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review added: 2/5/02



Breaking Away
1979 (2002) - 20th Century Fox

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Breaking Away

Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/C-

Specs and Features

101 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, full frame (1.33:1), dual-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailers (for My Bodyguard, The Sandlot and others), TV spots, film-themed menu screens, scene access (24 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0 surround and mono) and French (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: English and Spanish, Close Captioned

"Mom, the Italians are coming to race in Indianapolis!"

Breaking Away is one of those rare movies that address the complexities of life during young adulthood in a way that pokes fun at it, without ever once devaluing the issues that confront us at that age. Bloomington, Indiana has never seemed so full of life, and yet so confining, as it does here. Dave (Dennis Christopher) is on the verge of turning 20, and neither he nor his friends know what they're going to do with the rest of their lives. They're trapped in a college town, but their chances of attending any institution of higher learning themselves are slim at best. All the while, Dave's father (Paul Dooley, in a good comic performance) is quickly tiring of his son's lack of motivation and his obsession with bicycle racing and everything Italian (that's EYE-talian).

When Dave's not singing opera or shaving his legs (to cut wind resistance), he spends most of his time swimming in the quarry hole with his friends. Mike (Dennis Quaid), Cyril (Daniel Stern) and Moocher (Jackie Earle Haley) are just as unsure of their future as Dave is. They make frequent trips to the University to torment the "townies." The townies, in turn, take jabs at Dave and his friends, and refer to them not so affectionately as "cutters." As Dave falls for one of the townies, and woos her by convincing him that he's an Italian exchange student, things start to turn around (if only momentarily) for him. And when he learns that the Italian bicycle team will be nearby for a competition, his fixation goes into overdrive. He and his friends are determined to use the competition as an opportunity to prove that they're more than just cutters.

Breaking Away was a sleeper hit when it was released in 1979, and it went on to reap 5 Oscar nominations. It would ultimately net only one, for Best Screenplay. As much as I like this film, it doesn't quite resonate today like it did when the film was released to theatres. It also hasn't aged as well as it could have, looking very much like a film of the late 1970's. But what makes Breaking Away still a joy to watch today, is its eccentric sense of humor and the sincerity of the characters... no matter how out of the ordinary they may be.

The picture quality of Breaking Away on DVD is average at best. What you get is an anamorphic transfer (in the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio), as well as a pan & scan job on the opposite side of the disc. For this review, I watched the widescreen version. There's quite a bit of grain and source material defects (mostly in the form of speckles and scratches) early on in the film, but it diminishes almost entirely beyond the opening credits. Black level is decent, and provides some much needed depth to a picture that can otherwise be very uninteresting. Flesh tones are smooth, accurate and natural in appearance, but the picture has a relatively flat look to it, partly as a result of lifeless color reproduction. Breaking Away also has an especially dated look, and is awash in natural lighting that doesn't come across all too well in this transfer. As far as transfer-related defects go, you won't find any substantial instances of edge enhancement or artifacting. The transfer gets the job done, but that's the best it does.

The audio is about as uneven as the picture quality. A new 2.0 surround mix directs the film's score to the rear surrounds, to provide a little boost to the soundtrack. There's more action toward the end of the film, but it's also at this point that the audio breaks up in odd places between the front and rear channels (check the 1:18:35 mark for an example of this). The surround usage at this point just sounds more forced than it needs to be, but otherwise the surround work is adequate. Dialogue is crisp, though somewhat hushed, and the sound effects track is clean and active on occasion in the rear channel. The important thing here is the dialogue track, and you'll get your money's worth for that portion of the mix.

The extras are of the promotional variety and don't really enhance the experience. The film's theatrical trailer is presented full frame and is accompanied by two televisions spots. There are additional trailers for other films in the Fox Family Feature line (My Bodyguard, The Sandlot and others), but nothing to hold your breath for. A running commentary by screenwriter Steve Tesich would have been a nice touch to the disc, but it's not here. Such is life.

If you haven't seen Breaking Away, do yourself a favor and rent it. And if you have seen it and like it, this disc's got an easy-on-the-wallet asking price. Despite my reservations on the picture, this is still the best the film has ever looked on home video.

Dan Kelly
dankelly@thedigitalbits.com




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