Bright Lights, Big City appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The transfer wasn’t bad, but it showed its era.
Sharpness seemed fairly distinct and detailed, though the movie displayed some general blandness that was likely due to the film stock of the era. Many Eighties pictures haven’t held up especially well in this regard, and Lights looked like a product of its period. Exterior shots appeared more crisp and clear, but interiors could be somewhat drab and flat. I saw no problems with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement created no concerns. Print flaws were essentially a non-issue. Grain could be somewhat heavy, but other than a couple of small specks, source defects remained absent.
Colors appeared acceptably natural and accurate throughout the movie, but at times they could look drab and bland. The worst examples occurred during interior shots, which were a bit murky. Exteriors offered better definition and looked pretty solid. Black levels seemed acceptably dark though a little dull, and shadow detail was similarly flat. Low-light scenes generally appeared fairly easy to discern, but they looked too lackluster to be anything impressive. This was a perfectly acceptable transfer but not any more than that.
I felt the same about the lackluster Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of Lights. The forward spectrum dominated and showed some decent stereo imaging. The music spread cleanly across the front speakers, and I also heard occasional use of discrete effects. These panned relatively well across the channels, and the forward audio seemed cleanly integrated. Not much came from the surrounds. They throw out some musical reinforcement but little else.
Audio quality wasn’t impressive. Speech seemed fine, though, as the lines only suffered from a smidgen of edginess. Usually they were clean and distinctive. Effects played a minor role. They appeared acceptably accurate but not particularly rich. Music was the biggest disappointment. Bass response was an issue, as the various pop/rock songs lacked notable low-end, and there was too much reverb. All of this left us with a rather mediocre soundtrack.
A mix of extras fleshes out the set. We start with two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from author/screenwriter Jay McInerney, as he provides a running, screen-specific chat. The writer looks at factual elements, liberties, and autobiographical aspects of the film, cast, characters and performances, sets and locations, and some production notes.
This adds up to a decent but inconsistent track. I do like the parts that talk about New York in the era as well as those about how the flick reflected McInerney’s real life. However, we get very little about the novel and its adaptation, and the piece really sags at times. There’s a bit too much dead air, and McInerney also tends to simply narrate the movie. Fans will still want to hear his thoughts, but they shouldn’t expect a great commentary.
For the second track, we hear from cinematographer Gordon Willis. In his running, screen-specific discussion, he discusses how he came onto the film and related controversies, his work on the flick, visual design, sets and locations, and other aspects of the production.
A legend in the business, Willis knows his stuff, so it’s a treat to hear him discuss his craft. He gives us some nice insights into his choices and style. Despite a few slow spots toward the end, this adds up to an engaging chat with a lot of good notes.
Two featurettes follow. Jay McInerney’s The Light Within runs 12 minutes, 10 seconds as it focuses on the writer. He discusses his personal experiences and their influence on the story, the development of the novel, the adaptation of the screenplay, themes, characters, and some other aspects of the flick. Where was this info in the commentary? Yes, McInerney discussed some of this stuff there, but in “Light” he provides plenty of valuable observations absent from that track. I’d have preferred that he touch on everything necessary during the commentary, as that would’ve rendered a separate featurette unnecessary. As it stands, this is a pretty good piece.
Big City Lights goes for 14 minutes, five seconds. This program features notes from freelance writer Mick Stingley, Mr. Pop History.com’s Gary West, and Generation Me author Jean Twenge. “Lights” looks at the relationship of the film and the book to their era and its continued relevance and influence after two decades as well as the elements of New York in the 1980s. Essentially the program just tells us that New York was slick, tough and superficial at the time. There’s a shocker. This is a pretty forgettable featurette without much of interest on display.
Next we find a Still Photo Gallery. This area includes 69 pictures that show shots from the set, publicity stills, and images from the movie. None seem interesting.
For a glimpse at pure, unadulterated Eighties cheese, Bright Lights, Big City lacks many peers. Though it wants to provide a hard-hitting view of the period’s excesses, instead it just gives us a silly, superficial piece of fluff. The DVD offers dated but generally good picture, acceptable audio, and some erratic but occasionally informative extras. This becomes a decent release for a silly movie.