Criterion Catch-Up, Part 5: The Big Chill (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

And we wrap up Criterion Catch-Up with Lawrence Kasdan's 80's staple The Big Chill. This is a film that seems to attract as much derision as praise, but I think that's a little misguided.  I mean, I know it's tempting to dismiss yuppie angst, and it's hard to imagine that, as good as the music may've been, baby boomers thought the gang breaking out into a cringy, impromptu dance for the famous kitchen scene was genuinely cool.  But it's still a pretty great film that was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, back when that still maybe meant something.
It's crisply written, threading genuinely witty comedy with a sincere, maybe even touching look at the mid-life crisis.  It's smarter and more self aware than it's given credit for.  I mean, just think about the satirical glint in Jeff Goldblum trying to pitch the film's story into a piece for People Magazine.  And speaking of Goldblum, holy crap, the cast is untouchable.  Goldblum, Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, William Hurt.  That line-up would make anything amazing.  And even the cast members you mightn't expect so much out of, like Tom Berenger or Meg Tilly, shine with this material.  Of course this movie isn't for people looking for gun battles and spaceships, but if you're in the market for high quality human interest and you write this film off, more fool you.
The Big Chill debuted on DVD in 1999 as a 15th Anniversary Collector's Edition from Columbia Tri-Star.  For such an old DVD, it held up pretty well, and it was never upgraded or reissued until it was blu-ray time.  That's when Criterion took over the title, and released it in 2014 as a 3-disc blu-ray/ DVD combo pack (the third disc is another DVD with the extras on it).  In 2015, they split the pack and released the DVD and blu as two separate packages, with the extras no longer isolated to a different disc from the feature.
1999 Columbia Tri-Star DVD top; 2014 Criterion DVD mid; 2014 Criterion blu bottom.
Both releases are slightly letterboxed to 1.85:1, though the 1999 DVD actually has a thin windowbox.  It's anamorphic; I guess it's just an old school concern about overscan.  It's also not interlaced, though I guess there is a bit of edge haloing.  But really, the old DVD still holds up fairly well, especially for its age.  Naturally, the HD blu-ray is a stronger, clearer image, with a fresh 4k scan of the original 35mm negatives (and no more halos).  But if you're only buying for PQ (i.e. not taking into account special features and what not), but still stuck in standard def, there's not a lot of reason to upgrade to the Criterion DVD from the Tri-Star.  In fact, there might even be a reason not to.  Once again, Criterion's colors are different than the old DVD.  Does that parking lot hug look a little green?  More than that, look at the fireplace in the top set of pics.  On the old DVD, it's a white fireplace with pink trim and surroundings.  On the Criterion, it's all pink.  I'm not bothered by a new scan having slightly different colors than an old DVD edition; if the old colors are off; I want them corrected.  I'm just anxious that these new colors are accurate.  But Criterion's booklet promises us that their whole process was supervised by the D.O.P. John Bailey, and approved by Kasdan; so I guess they have to be right... right?

Criterion gives us choices, audio-wise, with both a 5.1 mix in DTS-HD, and a mono track for the purists in LPCM 1.0.  Surprisingly, the 5.1 is also what the 1999 US DVD had (plus Spanish and French dubs).  I guess they figured with this film's strong use of music, they wanted to pump up the audio mix, and it does sound good.  Both versions offer optional English subtitles (the old DVD also throws in French and Spanish).
Extras-wise, the original DVD wasn't too shabby.  We got about ten minutes of deleted scenes, and a really good, hour-long retrospective documentary that talks to Kasdan, some crew and most of the big stars.  It also had the trailer, a trailer for Silverado (another Kasdan film) and a nice, six-page insert with an essay by Kasdan himself.  A pretty nice package.

Happily, Criterion carried over everything, except Kasdan's essay.  I"m surprised they didn't include that in their booklet; maybe they just didn't know.  But they've got the deleted scenes and the documentary (and the trailer), which is what really matters.  On top of that, they filmed a new, on-camera interview with Kasdan and more notably, a 45-minute reunion with Kasdan, his wife Meg Kasdan (who had a bit part in the film), Kline, Close, Place, Berenger, Williams, Tilly, co-writer Barbara Benedek and producers Michael Shamberg & Marcia Nasatir.  Some anecdotes do repeat between this and the documentary, but fans still won't want to miss it.  The only disappointment is that all these extras are in SD only, because they're stuck on a DVD, even if you bought the blu-ray version.  Oh, and Criterion also has a 22-page booklet, with notes by Harlan Jacobson and yes, that Lena Dunham.
Big Chill fans should definitely be happy with Criterion's blu.  More extras, a new 4k scan from the negatives, the original mono track restored; it's all great.  A little soundbite or something from Kevin Costner would've been fun, but you rarely see this many major stars participating in DVD features as it is.  It's a pretty great set.  And if Kasdan says the fireplace is pink, I guess it must be.

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