Albert Brooks' Modern Comedy Classic, Lost In America (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

I almost feel guilty doing another Criterion post so shortly after my big Criterion Catch-Up run, but hey, this is a brand new Criterion release of one of my all-time favorite films.  What am I, gonna sit on this and wait 'till it gets old to cover it?  They've finally replaced our barebones Warner Bros DVD with this long-awaited, HD debut of Albert Brooks' modern comedy classic, Lost In America.  And TL;DR?  It's perfect; go get it.
1985's Lost In America is Brooks third feature film as writer/ director (he'd been doing comedy and acting in films like Taxi Driver and Private Benjamin well before then).  As far as I'm concerned, they're all masterpieces; but if we had to boil his filmography down to a single pinnacle, this would be it.  Brooks plays an LA advertising executive who gets passed over for a promotion and so, insulted and inspired by the film Easy Rider, convinces his wife (the great Julie Haggerty) to drop out of society with him and live life on the road.  First stop: Las Vegas, where Haggerty immediately gambles away their life savings and they have to face the fact that they may have just blown the American dream.
Brooks was originally commissioned to write this film (with co-writer Monica Johnson) for ABC; but according to a 1983 article for Playboy Magazine, they passed on it for being not sufficiently commercial.  He said, "hell for me would be a place where I'd be given a huge budget and be told to make a movie to please Gene Shalit."  But Lost In America is hardly some underground punk film; it's a perfectly accessible and universally relatable comic pass on life in America as Vacation or Annie Hall.  Brooks and Haggerty are perfect in their push and pull relationship across the country, and Gary Marshall has a terrific cameo role.
Warner Bros released this as an acceptable (widescreen, anamorphic) but barebones DVD back in 2001 ("crapper snapper" case and all), and did little else with it except reissuing that same edition as a DV-R for their Warner Archives collection in 2015.  I've got the original 2001 DVD for this comparison.  But now finally, Criterion has given it the special edition release it's always deserved with their 2017 blu.
Warner Bros 2001 DVD on top; Criterion 2017 blu on the bottom.
Criterion gives Lost In America a fresh 2k scan from new 35mm interpositive.  The framing looks pretty similar, but the WB disc left the picture open at 1.78:1, where Criterion mattes it down to the exactly correct 1.85:1 ratio.  Because they pick up a tiny sliver on the sides, they wind up losing only a sliver vertically, so casual viewers would probably never even notice the difference.  What you're more likely to notice is the authentic grain and sharper image of this clearer HD image, although there isn't that much more actual detail to pull out of the IP.  But it's certainly clearer and more attractive, helped too by some improved color-timing, which clears up an unfortunate red push on the old disc.

Warner's audio track was pretty strong and clear on the original DVD, with optional English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.  Criterion brings the original mono track to lossless LPCM with optional English subtitles.
So, like I said, Warner Bros' DVD was barebones.  It had the trailer, and that was it.  It wasn't even a particularly special trailer (Albert Brooks often made creative trailers with all original footage for his films; but not this one).  For a great American comedy, that's just sad.  But Criterion has come through.  First up is a half-hour interview with the man himself.  We also get twelve minute interviews with Haggerty and executive producer Herb Nanas.  Finally, there's a great interview on Brooks' career by (no relation) James L. Brooks, who featured Albert in most of his work, from Broadcast News to The Simpsons.  Then there's also the trailer and a fold out insert with an essay by critic Scott Tobias.
Those features might still sound a little light (no commentary, etc), but considering Albert Brooks wore so many of the key hats on this production, and Monica Johnson has sadly passed on; this winds up feeling quite thorough and satisfactory.  Really, this is everything Brooks fans have been wanting.  A brand new, HD scan and a cool selection of terrific extras.  Now, hopefully Criterion will continue to take us through the rest of Brooks' brilliant catalog and give equal treatment to Real Life, Modern Romance, Defending Your LifeMother, The Muse and maybe even Looking for Comedy In the Muslim World, so we can finally die happy.

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