Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High was written by Cameron Crowe, who went undercover at a San Diego high school to document the goings-on for a book of the same name. Although going to school in Southern California at that time may affect my perception, Fast Times excels because of the authenticity of the teenage characters and situations brought to fruition by its talented cast.
The film follows the lives of a few students over the school year. Senior Brad (Judge Reinhold) loses his girlfriend and works a number of minimum-wage jobs. His younger sister, Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), navigates her sexual awakening with advice from her friend Linda (Phoebe Cates), who has an older, unseen boyfriend who is “no high school boy.” Mark (Brian Backer) is a shy fellow with a crush on Stacy. He gets dating advice from his ticket-scalping pal, Damone (Robert Romanus). The breakout character is Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn in an iconic performance), a carefree stoner who thinks he only needs “tasty waves and a cool buzz” but strict, history teacher Mr. Hand (Ray Walston) doesn’t tolerate his nonsense.
Crowe captures the universal struggles of teenagers, such as terrible jobs and interest in the opposite sex, so well that Fast Times could be a documentary. Brad epitomizes this, frustrated by the ridiculous outfits he has to wear for work and forgetting to lock the bathroom door when “thinking” about Linda in her red bikini.
Where most R-rated comedies of that era (and others) treat female characters solely as sex objects, Fast Times allows the audience to see Stacy’s perspective as she enters womanhood, from her own sexual desires to dealing with a pregnancy, in matter-of-fact terms. It is likely not a coincidence a woman directed it.
Presented in its original aspect of 1.85:1, the liner notes reveal “this new digital transfer was created in 16-bit 4K resolution on a Lasergraphics Director film scanner from the 35 mm original camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI Film’s DRS, while Digital Visions Phoenix was used for jitter, flicker, and small dirt.” Colors are strong. Blacks are inky, and whites are bright. The more light cinematographer Matthew F. Leonetti used to shoot the better the picture quality is in areas like film grain, shadow delineation, and sharpness of focus. In darker scenes, the picture quality diminishes across the board.
“The 5.1 surround soundtrack was created in 2004 by the Universal Studios Sound Department from the 35 mm DME magnetic and the half-inch magnetic music masters. Additional restoration was performed by the Criterion Collection.” Dialogue sticks to the fronts. Ambiance is slight. The soundtrack is primarily rock songs by ’80s artists and they come from the fronts. Little for the subwoofer to do other than support the music and the limited action of a car crash and subsequent football game.
The director-approved special edition features are:
- An entertaining, informative commentary by Heckerling and Crowe recorded together in 1999.
- Reliving our Fast Times at Ridgemont High (SD, 39 min) – Heckerling, producer Art Linson, casting director Don Phillips, and cast members talk about the making of the movie.
- The TV version (HD, 95 min) – Edited and dubbed for broadcast, it runs six minutes longer and contains alternate footage.
- Olivia Wilde, Amy Heckerling and Cameron Crowe 2020 (HD, 34 min) – A Zoom call with the trio led by Wilde, who is clearly a big fan.
- Amy Heckerling at the AFI 1982 (Audio, 82 min) – A Q&A with alumni Heckerling and Stuart Cornfeld.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a standout ’80s comedy made all the richer for the drama it includes. The high-def presentation is serviceable and the extras included will allow fans to dig deeper into it.