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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Fletch [Blu-ray]


(Michael Ritchie, 1985)






Review by Leonard Norwitz



Theatrical: Universal Pictures & Douglas/Greisman

Blu-ray: Universal Studios Home Entertainment



Region: All

Runtime: 98 min.

Chapters: 16

Size: 25 GB

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: June 2, 2009



Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec:



English DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1; English Dolby 2.0



English SDH, Spanish & French



• Just Charge it to the Underhills: Making and Remembering Fletch – in SD (26:34)

• From Cocktoastin to Harry S. Truman: The Disguises – in SD (4:54)

• Favorite Fletch Moments – in SD (2:37)

• BD-Live 2.0



The Film:

Michael Ritchie's best films may have been well behind him (Prime Cut, The Candidate, The Bad News Bears), but he still had enough management skills to hold the reins of Chevy Chase who, we learn from the extra features, would just as soon improvised the movie into his particular brand of madness. We also gather that Ritchie's way of handling this was to shoot many scenes both his way and Chevy's. It looks like a little of both made their way into the finished product – amazingly it worked.

Writer Andrew Bergman's idea for the movie, based on a series of novels by Gregory McDonald, was to ground (that's "ground" not "grind") Chevy's improvs and antics into a certain level of hard-boiled detective mystery. This is always tricky (my gold standard is Silver Streak with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor), but I think it works here. There are countless opportunities – made for or assumed by Chevy – for the usually deadpan actor's offhand stick. He even has a go at romancing the bad guy's wife (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson.) What may amaze is how credible is the final showdown between Fletch and the two (count them) bad guys that manages a surprising degree of ferocity.

The Movie: 7
Chevy Chase plays Irwin Fletcher, an investigative journalist based in Los Angeles. He's been researching drug dealing in the Venice area when he is approached by Alan Stanwyck (Tim Matheson) who contracts Fletch to kill him a week from now. Because Fletch has been disguised as a homeless beachcomber, Stanwyck assumes he has nothing or no one to live for and would be just the fellow to put him out of his misery and so avoid a painful death from some degenerative disease.

It doesn't take Philip Marlowe to smell a rat - I mean $50k for a killing of a guy who looks fit and lives very wealthy - but it does take Fletch on an amusing and sometimes thrilling chase through a doctor's office, a run-in with a Doberman, and staring at the wrong end of a gun barrel. Meanwhile there's that drug running caper that keeps surfacing along with a local police chief (Joe Don Baker) that doesn't appreciate Fletch nosing into his territory.



Image: 4/7
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

Fletch never looked all that good to start with, so we shouldn't be surprised with soft, flat and grainy. I think I've seen the occasional DVD title looking better, but not for Fletch, though I doubt it's the fault of the transfer. A restoration is asking for a lot, even for a classic comedy such as this. The color looks natural. Black levels vary: sometimes the picture appears overexposed, sometimes fairly snappy. The recent anamorphic "Jane Doe" DVD edition, which is an improvement over the 1998 DVD, looks a lot like the Blu-ray, with some brightening in the darker scenes, a little extra contrast and lots more edge enhancement – lots. (You can see these effects readily in the 100% cropping of the DVD and Blu-ray frames.) The Blu-ray does exhibit some edge-enhancement, but not nearly to the extent of its SD predecessor, and its higher resolution is apparent, if not a big jump.















Audio & Music: 5/7
Every time I watch Fletch I can't shake the feeling that I've heard this music someplace before. It's Beverly Hills Cop, isn't it? Ah, yes - Harold Faltermeyer wrote and produced "The Heat is On" from BHC and "Bit by Bit" for Fletch and he's listed as the principal composer for the "original" music for both movies. Beverly Hills Cop, in case you forgot, came out the year before. I used to speculate that the producers for Fletch were eager to capitalize on the success of the earlier movie with just this little bit of snatch and grab. For me, It's a distraction, which is too bad, since the music works for both movies.

Even in uncompressed audio, this is a seriously unremarkable audio mix, with pretty much only the music to open things up. Otherwise, the dialogue and other effects are more or less centered and minus any snap – though we certainly don't ever need to resort to subtitles to hear Chevy mumble his way through his disguises.




Operations: 7
Loading leads us directly to the feature menu, which is laid out like other Universal Blu-rays. Arrows tell you which way to direct your remote, and the bonus feature instructions are intuitive. No U-Control here, but there is a BD-Live 2.0 option, which I did not explore.


Extras: 4
I would never have thought there was enough material in Fletch's disguises, clever though they were, to account for an extra feature – and, on the evidence of this segment, I'd have been right. As the Favorite Fletch Moments, such an idea was inevitable – but why not have them in HD, since they're right there for the taking. Which leaves the peculiarly authored "Just Charge it to the Underhills." After its forced and not very funny prologue where we are introduced to it faux-investigative journalist, Jason Hillhouse ("Hillhouse." "Underhill." Hmmm. Can Frodo be far behind?), the feature does a pretty good job of revisiting the production through the eyes of its writer, Andrew Bergman (who had a hand in the writing of Blazing Saddles and went on, famously, to write and direct The Freshman and infamously write and direct Striptease.) Also on hand are the producers, Peter Douglas and Alan Greisman, and most of its actors excepting Chevy Chase himself – unless he was cleverly disguised as Geena Davis. (Michael Ritchie had died a few years earlier, but Chevy hadn't.)



Bottom line: 7
OK, there's not much to recommend this disc as an upgrade. The image is better than the DVD: it's sharper and tighter, with more natural contrast and a bit more dimensional with significantly less EE, but don't expect Trading Places here. Even so, if there's any chance you've never seen this movie, which is along with Foul Play, Chevy's best work, then you should not hesitate here.

Leonard Norwitz
May 31st, 2009








About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.

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