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Ivan Reitman
Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, John Candy, Warren Oates, P.J. Soles, Sean Young, John Larroquette
Writing Credits:
Len Blum, Daniel Goldberg, Harold Ramis

The story of a man who wanted to keep the world safe for democracy ... and meet girls.

When John Winger (Bill Murray) loses his girlfriend, his job, and his apartment, he and his best friend (Harold Ramis) decide to join the Army. Way over their head, they eventually learn the ropes and manage to take a top-secret U.S. recreational vehicle behind the iron curtain on a road trip.

Box Office:
$10 million.
Domestic Gross
$85.300 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 122 min.
Price: $19.94
Release Date: 6/7/2005

• Both Extended and Theatrical Cuts of the Film
• Audio Commentary with Director Ivan Reitman and Writer/Producer Dan Goldberg
• “Stars and Stripes” Documentary
• Deleted Scenes
• Previews


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Stripes: Extended Cut (1981)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 24, 2005)

1981 found Bill Murray on the cusp of movie stardom. He played the lead in 1979’s Meatballs, which became a pretty decent hit, and he also participated in 1980’s very popular Caddyshack, though he was a supporting character in that ensemble piece.

In 1981, Stripes gave Murray his breakout flick as a lead actor. Though the flick provided Murray ample support from many other talents, it definitely put him at the fore and became his movie to make or break. Though not as big as later efforts like Ghostbusters, Stripes did quite well and established Murray as one of the most successful Saturday Night Live alumni.

Murray plays John Winger, a not-too-successful cab driver whose girlfriend (Roberta Leighton) leaves him due to his lack of ambition and consistent screw-ups. His buddy Russell Ziskey (Harold Ramis) teaches English as a second language to adults; it’s a new job and he also lacks much drive.

Down on his luck, John decides the pair need a change, so he convinces Russell they should join the Army. Off they head to basic training under humorless hardass Sargeant Hulka (Warren Oates). Along the way, they meet sexy MPs Stella (PJ Soles) and Louise (Sean Young), both of whom they’ll later romance. The guys also get to know squadmates like tubby Ox (John Candy), dimwitted hick Cruiser (John Diehl), stoner Elmo (Judge Reinhold), and intense Psycho (Conrad Dunn). The movie follows their training and initial deployment to Europe, most of which are played strictly for laughs.

I was 14 when Stripes came out and I always loved it as a kid and young adult. Because of that, it becomes tough to objectively critique the flick. So many of my opinions toward it are wrapped in sentiment and nostalgia that it can be difficult to view it on its own.

If I try to do so, I can see how much of Stripes now seems dated. It definitely exists as a product of its era, especially via the anarchic, anti-establishment tone that runs through much of it. We also see loose, barely-coherent storytelling that often occurred in this sort of comedy back then. Granted, we get plenty of poorly-told flicks nowadays as well, but there’s a certain peculiar looseness to movies such as Stripes, Caddyshack and Meatballs that marks their vintage.

That said, Stripes continues to amuse. It features more funny lines and quality comedic performances than we have a right to expect. You could take the sum laughs from 10 modern comedies and not get the total found in Stripes.

Much of the humor comes from the reactions. With Murray, Ramis, Candy and the others, the flick really does boast a terrific cast, and the way they play off each other works wonderfully. Just look at Candy’s reaction to Psycho’s warning; he makes that throwaway moment hilarious.

While most of the performances stay in the realm of broadly comedic, some actual acting appears during Stripes, mainly via the interactions between Murray and Oates. I’d say that Oates is the only performer who truly acts on a consistent basis, as too much of Murray’s work involves loose shtick. Nonetheless, they have a few surprisingly effective dramatic scenes. No, their confrontation sequence doesn’t pack the power of a similar bit in An Officer and a Gentleman, but it fares quite well for what it is.

As often happens with this sort of movie, pacing causes some problems. The first act plods as we wait for John and Russell to actually join the Army, and the third act seems unnecessary. In his commentary, director Ivan Reitman indicates that he feels any movie about the military needs to include a war, but I disagree. Heck, the aforementioned Gentleman doesn’t have any battles but still succeeds, and the fighting sequences in Stripes seem unnecessary. The movie would end on an appropriate note if it concluded with graduation from basic training; anything extra seems pointless and makes the flick wear out its welcome.

