One of the most beloved American films of all time, The Graduate earned Mike Nichols a best director Oscar, brought the music of Simon & Garfunkel to a wider audience, and introduced the world to a young actor named Dustin Hoffman. Benjamin Braddock (Hoffman) has just finished college and is already lost in a sea of confusion and barely contained angst when he becomes sexually involved with a friend of his parents’, the indomitable Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), before turning his attention to her college-age daughter (Katharine Ross). Visually imaginative and impeccably acted, with a clever, endlessly quotable script by Buck Henry (based on the novel by Charles Webb), The Graduate had the kind of cultural impact that comes along only once in a generation.
Mike Nichols’ seminal film The Graduate receives a surprise release on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection, who presents the film on a dual-layer disc in its original theatrical aspect ratio of about 2.35:1. The new 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation has been taken from a new 4K scan of the original negative.
The film has been released a few times in decent special editions on Blu-ray, so yet another may seem inane but Criterion’s edition provides a rather astounding upgrade in the image department. The image is very crisp and very sharp, with fantastic detail, an excellent sense of depth, and natural looking textures. There are a couple of softer shots but they look to have more to do with the actual shooting than anything to do with the digital transfer. The colours do appear to be a little more on the blue side and a bit darker here in comparison to previous DVD and Blu-ray editions, though I didn’t find this to be a problem and actually liked the look. The colours do look beautifully rendered, though, with some particularly striking blues (shots of the pool especially) and I found skin tones to look accurate. Black levels are also very rich and shadow detail is excellent, though there are a handful of instances where crushing is noticeable.
Film grain is present, getting heavy in a few sequences, but it’s very nicely managed and looks natural, and no compression issues stuck out to me. The print is also in top-notch shape and I never made a note of any flaws coming up. In all it’s a wonderful upgrade over previous editions and really the best I’ve yet seen the film.
Criterion provides two lossless audio tracks for the film: the original mono track, presented in PCM 1.0 mono, and the 5.1 surround remix that’s been used on previous editions, presented here in DTS-HD MA.
The monaural track is the one I will more than likely stick with. It’s been nicely restored, damage never being a problem, and dialogue is clear with some decent fidelity to it while the film’s music is nicely balanced and rich.
I was not fond of the 5.1 track in any shape of form on the other hand. Oddly I found dialogue to sound worse here in comparison to the mono track, with it sounding a bit more muffled and tinny. The film’s music does actually sound better here, maybe coming from a new remaster, fidelity, range, and bass all sounding better, but at times it comes off a bit loud and there are a couple of times where it drowns out other things. Dialogue sticks primarily to the center channel but the track does try to get “creative” splitting sounds out to the other speakers, which doesn’t always work. I found some of the effects with the airport opening a bit distracting (especially since the music was really fighting against everything else) and there’s a rather weird effect near the end where they’re trying to make it sound like Hoffman’s car is zooming past us, the split not entirely working.
Even though I would usually say it would come down to personal preference on which track you should go with in cases like this I can’t even whole-heartedly say that here since I still found the general quality of the 5.1 track to be shaky at best: not only is the dialogue a bit tinny but the track as a whole doesn’t sound as sharp or clean as the mono track. For me it’s mono all the way here.
Criterion goes all out with the special features here, porting over a lot of previous material available on the various DVDs, Blu-rays, and LaserDiscs that have been released for the film, along with adding some new content.
Criterion provides two audio commentaries, the first from the 40th anniversary DVD edition for the film, featuring directors Mike Nichols and Steven Soderbergh. Soderbergh acts as a sort of moderator here, asking Nichols questions while interjecting a few of his own thoughts on the film here and there. They talk a lot about the film’s editing, the long takes, the coverage, the use of Simon & Garfunkel, and so on. Nichols also talks about the production, sharing a few anecdotes (a humourous one involved Nichols turning down Robert Redford for the role of Benjamin, which Redford seemed shocked by) and a few surprises along the way. On top of this the two get into general conversations about their shared profession, sharing stories and things they’ve learned over the years, Nichols even talking about how he has changed as a filmmaker since The Graduate. It’s an incredibly informative and entertaining track, packed to the brim with details on the film’s production while also revealing the working process of both filmmakers.
