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Directed by Monte Hellman
USA 1971

 

With the melancholy open-road epic Two-Lane Blacktop, American auteur Monte Hellman (The Shooting, Cockfighter, and the recent Road to Nowhere) poeticised the beautiful, terrible rootlessness of his nation in the era of Vietnam. Funded by Universal in a bid to recreate the success of Easy Rider – by giving a number of filmmakers $1m and final cut – Hellman’s effort is now regarded as one of the key films of the New Hollywood renaissance of the early 1970s.


While driving eastward on Route 66, two rival car owners – The Driver (singer-songwriter James Taylor) and The Mechanic (Dennis Wilson of The Beach Boys) in a souped-up, drag-racing ‘55 Chevy, and a middle-aged braggart (Warren Oates) in a gleaming GTO – begin to race for each other’s “pink slips” and the affections of the listless female hitchhiker (Laurie Bird) who joins them on the road.

Scripted by esteemed novelist Rudy Wurlitzer, and featuring the only screen performances of Taylor and Wilson, Two-Lane Blacktop remains a timeless, existential portrait of lives in transit and of a country questioning its identity.

***

Drag racing east from L.A. in a souped-up '55 Chevy are the wayward Driver and Mechanic (singer/songwriter James Taylor and the Beach Boys' Dennis Wilson, in their only acting roles), accompanied by a tagalong Girl (Laurie Bird). Along the way, they meet Warren Oates's Pontiac GTO-driving wanderer and challenge him to a cross-country race—the prize: their cars' pink slips. Yet no summary can do justice to the existential punch of Two-Lane Blacktop. Maverick director Monte Hellman’s stripped-down narrative, gorgeous widescreen compositions, and sophisticated look at American male obsession make this one of the artistic high points of 1970s cinema, and possibly the greatest road movie ever made.

***

Hellman, as his later inactivity testifies, seems to have turned himself into box-office anathema by toying once too often with his beloved actes gratuites, so open-ended that they would delight even the most demanding existentialist. Here two young hot-rodders (Taylor, Wilson), making their way across America by picking up racing bets on the side, challenge (or are challenged by) the boastful middle-aged owner of a gleaming new Pontiac (Oates). As their mesmeric duel unfolds within a landscape that narrows down to a claustrophobic tunnel of highways, filling stations and roadside cafés, it soon becomes apparent that Hellman is less interested in allegory (class and generation conflicts as in Easy Rider) or in the race itself (which simply fizzles out), than in the mysterious process whereby a challenge is subtly metamorphosed into an obsession. Self-enclosed, self-absorbed, and self-destructive (as the last shot of the film catching in the projector and burning suggests), it's absolutely riveting.

Excerpt from TimeOut Film Guide located HERE

Posters

Theatrical Release: July 7th, 1971

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Comparison:

Criterion (2-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC vs. Masters of Cinema (Limited Edition) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray vs. Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray

 

1) Criterion (2-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC LEFT

2) Masters of Cinema (Limited Edition) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray MIDDLE

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray RIGHT

 

Box Cover

Also available in a Limited Edition Blu-ray Steelbook:

Distribution Criterion Collection - Spine # 414 - Region 1 - NTSC Masters of Cinema - Spine # 26 Region 'B' - Blu-ray Criterion Spine #414 - Region 'A' - Blu-ray
Runtime 1:42:24  1:42:20.134 1:42:37.192
Video 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 8.35 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s 

1080P Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 41,890,888,862 bytes

Feature: 33,374,146,560 bytes

Video Bitrate: 34.99 Mbps

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

1080P Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 45,806,270,085 bytes

Feature: 24,853,678,080 bytes

Video Bitrate: 23.99 Mbps

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate:

Bitrate: Masters of Cinema Blu-ray

Bitrate: Criterion Blu-ray

Audio English (mono), English (Dolby Digital 5.1)  DTS-HD Master Audio English 3788 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3788 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
DTS-HD Master Audio English 734 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 734 kbps / 16-bit (DTS Core: 2.0 / 48 kHz / 512 kbps / 16-bit)
DTS-HD Master Audio English 720 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 720 kbps / 16-bit (DTS Core: 2.0 / 48 kHz / 512 kbps / 16-bit)
Commentary: DTS-HD Master Audio English 732 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 732 kbps / 16-bit (DTS Core: 2.0 / 48 kHz / 512 kbps / 16-bit)

