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DVD: Big Wednesday (1978)
Review Rating:   Good  
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Warner Bros 
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1 (NTSC)

July 2, 2002



Genre: Drama / Surfing  



Directed by:

John Milius
Screenplay by: Dennis Aaberg,  John Milius
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Produced by: Buzz Feitshans

Jan-Michael Vincent,  William Katt,  Gary Busey,  Patti D'Arbanville,  Lee Purcell,  Sam Melville,  Darrell Fetty,  Robert Englund,  Barbara Hale,  Fran Ryan,  Reb Brown

Film Length: 119 mins
Process/Ratio: 2.35:1
Anamorphic DVD: Yes
Languages:   English (Stereo), French (Mono) / English, French, Portuguese & Spanish
Special Features :  

Audio Commentary by Director/Co-Writer John Milius / Cast & Crew Bios / Theatrical trailer for "Big Wednesday" (2.35:1 Anamorphic)

Comments :

In the years since its theatrical release, John Milius' semi-autobiographical saga of the surfer's life has remained (according to Milius) a favourite it Europe. Receiving a widescreen PAL VHS and NTSC Laserdisc release in 1992, the film also celebrated its 20th anniversary in '98, with over 8000 fans converging for the festivities.

"Big Wednesday" refers to the popular observation that the biggest and most awesome waves tend to occur on Wednesdays - the day when surfers converge and prove to themselves whether they can achieve higher goals, and for brief moments stand up against one of Nature's most powerful elements.

Milius and co-writer/boyhood buddy Dennis Aaberg spread their episodic narrative to follow the film's 3 key characters from their party years in '64; through the draft call a few years later; and the eventual convergence for a final surf to rekindle the sublime freedom of their boyhood years, before returning to the demands of family, work, and the lifestyles far removed from 1962. Between autobiographical embellishments and melodrama, however, are several stunning surfing sequences.

It's worth comparing "Big Wednesday" to Zalman King's "In God's Hands," as both filmmakers also co-authored their films, yet the styles are poles apart. King's brisk music video approach, while luxuriously photographed around the globe, lacks the intimacy of Milius' sensibilities; the director has admitted he went for the operatic approach for "Conan The Barbarian," using elegant visual portraits and music, and "Big Wednesday's" surfing episodes reflect Milius' aim for emotion over manic-energetic. Bruce Surtees' magnificent cinematography covers the grace of the film's surf hotdoggers from various angles - the shore, the sky, and for the first time, filming massive waves from the water. Warner's transfer is gorgeous, with daytime sequences filled with various rich dark and light blue shades, the sandy brown of the beaches, and the sunburned hue of surfer dudes. There's minor grain in some night shots, but the overall look is very smooth.

Basil Poledouris, a fellow U.S.C. alumnus from Milius' school days, contributed a sweeping orchestral score for his first feature film, and the director's deliberate use of lengthy music during surfing episodes pays off handsomely for the film's excellent finale. The basic surround mix is clean, with dialogue coming through properly, and sound effects blended subtlety with the score.

John Milius' commentary, however, is very erratic, fluctuating between solid anecdotes to sparse observations. Many topics - casting, shooting techniques, sets, location work - are briefly touched upon, and comments from the cinematographer or cast members would have given the track better diversity and improved pacing. Milius admits, however, that "Big Wednesday" is his most personal film; rarely watched, the director concedes it's far easier to sit back and comment on "Conan" or "The Wind And The Lion," as "Big Wednesday" depicts the life of his youth.

Fans should get a kick out of the cast, which features an interesting array of up-and-coming actors: pre-"Captain America" Reb Brown, pre- "Nightmare On Elm Street" Richard Englund (who also narrates the film), pre- "Miami Vice" Michael Talbott, pre- "New York Undercover" Patti D'Arbanville, and pre- "Dallas" Steve Kanaly and Charlene Tilton (as a beach bunny). Old timers include William Katt's real-life mother Barbara Hale, and small roles with Stacey Keach, Sr., and Hank Worden. Milius himself appears in the film as a Mexican hash dealer, and in a more youthful version in the accompanying still for the director's opening credit (look for the nose).

© 2002 Mark R. Hasan

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