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The Graduate: 40th Anniversary Edition DVD Review

The Graduate (1967) movie poster The Graduate

Theatrical Release: December 21, 1967 / Running Time: 106 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Mike Nichols / Writers: Calder Willingham, Buck Henry (screenplay); Charles Webb (novel)

Cast: Anne Bancroft (Mrs. Robinson), Dustin Hoffman (Benjamin Braddock), Katharine Ross (Elaine Robinson), William Daniels (Mr. Braddock), Murray Hamilton (Mr. Robinson), Elizabeth Wilson (Mrs. Braddock), Buck Henry (Room Clerk), Brian Avery (Carl Smith), Walter Brooke (Mr. McGuire), Norman Fell (Mr. McCleery), Alice Ghostley (Mrs. Singleman), Marion Lorne (Miss DeWitte), Eddra Gale (Woman on Bus), Richard Dreyfuss (Boarding House Resident - uncredited)

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As a DVD reviewer and lover of film, I watch hundreds of movies each year. Naturally, these cover a wide range of genres, styles, and eras. In journeying through cinema's past and present, one question enters my mind on occasion: "When did the modern movie come about?" In other words, what is the cut-off point for distinguishing between "old movies" and modern ones? I think the best answer I've yet to find is December of 1967, when The Graduate was released.

Obviously, some will consider the soon-to-turn-40 film an ancient relic, others will vividly recall seeing the movie in theaters "not too long ago", and it nearly goes without saying that plenty of subsequent works haven't aged as well as this Mike Nichols-directed comedy/drama.
Still, few can deny that The Graduate marks an important milestone in cinema history, having rung in an age of storytelling driven by complex characters, pre-recorded pop music sampling, and visual innovation.

As practically any self-respecting film buff is already plenty familiar with the plot and even those who haven't seen it likely know a bit from just grazing in the world of entertainment, I'll keep my synopsis of the movie brief. Upon completing his college education with an impressive record, Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) is at a crossroads. Quite simply, he doesn't know what the future holds for him and he's not in any particular rush to find out. At the graduation party his parents throw him, Ben reluctantly agrees to drive family friend Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) home. Sexual tension arises between the 20-year-old Ben and the much older mother/wife/self-proclaimed alcoholic.

Recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) pensively watches the residents of his fishbowl. "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me. Aren't you?" The American Film Institute (AFI) deemed the dialogue that accompanies this memorable through-the-leg shot the 63rd greatest quote in movie history.

Though nothing happens at first, an unusual relationship does eventually form between the nervous Ben and the discontented Mrs. Robinson. It is one consisting of nothing but sex, which seems to suit Mrs. Robinson fine and satisfy Ben's libido, but leaves the recent grad feeling strange and wanting more. Rather than going away altogether, the feelings of guilt and longing are complicated and multiplied when Ben begins dating the Robinsons' pretty collegiate daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross). Mrs. Robinson clearly and vehemently disapproves of the two getting involved and after Ben finds himself genuinely attracted to Elaine, it's only a matter of time before word of the sordid-sounding affair gets out.

Much more a coming-of-age tale than a love triangle, The Graduate excels in its depiction of the anxieties and uncertainties that welcome ponderous people into adulthood. While dramatically poignant, the film is also very much a comedy and has been plenty praised for its smart, skillful ability to find humor in realistic human situations. The laughs arise from abundant wit that has been applied gently to uncomfortably genuine set-ups. As such, the movie has aged remarkably well; no pratfalls, topical humor, or extensively broad gags date it and render it less amusing. Plenty has changed since the 1960s, but human foibles and awkward situations have not, and thus the movie is still funny in several places. If you miss the comedy, however, you're not at a disadvantage, for the entirely earnest story is not interrupted by jokes or wordplay; they're merely an added bonus.

There's an unmistakable, enrapturing flair to the film that helps endear it even to those who can't relate to the forthright and largely uneventful storyline. Though neither his past (a few years of Broadway comedies and the acclaimed black-and-white drama Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) nor his future (sporadic and fairly mediocre films, with a few clunkers) would suggest so, Mike Nichols proves to be among the most cinematically literate directors ever in just his second feature.

