Blu-ray Review: THE GRADUATE (Studio Canal Collection)

What can one say about Mike Nichols The Graduate? It€™s a seminal work and was one of the central €“ and best €“ films of the short-lived American New Wave, along with the likes of Bonnie and Clyde and Easy Rider. The influential film also made a star of a young Dustin Hoffman and catapulted the music of Simon & Garfunkel to greater international fame. Quite a legacy for the film, which now comes to Blu-ray for the first time, as part of an impressive new Studio Canal collection. If you haven€™t seen it (and shame on you) The Graduate, based on a novel by Charles Webb, is the story of Benjamin Braddock (Hoffman), a twenty-one year old, who upon returning from University discovers that he doesn€™t want the same life of middle-class conformity so prized by people of his parents generation. Soon after returning home he becomes the subject of the sexual advances of an older woman, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft). What follows is a socially satirical sex comedy, which unusually for a Hollywood film owed much to the French New Wave in terms of form, whilst also pushing the boundaries in terms of content with its racy depiction of sex €“ not to mention its non-conformist morality. It is perhaps the definitive depiction of youth in the sixties, as Benjamin€™s disillusionment at the possibilities of a suburban life, at potentially going into a career in €œplastics€ (as one family friend enthusiastically encourages) is reflective of a wider social concern. A concern that the disaffected young people of the era would have identified with, associating conformity with (among other things) the Vietnam War and social conservatism. The Graduate is ludicrously entertaining. Very funny and quite subtle at times. But the reason for its success is chiefly Hoffman. The role was originally to be played by a blue-eyed, blonde haired Adonis-figure €“ in keeping with the WASP setting and aspirations of his parents. But the short and unconventional looking Hoffman compounds the characters inadequacy and his nervousness in a brilliant central performance. The late Anne Bancroft, who was in reality only six years Hoffman€™s senior, is almost equally impressive as the seductive older woman, convincing completely. Beneath a manipulative and cold exterior, Bancroft also suggests vulnerability, which deepens the role considerably €“ enriching the film. The presence of these two method actors give the light and comic film a solid foundation around which everything else can be built. Their characters (and the film itself) could have lapsed into caricature without them. The Graduate is one of those movies it is impossible to imagine with different actors, with the possible exception of Benjamin€™s eventual love interest (and Mrs. Robinson€™s daughter), played by Katharine Ross. Ross lacks the gravitas and depth of her co-stars €“ no great shame considering their calibre, but she is at best ordinary. And Nichols deserves a lot of credit too, with some mesmerising sequences which are still referenced today: most recently Casey Affleck paid direct homage with one shot (of a sports car leaving a tunnel on a bridge) in I€™m Still Here. The film-making here is one the whole inspired and dynamic. What happened to Nichols? From his 1970 follow-up feature, an appalling adaptation of Joseph Heller€™s Catch-22, to 2007€™s offensively bad Charlie Wilson€™s War (and that comes from an Aaron Sorkin fan), Nichols has never re-captured this early magic. But The Graduate is an unqualified classic.

QUALITY

The Blu-ray is, pleasingly, a respectful and polished offering. The picture is sharp and detailed, without being softened and enhanced to remove film grain. It looks like a movie from 1967, as it should, but with optimum possible quality. The sound is likewise clear. It is certainly it is superior to any previously available DVD version.

EXTRAS

The extras are pretty strong here too. None are in HD and the sound quality is noticeably lacking, compared with the main feature, but what they lack in style they make up for in substance. Many of the extras are very analytical, featuring contributions from German academics (and subtitled in English). The audio commentary by Professor Thomas Koebner, the scene-by-scene analysis and a feature called €œabout the music€ are all done this way, and they are more insightful than the average, mostly phatic, features. Less good is €œThe Graduate at 25€, a 1992 documentary about the impact the film had on its makers lives and careers, featuring Hoffman, Ross and Buck Henry (writer of the screenplay). But there is no sign of Nichols or Bancroft, who I feel are odd omissions whose absence makes the documentary seem incomplete. There are a couple of decent English language features. €œThe Graduate €“ Looking Back€ is another nice little analytical piece that looks at the film's 1960s political and social context. There is also a €œMeeting With Author Charles Webb€ who wrote the novel. A lively and informal interview, which is more about the impact of the film on the book's author and its similarity to his own life than the film itself. As is standard, there is an original theatrical trailer, plus the option of watching four of the Simon and Garfunkel songs as they are in the film €“ as sort of unofficial music videos. The Graduate is a great and entertaining movie €“ and the two don€™t necessarily always go hand in hand. Hoffman and Bancroft are electric and the film is often very funny, not to mention beautifully realised by Nichols. This Blu-ray is the best version of the film available in the UK, and its improved visual quality should be enough to tempt fans of the film to part with their money.
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A regular film and video games contributor for What Culture, Robert also writes reviews and features for The Daily Telegraph, GamesIndustry.biz and The Big Picture Magazine as well as his own Beames on Film blog. He also has essays and reviews in a number of upcoming books by Intellect.