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Say Anything...

20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox . R4 . COLOR . 96 mins . M15+ . PAL


For this writer, a great deal of the past reviewing week has been spent discussing the art of the teen movie, and the path that genre has taken since its boom period of the mid-1980s. Two other discs we’ve recently reviewed - Too Smooth and Drive Me Crazy - have illustrated that filmmakers are still trying to recapture that magic formula more than a decade later, but these films generally just aren’t gelling with the public at the moment - indeed, the revival of the gross-out sex comedy still rules the teen cinema world. So what happened? Why are modern attempts to recreate the heartfelt youth-angst of the ‘80s falling flat? Mainly, as we’ve pointed out elsewhere, it’s that it’s all been done before - even those making these things in the ‘80s realised that. John Hughes said goodbye to teen movies with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in 1986, pausing only to handball his script for Some Kind Of Wonderful to another director before heading off to the lucrative world of toddler slapstick comedy and never looking back. Other filmmakers gave it their best shot, but the genre was as good as done. And then Cameron Crowe - who’d help kickstart the whole thing with his script for Fast Times At Ridgemont High in 1982 - inadvertently provided the last word on it all, right at the end of the ‘80s, with Say Anything…

Say Anything… is one of those rarest of things - a teen movie that treats the characters that inhabit it as three-dimensional beings. Crowe - who has since become renowned for his insightful, funny and sensitive storytelling with films like Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous - seems to be putting himself in his lead character’s shoes (or possibly vice-versa), his script having a real ring of truth about it. One key thing about Crowe’s films, though, is that he has a knack for choosing exactly the right actors for the moment. It’s impossible to imagine anyone but John Cusack in Say Anything…, but it very nearly didn’t happen. Up until this point, John Cusack had spent almost his entire cinematic career in teen comedies, from Class to The Sure Thing via cult classic Better Off Dead to the misfired Hot Pursuit, Cusack’s unique and very human screen persona stole every show he was in - but by 1988, he’d become determined to move on into more serious and adult cinema. Crowe wanted Cusack (who’d read and admired the script and agreed to return one more time to the genre) in the lead role, but studio forces had other ideas - including Robert Downey Jr, Christian Slater and Kirk Cameron! Fortunately, Crowe won out, and Cusack got the part.

The story’s straightforward. It’s the end of high school, and the graduating students are saying their goodbyes and preparing to head off to put their plans and careers into action. But Lloyd Dobler (Cusack) has no particular ambitions. Living with his separated sister (played by Cusack’s real-life sister Joan) and her young son in a cramped and run-down house in suburbia, Lloyd has absolutely no idea what he’s going to do with the rest of his life. And anyway, he has something else to focus on just at that moment; he’s run into “class brain” Diane Court (Ione Skye) at a mall and instantly fallen for her, and decides that he’s going to ask her out despite their vast social differences. To his surprise she accepts, and the pair instantly click with each other. But there are problems - Diane’s upper-class father (John Mahoney, well known these days to Frasier fans) has single-mindedly guided her career path for some time, and doesn’t like the idea of any distractions coming along and vying for his daughter’s affections. And Diane is headed to England on a scholarship in a few months’ time. But she’s rapidly discovering life outside of academic achievement, while Lloyd is realising that he’s finally found some purpose to his life. Needless to say, it’s not all going to go smoothly…

On paper, it all sounds like standard-issue teen-movie fare. But don’t be fooled by appearances. Crowe, directing his first feature film, knows exactly what he wants his script to say and not say, and has an obvious emotional investment in the story and characters here. And Cusack is brilliant, his understated style absolutely perfect for the hugely likeable but directionless Lloyd - he breathes real life into the character, and the story seems like reality as a result. The thing about Cameron Crowe’s films is that they’re as much about the dialogue and the subtleties of the interplay between characters as they are about the overall story - it’s the little details that make Crowe’s characters real. But he also maintains a sense of humour and optimism throughout, never crossing the line into sentimentality or dumb melodrama.

