Dazed and Confused
Universal // R // $34.98 // September 26, 2006
Review by Joshua Zyber | posted October 20, 2006
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Graphical Version

The Movie:
Sort of an American Graffiti for the subsequent generation of unfocused youth, Dazed and Confused is director Richard Linklater's love letter to the waning days of his 1970s teenage experience. Following a similar structure as Graffiti, the movie chronicles a single night in the lives of a group of high school kids as they wax philosophical about the state of the world as they see it and seek out ways to keep themselves entertained. Mostly this involves a lot of smoking pot, cruising the streets, smoking pot, getting drunk, making life hell for incoming Freshmen, and smoking pot. Oh yeah, man, they also smoke a little weed. Did I mention that already? What was I just talking about? Do you have any Fritos? 'Cause check it out, man, I could really go for some Fritos about now.

It's the last day of school, 1976, and not a whole hell of a lot is going on. Teachers don't much give a damn and pay little to no attention as kids carve bongs in Wood Shop, stare at the ceiling for hours, and cut out early. Seniors take it upon themselves to immediately carry out the sacred tradition of hazing next year's fresh meat. For most this ritual is just a way to fend off boredom and initiate the new kids into high school life, but a few take sadistic pleasure in it. Other than that, the movie doesn't have much of any formal plot. The kids hang out and talk, drink too much, listen to 8-tracks, play some pinball, and stay out too late at a party. The football quarterback (Jason London) has a moral debate about whether he should sign a meaningless vow of sobriety that his coach is forcing on all the players, but it doesn't seem like the course of his life is ever in any kind of danger.

Dazed and Confused is less about story than about perfectly capturing a specific moment in time. The picture is a mood piece, observant and tonally perfect. There are no major dramas, tragic consequences, or lessons learned. It's just about a bunch of kids whose lives intersect for a while before inevitably branching off in separate directions. The movie has plenty of humor but isn't exactly a comedy. It revels in its authentic '70s flavor, but doesn't play it up for camp value. The movie is of a piece with Linklater's earlier Slacker and some of his later multi-character ensemble projects, but it's one of his least gimmicky and (despite the lack of specific plot) most focused. The cast includes a huge roster of future stars including Liv Tyler, Parker Posey, Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, Matthew McConaughey, Cole Hauser, Adam Goldberg, and Joey Lauren Adams. Each plays a recognizable character that everyone will remember from high school: the jocks, the stoners, the nerds, the slackers, the free spirit Hippie chicks, and the snooty rich bitches. They're all archetypes, but the movie doesn't use them schematically. This isn't The Breakfast Club; it feels like a true slice of high school life, even for those who didn't grow up in the '70s. Some experiences are universal.

The HD DVD:
Dazed and Confused debuts on the HD DVD format courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The disc is one of those annoying and overpriced Combo releases with a standard DVD version on the flip side. Both sides are single-layered.

HD DVD discs are only playable in a compatible HD DVD player. They will not function in a standard DVD player (except in cases like this where the disc specifically includes a secondary DVD version) or in a Blu-Ray player. Please note that the star rating scales for video and audio are relative to other High Definition disc content, not to traditional DVD.

Video:
The Dazed and Confused HD DVD is encoded on disc in High Definition 1080p format using VC-1 compression. The movie is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 with tiny letterbox bars at the top and bottom of the 16:9 frame.

The movie doesn't have a very flashy photographic style, but the disc is mastered from clean source elements with strong colors and rich black levels. The picture is a little soft, but has a fair sense of detail and depth. The mildly grainy photography has been well-compressed and doesn't look too noisy. A small amount of edge enhancement ringing is visible in some scenes. Fortunately, it's very minor and generally not distracting. The disc probably won't be used as High-Def demo material, but it does adequately capture the intended style of the movie.

Some fans have compared the HD DVD (and the previous Flashback Edition DVD from Universal) to the Criterion Collection DVD and found the two transfers framed differently. Apparently, Universal's transfer is centered a little high in the frame with a bit of extra headroom while Criterion's is centered a little lower. Which one is correct is still up for debate. Watching the HD DVD on its own, I didn't notice any shots that stood out as poorly composed, so this is likely an issue that will only bother those directly comparing both discs.

The Dazed and Confused HD DVD is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over an HD DVD player's analog Component Video outputs.

The photo images used in this article were taken from the DVD edition for illustrative purposes only, and are not intended to demonstrate HD DVD picture quality.

Audio:
The movie's soundtrack is provided in Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 format. The audio isn't much showier than the video. The '70s rock soundtrack is the main star here, presented with an appropriate amount of mildly dated fidelity. The track is mostly stereo, even sounding like it collapses to monaural during some scenes without music. Surround usage is rare and bass is used sparingly. The dialogue sounds a little thin, with a lot of blatant ADR work, but is clear and never drowned out by the music. Basically, Dazed and Confused looks and sounds like it could have actually been made in the 1970s.

The DVD side of the disc has a DTS soundtrack option. Any difference between the two tracks is negligible, and certainly not worth watching the movie downgraded to Standard Definition video.

Subs & Dubs:
Optional subtitles English captions for the hearing impaired, French, or Spanish.
Alternate language tracks - French or Spanish DD 2.0.

Extras:
The interactive menus on the HD DVD side of the disc are accompanied by annoying beeping sound effects for every selection that can be turned off if you desire (and I recommend it). All of the bonus features are found on the DVD side and are presented in Standard Definition video with MPEG2 compression. Most of the supplements from Universal's Flashback Edition DVD have carried over. We don't get any of the exclusive features from the more elaborate Criterion Collection DVD, unfortunately.

  • Deleted Scenes (15 min.) Nine scenes are presented in terrible workprint quality. There's some funny material in here, but a lot that's just more of what we already get in the movie. None of the scenes were essential.
  • The Blunt Truth (5 min.) A parody of educational film strips about the dangers of marijuana. The way the clip starts looks very authentic, becoming increasingly ridiculous as it goes on. The narration includes such pearls of wisdom as, "The smoke from this plant causes a brief state of euphoria immediately followed by permanent insanity".
  • Retro Public Service Announcement (2 min.) Two real vintage PSAs: VD is for Everybody and The Crying Indian.
  • DVD Credits
Missing from the DVD edition for no particular reason are the movie's theatrical trailer and some production notes in text format.

Final Thoughts:
One of Richard Linklater's better movies, Dazed and Confused is an entertaining time capsule with strong performances and a sly sense of humor. The HD DVD edition has decent picture and sound quality, though the movie's bigger fans will want to hold onto the Criterion Collection DVD for its wealth of superior bonus features.

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Hollywoodland (HD DVD) - Ben Affleck
The Fifth Element (Blu-ray) - Milla Jovovich
Pitch Black (HD DVD) - Cole Hauser
HD Review Index
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