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Big Chill, The (Blu-ray Review)

20 Jul, 2014 By: John Latchem

Street 7/29/14
$39.95 Blu-ray/DVD combo
Rated ‘R’
Stars Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly, JoBeth Williams.

The major curiosity surrounding any new edition of The Big Chill is whether it includes any of the highly sought–after footage of Kevin Costner as Alex, the character whose offscreen suicide sets up the central storyline of the film — the reunion of a group of college buddies who have drifted apart in their mid-30s.

While this new Criterion Blu-ray might seem like a perfect opportunity to unsheathe that footage after 30 years (assuming it even still exists), alas it is not included. There are, however, about 10 minutes of deleted scenes, most of which take place at Alex’s funeral, where most of the friends reunite for the first time.

Costner was famously cast as Alex for a flashback that would have closed the film. As  writer-director Lawrence Kasdan  confides in one of this sparking Blu-ray edition’s other extras — a 45-minute cast and crew Q&A conducted at a 30th anniversary screening of the film at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival — the scene confused test audiences, and he realized it was so out of place it “destroyed the movie.”

The only remnants of Costner in the final film are brief shots of his hair and other body parts as Alex’s body is prepared for his funeral to start the film. As it is, the unseen Alex is an effective catalyst for driving the plot and sparking the audience’s imagination about who this character was before he died, though knowing Costner was meant to play the part certainly plants his image in the mind’s eye when considering all the scenes in which the other characters discuss him.

Certainly, the rest of the cast, mostly unknowns at the time the film was made, are all well-known stars today. There are a few humorous bits during the 30th anniversary reunion in which many of them speculate as to what they think their characters went on to do after the movie ended. Such talk naturally raises the question of a sequel, although when co-writer Barbara Benedek quips about potentially calling it The Hot Flash, it seems to put to rest any notions that it will ever happen.

The Blu-ray also includes a booklet of essays about the film, the excellent 56-minute retrospective featurette made for the 15th anniversary DVD in 1998, and a new 12-minute interview with Kasdan about the studio system.

This latter one is particularly interesting because the discussion is practically a treatise about managing the expectations of a Hollywood career, as Kasdan relates how studios were reluctant to support The Big Chill, even after he found success writing such films as Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back, and directing Body Heat. It seems unimaginable now, since The Big Chill is such a hallmark of ’80s cinema, with its huge cast and memorable soundtrack of 1960s hits.

The film is very much based on Kasdan’s own experiences coming of age in the 1960s, transitioning into adulthood and losing touch with those who influenced his formative years. The title, which studio bosses hated, refers not only to the chill a relationship might suffer after years of separation, but also about leaving the warmth of a circle of friends and going into a cold, cruel world, then finding warmth again in a reunion. In this case, the film is also very much a symbolic glance at the idealism of the 1960s dissipating in the pragmatism of Reagan’s America in the early 1980s.

As for Costner, his excision from the film came on the heels of missing out on a potential breakout role in another big 1983 movie, War Games. To make it up to him, Kasdan wrote a juicy part for Costner in the 1985 Western Silverado, which catapulted him to stardom.

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