The Fletch Chronicle: Fletch, Fletch Lives & Confess, Fletch

I've been planning a Fletch post for a while.  But then Confess, Fletch came out, so I decided to wait for that.  And then Kino's 2k restorations of the first two films were announced, so I decided to wait for those.  Now a lot of time has passed, and this post has become a taller and taller order, but I'm glad to finally unveil the complete Fletch chronicle on home video.
Chevy Chase has had a handful of great roles... in Caddyshack, the Vacation movies.  He's been fun in plenty of movies like The Three Amigos, Dirty Work and Spies Like Us.  But I daresay this is his greatest, defining role.  Based on the series of detective novels by Gregory McDonald, Fletch walks a satisfying line between his natural improv comedy style and a more serious mystery.  Newcomers might be a little disappointed if they're expecting more of a pure comedy (especially given Chase's silly disguises), but once you get the tone, you'll see Michael Ritchie has directed a real cracker here: the highlight of his career.  The supporting cast is spot-on with great performances from Joe Don Baker, George Wendt, M Emmet Walsh, Tim Matheson (Animal House) and a young Geena Davis.  It's got a fantastic Beverly Hills Cop-inspired synth score and a first rate theme song by Stephanie Mills.

Universal first released Fletch as a barebones DVD in 1998, which they then updated to a semi-special "Jane Doe" edition in 2007.  And naturally they reissued it a bunch over the years (we'll take a look at one, the "Triple Feature Film Set" we saw on my Mallrats page.  In 2009, they released it on blu, which they also reissued a bunch over the years.  I bought a Double Feature set because, back when I was shopping for Fletch at an FYE, the version with Uncle Buck was actually cheaper than the one without.  So, okay, I'll take a free second movie.  And now in 2024, Kino has just come out with a new special edition, restored in 2k with more features.
1) 2007 Universal DVD; 2) 2009 Universal DVD; 3) 2009 Universal BD;
4) 2013 Universal BD; 5) 2024 Kino BD.

For starters, though similar, the 2007 and 2009 DVDs are not identical, but the 2009 BD and the 2013 BDs are.  The Double Feature set is just the exact same 2009 BD in a new case with a 2011 Uncle Buck blu.  But Fletch and Happy Gilmore has been squeezed onto the same, new DVD.  They seem to be using the same master, but are clearly different encodes... and that's not the only difference, as we'll see later.  Honestly, though, none of these releases look all that different from each other.  They're all 1.85:1 with nearly identical framing.  The new Kino has a sliver extra picture along the edges, but I mean slivers.  More important is that the old BD features edge enhancement and other tinkering that detracts from the image, which Kino thankfully does away with.  At 2k, there's not really any new detail to be found, but the compression on the old blu present sparse and smudgy film grain.  The grain is still a bit light on the Kino, but it's much better than what Universal gave us.  They've also cleaned up the color timing, though those improvements are subtle.

Here's where the 2009 DVD really sets itself apart, in a bad way.  The original DVD and the 2007 Jane Doe edition include the original stereo track, but the Jane Doe also created a new 5.1 remix.  The 2009 DVD, unfortunately, keeps the 5.1 but drops the original track.  And while both previous DVDs include English and Spanish subtitles (and also French for on the 2007), the 2009 has none.  So yeah, you were definitely getting a stripped down inferior edition if you tried to save with the triple feature.  And that's not all the bad news.  The blu-ray has all three subtitle tracks, but still only the 5.1 remix track, albeit in DTS-HD.  Happily, the Kino brings back the original stereo mix, now in DTS-HD, along with the 5.1, and keeps the English subtitles, though not the Spanish and French.
Now the original DVD had nothing but the trailer, and the 2009 DVD doesn't even have that.  But the Jane Doe Edition earns its (corny) title by having cooked up some genuine special features.  Primarily, there's a half-hour retrospective featurette, which by and large is pretty great.  It features candid interviews with the screenwriter and producers, and gathers a good number of supporting cast and crew to share their memories of the filmmaking.  Unfortunately, though, the DVD producer decided to cast himself as a Fletch-like character who keeps doing skits in between all the interview footage, and that material is downright embarrassing.  It's one of the more notorious extras in DVD history.  But the interviews are really worth pushing through for.  Besides that, there's a brief but fun featurette with the effects artist and producers about Chase's disguises.  And there's a third featurette, but it's just a series of clips from the film with no original content, so you'll want to skip that one.  And that's about all you got, but it also came packaged in a fancy, holographic slipcover.

The Universal blu-ray just carries over the Jane Doe extras, but happily, the Kino takes things further.  Yes, all the Jane Doe stuff is back, but now we get an all new audio commentary by Bryan Reesman and Max Evry.  And boy, is it good.  The usual batch of slack, self-indulgent "expert" commentators we tend to get these days should take notes.  They've read the Fletch novels and have a wealth of info and insight to share, quoting articles and interviews throughout the film.  That's the primary new extra, but Kino has also tracked down an old promo interview with Chase.  It's very short, but finally adds his voice to the supplements.  They've also dug up four TV spots and thrown in some bonus trailers, including Fletch Lives.  It also comes in a much classier slipcover than the old Jane Doe one.
Fletch Lives is a distinct step down from the original, and notably not based on a McDonald novel.  But it's still a fun, Fletch caper with more emphasis on comedy.  Chase dons more silly disguises, and some of the supporting cast are playing broader characters, particularly Randall Cobb as Ben Dover.  They wouldn't have put someone like him in the original film, and even though there's some justification, Cleavon Little plays an over the top Southern stereotype in a cartoonish way that fails the original's standards.  On the other hand, other supporting players like Hal Holbrook and R. Lee Armey are consistently first class, while walk-ons from players like Richard Belzer, Dennis Burkley (Cal!) and Phil Hartman add color.  And it's great to see original supporting players Richard Libertini and George Wyner return, even if they're little more than cameos, to provide some continuity to the series.  It's the rough equivalent of Ghostbusters 2, an amusing sequel that re-captures at least some of the magic of the original, so long as you don't expect it to live up to the same standards of quality.

