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Paramount Studios presents
Up in Smoke (1978)

"It's a heavy-duty joint, man."
- Pedro (Cheech Marin)

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: November 26, 2000

Stars: Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong
Other Stars: Stacy Keach, Tom Skerritt
Director: Lou Adler

Manufacturer: CADDS
MPAA Rating: R for (language, adult themes, constant drug use)
Run Time: 01h:25m:40s
Release Date: November 21, 2000
UPC: 097360896640
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ C+BB+ B-

DVD Review

Up in Smoke was the movie debut of counterculture comedy team Cheech & Chong, who by 1978 had won a significant following through their successful live appearances and record albums. The film casts Tommy Chong as a drugged-out, aging rich kid (credited only as "Man") and Cheech Marin as Pedro, a somewhat more grounded but equally stoned individual. When the runaway, hitchhiking Chong deceives Cheech into picking him up, the two become fast friends, sharing a giant marijuana joint while cruising down the freeway in Chong's "Love Machine" low-rider. Hilarity ensues as Cheech & Chong cruise around aimlessly looking for "smoke," unwittingly outwitting the earnest attempts of Sergeant Stedenko (Stacy Keach) and his bumbling staff to bust them. The film ends with Cheech & Chong's punk rock band competing in a "Rock Fight" at the Roxy, complete with Cheech in a pink tutu and Mickey Mouse ears. Supporting cast members include Tom Skerritt as Cheech's Vietnam-addled cousin Strawberry, and Strother Martin and Edie Adams as Chong's parents (who may not have known what sort of movie they were appearing in!)

Comedy is a delicate thing—it tends to date itself, and as societal attitudes change over time, so does the perceived content of specific jokes and concepts. Drug humor was everywhere in the 1970's, and Cheech and Chong capitalized on it to great success. But in the same way that newspaper comic strip The Lockhorns' single-panel jokes about alcoholism, womanizing, shopping and bad cooking have ceased being funny in an age of greater sexual equality, Cheech & Chong's humor has lost some of its "oomph." It's still occasionally funny in its over-the-top way, but the characters' drug obsession seems old-fashioned, excessive and a bit sad (for a contemporary counterpoint, see Half-Baked, a marijuana comedy that more fully recognizes other aspects of life.)

What does hold up twenty-odd years later, at least to some degree, is a certain vaudevillian, Abbott-and-Costello quality. Cheech and Chong were at the top of their form as a team—their best bits are full of give-and-take, both contributing lines, reactions and funny moments in a loose, improvisational style. Scenes such as the one in which Cheech and Chong unknowingly riff on the police radio (pretending to mishear "Codename Hardhat" as something else altogether) work more often than not, making a lot of old gags seem fairly fresh. Their act adapted quite well to the movies, and the film's lack of plot neatly avoids the "overblown climax" syndrome that afflicts most such attempts. Significant credit is also due to Stacy Keach, who is very, very funny as Sergeant Stedenko—the humor inherent in his mis-targeted frustration, vanity and by-the-book stupidity is enhanced by Keach's deadpan, completely "straight" performance. Stedenko and his less-than-competent staff provide many of the best laughs in the film, including a hilarious moment in which the hirsute, tee-shirted, visibly pistol-packing officers attempt to disguise themselves as Hare Krishna evangelists.

Up in Smoke has become a period piece in many ways; its scant eighty-five minutes seem significantly longer, there's no real story to speak of, and the appeal of its drug-soaked humor has faded outside its original late-1970's context. But it's nice to see the film preserved on DVD, for history and nostalgia's sake, and Cheech & Chong fans will be glad to see their old friends in all their digital glory, man.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: C+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Up in Smoke is presented in its original Panavision 2.35:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio, with a fine anamorphic transfer. 2.35:1 comedies are something of a rarity, and it's a pleasure to see this vintage 1970's comedy in the proper aspect ratio. The print suffers from a few dirt flecks here and there, and the film's rare darker scenes tend to be grainy with middling shadow detail. There's some scanline instability visible on thin horizontal edges, but the digital transfer is otherwise free of distracting artifacts. Considering the age and relatively low budget of this movie, this is a fine DVD presentation—colors are rich, detail is sharp and the widescreen image presents the film as it was meant to be seen. If you've only seen the film on VHS or cable, or in some hazily-recalled, smoke-filled cinema, Paramount's DVD will be a real eye-opener.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Paramount presents Up in Smoke in two audio formats, a "restored" Dolby Digital 2.0 monophonic soundtrack (decoded to the center speaker) and the de rigeur new Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix. The restoration effort is appreciated, digitally de-noising the film's analog soundtrack and delivering better dialogue clarity and music reproduction than I expected. The 5.1 mix is largely mono in character, heavily dominated by center speaker activity with just a bit of ambience in the other channels, though bass is significantly boosted for a few soundtrack selections. Most likely the original audio "stems" were not available for a highly active surround remix, so a simple ambience enhancement was applied, and the film (as with most comedies) doesn't call for any panning, zooming gimmickry. Neither track is reference-quality by current standards, but I have no complaints—the 5.1 track respects the original mix, and the original soundtrack sounds a lot better than I thought it would.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 11 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
7 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Lou Adler and Cheech Marin
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Paramount continues to respect the comedies that provided much of the studio's income in the late 1970's and early 1980's, supplementing Up in Smoke with 11 picture-menu chapter stops, optional English subtitles and several worthwhile extras:

Commentary:

Director Lou Adler and co-star Cheech Marin contribute a feature-length running commentary. They don't have a lot to say, spending more time watching the film and chuckling than contributing any thoughts or remarks, but it's still sort of entertaining, especially when one's own laughs coincide with those of the filmmakers. Cheech generously gives a lot of credit to his erstwhile collaborator Tommy Chong, and this is a good-natured if insubstantial track.

Theatrical Trailer:

The film's rarely-seen theatrical trailer is presented with a 1.85:1 anamorphic image, taken from a grainy, somewhat dirty print with hiss-laden audio. The trailer could only be shown to "Restricted" audiences due to significant onscreen drug use and references, though oddly enough a brief bit of swearing is bleeped out. It's always nice to have the promotional materials on-hand, especially with a film as hard to promote to a broader audience as this one must have been.

Roach Clips:

An aptly-named collection of seven deleted scenes, strung together as a single presentation with optional commentary by Adler and Marin. Most are extra bits or alternate takes of improvised scenes used in the final film, with the exception of a pre-trial sequence featuring Harry Dean Stanton as a drug-dispensing prison guard and Tommy Chong in a dual role as an elderly derelict. The footage is presented in 2.35:1 non-anamorphic, taken from a fairly dirty film print; the optional commentary is almost inconsequential here, just a few sparse remarks punctuated by chuckles, stifled laughter and guffaws by the commentators.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

Up in Smoke is a quintessential Cheech & Chong movie, a series of drug bits loosely linked together into a story. Paramount's DVD is pretty sharp considering the vintage of the film, with substantial supplements. Cheech & Chong fans will be glad to see this film presented in style; the uninitiated need not apply.

 


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