Chasing Amy is the third installment in the “New Jersey Trilogy” from award-winning writer-director Kevin Smith (Clerks, Mallrats, Dogma). Cult comic-book artist Holden (Ben Affleck) falls in love with fellow artist Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams), only to be thwarted by her sexuality, the disdain of his best friend Banky (Jason Lee), and his own misgivings about himself. Filled with Smith’s unique ear for dialogue and insight into relationships, Chasing Amy offers a thoughtful, funny look at how perceptions alter lives, and how obsession and self-doubt skew reality.
The back packaging states that the aspect ratio for Criterion’s edition of Chasing Amy is 1.85:1, though the film looks to be closer to 1.75:1. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc and has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
Like a few other Buena Vista titles (The Life Aquatic, The Royal Tenenbaums) I suspect Disney has more to do with this transfer and overall release than Criterion (the disc is actually distributed by Buena Vista and not Criterion’s usual distributor) even though it’s, for the most part, a port of the laserdisc.
To my understanding the film was shot on 16mm, so the image will be grainy and have some modest problems because of the source. Criterion has still made some beautiful transfers from 16mm films, like with the transfers for the films found on their Monterey box set. Grain isn’t an issue at all for me and while Chasing Amy does retain the film’s grain, it also appears to be riddled with compression artifacts, rampant when reds are on screen, and lends a fuzzy look to the film. While it could be “grain” it doesn’t look as natural as some of Criterion’s other transfers and has more of a digital, blocky look like I might be streaming it down from the internet. Edge-enhancement also rears its head on occasion.
The image could also probably be sharper. It doesn’t look too bad in this regard, but there is a lack of detail and edges can look a little soft. The print is in decent shape, though contains a few blotches scattered throughout. It is a newer film but considering its indie nature I’m not too surprised by that. Colours do look pretty good on the other hand, with accurate looking skin tones, nice reds and blues, and fairly deep blacks. Colours may prove to be the releases strongest aspect.
But the one thing that leads me to believe Disney’s DVD department had more to do with this release than Criterion is the framing. On the commentary, director Kevin Smith goes into a whole spiel (as he tends to do) about how he hated the way the film was framed when it was released theatrically. He complains how Disney/Miramax did a disastrous job on the framing, his biggest complaint being that the tops of heads were chopped off. While recording the commentary he, and his cohorts, are obviously watching the film from the new transfer Criterion did for the laserdisc (released a couple of years before this DVD) and he commends Criterion on getting the framing right. Unfortunately throughout the film on this DVD it’s easy to notice the heads are still being clipped at the top, the most obvious moment being when Smith mentions that he’s happy Criterion hasn’t trimmed the top of Ben Affleck’s head and, well, the top of Affleck’s head has been trimmed.
I assume Disney did a new transfer and intended to release the DVD on their own and somewhere down the line it was decided to just port the supplements from the Criterion laserdisc, maybe Smith pushing for it. I don’t know, but whatever happened the transfer is disappointing, especially for a Criterion release.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track on this isn't too imaginative, but since I wasn't expecting much I can't say I was disappointed.
The film is very talkie so most of the work goes to the center speaker. Dialogue is very clear and articulate. Panning occurs occasionally at the front but not too often.
The surrounds are used for a few background effects but are most noticeable during scenes like in the comic book convention and the scene where Holden confesses his love in a car on a rainy night. The sub-woofer handles some bass but has little to do overall.
But considering what the film is, this is perfectly acceptable. It’s at the very least clean and clear.
When dealing with a DVD for one of Kevin Smith’s films I find I usually enjoy the supplemental materials more than the actual film, other than maybe a couple of cases. The fanboy in him of course embraces these types of home video technologies (Laserdisc, DVD, and I can only assume Blu-ray) and he does go all out with his DVD releases. When compared to the DVDs for his other films, though, Chasing Amy, despite being a Criterion release, is probably the weakest in this area. There’s very little on here.