Ben and Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) meet at the bar in the Taft Hotel for their liaisons. Ben's mother (Elizabeth Wilson) and father (William Daniels) silently cheer him on as he shows off the new scuba gear he's received for his 21st birthday.

Fellow film sophomore Dustin Hoffman is outstanding in the lead role, conveying a believable palette of neuroses in his conflicted, relentless, relatable young man. His co-stars also shine in their lesser servings of screentime. Bancroft supplies Mrs. Robinson with iconic older woman appeal while also earning some sympathy for a character that ought to be easily disdained. Ross gives reason for the flighty, indecisive Elaine to be direly yearned.
As Mr. Robinson and Benjamin's parents, respectively, Murray Hamilton (Jaws), William Daniels (Mr. Feeny of "Boy Meets World") and Elizabeth Wilson all make impressions in just a few scenes, providing appropriate parental concern while underscoring the inevitable gap between generations. The actors turn in such great convincing work that only research reveals the age inconsistencies that exist: a mere six years separated Hoffman and Bancroft, while Daniels would have had to have fathered Ben before turning ten.

An introspective coming-of-age dramedy might not seem like the birthplace for cinematic exploration but stylistic choices and technical bravery undoubtedly go a long way to both making The Graduate impossible to forget and easy to designate as one of the first entries to what can be classified modern film. The imaginative camerawork by Robert Surtees manages to get emotional mileage out of shots without dialogue, and it's aptly complemented by Sam O'Steen's bold, precise editing. The average viewer is more likely to notice the soundtrack by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. The folk music of the young singer-songwriters lends weight and melancholy to the proceedings, illustrating how off-screen vocalists of pre-existing ballads could sharpen images they were aptly married to. Most of Simon and Garfunkel's tunes -- like the reprised "Sound of Silence" and the perhaps over-repeated "Scarborough Fair" -- had already been recorded and known. Of course, their best-known contribution, "Mrs. Robinson", is an original and even heard in its unfinished state, it stands out as a chef-d'oeuvre.

Unlike many other movies that are today deemed classics, The Graduate was recognized by critics and audiences immediately upon release. The film's box office earnings made it one of 1968's highest grossers and a definite blockbuster. The public's approval was echoed by award panels. Seven nominations from each the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and British Academy Film & Television Awards (BAFTA) were bestowed upon the movie. Five victories were to be had in the latter two ceremonies (honoring everything from the two newcomers to editing, writing, and the film as a whole), but only one Oscar was awarded, to Mike Nichols as Best Director.

Elaine (Katharine Ross) is not pleased to see Ben in Berkeley, chasing after her bus. "And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson"... Ben shatters the speed limit in pursuing what he believes to be his dream girl.

Regardless of the slight Oscar tally, The Graduate has remained firmly in the public's consciousness, being paid tribute in countless movies and TV episodes. The American Film Institute, the non-profit organization that in recent years has emerged as a prominent judge of the artistic value of cinema (especially classics), has shown an unquestionable fondness for the movie. Graduate has adorned the AFI's lists of 100 best comedies, romances, songs, and quotes. Most significantly, it ranked 7th among all films in 1998's "100 Years... 100 Movies" countdown and remained in the Top 20 for this summer's revote.

Since first arriving on DVD as a Special Edition in 1999, The Graduate has been reissued on the format several times. However, despite slightly-altered cover art, changing monikers, and new UPCs, the contents were always the same, presenting the movie in a non-anamorphic widescreen transfer, accompanied by two featurettes ported from the 25th Anniversary laserdisc and the theatrical trailer. Marking the movie's fourth DVD release in Region 1, this new 40th Anniversary Edition gladly and finally changes that, delivering two new commentaries, two new featurettes and a bonus CD while retaining the trailer and that pair of 20-minute supplements from the early '90s. It also deals out long-awaited 16x9 enhancement and an upgrade in the sound department. Read on for full details...

