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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Splendor in the Grass
Splendor in the Grass
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Review by Chris Hughes | posted March 20, 2000 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
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A U D I O
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Highly Recommended
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Features: Widescreen Anamorphic - 1.85:1. Full Screen (Standard) - 1.33:1. Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono), French (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono). Available subtitles: English, French.

The Movie:
If there's anything surprising about Elia Kazan's Splendor in the Grass it's how little teen angst pictures have changed over the years. This film has all the classic elements from single dimensional parents and a bad girl sibling to a self-doubting captain of the football team and his popular socialite girlfriend who won't go all the way. Amidst all mundane cliches though there's one stunning performance and a conclusion that redeems the film in almost every way.

Warren Beaty stars as school heartthrob Bud Stamper. Bud's a papa's boy who's so subservient to the elder Stamper that he can hardly get two words out in his presence. Bud stands to inherit daddy's oil fortune (if it can withstand the impending stock market crash of 1929) but all he really wants is to herd cattle. Beaty does his best James Dean impersonation throughout Splendor in the Grass but never seems to strike an emotional cord. The same is true of almost all of the other characters in the film. They're so one-dimensional that even death (in the case of Bud's father) hardly causes even a raised eyebrow.

Playing opposite Beaty is Natalie Wood as Wilma Dean Loomis. Wilma is the very definition of squeaky-clean. She's a conservative dresser, disdains heavy petting and harbors romantic illusions about her future with strapping Bud. Wilma's world begins to crash down around her though when the indecisive Bud can't muster up enough intestinal fortitude to defy his father and marry her. Bud, who clearly loves Wilma, decides instead to break things off with her, giving no explanation.

What follows is a powerful examination of psychological dissonance fueled by Natalie Wood's incredible performance. Wood pulls out all the stops displaying the full range of emotions as she sinks ever deeper into despair and depression, only to emerge a fully realized adult. Wood's performance is a tour de force that stands out like a beacon in Splendor in the Grass and is bolstered by the stark contrast between her clear mastery of the craft and her costar's wooden delivery. The last ten minutes of the movie present us with the most realistic moments, which in retrospect make the entire experience worthwhile.

The Picture:
The film elements used for this transfer are in surprisingly good shape. The print is substantially free from dirt and scratches, the cuts are all crisp and film grain is at a bare minimum. The contrast is rich, the black levels are deep and shadow detail is quite good. The colors are a touch muted and the overall picture is a touch soft but these are relatively minor problems. I was unable to detect any digital artifacts and saw only a few instances of shimmery edge enhancement effects.

The Sound:
The Dolby Stereo track is somewhat unremarkable. It exhibits a limited dynamic range but is very clean and clear considering its age.

The Extras:
Though the snapper case says otherwise (it lists the theatrical trailer) this is a movie only release which is a shame. Splendor in the Grass could have really benefited from special edition treatment. The B side of the disc contains a pan and scan version.

Conclusion:
For all its flaws Splendor in the Grass rises to classic level based on Natalie Wood's performance alone. You can approach this film as psychosexual melodrama, as teen angst camp or as a beautiful-love-gone-wrong fable but no matter what your take Wood as Wilma will not be denied. Only the woeful lack of extras prevents me from giving it the DVD Talk Collector's Series rating.
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