It wasn’t intentional that Clueless captured the essence of the ’90s. After all, it’s supposed to be a superficial satire, but with the grungy skateboarders, pop soundtrack, and growing digital connections, Clueless is anything other than its title.
Amy Heckerling’s script is “in,” or rather it was back in 1995. Replete with slang, catchphrases, and ludicrously absurd fashion, in between the smarmy comedy lies the innocence of those teenage years. Alicia Silverstone’s character is nothing short of an insufferable teenager, yet an unknowing know-it-all that somehow scores charm points. She’s the heart of an indirect teen film, one that doesn’t pander, just connects to the core audience.
In many ways, Clueless exemplifies the PG-13 rating, skirting adult overtones with booze and a scattered pot joke, innocent enough to avoid the watchful ire of those flirting the conservative line. It’s perky, with a staunch sense of self-awareness that elevates the dialogue and visuals over reality. This is 1995 in the parallel universe, one over from where we are now.
With Cher’s (Silverstone) staggering fortune looming over her head, Clueless doesn’t wander into brat territory. Instead of seeking reasons to exploit bank accounts, she’s merely dumbfounded at falling out of her father’s financial success. There’s a difference between modern teenage junk food reality TV and what Clueless portrays; therein lies the allure.
None of this points out that Clueless is legitimately funny, jabbing and poking at the ’90s era cliques to open the floodgates of comedic possibilities. Rich in warped dialogue and stringent about its attitude, the film is more than the surface may indicate. Losing a grip on your personal attention span means missing a clever word play, the heart of Clueless’ playfulness. It’s spunky and spirited, not unlike the ’90s era teen it represents… loosely at least.
Paramount’s scan for Clueless seems relatively current, the odd speck of damage, instance or two of judder, or other minor imperfection not withstanding. The mid-90s film stock looks genuine on disc, although more so were it not for the apparent sharpening. Grain is raised to a bothersome level as edge enhancement exposes the problem through halos. An AVC encode handles what it can before collapsing during a handful of sequences in which compression takes over the frame.
Also causing the back-and-forth struggle is the overweight brightness, blotchy in outdoor scenes and gleaming enough to crush the grain structure in its wake. At times, the transfer seems to have little control over contrast, more concerned with appearing, well, contrast-y. Subtle is not a suitable descriptor.
Genuinely though, this is a “best first effort” product, wherein the material is ready for priming with just a hint of cleaning or restraint. This isn’t bad in any sense. It’s peppy, making the lusciously flavored color palette sprint off the screen. Clothing is selected for saturation potential first, and overall uniqueness second, or at least it appears so. Flesh tones survive in an era sans digital intermediates, natural, pleasing, and non-tampered.
What’s left are the black levels, able to manage themselves unlike their partner contrast. Kind to shadow detail and rich enough to establish a tight hold on the image depth, they give Clueless a stable punch. This is a film that could look better; that needs stressed. On the other hand, this doesn’t look thrown together at the last minute either. Most should find it sufficient.
Mastered in DTS-HD, the audio portion shows little signs of aging. Technical qualms are made up of obvious dubbed lines, not faults in fidelity. Dialogue is clean and precise, with a nice center channel presence.
School grounds, parties, and clubs make up the resulting vividness. It’s something for the surrounds to play with, chatter lively if not a little elevated to make the point about the crowding. If there’s a genuine highlight, it happens during a disastrous freeway driving lesson. Motorcycle gangs, trucks, and general vehicles swell to capture the panic of the situation, panning through the speakers with superb accuracy. It’s more than expected for general comedy.
Extras come courtesy of the DVD edition, beginning with a trivia game titled Clue or False. The featurettes to follow blend nicely enough to work in tandem, but are separated if only to irritate those foolish enough to try and do this for a living. Class of ’95 details the casting process, Language Arts digs into the lingo of the day (lingo is still a cool word, right?), Fashion 101 finds time to discuss dress codes, while Creative Writing delves into concept creation.
Three more remain, including the creation of the teen game Suck n’ Blow (a little more innocent than it sounds), Drivers Ed which delivers the complexity of the freeway shoot, and We’re History, focusing the impact the film had on the culture. In all, this totals to about an hour of screen time, not including the trailer that is also available.
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This is 1995 in the parallel universe one over to the right of where we are now.