DTS-HD Master Audio English 3807 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3807 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
LPCM Audio English 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit
Commentaries:

Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps

Subtitles English, None English (SDH), None English, None
Features

Release Information:
Studio: Criterion

Aspect Ratio:
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1

Edition Details:

• Two audio commentaries; one by Hellman and filmmaker Allison Anders, and one by screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer and author David Meyer
• New interviews with Hellman (42:46), star James Taylor (38:28), musician Kris Kristofferson (27:37), producer Michael Laughlin, and production manager Walter Coblenz (23:20)
• Rare, never-before-seen screen-test outtakes of James Taylor (10:50) and Laurie Bird (14:48)
• Performance and Image: a look at the restoration of a '55 Chevy from the movie and the film's locations today
• Color Me Gone: photos and publicity from Two-Lane Blacktop
• Original theatrical trailer (2:28)
• PLUS: Rudy Wurlitzer's screenplay (114 pages), reprinted specially for this release; 38-page liner notes booklet with new essays by Kent Jones, appreciations by Richard Linklater and Tom Waits; and a reprint of the 1970 Rolling Stone article "On Route 66, Filming Two-Lane Blacktop."  

DVD Release Date: December 11th, 2007

Custom case (see image below)
Chapters: 15

Release Information:
Studio:
Masters of Cinema

 

1080P Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 41,890,888,862 bytes

Feature: 33,374,146,560 bytes

Video Bitrate: 34.99 Mbps

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Edition Details:
• Audio commentary by Monte Hellman and associate producer Gary Kurtz (from 1999 DVD)
• On The Road Again: Two-Lane Blacktop Revisited, a 43-minute video piece in which Monte Hellman revisits the film’s locations – directed by Monte Hellman, Gabriel Cowan, Brett Mann, and John Suits (42:51 in 480i)
• Somewhere Near Salinas, a 28-minute interview by Monte Hellman with singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson – directed by Monte Hellman (27:39 in 480i)
• Sure Did Talk to You, a 24-minute video piece featuring interviews with producer Michael Laughlin, production manager Walter Coblenz, and the director’s son Jared Hellman – directed by Monte Hellman (23:23 in 480i)
• Rare archival screen-test footage of James Taylor (10:51 in 1080P) and Laurie Bird (14:50 in 1080P)
• Original theatrical trailer (2:29 in 1080P)
• Optional music and effects track
• A lavish 36-page booklet featuring rare production imagery, the words of Monte Hellman, and more!
 

Blu-ray Release Date: January 23rd, 2012
Transparent Blu-ray Case

Chapters 13

Release Information:
Studio: Criterion

1080P Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 45,806,270,085 bytes

Feature: 24,853,678,080 bytes

Video Bitrate: 23.99 Mbps

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

Edition Details:

• Two audio commentaries; one by Hellman and filmmaker Allison Anders, and one by screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer and author David Meyer
• New interviews with Hellman (42:46), star James Taylor (38:28), musician Kris Kristofferson (27:37), producer Michael Laughlin, and production manager Walter Coblenz (23:20)
• Rare, never-before-seen screen-test outtakes of James Taylor (10:50) and Laurie Bird (14:48)
• Performance and Image: a look at the restoration of a '55 Chevy from the movie and the film's locations today
• Color Me Gone: photos and publicity from Two-Lane Blacktop
• Original theatrical trailer (2:28)
• PLUS: 38-page liner notes booklet with new essays by Kent Jones, appreciations by Richard Linklater and Tom Waits; and a reprint of the 1970 Rolling Stone article "On Route 66, Filming Two-Lane Blacktop."  

Blu-ray Release Date: January 8th, 2013
Transparent
Blu-ray Case
Chapters: 14

 

Comments:

NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

ADDITION: Criterion - Region 'A' Blu-ray - January 2013: There are some differences in the colors of the opposing Blu-rays with the Criterion being slightly darker and having warmer skin tones. Technically the Criterion takes a 'back seat' to the Masters of Cinema - as the UK transfer has a notably higher bitrate. I would probably lean to the Masters of Cinema as best representation although I expect most won't take issue with the differences.  Also less-noticeable, there is a marginal amount cropped from the Criterion.

