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Universal Studios Home Video presents
Rumble Fish: Special Edition (1983)

"Man, I love fights. Man, this reminds me of the old days when we used to have rumbles."
- Rusty James (Matt Dillon)

Review By: Nate Meyers  
Published: September 21, 2005

Stars: Matt Dillon
Other Stars: Mickey Rourke, Diane Lane, Dennis Hopper, Diana Scarwid, Vincent Spano, Nicolas Cage, Chris Penn, Larry Fishburne, William Smith, Michael Higgins, Glenn Withrow, Tom Waits, Domino
Director: Francis Ford Coppola

MPAA Rating: R for (violence, language, sexuality/nudity, drug references)
Run Time: 01h:34m:13s
Release Date: September 13, 2005
UPC: 025192675225
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- BAB+ B+

DVD Review

Francis Ford Coppola's career is varied in quality, to say the least. His films from the 1970s are some of the best ever made, while those following Apocalypse Now are largely forgettable and sometimes downright terrible. However, in the early 1980s, the director and his soon-to-be bankrupt Zoetrope Studios made two interesting adaptations of S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders and Rumble Fish. I'm probably the only guy my age to have not read either book, but Coppola's films are rich in character, style, and heart. Between the two, I prefer Rumble Fish because of its art house visuals and innovative score.

Rusty James (Matt Dillon) lives in the shadow of his older brother, The Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke), a former gang leader whose persona has now taken on the form of a myth. Rusty James lacks the intelligence and charisma of his brother, not realizing that the days of gangs has passed and that he's holding on to a fantasy. He still leads a small clientele of faithful, consisting of the bold Smokey (Nicolas Cage) and mature Steve (Vincent Spano), into a fight against a rival. During the fight, which is brilliantly choreographed and complimented by Stewart Copeland's percussion-based score, The Motorcycle Boy returns home after being gone for an extended period of time. Rusty and all the others are enthusiastic, but their hero is now a disillusioned man.

The movie is not so much about gangs as it is about youth's alienation in contemporary society. Coppola and Hinton, adapting the screenplay together, fuse Greek mythology with small-town America to paint a surreal portrait of life. The story of Rusty James could easily take place in the 1950s or 1980s, or even 2005. Though the scenes containing it are quite intense, there's actually little physical violence, but there is a great deal of emotional torture. Rusty James refuses to accept that the gangs are worthless, causing him to follow in the footsteps of his alcoholic father (played zealously by Dennis Hopper) and destroy his relationship with Patty (Diane Lane).

The themes and purpose of Rumble Fish sometimes get lost in the storytelling, cloaked in the shadows of Dean Tavoularis' sets. Coppola lets the style get the better of him, choosing to indulge in Stephen H. Burum's meticulous, gorgeous black-and-white cinematography. The film never veers so far as to become gratuitous, but the narrative's point does take a backseat at times, such as when Rusty James attends an orgy. However, the filmmaking is dignified and more than makes up for any lack of clarity in Coppola's direction. Apart from the cinematography and sets, the sound and editing make this an absorbing drama. Copeland's music is a marvelous representation of time, filled with a thick layering of rhythms that mold into a contagious beat. At times I found myself uncertain whether a scene had any bearing on the plot, but couldn't help but be overwhelmed by the aesthetics.

The acting is quite engaging. Dillon turns in one of his best performances as Rusty James, exhibiting tremendous physicality while also conveying Rusty's vulnerability. Diane Lane is also good, showing the foundations of a talented actress being groomed by her peers and director. The only performance that I'm not sold on is Rourke's turn as The Motorcycle Boy. He doesn't have the look of a man who others would follow into battle, nor does he successfully present a contemplative man trying to make sense of a world now dead to him. It's an unfortunate situation, since The Motorcycle Boy is fundamental in the story of Rusty James.

In spite of its flaws, Rumble Fish always remains watchable and thoughtful. At times Coppola is inarticulate, but he always keeps your attention with this strong visual film.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks fantastic. The black-and-white cinematography is rich in contrast and texture. The color sequences, namely the fish referred to in the title, are strikingly vibrant, as well. Depth is very strong, creating a film-like look. Nicely done!

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is awfully front-heavy. The musical score gets some play in the surround speakers, but is mostly placed across the front sound stage. Dialogue is well balanced in the mix and easily audible throughout. Everything is crisp and clean, though there's little sound separation or directionality. Consequently, the mix is not as dynamic as I had hoped for. On the other hand, the lack of dynamic range keeps it from being gimmicky and never takes you out of the film. There's also a French mono track available.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Big Lebowski: Special Edition DVD, Carlito's Way: Rise to Power, Gladiator: Extended Edition DVD
6 Deleted Scenes
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Francis Ford Coppola
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:58m:38s

Extra Extras:
  1. Music Video—the original "Don't Box Me In" music video.
Extras Review: The highlight of the supplemental material is a director's audio commentary. Coppola remains one of the best commentators, being pleasant and informative at all times. He provides a great number of anecdotes and expresses how personal the film is to him. He details his thought process behind making the film and is always eager to point out his daughter, Sofia Coppola, when she appears on screen as Patty's younger sister, Donna. He does get a bit preachy about his views of the film industry, but otherwise this is an excellent commentary.

Following this is the featurette, On Location in Tulsa: The Making of Rumble Fish (11m:39s). Consisting of new interviews with the crew, archival interviews with the cast, and footage from the set, this is a solid featurette. It covers many aspects of the production and packs a lot of information into its abbreviated runtime. A second featurette, Rumble Fish: The Percussion-Based Score (11m:53s), takes an in-depth look at Copeland's music for the film. It's a fascinating extra, covering just about every aspect of his work on the film you can imagine.

Six deleted scenes are included. Shown in 1.85:1 widescreen, all unfinished and somewhat murky. The total running time is a little under 20 minutes for all six, with the vast majority of them focusing on Rusty Boy's relationship to Steve. None of them really belongs in the final film, but each is good on its own. There's also a music video of the song Don't Box Me In, which plays during the movie's closing credits. Finally, rounding out the extras are the film's original theatrical trailer and trailers for The Big Lebowski: Special Edition DVD, Carlito's Way: Rise to Power, and Gladiator: Extended Edition DVD.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Rumble Fish: Special Edition is a fine release from Universal. The image and sound are solid and the special features make this release worthy of a double dip.


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