One of the more interesting aspects of the release, though, are the menus. For those unfamiliar with how supplements were usually presented on Laserdisc (at least on Criterion Laserdiscs) I’ll give a brief description. Supplements were spread out over chapters on a Laserdisc and the fancy ones would usually present a screen listing the supplements and then the chapter stops the supplements were located at (a sort of primitive version of a DVD menu.) When you went to a section you would usually get an introduction and then be taken to the supplement you selected (occasionally the supplement section of a Laserdisc would also have a general introduction and welcome from the participants.) Criterion has preserved this throughout the menus, so when you, say, select the “Supplement” section from the main menu of the DVD you not only get your standard listing of supplements but you also get a background video presenting Smith and gang (and at one point a Criterion producer) introducing the supplements. This set-up is found throughout the menus on the disc. You also don’t have to watch them if you don’t wish to.
This release appears to port everything from the Laserdisc as is, and because of this we do get one new feature, which is a new introduction by Kevin Smith. He explains that this is the same as the previous Laserdisc and that if you own both you just got ripped off (since I don't own the Laserdisc, I guess that means I’m okay.) He is also on there to explain that a comment he made on the commentary for the Laserdisc should be ignored. The comment in question is a not-so-nice remark about the then-new DVD technology. In this intro Smith admits to now being a fan of the technology.
Moving on the big supplement on here would be the (second attempt at an) audio commentary by director Kevin Smith, producer Scott Mosier, actors Ben Affleck and (there in spirit) Jason Mewes, associate producer Robert Hawk, Miramax executive Jon Gordon and “View Askew historian” Vincent Pereira. Apparently this track is the second round after all of the participants veered off track during the original recording. I’ll admit to usually enjoying the commentary tracks on Smith’s DVDs and I do like the one on here. I found it somewhat charming in its own way that Smith was obviously ecstatic to be doing a commentary for a Criterion release, and even tries to keep the track from falling into off-topic ribbing and banter. Smith has the majority of the track, Affleck probably has the second most amount of air time, and the rest come in third (though Mewes offers the least probably.) Of all the commentary tracks I’ve listened to from Smith and gang this one probably stays the most on track. Smith’s tracks can derail usually at any given moment and veer off on some unrelated topic as everyone just gets involved in some personal conversation. This one sticks mostly to the film, reflecting on shooting it, getting the money together (and the budget increasing after Affleck improved lyrics from a song into the film,) releasing it, and some technical elements (Smith is not a great director, probably not even good, but he at least knows that he’s limited in this regard.) Smith points out influences from his life and other films, and there’s also mention of (what was) the New Jersey trilogy as a whole (which includes this film, Clerks and Mallrats.) The track is also rather funny. I’d have to refresh my memory on the other tracks from Smith, but I recall this one being one of his better ones. I would have loved to have heard the first track that was recorded, though, and am disappointed it wasn’t included for at least a laugh. Something similar happened with the track for Dogma and Sony included both on that one.
10 deleted scenes are also included. Other than the surprise of seeing Illeana Douglas appearing in one of the deleted scenes I can’t say there was all that much here and everything was rightfully cut. You’ll also find a few outtakes in here. While I hate outtakes these ones at least put a smile on my face. Each deleted scene also gets their own introduction by members of the cast and crew.
Closing off the disc supplements is a trailer that looks more like the kind you’d find at the beginning of a video cassette rather than one that would appear in the theater. I honestly don’t even remember this film getting much of an ad campaign before its release in theaters.
There is also a type of “Easter Egg” hidden in the color bars.
The booklet included lacks the usual scholarly essay you find in most Criterion releases (even Armageddon has one) and instead you’ll find a rather personal essay about the film by Kevin Smith, where he basically states making the film was a form of therapy. You’ll also find a map that links the characters between all of the films in the New Jersey trilogy.
And that just about does it. In comparison with other Criterion releases and even other Kevin Smith DVDs, this one’s pretty light.
This is another Criterion title (after Armageddon and The Rock) that sparks debate about its inclusion in the collection. I actually like the film (and I also like Smith’s first film, Clerks) but must admit, looking back through all of their titles, it is a bit of a bizarre, almost out-of-left-field inclusion. But past that this DVD is still a rather mediocre one, Criterion or not, presenting a disappointing digital transfer and only a handful of supplements (the commentary is at least decent.) Smith does want to revisit it so maybe he can improve upon it. The good news is that if you do want this DVD you can find it fairly cheap, even down around the $10 range. For that price I’d say the release is worth picking up.