Rob Gordon (John Cusack) is, by most accounts, a pretty unlikable guy. He's deceitful, manipulative, self-centered, neurotic, callous and insensitive. He's just been through an unexpected breakup with a longtime girlfriend, so he's naturally doing a bit of self-reflection to figure out where everything went drastically, dreadfully wrong. Rob's journey leads him to construct a Top 5 list of his most traumatic breakups, whether it's for genuine closure or just another way to justify his behavior. Meanwhile, his dead-end job as a record store owner feeds into Rob's "comfortably uncomfortable" mentality: he's surrounded by oddball customers and a misfit pair of full-time clerks who are paid for part-time work.
If none of the above items describe your life, fear not: you can still enjoy High Fidelity (2000), director Stephen Fears' masterful adaptation of author Nick Hornby's source novel. Transposed from London to Chicago, this "romantic comedy"---for lack of a better term---perfectly encapsulates those awkward, fumbling post-education years (decades?) when treading water isn't just a likely scenario, it's downright inevitable for certain folks. Our hero doesn't so much tread water as coast on fumes, though: Rob is clearly restless in his own skin, yet he's not especially motivated enough to do anything about it.
Taken at face value, High Fidelity should be just as unlikable as our central character, but everything flows smoothly due to fantastic performances, strong direction and a careful ear for music. More often than not, the film is as episodic as the Top 5 list it's based around. This is by no means a complaint, however: Rob's transformation from "jackass" to "recovering jackass" never feels forced. The strange---and in some cases, almost painfully normal---folks that surround Rob only amplify the dynamics, resulting in razor-sharp conversations, thought-provoking observations and, of course, a mountain of trash talk. High Fidelity plays as strongly now as it did during its theatrical run more than a decade ago. For a romantic comedy crafted around the ever-changing landscape of pop music, that's high praise indeed.
High Fidelity arrives on Blu-Ray a dozen years after the first (and only) DVD release. For better or worse, not much has changed: we do get an improved technical presentation (though without a new master), while the assortment of bonus features is completely identical. Either way, High Fidelity still remains a satisfying effort that plays well on the small screen...so whether you've seen it a dozen times or this is your first spin, it's still a crowd-pleaser loaded with laughs. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
High Fidelity looked good on DVD when it was originally released, sporting a clean 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer by a studio not generally known for them. This Blu-Ray looks to come from the same master, so it's a modestly proportionate upgrade that will neither disappoint nor amaze. The film's natural color palette looks good, image detail is fine and black levels are consistent, while a fine layer of grain has been preserved just for good measure. As expected, daytime outdoor scenes fare the best...but since High Fidelity mostly takes place in drab apartments and a junky record store, viewers won't see a night-and-day difference during many stretches. Still, a capable effort that could've been a lot worse.
NOTE: This review's screen caps were taken from the DVD release and do not represent Blu-Ray's native 1080p resolution.
Audio is presented in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and also sounds richer and fuller than the DVD, but I was again expecting a little more. High Fidelity is obviously a dialogue-driven film, albeit one that's stuffed to the gills with great music cues and opportunities for subtle ambient touches. The highlights definitely make themselves known, but a slightly more ambitious or aggressive mix would've put this one over the top easily. As it stands, though, the dialogue is perfectly crisp, rear channels are used occasionally and LFE activity is noticeable at times. Optional English (SDH), Spanish, French and Portuguese subtitles are included during the main feature....and all of the extras, which is certainly a welcome addition.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Normally, menu designs don't warrant more than a few generic cut-and-paste comments, but I really
like the interface here (especially compared to the ugly DVD menus). Clean, crisp, attractive, simple, perfectly functional and gimmick-free, these menus are a breeze to navigate; even the vintage bonus features have been given new "Play All" options. Most viewers probably don't notice such things, but the improvements here are definitely appreciated. This one-disc release is housed in a semi-eco-friendly keepcase with attractive recycled artwork and no inserts of any kind. The disc is Region "A" locked.
Everything from the DVD; nothing more, nothing less. These recycled extras include Conversations with John Cusack and Stephen Frears
(10 clips, 26 minutes total), a handful of excellent Deleted Scenes
(9 clips, 14 minutes total) and a cropped Theatrical Trailer
(2 minutes). All are certainly worth a look, although they remain in standard definition and show their age a little. It's a shame we couldn't get any new extras, but at least former DVD owners won't be missing out on anything here. Everything except the trailer has been paired with optional English (SDH), Spanish, French and Portuguese subtitles.
High Fidelity remains one of John Cusack's best-loved films for good reason: it's filled with classic songs, perfect performances and tons of pitch-black comedy. This is truly a romantic comedy that couples shouldn't be ashamed to love, even if they haven't suffered enough bad breakups to fill a Top 5 list. Touchstone's Blu-Ray package doesn't exactly go the extra mile, but it isn't all bad news: at least we're getting a modestly improved A/V presentation and the same great extras. The price tag alone makes High Fidelity a rather easy upgrade, though casual viewers may want to rent it first. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey from Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.