Criterion has chosen not to port the other commentary from the 2007 DVD, which featured Hoffman and Katharine Ross. I’m sort of surprised by this but by most accounts it’s an awkward, sometimes painful track, so maybe it’s a good thing. But the good news is that Criterion has thankfully added their 1987 commentary featuring scholar Howard Suber, which hasn’t appeared on any release since Criterion’s LaserDisc edition almost 30-years ago. It’s a very academic track, Suber obviously referencing notes and sticking to a fairly strict timeline to cover his topics, but I found it a fairly intriguing one. He does spend a lot of time deconstructing shots, examining the editing, and the effect it all has, on either story or characters. He also shares a few interesting tidbits about the cast, from Hoffman’s nervousness and self-doubt (which Ross thought was going to destroy the film) and also the controversies that came up because they shot at Berkeley without addressing the political atmosphere at the time (he notes that at one point the film did address the demonstrations but this was dropped, which Suber thinks actually helped in the film’s longevity since it doesn’t date the film as much). Sometimes it’s a bit dry and it has moments which are a bit creepy even if the comments are in jest (Suber talking about how he analyzed the flashes of nudity during one scene) but I’m glad the track gets to see the light of day again. (As a note Suber does address this release as a LaserDisc more-or-less when he notes a feature appears at the “end of the disc.” The feature in question, the audition footage, is of course accessed through the menu.)
Criterion then throws in a few new, exclusive features, starting with a new conversation between writer Buck Henry and producer Lawrence Turman. The two primarily discuss developing the film and some of the hurdles that came up, most of which is actually covered in the previous commentaries and other features on this disc, but there is still some new information here, most of which is delivered by Henry, that even Turman didn’t know about. There are more details here about Calder Willingham, with confirmation that he actually didn’t contribute anything that was used in the end. Turman did hire him to write the script initially but Willingham didn’t like being told what to do and delivered a script that Turman did not care for. That’s when Henry became involved and because of Willingham complaining to the WGA they had to give the author a credit. There are also details about how Haskell Wexner was actually hired on initially as the director of photography but he ended up quitting because he hated the script (both admire the fact the man stuck by his principles). It’s a loose but fairly humourous conversation between the two, reflecting on the film all these years later (almost fifty years now!) Despite some repetitiveness it’s still worth viewing. It runs 25-minutes.
Criterion also provides a new interview with actor Dustin Hoffman, which runs a lengthy 38-minutes. Hoffman talks in great detail about landing the role, really covering a lot of the self-doubt he was experiencing (he believed then and probably still believes now he wasn’t right for the role) and shares many stories about people, including many on the crew, who shared that same feeling. A few comments show just how lucky he and other actors involved with this film got in the trajectory of their careers: Hoffman’s friend, Gene Hackman was supposed to be play Mr. Robinson only to be fired (in the previous interview Turman states Hackman couldn’t play middleclass), and Hoffman talks about how he almost landed another role, that of Franz Liebkind in Mel Brooks’ The Producers, the role that would instead go to Kenneth Mars. I somehow doubt Hoffman’s career would have taken off with that role, and of course Hackman would instead do Bonnie and Clyde, which got him an Oscar nomination, so I’d say things worked out for both of them. There are a few other surprising little facts and some bizarre anecdotes (on how he played nervous so well in the film he recalls his first time making out with a girl, and I’m still not sure if the story is funny or icky), and he also shares some sound advice (don’t rent your property to a movie crew if you want it back in good condition). He also talks a little about the idea of a sequel that came up but obviously never took off. It’s a rich interview and a nice new feature, which I’m sure makes up for the lack of his commentary track.