It’s hard to believe that Say Anything… is 13 years old now - and luckily, while there are a few nasty ‘80s hairstyles on the periphery, the look of the film holds up well. This has a lot to do with the fact that Crowe hasn’t made use of fads or fashions in telling his story; these characters could just as easily be playing out this story in 2002, Peter Gabriel song and all. It’s refreshingly free of negativity and cynicism, and therefore may seem almost naïve to audiences more used to physical and emotional violence in their cinematic fare. But we challenge anybody to spend an hour and a half with Say Anything… and not feel better for the experience. It’s that rare - and special - kind of movie.


Say Anything… has also just made its DVD debut in the US this month, and reviews of that disc are full of praise for the new 16:9 anamorphic video transfer that’s been done of the film under the director’s supervision, making mention of its detail, sharpness, colour saturation and perfect black levels.

Unfortunately, it seems that this R4 version might have been mastered from an older video transfer - in fact, this looks very much like the original home video transfer of the film done back in the early 1990s, which at the time was state-of-the-art but pales in comparison to what’s possible today. In common with that original transfer, this one is decidedly desaturated in colour, lacking in fine detail and, most tellingly, seriously devoid of shadow detail in many scenes due to some rather high black levels. There’s some film grain, but no noticeable telecine artefacts; the source material used is fairly clean, too, aside from some minor scratching here and there. If this is a brand new transfer we’d be very surprised - modern telecine is capable of far, far better than this, and despite the fact that it’s 16:9 enhanced on DVD, it seems unlikely that this is the same video transfer that region 1 customers get. It doesn’t look bad, exactly, just… well, dated.

The transfer’s aspect ratio is 1.78:1, with the film image slightly windowboxed on all sides to counter TV overscan in some small way.


The video transfer may look somewhat disappointing, but no such complaints about the audio. The single Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track here presents the film’s original matrixed surround mix, but in discrete channels; as a result, the surrounds are mono (though they’re encoded as two separate channels). A fairly front-focused mix, it presents a nicely realistic and un-showy soundstage across the front speakers, with surround used sparingly but occasionally aggressively. The subwoofer comes into play at low levels on occasion, mostly supporting music; it’s been generated during the creation of this 5.1 mix with the use of a low-pass filter, but it is still selectively applied and subtly used.

The original Dolby Surround 2.0 mix, included on the region 1 disc, is not present here.


Cameron Crowe was extensively involved in the release of Say Anything… on DVD, and as a result the disc features an audio commentary (with a 20-minute introduction) by Crowe, Cusack and Skye, 50 minutes of deleted, alternate and extended scenes, a photo gallery featuring Crowe’s own snapshots, a 1989 promo featurette and a collection of trailers and TV spots for the film.

Well, the region 1 disc does.

This region 4 version, however, offers… a trailer. That’s all. Nothing else.

Considering that the main market for this film on DVD will be the legion of die-hard fans of the movie itself as well as Cusack and Crowe, Fox’s decision to release this bare-bones DVD in Australia defies explanation. And not only that, it’s priced at a premium - while the disc retails for $30 here, the fully-loaded R1 version can be found for less than AUS$22 online. It just doesn’t make sense, and certainly makes for yet another good argument against region coding.

Very, very disappointing.


Say Anything… is a landmark movie that acts as the definitive last word on the ‘80s teen-movie genre, but one which also transcends its modest ambitions and works beautifully on a deeper, more meaningful level.

Fox’s region 4 DVD of the film, though, is a major disappointment, completely stripped of a wealth of worthwhile extra material found on the just-released US version and using what appears to be an old video transfer as well. A modern cinema classic, Say Anything… deserves far better treatment than that - and so do the many Australian fans of the film.

  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=1277
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      And I quote...
    "A rare - and special - kind of movie... Fox’s region 4 DVD, though, is a major disappointment, completely stripped of extra material..."
    - Anthony Horan
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