American Pie

American Pie (1999)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Jason Biggs, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Tara Reid, Chris Klein
Extras: Commentary Track, Documentary, Outtakes, Music Video and Music Highlights, Theatrical Trailers and more

In the early 80s, the raunchy teenage comedy ruled. After "Porky’s" was a box-office smash (from the director of "Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things" and "A Christmas Story"), you couldn’t throw a cat without hitting a "Porky’s"-wannabe movie. (My personal favorite is "Up the Creek".) These films were full of horny teenage guys (usually played by actors in their 30s!) who were chasing after scantily-clad girls, while getting drunk and acting stupid. Most of these films were not funny or entertaining and simply tried to cash in on the fact that they dealt with sex. Well, we’ve recently seen a resurgence in the sex-comedy and now we have a return to the raunchy teenage sex-comedy with "American Pie". Except this time, the film is actually funny and tries to create characters that seem realistic. Universal Home Video is releasing this summer’s surprise comedy hit in a Collector’s Edition DVD, with both the R-rated theatrical cut and a new unrated version available to consumers. For this review, the unrated cut was screened.

"American Pie" tells the story of four high-school seniors and their attempts to lose their virginity. Jim (Jason Biggs) has the least amount of experience of the four and has difficulty talking to girls. Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas (I couldn’t believe it when it finally dawned on me that he’s the kid from "Rookie of the Year"!)) has a steady girlfriend, Vicki (Tara Reid), but they’ve yet to go all the way. "Oz" (Chris Klein) is the jock who comes on to strong to girls. And Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) is the mochachino drinking sophisticate who exhibits adult mannerisms, and yet can’t use the bathroom in a public toilet. This quartet forms a pact that they will have sex by the night of the prom.

Once this pact is made, the foursome try many things to find and seduce the right woman. Oz decides that he must be sensitive towards women. Kevin decides that he must learn to please Vicki. Finch attempts to create a reputation for himself so that the women will chase him. And Jim… well, poor Jim ends up in many awkward situations (many involving his father (Eugene Levy) catching him in bizarre acts) which leave him desperate to find a date for the prom. In the end, the four friends realize that while sex is great, it may not be the most important thing in life.

Of course, it’s not the plot of "American Pie" that made it a success. The plot is simply an excuse for many outrageous situations to occur. The most famous scene in the film is the one in which Jim… experiments with the apple pie. (Notice that the note from Jim’s mom reads, "Apple pie, you’re favorite" instead of "your favorite".) There is also Jim’s striptease. Some of the funniest scenes are the ones in which Jim’s dad attempts to talk to him about sex. For the first half of the film, "American Pie" seems to be determined to outdo itself by piling on one risque scene after another.

I didn’t see "American Pie" in the theater, so for my home video viewing, I must admit that I fell victim to the hype. I didn’t think that the film was as funny or as raunchy as I had expected. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the movie. But, based on the response from the public, I’d expected "American Pie" to be wall-to-wall laughs and non-stop shocks. As I mentioned above, the movie definitely has it’s funny moments, and some great lines, many of which are very subtle and easy to miss. But, also the film has a heart. While all of these insane things are happening to the characters, they are learning valuable lessons about life and relationships.

As for the shock value of the film, I found it to be rather tame. The scene with the infamous pie is nothing. There is very little nudity in the film, with only Jim’s butt and Nadia’s body being shown. There is a lot of profanity and sex-talk, but it’s nothing compared to films like "Clerks" or "Chasing Amy." Even with the unrated version that is available on DVD, there still isn’t that much "objectionable" material in the film. Actually, the only scenes that made me uncomfortable were the ones in which Jim’s dad would catch him doing odd things. Once again, I felt that the soul of the film was the characters and their relationships and not the raunchiness.

All of that aside, brothers Chris Weitz (producer) and Paul Weitz (director) (who wrote "Antz" and the "Nutty Professor" sequel) along with writer Adam Herz (who is working on what is apparently a remake of "The Breakfast Club") have crafted a film that, while it has its outrageous scenes, has many moments that ring true. Most people can relate to the pain and frustration involved in high-school romances. We knew people like Stifler (Seann William Scott), the obnoxious jock, or Michelle (Alyson Hanningan, of "Buffy"), the band geek. And the anguish that Jim goes through when his father tries to have a serious conversation with him should ring true for most people.