Buy The Graduate: 40th Anniversary Edition DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
DTS 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (English),
Dolby Digital Mono (English, French)
Subtitles: English, Spanish; Closed Captioned
Release Date: September 11, 2007
Suggested Retail Price: $24.98
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
plus audio CD sampler
Black Keepcase with Cardboard Slipcover

VIDEO and AUDIO

This latest DVD incarnation not only deals The Graduate some much-needed 16x9 enhancement (something that MGM's packaging ought to mention), but also a far superior and pleasing video transfer. The element is remarkably clean, allowing one to marvel at the interesting compositions which define the anamorphic 2.35:1 production. Colors are consistent and good; while they're not the most natural-looking, they're also not as of-a-bygone-time as many '60s comedies.
There's some light grain and sharpness is rarely where it should be, but such nuisances are a minor trade-off for the lack of print intrusions and edge enhancement. Considering the age, this is a fairly terrific picture presentation.

The DVD Details table above isn't erroneously edited from some present-day Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster; this 40-year-old movie's DVD really does contain a DTS track. Outside of the Simon and Garfunkel tunes, the mix isn't much more aggressive or wide than the two-channel Mono track offered, but those who appreciate Nichols' musical tastes can easily enjoy how lively the songs that act as "Ben's voice" come through. Dialogue is very crisp and there are a few other instances of channel-separated atmosphere in the 5.1 flavors that expand upon the movie's original design. Between its three English varieties, French dub, and two subtitle streams, very few owners can or will object to the DVD's audio options.

"Little Miss Sunshine" directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton are among the acclaimed contemporary comedy filmmakers who pay tribute to the featured film in "Students of 'The Graduate'." The presence of a relationship therapist should clue you in that "The Seduction" isn't your typical making-of featurette. Dustin Hoffman reveals himself to be an excellent storyteller in "One on One with Dustin Hoffman." Yeah, definitely a good storyteller.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, and PACKAGING

Two pages of bonus features begin with a pair of audio commentaries. The first teams up actors Dustin Hoffman and Katharine Ross. Hoffman does the brunt of the talking and he has some vivid memories.
Ross is rather quiet, especially in the first hour and most awkwardly in response to Hoffman's recurring declarations of being in love with her. Beauty praises are gladly complemented by production tales and admiration of certain technical achievements. Still, the track isn't quite as terrific as you'd expect having two accomplished performers reflect on such a landmark film.

The second commentary pits director Mike Nichols with Graduate fan and fellow filmmaker Steven Soderbergh (Ocean's Eleven and sequels, Traffic). Their track is more of a discussion, with Soderbergh raising topics/questions and Nichols satisfyingly addressing/answering them. There's lots of information to be found here and it gladly covers both technical decisions and dramatic intent. It's the more rewarding of the two, especially for those with filmmaking interest.

Unfortunately, none of the four commentators appear on-camera in the two all-new featurettes that follow. "Students of The Graduate" (25:55) allows directors of acclaimed comedies from the present-day (including Groundhog Day's Harold Ramis, Stranger Than Fiction's Marc Forster, and Little Miss Sunshine's Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris) to heap praise on the DVD's featured film. Also adding perspective in new interviews are critics, film professors, and those behind the movie (producer Lawrence Turman and screenwriter/actor Buck Henry). The remarks tend to focus on the film's distinctive visual style, unconventional themes, music, characters and performances.

"The Seduction" (8:48) brings back many of the previous extra's participants to focus on the relationship between Ben and Mrs. Robinson, both on dramatic and technical levels. It's sort of like an "Anatomy of a Scene" episode, only about a love triangle instead of a scene. Dramatic narration doesn't really jive with the otherwise scholarly tone, but it's still worth checking out, even as the disc's weakest featurette.

Next come the two featurettes produced by New Line Home Video for their 1993 laserdisc. "One on One with Dustin Hoffman" (22:40) lives up to its title with an extended interview of the movie's star. Though he vows to be inexperienced and uncomfortable in such a setting, Hoffman proves to be a candid and compelling storyteller as he takes us at length through the process of being cast and making The Graduate. His stories about the creative processes are detailed and revealing, and his anecdotes (whether it's about his attempts to grope ninth grade girls or striking an unintended Christ-like pose in the church climax) aren't soon to be forgotten.

