In the Treehouse

Next to Summertree’s opening credits, playful 8mm home movies roll along, utterly idyllic. Baby boomer parents goof around with their son as if pulled from the opening credits of a ‘50s sitcom. No drama, no heartache.

“Everything always seems so simple here,” pleads Jerry (Michael Douglas) when he comes home from college, mentally revisiting moments seen in that childhood reel. He’s right. Summertree takes place as the Vietnam conflict reached an early pinnacle, and Jerry found himself lost in life. Cue the hard melodrama.

Summertree’s strength as a commentary faded

Summertree doesn’t shy away from its anti-war stance, although it does work around the conflict. The story follows Jerry as he becomes a Big Brother mentor and falls for a nurse, Vanetta (Brenda Vaccaro), occasionally entering an argument with his parents. Mostly, the plodding pace deals in now antiquated fears about the draft, and what was lost in combat. Impassioned, but as deep as the bit part hippie who generally fills background space in a few third act scenes.

Douglas plays his part fine. Vaccaro is a gem too. Together they make a pleasing screen couple, just without compelling story around their characters. The two are so average, and Jerry’s interest in liberal arts feeds into the changing culture that pushed kids of the ‘60s and ‘70s away from their parents. Since its time, released in 1971, Summertree’s strength as a commentary faded. As its exists today, it’s a mournful relic portraying an ugly history, if lacking consequence.

Other films since depicted the Vietnam homefront with greater sincerity and less posturing. For Summertree, Jerry is too indistinct and broadly appealing, aiming firmly to reach a specific demographic – and only that demographic – to lead in protesting the system. That’s a gutsy theatrical call by home studio Columbia, and Summertree was the last feature directed by Anthony Newley before turning to music and acting. Directing a heavy-handed protest film during a contentious, active real world war is sure to draw equal parts ire and support. That assumes audiences connect with the material, and Summertree makes that a challenge.

Video

A dusty print that doesn’t show much in the way of restoration. Mill Creek’s transfer isn’t pretty either. Little remaining grain is an issue compounded by thick compression. A duck hunting scene shows water that looks like oil, a sign of DNR and digital artifacting together. Expect limited fidelity gains over DVD.

Dulled color saturation doesn’t drive any generous primaries onto the screen. Summertree utilizes earth tones galore, thick on browns and a sepia-like push. It doesn’t look like digital tinkering so much as aging. Flat flesh tones drop into the frame listlessly.

Rudimentary contrast follows the rest, dry and plain. There’s little pop in either black levels or brightness. Sufficient, serviceable, but lifeless.

Audio

Scratchy, worn dialog follows Summertree through its runtime, rough even by early ’70s standards. Little else tests the DTS-HD mix. Douglas often plays guitar and those strings come through clearly. If there’s any notable quality, it’s the latter. Summertime barely even uses a score.

Extras

Nothing.

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Summertree
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Movie

Existing for one specific moment in time, Summertree’s plain theme and dull drama don’t carry well into the modern era.

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