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Anchor Bay presents
Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)

"If I'm not grounded pretty soon, I'm gonna go into orbit."
- G.T.O. (Warren Oates)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: July 23, 2000

Stars: James Taylor, Dennis Wilson, Warren Oates
Other Stars: Laurie Bird
Director: Monte Hellman

Manufacturer: Crest National
MPAA Rating: R for (language)
Run Time: 01h:42m:13s
Release Date: October 19, 1999
UPC: 013131093797
Genre: offbeat

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-B+B+ A-

DVD Review

In the commentary to Two-Lane Blacktop, director Monte Hellman refers to the film as the only existential allegory ever filmed by a major motion picture studio. Director Monte Hellman early on directed a stage production of Waiting for Godot, the archetypal existential drama where nothing much happens. Two-Lane Highway at times seems almost like Godot on the road. While this may or may not be the intention of the creators, the film is indeed a bleak look at American life on the road.

True to its philosophical bent, the characters are all nonentities; none of them even have names. Two are described by their functions, the Driver (James Taylor) and the Mechanic (Dennis Wilson), one by her gender, the Girl (Laurie Bird), and one by his car, G.T.O. (Warren Oates). The Driver and the Mechanic are crossing the country in their souped-up '55 Chevy like itinerant modern-day jousters, looking to hustle a street race with the locals to keep them in spending money. Their priorities are set up immediately, when they discuss how much money they have left: "Three hundred in racing bread. Twenty dollars to spend." The Girl is a hitchhiker who accompanies them intermittently, sometimes riding with their alternately friend and nemesis, G.T.O. in his namesake car.

There is little in the way of plot in the film. The characters have little in the way of goals or direction; they seem to be moving just to keep moving. Whenever a character asks where someone else is going, the answer is usually as vague and nebulous as "East." Occasionally, word of a race track will give the central figures a temporary goal, but before long they've drifted off to some other place. Even when the goals are set, they are often illusory; Washington DC, Columbus, Ohio and Florida all seem more or less interchangeable in their minds. In the worldview of the characters, it really doesn't make much difference. There is the occasional meaningless accident observed along the way to serve as punctuation, but this never has any significant effect on the Driver, who keeps staring steadfastly ahead. Their relationships are just as transient and shallow.

Musicians Taylor and Wilson (of the Beach Boys) come across quite well for their first and only acting gigs. Taylor's deadpan drawl in particular is perfectly suited for the Driver, focused on nothing in particular. Laurie Bird does a nice job with her vacuous role (she would later go on to play Paul Simon's girlfriend in Annie Hall). Warren Oates is suitably intense as the well-meaning but ultimately pathetic G.T.O. He alone seems to recognize that their existence is meaningless, and that they somehow need to reach the ground and stay in one place.

The camera work is innovative, with a great deal of the film shot with natural ambient light. This makes large segments of the film incredibly dark, so the movie is best viewed in the dark with all lights off. Much of the film was shot while the characters were in actuality driving across the country, which serves to ground the existential elements in reality, thereby heightening the contrast.

Two-Lane Blacktop has had a cult reputation for some time, largely due to the fact it has been tied up in legal disputes over the music rights for many years. Anchor Bay deserves congratulations for getting all of these issues resolved and allowing this important film of the early 70's to reach home video. A limited edition in a tin case with a 48-page booklet is scheduled to be released later in 2000.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: As noted above, the image is very dark; the opening sequences, and chapters 11 and 13 are practically murky and only fragments of faces can be seen. The blacks are solid, but there is limited shadow detail. Daytime scenes are however, bright and colorful, with the bright yellow G.T.O. being a highlight. The colors are somewhat dated, but reds are intense without significant chroma noise. The anamorphic picture is a little on the soft side.

There are a few random speckles and at least one instance of dirt in the frame, but considering the age and low-budget origin of this film, this movie looks excellent overall.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Sound quality is generally very good, in light of the use of natural sound for much of the picture. The segments which are described as being looped in later are not immediately recognizable as such. The music in general does not suffer from distortion, and it as well as dialogue comes through cleanly.

Both a 2.0 Dolby Surround track and a DD 5.1 track are provided. While the film was released to theaters in mono, as Hellman explains in the commentary the studio's print was recorded in stereo, so the 2.0 option is decoded using the original tracks. The range and directionality are excellent. The 5.1 track seems to be practically identical with the 2.0 track with the exception of some subwoofer activity. Both tracks make primary use of the center speaker for dialogue. As is expected, the subwoofer takes off mainly in connection with engine roars. The surrounds are almost entirely unused on the 5.1 track except for some ambient rain effects. Either track is entirely satisfactory for the age of the picture.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Monte Hellman and Associate Producer Gary Kurtz
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Anchor Bay gives us a nice array of extras on this important film. First off is an informative commentary by Hellman and associate producer Gary Kurtz (who later went on to produce something by the name of Star Wars). They both are having an extremely good time reminiscing about the making of the film.

The featurette is a short film by George Hickenlooper, American Auteur: Monte Hellman. This short features interviews with Hellman, Kevin Thomas of the L.A. Times and Roger Corman, who gave Hellman his start. The film is too short and leaves us wanting more information.

A 2.35:1 trailer in decent condition is included. Chaptering is adequate for a picture of this length. The filmographies and biographies for Hellman and all of the principals are extensive and information-packed. They are easily navigable all the way through with your finger on the Enter button alone. Unfortunately Anchor Bay doesn't much believe in subtitling in English, so you're left to the abilities of your ears.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

A classic but bleak early 70's road film, with a nice array of extras and a good transfer. Very highly recommended for those looking for a little existential exploration of the American highways.


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