NOTE: FK tells us in email:
"I was a little astonished though that you either didn't notice or didn't mention Eureka's substantial use of DNR on their release of TWO-LANE.
Compared to that older version the Criterion offers a lot more natural looking grain (as would be typical for a 2-perf Technicope movie) and a few more image details.
While I am aware and a little tired of the constant overemphasizing of the supposed evil of DNR on some review sites (where people sometimes count grain particles at 200% magnification to prove their point) this time I noticed it myself - instantly and even before enlarging the screen caps.
I'm not one of those who militantly demand a completely hands-off attitude when it comes to movie transfers. A little tinkering and noise removal is sometimes quite beneficial to some transfers, but in this case it's a little sad, because in addition of removing some detail from the image DNR also takes away some of the rough edge of this movie that is - in my opinion - quite characteristic and intrinsic to TWO-LANE BLACKTOP.
So I thought I should point this out to you so you might have a chance to augment your review (of course, only in case you concur with my observations).
" (Thanks FK!)

Criterion also offer a 5.1 and original mono track in lossless. I can't determine much difference in the surround - that are both quite robust with essential bass in the rumbling engines. Despite that we cannot show a screen capture - the Criterion does indeed have optional English subtitles on their region 'A'-locked disc.

Criterion might nose ahead with most of the supplements of 2007 DVD including the two commentaries, interviews, Outtakes etc. but the Blu-ray loses the screenplay but keeps the liner notes booklet with Kent Jones, Linklater etc. essays.

Another strong Blu-ray release of one of the coolest films from the early 70's. Great extras and an easy recommendation for region 'A' Home Theater aficionados.    

 

***

 

ADDITION: Masters of Cinema - Region 'B' - Blu-ray (December 11'): I didn't think much could be done to improve from the original production elements used in the Criterion DVD - but I was wrong. This has significant subtleties that advance the SD transfer. The 1080P image is brighter, more detailed, less noise, does a decent job of supporting the texture of the film grain and there are also many instances of depth. I think this definitely looks superior via Blu-ray.

 

To some what may be a more obvious improvement is the lossless audio. Growling car engines impress with powerful depth via both DTS-Master treatments - for original mono and 5.1 mix. As far as bumps go - this is exceptional with buoyant separations and tight effects sounds circumventing the Home Theater space. MoC have also included an isolated music and effects track in lossless and optional English subtitles (see sample below) on their region 'B'-locked Blu-ray disc.   

Some extras from the Criterion DVD are repeated in the supplements including On The Road Again: Two-Lane Blacktop Revisited, a 43-minute video piece in which Monte Hellman revisits the film’s locations – directed by Monte Hellman, Gabriel Cowan, Brett Mann, and John Suits, Somewhere Near Salinas, a 28-minute interview by Monte Hellman with singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson – directed by Monte Hellman, Sure Did Talk to You, a 24-minute video piece featuring interviews with producer Michael Laughlin, production manager Walter Coblenz, and the director’s son Jared Hellman – directed by Monte Hellman and the Rare archival screen-test footage of James Taylor and Laurie Bird. Masters of Cinema add the commentary found on the 1999 Anchor Bay DVD and a lavish 36-page booklet featuring rare production imagery, the words of Monte Hellman etc.

Two -Lane Blacktop is a film that never seems to grow stale - keeping its appeal through each progressive decade. It's quite a treat to have it on Blu-ray with the advancements in video and especially audio. Strongly recommneded! 

***

ON THE CRITERION DVD: The image may seem slightly weak to some but it simply reflects the pragmatic production methods and available cinematography components used to make the film. There are significant moments of digital noise but as stated on the Criterion website "digital transfer supervised and approved by director Monte Hellman" so I doubt it could look any better on SD DVD. Thankfully Criterion hasn't tried to rectify this with excessive digital manipulation. I suspect the film looks exactly as it did theatrically (although I admit to never having seen it on the big screen). Positively it looks quite clean with minimal speckles or scratches. I hope the screen grabs below represent the DVD image accurately for you. It has the original mono as well as a grand 5.1 boost. It is not of modern state-of-the-art standards but it does give some healthy buoyancy the the track with screeching car sounds and rumbling engines. There are optional English subtitles offered (sample below).  

