Directed by George Lucas before Star Wars took his career in a different direction, 1973’s American Graffiti is a cinematic love letter to the late fifties and early sixties, when America’s youth were preoccupied with hot rods, girls and rock n roll. Before Vietnam would serve as a reality check, stripping them of their innocence.

Largely based on George Lucas’s own experiences, American Graffiti follows a group of friends in small-town California. Steve (Ron Howard) and Curt (Richard Dreyfuss) are fresh out of high school and heading off to college the next morning. Curt is unsure he wants to leave. Excited for a new adventure, Steve breaks up with his girlfriend Laurie (Cindy Williams) who is still in high school and happens to be Curt’s younger sister. The nerd of the group, Terry (Charles Martin Smith), is staying home as is the eldest member, John (Paul Le Mat) who proudly has the fastest car on the strip. Clearly inspired by James Dean, John wears boots, blue jeans and a white t-shirt with a pack of cigarettes wrapped up in his sleeves.

Set to a great soundtrack comprised entirely of music from the era, the radio is a constant companion featuring the voice of famed disc jokey Wolfman Jack (Who appears as himself in the film). The music is so prominent in fact, it’s as much a character as any of the actors. We hear tunes from the likes of The Platters, The Big Bopper, Chuck Berry, Danny and the Juniors, among others. The script, which Lucas wrote and then revised with help from Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, hits all the right notes, offering fun and moments of relevant sentimentality. The film is full of likeable characters and will seem relatable to anyone who has been through high school.

The performances are great from top to bottom. A young Richard Dreyfuss shows flashes of the Oscar Winning actor he was to become just a few years later. Already an established star due to his work in television and film, is just as good. Charles Martin Smith stands out as Terry, delivering what arguably would be the best performance of his career. Paul Le Mat shines, equaled only by his performance in the 1984 television film The Burning Bed, for which he won a Golden Globe award. Cindy Williams leads the female cast which includes supporting turns from the likes of Mackenzie Phillips. Suzanne Somers and Candy Clark. Also look for a young Harrison Ford in a supporting role as Bob, a guy with a slick car and a girl on his arm.

Set on the last night of summer vacation, American Graffiti represents the last night of adolescence with adulthood rapidly approaching. While the time and place may differ, all of us can relate to that moment when we made that transition.

Presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Universal’s 4K transfer has moments of absolute brilliance. Unfortunately, the use of heavy digital noise reduction is apparent throughout the entire film. beyond that it appears fake film green has been applied on top of that. The result is an image lacking in absolute detail. Some of the darker shots looked washed out. on the bright side, the classic cars shine, be it bright yellow, white or blue, thanks to HDR. There are also moments where the film grain looks real. All and all though, this transfer must be considered a disappointment.

The audio track is the previously released DTS-HD MA 2.0 track and the new DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix. The 5.1 mix allows for music in the sides and rears giving the fronts and center over to dialogue. Dialogue occasionally sounded a bit loud but mixes well with the various pop songs. There are no snaps, crackles or pops.

English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles are included.

The following extras are available on the 4K Disc:

  • Audio Commentary with Director/Co-writer George Lucas
  • The Making of American Graffiti (SD 1:18:11)
  • Screen Tests (HD 22:55)
  • Theatrical Trailer

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