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The Big Chill (1983)

The Criterion Collection
Blu-ray Disc Released: 7/29/2014

All Ratings out of



Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/23/2014

There are several ways to measure if a piece of entertainment has reached legendary status. As we all know, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so if others copy it (or, rather, rip it off), this is a good sign. Also, the work can become part of the zeitgeist and it's quotes and logos will spin off into other parts of society. Or it can become the touchstone for a certain sub-genre of work. This could be the most notable mark of legendary status. Today, when a new movie or television show focuses on a group of old friends coming together, someone will inevitably refer to it as "this generation's The Big Chill". Yes, that film wasn't the first to show a reunion, but it did it in such a unique way that it set the standard for years to come. The film has now been released on Blu-ray Disc thanks to Criterion Collection.

The Big Chill opens with a funeral, as Alex (who was played by Kevin Costner, but his scenes were cut) has committed suicide. He had been living in South Carolina at the winter home of Harold (Kevin Kline) and Sarah (Glenn Close) with his younger girlfriend, Chloe (Meg Tilly). Along with Harold and Sarah, Alex's college friends Sam (Tom Berenger), Michael (Jeff Goldblum), Nick (William Hurt), Meg (Mary Kay Place), and Karen (JoBeth Williams) arrive for the funeral. Following the ceremony, the gather at Harold and Sarah's house. What was meant to be a short visit, turns into a reunion, as everyone decides to stay for the weekend. This group had been inseparable in college, but the years have changed them, and as the hours go by, many new dynamics arise. They realize that they aren't who they used to be, but that doesn't mean that old attractions and bad blood won't come to the surface.

Arriving in 1983, The Big Chill is very much a movie of its time. The film focuses on a group of baby-boomers who had been idealistic radicals in college, which would have been in the late 60s, but who are now lost souls. Sam has made it big in Hollywood as on a Magnum, P.I. type television show, but he clearly finds the work hollow. Sarah is a doctor and Harold owns a chain of successful stores (athletic equipment, I believe). Meg is a lawyer who went to a private firm after having served as a public defender. Michael has wanted to be a novelist, but he now writes puff-pieces for People. Karen is a sexually unsatisfied housewife. Nick is merely lost, abusing drugs and drifting from job to job. We learn that Alex's life had been similar to Nick's. This group had been determined to change the world in their youth, but they have now found themselves part of the 80's "Me Decade", where the emphasis was suddenly put on wealth and status.

Saying that the movie is of its time should not imply that the film is dated, as (other than the clothing) it really isn't. What must be said about The Big Chill is that one has to be of a certain age group to truly appreciate the movie. This film is about coming to grips with one's lost hopes and dreams. While most of the members of the group have material wealth, they are leading unfulfilled lives because they essentially sold out on their ideals to become who they are today. They state many times that they wanted to "change the world", but they never did. The movie also appears to be making an interesting counter-point by showing that Nick and Alex refused to become part of corporate America, but they weren't any happier. In this sense, a certain amount of doom hangs over the film. Thankfully, Co-Writer/Director Lawrence Kasdan and Co-Writer Barbara Benedek have infused the film with humor and warmth. There are some very funny moments here, mostly from the quick-witted Kline and Goldblum. And even if you can't relate to the goings on in this clique, the Kasdan has shot the film in a way which invites us into the proceedings, making the viewer one of the group.

As noted above, The Big Chill became the template for the modern reunion movie and laid the groundwork for films like The Breakfast Club, or any movie where a group opens up to one another. It also re-introduced the public to many classic songs from the 60s and the soundtrack was a best-seller. However, the film isn't perfect. It's understandable that Chloe would be upset by Alex's death, but I found Meg Tilly to be cold and almost alien in her performance. And this may be due to how I've viewed him in other roles, but I didn't quite buy William Hurt as a loser. The oddest and most open to debate part of the film occurs during the finale, in which Sarah does a favor for a friend. If this was meant to make us uncomfortable and illustrate their desperation to recapture those lost 60s ideals, it worked. Those flaws aside, The Big Chill works as a drama for grown-ups which pre-dates The Real World by showing what happens when a group of people get together and the gloves come off.

The Big Chill implies that Karen had planned to go to several parties during her one night stay on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of The Criterion Collection. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is sharp and the colors look very good. The image is never overly dark or bright. However, a sheen of grain is visible on the picture throughout. It's not necessarily distracting, but in the brighter, daytime scenes, it is very noticeable. The image is fairly detailed, but the picture leans more towards flat in the depth department. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This sounds like the average re-mastered track taken from an older film. The dialogue is audible and the famous music comes through just fine, never overpowering the other sounds. The music does come from the rear speakers, but weakly so. Otherwise, we don't get much in the way of surround or subwoofer effects.

The Big Chill Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. "Success in the System" (12 minutes) is a modern-day interview with Co-Writer/Director Lawrence Kasdan. Here, he discusses his career and how he was able to navigate Hollywood by working on blockbusters and making his own personal films. He then focuses on The Big Chill and that film's themes and objectives. "The Big Chill: A Reunion" (56 minutes) is a documentary featurette from 1998 (which I assume was on a previous home-video release) that focuses on the making of the film, beginning with the script. From there, we have comments from Hurt, Williams, Close, Kline, Berenger, Tilly, Place, and Goldblum, who discuss their characters and the story. We get some archival on-set footage, and a discussion of the location and what life was like in Beaufort. "Thirtieth Anniversary Q & A" (44 minutes) was conducted at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival and features Kasdan and the bulk of the cast taking questions and talking about the movie. The Disc contains five DELETED SCENES which run about 10 minutes. The bulk of this is made up of two scenes which were cut from the funeral. The much-rumored footage of Kevin Costner does not appear here. The final extra is a TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long