The package is incredibly stacked with supplements - there are two audio commentaries; one by Hellman and filmmaker Allison Anders, and another by screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer and author David Meyer. Hellman has a great voice for commentary. He is allowed to reflect back on how he entered the world of cinema and the freedoms that he was afforded (he wrote the scripts, hired the cast and crew and was the producer). Funnily some of his recollection of the film narrative is incorrect but he immediately corrects himself. Wurlitzer and Meyer's seem fairly laid-back and grassroots with a fair amount of discussion about the cars (as performers as much as the actors were). There are some fairly profound observations in the 2nd commentary.

We are given many interviews - one 40 minute one with Hellman alone, another with star James Taylor (38:28), another 30 minute one with musician Kris Kristofferson and finally one with producer Michael Laughlin, and production manager Walter Coblenz lasting almost 25 minutes. Amusingly there are, two screen-test outtakes (found in Hellman's garage!) of James Taylor (10:50) and Laurie Bird (14:48). There are some click-thru slideshows - Performance and Image: a look at the restoration of a '55 Chevy from the movie and the film's locations today and Color Me Gone with photos and publicity from Two-Lane Blacktop, Finally on the digital front we have the original theatrical trailer at 2:28. In the package are Rudy Wurlitzer's screenplay (114 page book), reprinted specially for this release and a 38-page liner notes booklet with new essays by Kent Jones, appreciations by Richard Linklater and Tom Waits; and a reprint of the 1970 Rolling Stone article "On Route 66, Filming Two-Lane Blacktop."

This is so wonderful that this film has essentially been resurrected by Criterion to reach a larger audience. As well as how it authentically feels, has the bumped sound option and also the bountiful extra features. This is like stepping back into a very cool era that seems farther away every day with our reliance on technology and lack of interaction with our environment and its inhabitants. Two-Lane Blacktop is more than a movie about cars - it says volumes about where we have come and nostalgic remembrances of what we have left behind. "Amateurish but in a profound way" seems appropriate. Highly recommended - this should receive many ballots for our DVD of the Year voting. LOVE Two-Lane Blacktop!!  

Gary W. Tooze

 

 


Criterion DVD Package

 


DVD Menus


 

DVD Menus - Disc 2


 

Masters of Cinema (Limited Edition) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray


 

 

Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray

 

 


CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

Subtitle Sample

 

1) Criterion (2-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC TOP

2) Masters of Cinema (Limited Edition) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray MIDDLE

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

Screen Captures

 

1) Criterion (2-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC TOP

2) Masters of Cinema (Limited Edition) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray MIDDLE

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 


1) Criterion (2-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC TOP

2) Masters of Cinema (Limited Edition) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray MIDDLE

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 


Criterion (2-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC TOP vs. Masters of Cinema (Limited Edition) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 


1) Criterion (2-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC TOP

2) Masters of Cinema (Limited Edition) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray MIDDLE

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 


1) Criterion (2-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC TOP

2) Masters of Cinema (Limited Edition) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray MIDDLE

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 


1) Criterion (2-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC TOP

2) Masters of Cinema (Limited Edition) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray MIDDLE

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

1) Criterion (2-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC TOP

2) Masters of Cinema (Limited Edition) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray MIDDLE

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

More Blu-ray Captures

1) Masters of Cinema (Limited Edition) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Masters of Cinema (Limited Edition) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Masters of Cinema (Limited Edition) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Masters of Cinema (Limited Edition) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Masters of Cinema (Limited Edition) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Masters of Cinema (Limited Edition) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Masters of Cinema (Limited Edition) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 


Box Cover

Also available in a Limited Edition Blu-ray Steelbook:

Distribution Criterion Collection - Spine # 414 - Region 1 - NTSC Masters of Cinema - Spine # 26 Region 'B' - Blu-ray Criterion Spine #414 - Region 'A' - Blu-ray




 

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