The Car

The Car” is one of those movies that people remember being better than it actually was. Released in 1977, “The Car” hasn’t made the rounds on video, television and cable like other films. When I managed a video store, “The Car” was one of the most requested titles we got from out customers. For some reason Universal Studios Home Video (then MCA/Universal Home Video) never made the title available on video.


the carIt would pop up every now and then late at night on the Sci-Fi channel, but that was the film’s only exposure. Thanks to a licensing agreement with Universal, Anchor Bay now owns the rights to the film on video and DVD. The saviors of lost or neglected films, Anchor Bay has made a name for themselves by giving video and DVD fans what the titles they crave.

The Car” is one of those films, and its DVD and video debut is both nostalgic and dated. First and foremost, “The Car” is corny. An obvious rip-off of “Duel” and “Jaws” (both Steven Spielberg films made by Universal), “The Car” has the look and feel of a made-for-television movie. If it wasn’t for the film’s 2.35:1 widescreen ratio, I would swear that “The Car” was a made-for-television movie spruced up for the big screen.

Toss in a little blood here, a profanity there, and voila, you have a PG film. The thrills and chills are pretty pedestrian, while the dialogue is so safe it hurts. Some scenes were even shot on the Universal Studios back lot, right next door to the facade where “The Car” star James Brolin practiced medicine on “Marcus Welby.” Regardless of the film’s origins, the bottom line is that after 22 years, “The Car” is more of a hoot than a howl. It’s hard to take any of this seriously, and its obvious that writers Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack don’t expect us to. They layer the film with as many cliches as one film can stand.

It helps to have along director Elliott Silverstein, whose “Cat Ballou” proved he was capable of winking at the audience without insulting them. “The Car” is a film that has to be enjoyed on a basic level. You can’t put any thought into it or the whole thing falls apart. Instead, pop in the film, sit back and enjoy this silly yet entertaining tale of a small California town being menaced by a car supposedly being driven by Satan.

James Brolin is wisely cast as Sheriff Wade Parent, the single father of two precocious daughters (Kim and Kyle Richards), who is trying to carry on a relationship with schoolteacher Lauren (Kathleen Lloyd). The small town of Santa Ynez doesn’t see much action, but all that changes when a mysterious black sedan pulls into town and starts mowing down people.

First “The Car” takes out a young couple out for a mountain bike ride (perhaps the most suspenseful moment in the film), and then turns its attention on a hitchhiker and his French Horn. It’s not long before “The Car” takes on Wade and his deputies, who fail to stop its murderous road rage. I kept waiting for one of the deputies to mutter “We’re going to need a bigger car.” The resemblance to “Jaws” and even “Duel” are more than obvious, and Silverstein and cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld even drive the point home when “The Car” attacks a marching band.

The characters are paper thin, but the cast of veteran actors manage to keep them from disappearing into the background. Leonard Rosenman’s musical score is loud and threatening, and almost sounds like a direct life from his “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” score. If absence makes the heart grow fonder, perhaps it has been the film’s unavailability that has made it such a requested title. “The Car” isn’t a good film, but it is a fun film.

COMPLETE CHECK-UP

VISION: [ X ] 20/20 [ ] Good [ ] Cataracts [ ] Blind

Someone has taken very good care of the original negative for “The Car.” The negative is so clean and pure it looks like it was shot yesterday. I have seen others films on DVD from this era and their negatives look like someone dragged them through barbed wire and then left them in the sun to fade. The negative for “The Car” is so rich and vibrant I thought it had been restored. The colors are exciting and strong, with absolutely no bleeding or fading. Saturation is exact. The blacks are industrial strength, while the whites and shadows are absolutely stunning and benefit from the clean negative. Flesh tones are realistic and flattering, while depth of field and attention to detail is excellent. There were a couple of moments in the last few chapters that looked hazy, but I suspect that it was a film stock decision and not a digital transfer problem because the scenes that followed them were just as sharp and precise as the rest of the DVD. Anchor Bay has enhanced the DVD at 16:9 for widescreen televisions, and have included a full- frame presentation on the same side of the RSDL disc. Just an excellent presentation. No visible compression artifacts or noise.

HEARING: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Minor Hearing Loss [ ] Needs Hearing Aid [ ] Deaf

The folks at Anchor Bay have even remastered the film’s original soundtrack into a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround soundtrack, and even though it is far from definitive, it is exciting and alive. The soundtrack features thumping basses, powerful middle and clean high ends, plus a dialogue mix that makes it easy to hear every line. The stereo split is okay, but better than I expected. Rear speakers come alive with roaring ambient noise and Leonard Rosenman’s bombastic music. Surround effects are faux, but at least they’re there.

ORAL: [ ] Excellent [ ] Good [ X ] Poor

No closed captions or subtitles.

COORDINATION: [ ] Excellent [ ] Good [ X ] Clumsy [ ] Weak

The DVD contains the film’s original theatrical trailer and bios and filmographies on director Silverstein and star Brolin. The main and scene access menus are okay, but nothing to write home about.

PROGNOSIS: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Fit [ ] Will Live [ ] Resuscitate [ ] Terminal

Anchor Bay has done such an exquisite job of bringing “The Car” to DVD it would be a shame if you didn’t take it for a test drive.

VITALS: $24.99/Rated PG/96 Minutes/Color/28 Chapter Stops/Keepcase/#DV10866

ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen

PATIENT: THE CAR

BIRTH DATE: 1977

HMO: Anchor Bay Entertainment



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