The teen movies of the 1980s helped to define that decade and made stars of many of the young actors of the day but when John Hughes ran out of ideas and Molly Ringwald’s phone stopped ringing it spelt the end of an era for the genre. During the nineties, the teen movie lay dormant with occasional successes hidden in the guise of other genres such as horror (Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer) and literary adaptations (Romeo And Juliet, Clueless loosely based on Jane Austin’s Emma). However in 1999 all that changed, thanks largely to American Pie, which makes its HD debut on Blu-ray along with its two sequels in a trilogy box-set this week.
Taking influence from the more raucous teen comedies of the early eighties such as Porky’s and Revenge Of The Nerds but infusing the character development and depth of John Hughes’ high school classics The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, American Pie had a huge impact on a new generation of film fans that until then had been deprived of the kind of coming of age films that had helped shape the previous generation a decade before. For the first time in a long while here was a film that was taking on real teenage issues in a fresh, realistic manner and most importantly, without condescension.
Part of the success of the film lies in its relatively straightforward plot; four teenage boys enter into a pact to lose their virginity before the end of year prom, however around such a simple conceit many familiar and amusing ideas can be spun and the film offered plenty of surprises along the way. Partly thanks to the success of the gross-out humour of the Farrelly Brothers output in the preceding years the bar had been set pretty high, or should that be low, as to what was acceptable in a 15 certificate film. Ever since Cameron Diaz appeared on screen using Ben Stiller’s semen as hair gel in There’s Something About Mary it paved the way for the kind of body fluid obsessed humour that would become the norm in the teen genre.
At its centre, the film revolves around strong performances from its young and at the time, largely unknown cast. The most obvious standout is Jason Biggs as Jim, who is essentially the lead character finding himself in the most embarrassing situations and will forever be known as “that guy who shagged a pie!” Sadly the other three boys in the group are given less to work with, Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) and Oz (Chris Klein) are clichéd and just downright banal while Finch (Eddie Kaye) does at least manage to offer a more interesting character that is given room to develop over the course of the film. Stealing the show from the main group is Stifler (Seann William Scott), a demented jock with some of the film’s best lines and throughout the series, many of the biggest gross-out moments.
Where movies such as Porky’s gave the female characters short shrift, American Pie tips the balance in their favour and gives them almost equal screen time to the guys. As with the boys, some of the girls, Tara Reid and Mena Suvari in particular, are pretty dull but Alison Hannigan, at the time probably the biggest star, thanks to her role in TV’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer, gives a memorable performance as the quirky band geek Michelle. However the film’s casting masterstroke has to be the inclusion of Eugene Levy as Jim’s dad, perfectly fulfilling his role as the father trying to relate to and understand his son’s hormonal urges leading some of the film’s most awkward scenes.
The original film is an assured debut from writer Adam Herz and directors Paul and Chris Weitz. Rather than simply hanging the whole plot on gross-out humour and gratuitous nudity it spins a story with genuine heart out of a simple, relatable concept. The second film is slightly less successful, offering more of the same with almost all the cast returning to mark the end of their characters’ first year at college. American Pie 2 is a bloated, overlong attempt to recapture the success of the first film and while many of the set-pieces still manage to hit the mark, Jim gluing his hand to his penis with a porno tape stuck to the other in particular; it lacks the charm of the original. The problem is it tries to include a storyline for each character and with some proving far less interesting than others it slows the whole pace.
American Pie: The Wedding learns from the mistakes of the second film with many of the story arcs having well and truly run their course. It sheds the majority of the deadweight, streamlining the cast to only include the better characters while making a return to the 90 minute runtime and feels much tighter as a result. Stifler’s role is increased and his interplay with Finch offers some of the film’s better moments as the two switch personalities to gain the attention of Michelle’s sister, Cadence (January Jones). The film still maintains the heart of the original bringing the trilogy to a satisfactory conclusion and is definitely worth re-visiting prior to American Reunion due in cinemas next month.
Time has been fairly kind to the trilogy; 13 years down the line there are still genuine laughs to be had and the characters are so wide ranging that they have an appeal that almost anyone can easily relate to. The series may not have achieved the classic status bestowed on John Hughes eighties output just yet but for a generation who grew up with these films they will probably remain as good as warm apple pie.
As with many of Universal’s back catalogue titles this release has been treated poorly for its HD debut. Not only are the menus dreadful and only accessible once the film has started playing, which takes about five minutes of wading through logos, warnings and thank-you messages, the overall presentation is far from remarkable as well.
The picture quality is obviously a step-up from the DVD transfer but only moderately so. The contrast levels seemed quite high but the overall colour palette retains a natural look. Skin tones are good with a high level of detail right down to the prominent outbreaks of teenage acne on the young cast, something I had barely noticed before. The transfer has not been given the same love and attention that most studios offer their classic output and this release just smacks of opportunism to cash-in on the release of the new film.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is similarly unremarkable. Dialogue is all pretty clear in the mix but the largely pop-punk soundtrack is a little weak lacking depth and bass. The surround speakers are rarely utilised and overall the audio presentation is a wholly basic affair.
All three discs feature the unrated cuts of the film all are really well served with a huge selection of extras, most of which are brought over from the DVD releases. These include deleted scenes, outtakes, spotlight on location documentaries, music videos, casting tapes, trailers and audio commentaries. The box set also includes digital copies of all three films.
The cast audio commentaries in particular are worth a listen as the on-screen chemistry of all the actors carries over into an amusing, banter and anecdote riddled talk track. UK buyers are slightly short changed by the lack of the American Pie: Revealed 200 minute documentary available with the US release but to be honest there is more than enough content available here to satisfy most fans of the films. To complete the package and to tie the box set into the release of American Reunion there is a short 3 minute sneak-peak at the up-coming sequel.
Films – AP – 4 out of 5 / AP2 – 3 out of 5 / AP3 – 4 out of 5
More than just the movie where the kid shags a pie, American Pie kick-started the dormant teen genre with believable characters giving the film a genuine heart among the gross-out humour. The sequels are more of the same with the third film marginally better than the second once the less interesting members of the cast have been retired.
Visuals – 3 out of 5
Unremarkable 1080p transfers are obviously an improvement on the DVD releases but not as polished as one would hope.
Audio – 3 out of 5
Dialogue is clear but the soundtrack music lacks depth and impact.
Extras – 4 out of 5
A great selection of extras cover all aspects of the films with an emphasis on fun particularly on the cast audio commentaries.
Presentation – 3 out of 5
The discs are let down by Universal’s insistence on poor menu design with special features only accessible while the film is playing. Box artwork is carried over from the familiar DVD designs.
Overall – 4 out of 5
The American Pie trilogy is certainly worth re-visiting prior to the release of next month’s sequel and despite the less than sparkling transfers this Blu-ray box-set still offers a decent upgrade from the original DVD releases with plenty of special features and unrated versions of the films.
The American Pie Trilogy is available on Blu-ray now.