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Clueless is not a typical teenage flick and it doesn't even make any presumptions of being such a thing. It belongs in the small category of genuinely great movies surrounding those unbelievable teenage years. The potentially-brief list also includes another film directed by Amy Heckerling (writer/director of Clueless and all around extraordinaire), the Cameron Crowe penned modern classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Imagine Jane Austen's Emma as a teenage-comedy: it is set in the 90's, with a surplus of fashion and the same basic sensibilities of the original Austen classic. Would such a thing translate well or would it be a transformed work that couldn't hold up over the distance of some time? The first possibility seems to be the case: Clueless manages to be just as engaging today as it was seventeen years ago.
Heckerling didn't begin writing the script for what would eventually become Clueless with that concept in mind but somewhere along the course that is exactly the sort of thought process that began to formulate. As she has described herself, on some subconscious level she already had formulated ways in which to bring out some of Austen's original ideas into a new and exciting cinematic experience. On every level, Heckerling succeeded.
The story focuses on Cher (Alicia Silverstone). She is at first-glance a self-centered girl with an idea that everyone is in need of her help on the popularity scale. She's one of the more popular girls in her school and she has close friends she likes to share her gossip with. Dionne (Stacey Dash) is her best friend, and the pair discusses everything from boys, grades, and fellow class-mates to fashion. Tai (Brittany Murphy) is a new student who Cher decides needs to receive a total makeover, beginning with the way she dresses in shabby real high-school life clothing. When Cher receives poor grades she also decides that the way to resolve the problem is to establish debates with her teachers and argue her grade up rather than to have earned those grades. In the eyes of her powerful, rich father Mel (Dan Hedaya) that is every bit as good. Fortunately, Cher has a close friend in Josh (Paul Rudd), who works for her father, and has looked out for her repeatedly when she is in need.
Some viewers might be quick to consider Cher a selfish and self-centered person. This isn't exactly true. She cares a lot about herself, certainly, but she actually is a good-hearted and passionate person who cares for her friends and family. Her decision to help the popularity concerning others in her school is misguided, but she only wants to help. And her father is repeatedly demonstrated as being in ill-health and she watches out for him and his dieting. Despite appearances, Cher is much more than just your average looked-down-upon teen. Heckerling wisely remembers that being a teenager means many things and that there are intelligent teenagers out there, including some with style and wit, as Cher demonstrates.
In many regards, it's hard to believe today that this film almost wasn't produced. When the script was first distributed out to studio executives and to others involved in the Hollywood filmmaking machine, the overwhelming response to the script was that there wasn't interest in making "yet-another-teenage-movie", a saying that fails to understand Clueless.
Imagine these executive folk looking at some long laundry-like list of their teenage-comedy duds while having both of their eyebrows raised, stiff knuckles, and expressions of deadpan solemnity. The executives had no idea of what could happen to pop-culture if the film was given the green-light and some studios missed out on this future hit as a result.
Clueless had a dramatic impact on popular culture. From the young cast of up-and-coming stars, fashion (which made an especially noticeable impact on youth of the time), and the many words that became common usage: Whatever and As If being towards the top (though without actually even scratching on the surface of the film's witty and referential script). Despite having a title a typical moviegoer might associate with a stupid film, Clueless is anything but: The first thing to recognize is that it is intelligent. Everything about the film oozes quality storytelling, character development, and the necessary ingredients for grade "A" filmmaking. Writer/Director Amy Heckerling tapped into youth culture while making a highly-stylized flick that is every bit as meaningful today.
Paramount knows how to release a catalog movie on Blu-ray. Clueless has received a rather impressive 1080p High Definition Blu-ray release utilizing a AVC encode. Like some other recent Paramount releases, the bitrates on this disc are incredible, and not to be overlooked. Releases of 90's films are not always as faithful to the source as this release is: The 1.85:1 framed transfer retains the original theatrical aspect ratio, has good color saturation, and a healthy sampling in a rather filmic appearance. Releases of catalog titles with 30-40 mbps transfers are quite rare and yet that's exactly the kind of excellence delivered for Clueless.
The English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio presentation is more than adequate. In some scenes, the film seems to lack the kind of depth and bass you'd hope to find. Directionality seems minimal. However, the clarity is respectably good and although this is more of a front-heavy audio track, things are quite pleasant and robust when need be. Spanish, French, and Portuguese 2.0 audio tracks have also been included. Subtitles are available in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and English SDH (for the deaf and hard of hearing).
None of the extras are brand new here (all of them are ported over from a previous DVD Special Edition) but all of the extras are well worth checking out. I was impressed by these supplements. However, I was still a tad disappointed by the lack of involvement by Alicia Silverstone. That is both unfortunate and a bit surprising.
Besides the trailers for Clueless (both of which are presented in High Definition) all of the extras are in Standard Definition:
Clue or False Trivia Game - This is an optional game in which trivia plays over the movie while you watch it, during various scenes. This is a fun if inessential inclusion.
The Class of '95 (18:31) is a making-of behind the scenes and interviewee documentary. Expect interviews from most of the cast and several production members, except Alicia Silverstone has seemingly gone missing from being interviewed.
Creative Writing (9:39) is primarily about how the film and script was written. This piece talks about the process of getting the film made from the concept to execution.
Fashion 101 (10:46) is all about the fashion on display in Clueless and the efforts of the film's costume designer.
Language Arts (8:09) is a fun supplement that covers the unique language of the film's script; noting how the language has impacted pop culture to this day.
"Suck 'N Blow": A Tutorial (2:47) is a brief piece on a game played in the film in which cards are passed from one to another by mouth.
Driver's Ed (3:49) is mostly a reflection piece about the freeway scene and the experience of it being filmed.
We're History (8:52) takes a broader look at the various cultural and film influences and impact resultant of the production of Clueless.
Teaser Trailer (1:59), Theatrical Trailer (2:39)
Clueless is essentially a masterpiece of 90's film: something that works beyond the realm of just being a "teenager's movie". Clueless was well-made in almost every way imaginable, and with characters with whom an audience of all ages could relate. The foundations for all of this lies in Heckerling's brilliant screenplay and it is truly a joy to see just how well she realized the script and all of its potential with her noteworthy direction. The Blu-ray PQ/AQ is aces, and the fine extras make this a necessary purchase. You haven't purchased this release already? Whatever.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.