clothes. There’s nothing particularly perceptive or insightful here. Is it a surprise that Hollywood folks are backstabbing phonies? Not in the least, and nothing about the presentation found in Picture creates anything new or creative.

Actually, Guest does incorporate one mildly unusual technique. At times, we see Nick’s thoughts shown as though they’re parts of movies. For instance, when Susan confronts him about Gretchen, Nick sees this as part of a film noir. This gimmick never becomes anything more than that; it’s just a lame attempt to distract us from the tedium seen on screen.

Frankly, most of the cast seem bored. Longstreth provides easily the worst performance of the bunch, as she appears completely wooden and flat as Susan. She’s quite attractive, but otherwise she’s a total dud. The only real spark comes from Jennifer Jason Leigh’s bubbly turn as avant-garde artiste Lydia Johnson. All of the student films are supposed to be bad, but only her quirky Afterbirth of a Nation actually nails its target. Leigh soon disappears and doesn’t return until the end, when she lends a minor charge.

Unfortunately, this seems like too little, too late. Ultimately, The Big Picture appears almost totally uninspired and witless. A few amusing bits occur, but most of the movie takes on an easy target and delivers nothing provocative or clever. Christopher Guest would recover with his later efforts, but The Big Picture provided a most inauspicious directorial debut.

Surprising moment: if you examine Nick’s first Hollywood party and go to the 27-minute mark, you’ll see a shot of some babes lounging in the pool. It’s not the clearest image you’ll find, but unless I’m nuts, these women appear to be totally nude and you can see the front nether regions of one of them. Full frontal nudity in a “PG-13” movie? How’d that happen?

The DVD Grades: Picture B- / Audio B / Bonus C+

The Big Picture appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen version on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. An erratic presentation, the movie varied from scene to scene but generally looked decent.

Sharpness usually seemed acceptable. A little softness interfered on occasion, but those moments were reasonably rare. Most of the movie presented a fairly accurate and distinct image. Jagged edges offered no concerns, but I saw a bit of shimmering, and some light edge enhancement periodically marred the presentation. Print flaws created the most significant problems. Interiors often looked moderately grainy, while I also noticed examples of marks, nicks, specks and grit. These weren’t overwhelming, but they seemed somewhat heavier than I’d expect.

Colors seemed erratic. They displayed the usual Eighties murkiness at times, but they also often looked nicely vibrant and distinct. For the most part, the hues came across as solid, though. Black levels tended to appear somewhat inky, while shadow detail was a little too dense at times. Interiors occasionally seemed flat and muddy. Parts of The Big Picture actually looked very strong, but these various concerns seemed prominent enough to drop my grade to a “B-“.

The film’s Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack provided nothing special, but it seemed pretty good for a movie of this one’s era and ambitions. Unsurprisingly, the mix featured an emphasis on the forward channels. Music showed fairly good stereo separation, while effects displayed a nice sense of breadth and delineation. The track created a relatively positive sense of atmosphere, and when necessary, elements panned cleanly from one area to another. Surround usage mostly just supported the music and effects, but crowd scenes showed a nice feeling of place, and they opened up the package well.

Audio quality came across as positive too. Speech appeared nicely distinct and natural, with no issues related to edginess or intelligibility. Effects sounded clean and accurate, and they presented reasonably good dynamics. Music also seemed bright and vivid, and the score showed solid bass response. Nothing about the audio for The Big Picture stunned me, but I still felt pleased with the results.

This DVD release of The Big Picture doesn’t pour on the extras, but it includes a few pieces. Most prominently, we find an audio commentary from director/co-writer Christopher Guest and actor Kevin Bacon, both of whom sat together for this running, screen-specific piece. When Guest chatted about Guffman and Best In Show along with Eugene Levy, he provided spotty conversations. Though this one paired him with Bacon instead of Levy, the results seemed about the same.

While I actually kind of enjoyed this commentary, objectively it didn’t offer much useful information. We learned a little about sets, locations, technical challenges and alterations from the original plan, but those moments appeared fairly infrequently. Bacon asked more questions than he answered, as Guest gave us most of the notes. Quite a few empty moments passed as the pair often simply sat and watched the movie. However, despite all these flaws, the commentary remained amusing and likable. Guest appeared funnier here than in the other tracks, and the duo interacted nicely. You won’t learn much from this commentary, but you might enjoy it.

Next we locate three Deleted Scenes. These run between 54 seconds and four minutes, nine seconds for a total of eight minutes, 32 seconds of material. One of these offers another of the “film fantasy” scenes, while the second depicts Nick’s humiliating encounter with former film student competitor Jonathan Tristan-Bennet (Dan Schneider). The final clip shows some of the work Nick and Lydia did to make their video. None of these seem very interesting, though the second one probably works best.

Filmographies provides simple listings for director/co-writer Christopher Guest, actor Kevin Bacon, actor/co-writer Michael McKean, co-writer Michael Varhol, and actors Jennifer Jason Leigh and J.T. Walsh. In addition, we get Trailers for The Big Picture, America’s Sweethearts, Mr. Deeds and The Sweetest Thing. The DVD concludes with decent Production Notes copied from the film’s 1989 press packet.

Count The Big Picture as The Big Clunker. It totally wastes a lot of talent in front of and behind the camera with a fairly insipid and toothless satire that goes nowhere new. The DVD offers good but unspectacular picture and sound along with a modest roster of supplements. Fans of The Big Picture will probably feel pleased with this DVD, but although I like a lot of its participants, the movie does nothing for me. That means I can’t recommend it to anyone who doesn’t already like it.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.6 Stars Number of Votes: 15
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