Footage from Katharine Ross' screen test appears in "The Graduate at 25", one of two laserdisc featurettes that resurface here. Mrs. Robinson and Scuba Ben appear among red and white rounded squares on the animated main menu of The Graduate: 40th Anniversary Edition DVD.

"The Graduate at 25" (22:35) is more of an all-purpose retrospective and it features interview comments from Hoffman, Katharine Ross, screenwriter Henry, and producer Turman. Made at a time when such documentaries were less ubiquitous, this standard but satisfying piece covers the movie's conception, evolution, and legacy with insightful recollections and relevant film clips, making it easy to overlook the absence of Nichols, other key players, and behind-the-scenes visuals.

Rounding out the movie-specific extras is The Graduate's lengthy theatrical trailer (3:45), which relies on an effective, straightforward montage of short clips. There's also a 75-second promo for Academy Award-winning films available on DVD from MGM. Though not accessible anywhere else, before the Main Menu loads, a preview plays for Raging Bull: Collector's Edition.

Making this a mixed-media two-disc set is the inclusion of an audio CD sampler, at least on specially marked first-printing copies. The CD provides four of the enduring Simon & Garfunkel tunes that are well-employed in The Graduate: "The Sound of Silence", "Mrs. Robinson", "Scarborough Fair/Canticle" and "April Come She Will." Running just twelve minutes, it won't get far as road trip accompaniment, but it's a nice bonus for those who don't already own the full soundtrack on CD, and it also saves the iTunes generation $4.

The animated Main Menu uses a scheme of red and white rounded squares and rectangles to provide a collection of memorable imagery from the film set to "Mrs. Robinson." The silent submenus rely on still artwork but maintain the same retro feel.

Like many MGM and Fox reissues, the set scores high marks in the packaging department for providing a six-page booklet inside the case. Three of those pages are filled with juicy anecdotes and observations on the film's production and legacy, complete with relevant quotes from past interviews given by the principal filmmakers. The standard keepcase is housed in a cardboard slipcover that is not quite content, as many slipcovers are, to merely reproduce the DVD cover art; it replaces the standard credits grid with five movie stills.

Unusual bedfellows Mrs. Robinson and Ben Braddock form one of the most studied and celebrated romances in cinema history. The indelible closing image of "The Graduate" plants copious amounts of uncertainty onto the faces of Elaine and Ben.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Graduate is one of a handful of universally-esteemed classics that seem to elicit a spot in even the most unorthodox of DVD collections. Disregarding its legendary reputation and industry-revolutionizing techniques, the film holds up very well, showing few signs of age at 40 years old. It's funny, it's poignant, and it's essentially the birthplace of the modern movie (in the best of ways). The unprecedented style may have made the film a favorite subject for cinema studies, but its first-rate storytelling powers are what will strike more people, including first-time viewers and those without an eye for moviemaking.

MGM's 40th Anniversary Edition provides the film with a long-overdue upgrade and it achieves that in every sense. Special features buffs will appreciate the two commentaries and featurettes making their debut, double dip skeptics will relish that the trailer and early '90s laserdisc features have been retained, those lacking the soundtrack should enjoy the inclusion of a 4-track CD sampler (though it might just encourage them to buy the full album), and home theater enthusiasts who desire only the best possible picture and sound will be delighted by the considerable improvements found here. In short, everyone is happy and release week discounting puts the price about where it should be for this satisfying package.

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The Hustler (Collector's Edition) Finding Neverland Driving Lessons Disturbia Bee Movie The Heartbreak Kid (2007)
Back to School (Extra-Curricular Edition) Red Dawn (Collector's Edition) Good Morning, Vietnam (Special Edition)
Boy Meets World: The Complete First Season Felicity: Senior Year Collection Bottle Rocket (Criterion Collection)
The Jungle Book The Gnome-Mobile The Happiest Millionaire Monkeys, Go Home! The Love Bug The Boatniks

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Reviewed September 14, 2007.



Text copyright 2007 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1967 StudioCanal Image and 2007 MGM Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.