Actually, I’ll admit that last statement’s a little extreme, as Stripes still has some funny moments during its third act. I just think the movie would work better if it developed the time during basic training a bit better. The story should have concentrated more on those elements and left out the pointless trek to Europe.

Truncated it may feel, that second act really does shine. Since I’d not seen Stripes for a good six or seven years before I got this DVD, I was disappointed to find myself a little bored during the opening scenes. However, once Russell and John meet their fellow recruits and head to camp, the movie picks up speed and becomes consistently satisfying.

Despite some complaints, I still really like Stripes. It displays a wonderful array of comedic talent who live up to their potential most of the time. It’s too inconsistent to be on the same level as comedy classics like This Is Spinal Tap or fellow Murray flicks such as Quick Change and Ghostbusters, but Stripes remains a winner.

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

Stripes 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. Although I didn’t expect a lot from this transfer, it ended up as a generally positive presentation.

The two biggest problems stemmed from edge enhancement and source flaws. Light haloes appeared occasionally, though this didn’t make much of a dent on sharpness. The only shots that seemed a bit blurry were those that appeared to have been shot a little out of focus. Some bits came across that way, and I didn’t get the impression the transfer was at fault. Nonetheless, the haloes became a little distracting.

As for the source concerns, occasional specks and marks appeared. These stayed modest for the most part, however, and weren’t as prominent as I expected from a cheap movie shot in 1981. Grain was moderately distracting at times. Jagged edges and shimmering also caused no concerns.

Colors were a high spot. Most movies of this one’s era and budget tend to look dull and flat, but the tones of Stripes were very bright and bold. Yeah, a few less vibrant shots appeared, but most of them were surprisingly distinctive. Blacks also showed good depth, and shadows were usually quite well-delineated. Only a little inkiness interfered, as most of the shots were smooth and clear. Despite the various concerns, this was a nice transfer that almost made it to “B+” territory. I flip-flopped about my grade and decided the edge enhancement was too distracting for that high a mark, but it still earned a solid “B”.

The new Dolby Digital 5.1 remix of Stripes also had some age-related flaws, but it presented a surprisingly involving and vibrant affair. Stripes was originally monaural, which meant I didn’t expect much from the new soundfield. However, it opened up matters quite well. All five speakers presented a lot of audio, and these brought life to both street scenes and those in various military situations. Shells and bullets zipped around the room to good effect and vehicles moved neatly across the spectrum. Music also showed nice stereo delineation as well as reinforcement from the rear. None of this seemed awkward or artificial, as the soundfield blended well.

Audio quality occasionally showed its age, mostly due to the speech stems. Those tended to sound stiff and reedy, and they also showed some edginess, particularly during the mud wrestling sequence. Speech was usually fine given its age, however.

On the other hand, both music and effects demonstrated strong definition. The score was bright and dynamic, while the effects seemed crisp and lively. They presented very impressive low-end and made a real impression. There was little distortion as the track showed solid fidelity. Only the relatively weak speech kept this from “A” territory; otherwise Stripes really impressed.

Fans who waited for years to get a special edition of Stripes will feel pleased with the extras found on this set. First of all, we can watch both the theatrical and the extended cuts of the film. The latter runs a whopping 16 minutes longer than the original 106-minute version.

What extra bits fill out the extended edition? Here are the new scenes, so skip this area if you don’t want to learn about them in advance:

-John talks about his how he thinks the Army will be and convinces Russell to join;

-John tries to get Russell out of camp and they end up on a Special Forces mission;

-Captain Stillman challenges the squad to graduate and says he doesn’t think they’ll do it;

-Sgt. Hulka picks on John and Russell in Italy;

-John and Stella and Russell and Louise get it on in Germany;

-John talks Russell into rescuing their comrades in Czechoslovakia.

The most significant of these is the Special Forces scene. This lasts almost nine minutes and takes our heroes all the way to South America. It’s an odd scene that feels like it comes from a different movie, which is sort of true; it was originally meant for a script written for Cheech and Chong, and it doesn’t connect to Stripes at all.