Universal first released it on DVD in 2010.  Universal released it on blu in 2017, but for reasons I can't remember, I went with the Fabulous Films blu-ray that came out the same year in the UK instead.  There's no particular advantage, I think I just came across a cheap used copy.  At any rate, they've both been rendered obsolete now by Kino's new 2k special edition... although, maybe not very obsolete.
1) 2010 Universal DVD; 2) 2017 Fabulous BD; 3) 2024 Kino BD.
All three editions of Fletch Lives are also presented in 1.85:1, though the Fabulous blu is closer to 1.84; and as with the original film, Kino's edition also features slim additions of picture information along all four sides.  It's almost the exact same case here as with the first Fletch, except to be fair, Universal's Fletch Lives blu-ray is a little less tinkered with.  But the Kino is still clearly the superior disc, with a more natural filmic look, slightly richer colors and more natural contrast.  For example, look at the white board behind Fletch in the first set of shots.  The detail is flared out on the DVD and first BD, but you can make it out now on the Kino.  Casual viewers might not appreciate the gains, but Kino's discs really are improved.

All three tracks include the original English stereo mix, in DTS-HD on the blus.  The US releases include optional English subtitles as well, but they're lacking on Fabulous's UK disc.  The DVD also includes both French and Spanish dubs and subs.  And again, Kino has also included a new 5.1 remix, also in DTS-HD.

No Fletch Lives disc has ever had any extras beyond the theatrical trailer on the DVD.  But Kino has rectified this unfortunate situation with another excellent commentary by Reesman and Evry.  They've also thrown in the original promo featurette and two very brief actor promos for Chase and leading lady Julianne Phillips.  The trailer's here, too, along with several TV spots and a handful of bonus trailers, including the original Fletch.
Like most O.G. fans, I assume, I approached the new Fletch with crossed arms.  It certainly didn't help that this was following an entire legacy of mediocre at best remakes of classic 80s films from Robocop to the Ed Helms Vacation.  But Jon Hamm does a great job of capturing the spirit Chase brought to the role without doing an imitation, and Greg Mottola directs a more faithful Fletch, without the silly costumes and once again adapting a mystery from one of the novels.  I went in ready to reject this completely, but came out hoping this could be the first in a complete series of Fletch films.  Bu unfortunately, I think the aforementioned legacy has kept too many people from giving this one the chance it needed to succeed on that commercial level.

So I suppose we're lucky to have physical media copies available at all.  Paramount released separate DVD and BD editions mid-2023 in the US, and few other parts of the world.
1) 2023 Paramount DVD; 2) 2023 Paramount BD.
Confess, Fletch is even faithful to the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, although the DVD is more like 1.86.  The blu-ray is naturally sharper and clearer than the DVD.  If you look at the sign by Fletch's head, it's an unreadable blur on the DVD, but can be made out to read "(Area Code) + Number ONLY" on the blu.  That's a level of gain even the Kino upgrades didn't provide.  Otherwise, of course, they're concurrent releases using the same master with identical color-timing, etc.  The advantages are all in the natural benefits of the format.  We get the proper 5.1 audio, in TrueHD on the blu, with an additional audio descriptive track, optional English subtitles, a Spanish dub as well as French and Spanish subs.

Unfortunately, there aren't any special features, not even a trailer.  That's a real shame; I would've loved a commentary by Mottola, or even just a brief promotional chat with Hamm giving a few comments on taking on the Fletch legacy.
I suppose you're curious about Uncle Buck, too?  Well, why not?  I'm not a huge fan of the film.  John Candy's great and it has its moments, but John Hughes has created too preachy and sappy a family film for my tastes.  However I did find something interesting about its history on disc, and I do happen to have a couple editions, including the original 2005 Universal DVD, the 'John Candy: The Comedy Favorites Collection: The Franchise Collection' DVD set from 2009, and obviously the Double Feature BD with Fletch.  But I should tell you Kino has already announced a 4k UHD, and I don't plan to upgrade, so don't expect an update here anytime soon.  So anyway, let's take a look.
1) 2005 Universal DVD; 2) 2008 Universal DVD; 3) 2013 Universal BD.
So, it's all ancient history now, of course.  But what was interesting is that the 2008 John Candy collection quietly included a rather substantial upgrade over initial DVD that had been released just three years earlier.  As you can see, it's the same master they'd eventually use for the blu with cleaner, more naturalistic colors and substantially more picture along all four sides.  Now that we have HD editions, of course it doesn't matter, as the blu-ray is more focused and clear than any DVD.  But it was a pretty neat surprise in 2008.

One big downside to the blu, though, is that it features a crappy lossy stereo track (even by lossy standards, it's underwhelming).  All three discs at least feature optional English subs and no remixes.  The original DVD also threw in Spanish subs and French and Spanish dubs.  The 2008 DVD dumped all the Spanish stuff, but kept the French dub.  And the blu-ray just has the English.  None of the releases have any extras except for the trailer on the DVDs.  The blu doesn't even have that.  Kino will hopefully help with all of that.  They certainly did with Fletch 1 and 2, and those weren't even UHDs.  But they're still highly recommended for any serious Fletch fans, and so is Paramount's Confess.

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