Criterion Review: FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982)

Amy Heckerling and Cameron Crowe’s teen classic draws in a new generation of fans with a new 4K restoration

Based on Cameron Crowe’s book of anecdotes collected from his stint as a journalist undercover at a Southern California high school, Fast Times at Ridgemont High sketches out the lives of a group of wild, outgoing, insecure, and all-around lovable high school students as they navigate all of the classic tropes one tumultuous year can dish out — awkward first dates, the social watering holes of the local mall, grimy first jobs in retail and fast food, oblivious teachers and parents, and the ever-present uncertainty of what a future adulthood will bring. With a cast of future acting legends and iconic dialogue and needle drops borne of a perfect collaboration between director Amy Heckerling and writer Crowe, Fast Times at Ridgemont High joins the Criterion Collection’s canon of coming-of-age Americana in a Blu-ray package as comprehensive as its new 4K restoration.

There’s a freewheeling looseness to Fast Times that immediately draws in its audience — much like its rebellious subjects, the runtime isn’t pegged down by too many cause-and-effect plot points. The characters have room to be bored, to goof off, to live in moments ripped from high school journals dumpster-dived by Crowe and preserved on celluloid. Likewise, the audience can easily latch on to who immediately grabs their interest, or feels like their own closest high-school analog. Like the five in fellow Criterion member The Breakfast Club, everyone’s a Spicoli, a Rat, a Brad, a Stacy, a Linda — even if we might become Mr. Hand as time goes on. Each of these characters, much like its ancestor American Graffiti, are checked in on like we’re good hosts wandering through a raucous high school party — seeing whether they’re OK, listening to each of their hilarious jokes or problems that in the moment feel life-or-death — hoping that by the end, we’ve done what we can to make their world right. That wandering calmness and devotion to each of its characters allows everyone to identify with the true-to-life tropes in Fast Times that either already were or would inevitably become pop culture staples.

It also allows Fast Times at Ridgemont High the freedom to explore rarely-tackled, somewhat controversial topics of American Youth that, despite adults’ best intentions, remain impactful, important touchstones in their lives. From the crappy, alienating experiences of first working in retail, to the awkward, unromantic reality of first sexual encounters, to the heart-stopping consequences they can bring, Fast Times knows just when not to romanticize moments of growing up as when to indulge in universal teenage fantasies. Crowe and Heckerling know that to completely give themselves to the teenage dream is to pander to a fickle audience with well-honed bullshit meters — and that a little truth goes a long way.

Now, Criterion has released Fast Times at Ridgemont High in a brand new restoration that allows a new generation of fans to fall in love with it, and for die-hard fans to re-live their fond memories of the film in stunning new clarity.


Criterion presents Fast Times at Ridgemont High in a 1080p 1.85:1 HD transfer sourced from a brand new 4K restoration of the original 35mm negative. The film’s 5.1-channel DTS-HD audio track is sourced from Universal’s 2004 transfer of the film, created from the film’s now-lost monaural audio track. English subtitles are included only for the feature film.

Criterion’s restoration of Fast Times at Ridgemont High has become a point of contention among film fans in recent weeks, notably in re-framing and re-timing a majority of the film. Whereas such issues may have seemed like valid retroactive artistic decisions by the filmmakers, it appears that Criterion’s restoration actually corrects an overscan and over-saturation of Fast Times’ original elements that populated most releases of the film. What’s more, this Heckerling-approved restoration of the film actually restores a controversial shot censored in the midst of Fast Times’ preproduction — one last act of rebellion that preserves the film’s original vision for posterity.

Overall, picture quality is realistic and contains a significant amount of fine-grain detail. Black and darker colors don’t suffer from any significant banding, save for moments when a different type of film stock is used–and the film’s color palette is varied and well-defined without any DNR blending or crush. There are a few odd moments where individual shots feel lighter or darker than the ones surrounding them, notably in a scene when Damone and Stacy walk home — as if the 4K restoration performed its job too well, demarcating the differing times of day between takes to a noticeable, but never too distracting degree.

The audio track places Heckerling’s soundtrack of future pop hits front and Crowe’s memorable dialogue front and center. The needle drops are as effective as ever, utilizing bass channels and main speakers to the best of their ability — turning any viewer’s home into Party Central. Outside of the pop hits, the surrounding channels don’t get too much love aside from naturalistic background noise. Then again, Fast Times isn’t quite the film that would strive to utilize surround channels in the same vein as something like Star Wars or Speed.

Special Features

  • Audio Commentary: A 1999 archival track featuring director Amy Heckerling and screenwriter Cameron Crowe. The track is such a fun one–Crowe and Heckerling go through the track like the friends they’ve been for decades, deriding the stress Universal put on their production (which they repaid in kind however they could throughout the process), shepherding these young actors through their careers’ formative years, and the pop culture influences on and impact of Fast Times.
  • Reliving Our Fast Times at Ridgemont High: Ported over from Fast Times’ past Universal releases, this 39-minute archival featurette features behind the scenes clips and photographs, accompanied by interviews with Heckerling and Crowe, as well as producer Art Hinson, casting director Don Phillips, and actors Brian Backer (Rat), Sean Penn (Spicoli), Judge Reinhold (Brad), Robert Romanus (Damone), Eric Stoltz (Stoner Bud), Scott Thomson (Arthur), and Ray Walston (Mr. Hand). While Jennifer Jason Leigh and Phoebe Cates’ absence is certainly felt–it would have been great to hear their thoughts on the making-of and impact of the film–this is overall an enjoyable EPK from the early days of DVD.
  • The TV Version: A rarity unearthed from the Universal vaults, Criterion has created an HD transfer of a special edited-for-TV version of Fast Times. Despite cutting out and censoring the film’s more graphic scenes and dialogue, this version ends up being 5 minutes longer than the theatrical, restoring deleted and alternate scenes — including lines by Nicolas Cage’s formerly blink-and-you’ll-miss-him first screen role!
  • Amy Heckerling at the AFI: An audio-only 1982 interview with Heckerling and producer/Fast Times’ Pirate King Stuart Cornfeld after an AFI screening of the film, with a surprise appearance by Robert Romanus.
  • Interview with Amy Heckerling and Cameron Crowe: Moderated via Zoom by writer/director/actress Olivia Wilde, Heckerling and Crowe share extremely candid and hilarious anecdotes from Fast Times’ production, notably focusing on the studios’ lack of faith in the film through production and release.
  • Booklet featuring a new introduction to the film by Cameron Crowe and an essay by Slate film critic Dana Stevens.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High is now available on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of The Criterion Collection.

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