Sam and Mike is a new 26-minute interview with Bobbie O’Steen, widow of the film’s editor, Sam O’Steen. She talks a little about the working relationship between her husband and Nichols but then spends most of the 26-minutes talking about the film’s editing and style, which was actually all planned out between Nichols, O’Steen, and the film’s director of photography, Robert Surtees. I think what’s most surprising, though, is that it appears the end product isn’t what was initially envisioned. She uses a “linescript” to demonstrate that there was actually a lot of coverage from multiple angles and cameras for a lot of sequences, but that ultimately they ended up just sticking with the master shot through most of the scenes. This was one of the more illuminating and informative features on here, and certainly a must-view.
Most of the remaining features are then from the previous releases. Students of “The Graduate” was made for the MGM DVD, and features interviews again with Turman, Henry, O’Steen, as well as Harold Ramis, Marc Forster, Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton, David O. Russell, Bruce Block, Owen Gleiberman, Vivian Sobchack, Henry Rollins, and Ann Powers. The 26-minute feature is a decent but still somewhat run-of-the-mill gush-fest where these filmmakers talk about the impact the film had on them, more in terms of its technical achievements and editing style, as well as the fact the film took such a risk at casting the unglamorous Hoffman in the leading man role, something that was unheard of at the time (and still pretty much today).
Criterion then pulls the 23-minute making-of that originally appeared on the New Line/Image Entertainment 25th Anniversary LaserDisc for the film. ”The Graduate” at 25 features interviews again with Turman, Henry, and Hoffman, while also adding Katharine Ross to the mix, making this the only feature she appears in. A lot of the same ground as before is covered, but there are some more details about the film’s music and a couple of more anecdotes that differ from others. On a cute note the feature ends with the scene from The Player where Buck Henry pitches a sequel to The Graduate to Tim Robbins’ studio exec.
We then get a couple of archive features starting with an interview between Barbara Walters and Mike Nichols, recorded in 1966 for an episode of Today. It was filmed after Nichols had completed Who is Afraid of Virginia Woolf and before The Graduate (he mentions it’s one of the projects he’s working on, and it hasn’t been cast yet). But other than his work and what it was like working with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Walters is more interested in how his life has changed, his past performances with Elaine May, and also if he remembers escaping Nazi Germany when he was 6 (he clearly recalls it). Nichols is having fun with Walters’ questions and is fairly forthcoming in his responses. It sadly only runs 15-minutes but is a great find on Criterion’s part.
The next archive piece is an excerpt from an interview between Paul Simon and Dick Cavett, where Simon recalls working on The Graduate and coming up with the “Mrs. Robinson” song on the spot (a song he says Mel Brooks, husband of Anne Bancroft, isn’t a big fan of). It’s very brief at only 5-minutes, but it’s nice getting a first-hand account and Simon even performs a section of the song.
Also from Criterion’s LaserDisc edition is a selection of audition footage. We get Hoffman’s and Ross’ footage (which is great to see after it being referenced so often throughout the features) but we also get footage featuring Tony Bill and Jennifer Leak, and then another piece featuring Robert Lipton and Cathy Carpenter. Interestingly the Hoffman/Ross footage (running 7-minutes) revolves around their discussion of marriage while the other segments (running 4-minutes and 2-minutes respectively) revolve around the rape accusation. At any rate, it’s great seeing this, but there’s no question Hoffman and Ross were the right choices, at least based on the footage here.
The release then closes with the film’s theatrical trailer and an insert featuring an essay by Frank Rich, who goes over the film’s impact, helped by perfect timing.
It’s a little disappointing Criterion hasn’t carried over everything from previous editions, and it’s still a little disappointing there isn’t any deleted material (there’s obviously a lot based on comments from the participants in the features), but Criterion has still managed to put together a very thorough set of features covering the film’s production while also effectively examining its impact on audiences and future filmmakers.
Easily the best edition for the film yet. It sports a terrific digital presentation and a well-rounded set of supplements. Even if you own a previous edition of the film I think this one is certainly worth upgrading to.