The Big Chill Review

Raphael Pour-Hashemi has reviewed the Region 2 release of The Big Chill.

An underrated drama involving university friends meeting up years later at one of their friend’s funeral. The DVD features a good documentary by DVD veteran Laurent Bouzereau.

The Big Chill was a surprise Oscar nomination choice for Best Picture in 1983, and to this day has still quietly garnered a cult following without receiving the widespread acclaim it deserves. It’s the sort of movie that you’d find someone like Cameron Crowe making nowadays, and yet relatively few have seen it. The cast ensemble are excellent, and are all famous eighties names, and the writer/director is Lawrence Kasdan, the man behind Body Heat and the co-writer of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi.

Perhaps the reason the film has gone so unnoticed is because of the seemingly unexciting premise. Essentially, the film tells of university friends meeting up years later after one member of their circle has killed themselves, and the film is based on the group’s weekend together and their varying ways at dealing with their loss. The group, like any other group, contains a contrasting mix of characters. Harold (Kevin Kline) and Sarah Cooper (Glenn Close), the almost parental figures for the group and owners of the house that the rest of the group are staying at, are now married and have fondly taken to building a decent family life and home for their children. Karen (JoBeth Williams) is now married and has children with an accountant, although she is currently having trouble dealing with married life which has caused her to re-light a fire she once had for Sam (Tom Berenger). Sam himself has now become a celebrity TV star after appearing as the lead in a Magnum P.I. type show, and he, although currently going through a divorce, is starting to reopen his feelings for Karen. Nick (William Hurt) has struggled with professional life despite his intelligence, and has resorted to being a pill-popping yuppie drug-dealer. Meg (Mary Kay Place) is now a lawyer and is finding it hard to maintain relationships, and decided that she now wants to raise a child as a single parent. Michael (Jeff Goldblum) is a famous New York journalist and is left on the outer-circle of the group due to his blatant calculating and cold-hearted nature. Chloe (Meg Tilley), a ballet dancer with no pretensions about her, doesn’t belong in the group and is only staying due to her having been in a relationship with the dead friend when he died.

Reunion films tend to pander to soap-opera clichés and melodramatic plot twists, and are in their very nature usually restricted to television. However, what makes The Big Chill so different to this stereotyping of the genre is it’s own self-restraint. Here is a film in which the joy of watching it is not due to the plot events unfolding but more to do with the audience’s firm belief in the characters and situations. By the film’s conclusion, you could happily exist in the same space as these characters and you instinctively feel like you know them. No cast member stands out above each other (although strangely only Glenn Close received an Oscar nomination) as it is a good team effort, however, it is fair to say that Tom Berenger defies his usual typecasting by effectively portraying insecure celebrity Sam. The screenplay by Kasdan and co-writer Barbara Benedek is a good exercise in control and confidence; no scene drags the pace and every line of dialogue appears to be absolutely necessary.

Perhaps the biggest star of The Big Chill is the magnificent sixties songs that fill the film’s soundtrack from beginning to end. There’s a strong argument that the songs are even the main narrative drive for the film, since they are extremely helpful in conveying the character’s inner thoughts.

Be it a mid-life crisis, refusal of the loss of innocence or the grief of losing a loved one, The Big Chill explores many themes and slickly invites the audience to relate to itself without inflicting inner pain in return.

Academy Awards 1983

Academy Award Nominations 1983
Best Picture
Best Supporting Actress – Glenn Close
Best Original Screenplay – Lawrence Kasdan, Barbara Benedek

Although presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen, the picture looks dated and gloomy and lacks a certain something. The transfer is very grainy throughout and occasional artefacting is detectable. Despite all this however, it isn’t too distracting due to the film’s lack of dependence on visual quality.

Presented in Dolby Surround 2.0 or Dolby 5.1, there is relatively little difference between the two mixes, and the film sounds more complete in the 2.0 mix anyhow, due to the abundance of sixties songs that are only in stereo anyway, and due to the dialogue essentially being mono.

Menu: A silent and static menu with a few illustrations filling the background. This is slightly disappointing, as the DVD producers could have least used one of the songs from the soundtrack to use as background music.

Packaging: As this was one of Columbia Tristar’s first releases, The Big Chill is housed in the old-fashioned jewel casing and has a four page cover/inlay which contains chapter listings and a brief essay by writer/director Lawrence Kasdan explaining his thoughts on the film.


‘The Big Chill – A Reunion’ – Documentary: An extensive documentary that lasts for fifty six minutes and includes every vital member of the cast and crew reminiscing about their exploits on the film and what it means to them now. Produced by Laurent Bouzereau, veteran of movie documentaries, the documentary is fascinating and a nice companion to the film. The most interesting piece of factual info is that Kevin Costner was cast as the dead friend Alex and yet had his part cut other than having his corpse’s hair combed for the funeral!

Deleted Scenes: A ten minute roll of deleted scenes from the film that are enjoyable to watch and each have qualities that would have suited the film had they been included. Unfortunately, the flashback epilogue that was cut from the film and was mentioned by Kasdan in the documentary does not surface here.

Filmographies: Textual lists of the films that each of the important cast and crew members have contributed to.

DVD Trailer: A Columbia Tristar trailer showcasing the capabilities of the medium and advertising some of the older releases from the label.

Although it will bore those partial to escapist forms of entertainment, The Big Chill is an expert film dealing with issues all of us have no doubt gone through. The extras are sparse, yet accompany the film astutely enough for that not to matter. Yes, it is one to hire or watch on television first before buying, but if you are a fan then this DVD is certainly going to appeal.

Raphael Pour-Hashemi

Updated: Dec 30, 2001

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