So while the over-the-top moments in the film are funny and entertaining, it’s the characters and their situations that make "American Pie" worth watching. While I was disappointed with the experience of viewing "American Pie" after everything that I’d heard about it, I definitely enjoyed the film.

Universal Home Video has given "American Pie" the deluxe treatment with its Collector’s Edition DVD, which offers some very nice extras. The film is presented in its <$PS,widescreen> format and is <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1. This transfer is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TVs and the framing of the picture appears to be accurate, as there is no obvious loss of visual information at the top or bottom of the screen. The picture is very clear and free of graininess, but it is a bit dark at times. The picture was shot in a very naturalistic style, so there are no sudden shifts in lighting. Take the scene in Stifler’s living room (Chapter 6) and note how well the pink walls contrast with the rest of the colors in the scene with no bleeding or saturation. (Also, notice the Camp Tamakwa t-shirt that Jim is wearing, which is just like the one seen in "Evil Dead.")

The <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio is somewhat of a disappointment. For the majority of the film, the surround sound seems to come and go. During the opening credits, for example, there is music coming from the rear speakers, but you have to be right next to the speaker to hear it. It is far beyond subtle. Then, in other scenes, music blares from the rear. In the prom scene, there is no "surround sound crowd noise" that we’ve heard in other films. Still, throughout the film, the dialogue is clear and easily understood.

This Collector’s Edition offers a ton of extra features. There is an <$commentary,audio commentary> featuring Paul Weitz, Chris Weitz, Adam Herz, and actors Jason Biggs, Eddie Kaye Thomas, and Seann William Scott. It’s obvious from the beginning that these six guys are having a blast doing this commentary. For the most part, the commentary is informative and entertaining. They do a great job of pointing out all of the continuity problems in the film. It was interesting to learn that medics had to come to the set twice to aid Jason Biggs. We learn some about the genesis of the film, but it would have been nice if the Weitz brothers could have discussed more of the technical aspects that went into creating the film. But, the commentary does offers some very interesting tuxedo trivia.

The "American Pie" DVD offers two great features that I’ve never seen before. We’ve all watched a movie and been intrigued by a song in the film. Then, you watch the credits and try to figure out what the song was. Not anymore! The "Music Highlights" feature offers access to every scene in the film, which features a song and tells you the title of the song and the artist. What a great concept! A similar thing is done with the less impressive "Classic Quotes" feature. This offers a menu from which you can jump straight to the scene in the film which contained your favorite line. (Mine being: "I never did it with baked goods.") While this is a nice feature, couldn’t the chapter on the main menu be named after the quote?

Speaking of music (and I just was), there is an advertisement for the soundtrack to "American Pie", which is followed by a music video by the band Tonic for their song "You Wanted More". The theatrical trailer for "American Pie" is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. In the "Universal Showcase", we get bonus trailers for the upcoming theatrical releases "Man on the Moon" and "Snow Falling on Cedars" (Beautiful trailer. No clue what the film’s about.)

There is a behind-the-scenes featurette that features some interviews with the cast and crew, but mainly offers scenes from the film. There are several outtakes presented, most of which are of the blooper variety. One thing that disappointed me was the lack of deleted scenes, most notably the pie scene. It’s obvious from the other materials on the DVD that two versions of the pie incident were shot, one with Jim lying down (which made the final cut of the film) and one with Jim standing up. I would have liked to have seen the rough cut of the "standing up" scene. Also, is the "after the fact" pie in the film CGI? It sure looks like it to me. Nothing is mentioned about this in the commentary.

The final features on the disc are talent files (which feature most of the cast) and extensive production notes. There are also some additional production notes on the inner sleeve in the DVD case.

Once I got over the fact that "American Pie" is not the incredibly lewd laughfest that I thought it was going to be I decided that I liked the film anyway. The movie presents us with realistic characters who are placed in some outrageous situations, but still manage to learn something by the film’s end. Universal’s confidence in this box-office champ shows in the superior treatment that they have given it with this DVD. Keeping in mind that "American Pie" isn’t for all tastes, I say get this Pie while it’s hot.