The others are shorter, but I think all of them were appropriate cuts. We don’t need more of John’s attempts to get Russell into the Army, as the existing scene tells us enough. Stillman’s scene is also redundant; we get that information elsewhere and don’t need it twice. The same goes for Hulka’s bit; do we need an explanation for why he gives John crappy jobs after all their antagonism?

The other two pieces are more useful, especially since the party sequence offers plenty of skin from PJ Soles. Still, neither adds much. As a long-time fan of Stripes, it was fun to get a look at these cut pieces, but in the future, I’ll stick with the tighter theatrical cut.

In a nice touch, markers indicate the beginning and end of the bonus scenes. I don’t think these are perfect, though, as I believe the extended version includes a snippet or two not in the original but not listed as new. For instance, during the initial training montage, there’s a scene in which Ox tricks Russell into taking out a heavier trashcan. Maybe I remember the movie incorrectly, but I don’t recall that from the theatrical cut.

Note that some shots from the extended edition were a little lower quality than those from the theatrical version. For the most part, they blended pretty well, but the added scenes looked a little dirtier at times. Some were also notably grainier, especially the party in Germany sequence. Audio seemed similar for all parts of the flick, however.

To accompany the extended cut, we get an audio commentary from director Ivan Reitman and co-writer/producer Dan Goldberg. Both men sit together for a running, screen-specific chat. They mostly focus on story issues, as we learn about the deleted - and now reintegrated scenes - as well as pacing and changes from the original script. We learn the movie was first intended as a Cheech and Chong outing and see the connections to that concept. We also hear about locations, casting, improvisation, working with the military, the score and many specifics related to the shoot.

Though the commentary proves generally satisfying, it doesn’t achieve greatness. Some dead spots occur, and Reitman has an annoying tendency to get the era incorrect; he occasionally refers to shooting the flick in 1982. Nonetheless, I learned a lot about the movie in this mostly entertaining and compelling track.

Presented in two parts, a documentary called Stars and Stripes fills a total of 55 minutes and 39 seconds. It presents movie clips, archival materials, and interviews with Reitman, Goldberg, actor/co-writer Harold Ramis, and actors Bill Murray, Judge Reinhold, John Larroquette, Sean Young, PJ Soles, and John Diehl. They discuss the film’s genesis and development as a Cheech and Chong effort, the change from that to a Murray project, the cast, Murray’s impact on the set and the partnership with Ramis, improvisations, Warren Oates’ work and the Hulka/John interaction, John Candy’s work, locations and the involvement of the Army, various combinations of actors and their contrasting styles, and specifics of shooting some scenes.

Given its length, I had high hopes that “Stars” would present a rich look at the film’s creation. Unfortunately, it’s not terribly informative. On one hand, it’s good to hear from some of the actors, they provide a mix of decent stories about the shoot. However, “Stars” includes way too many movie clips, and a lot of the content repeats from the commentary. In addition, we hear a fair amount of praise, and Murray’s interview is a big disappointment. He says very little and only pops up a few times. “Stars” becomes reasonably entertaining at times, but I don’t feel like it tells us a whole lot.

Six deleted scenes last a total of 17 minutes and 43 seconds. If you already watched the extended edition, you’ll know what to find here. The “Deleted Scenes” section uses all the same segments reintegrated into the movie, so don’t expect anything different here. Nonetheless, it’s good to get them on their own in case you prefer to watch the theatrical cut of the flick.

(By the way, if you’re wondering how come the extended version of Stripes runs 16 minutes longer than the theatrical cut when we have almost 18 minutes of deleted scenes, there’s a simple answer. As seen on their own, the snipped sequences include some bits that appear in the theatrical cut, so not all of that footage is brand-new.)

Lastly, Previews includes trailers for Stripes, DEBS, Hitch and “80s Hits”.

One of the strongest comedies from the Eighties, Stripes occasionally shows its age. However, it boasts an excellent cast, strong performances, and a lot of laughs. The DVD offers surprisingly solid picture and audio. The extras are a little superficial but they include some useful materials and we learn a reasonable amount about the film’s creation. We also get a nice complement of cut footage. This is a quality DVD for a fun movie.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.1818 Stars Number of Votes: 33
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