Reviewing this film nearly finished me.
“I remember that hot, wonderful summer when the teenage miracle reached full bloom. and everyone in England stopped what they were doing to stare at what had happened.” — Colin (Eddie O’Connell)
All over the map and never in the right place at the right time, Absolute Beginners borrows its title — and some plot points — from Colin MacInnes’ cherished coming-of-age novel, but in the directorial hands of one-time music video whiz Julien Temple (London Babylon), this alleged “musical adaptation” succeeds mainly as an audio-visual endurance test.
The film begins with a title card, reading: “London 1958.” That’s a good thing too, because with its marzipan fluorescent pop-art color schemes and ceaseless, bombastic musical arrangements-big on fretless (electric) bass runs and world beat percussion — all of it apparently edited under the influence of unmedicated ADHD, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve been plunged deep into the heart of MTV, circa 1986.
Are you aware that Mods, the mini-skirt, and Reggae rappers weren’t originally introduced to the world in 1958, but actually much later? Well, that would put you three steps ahead of Temple and the five credited screenwriters responsible for the complete bowdlerization of the original story, not to mention their almost complete disregard for historical record. To be fair, race riots did plague the Notting Hill area during that summer, but did they really resemble Jerome Robbins-choreographed nightmare outtakes from West Side Story? Methinks…not.
Temple and company had co-conspirators, including: David Bowie, Sade, and Ray Davies of the Kinks, all of whom brought pure B-side material to the soundtrack. Cool jazz supremo Gil Evans scored this mess, and to his credit, the blaring sounds keep on coming, not allowing subtlety, shading, or dialogue to get in the way of the aforementioned ceaseless bombast.
To their credit, the Twilight Time folks do a bang-up job of bringing Absolute Beginners to Blu-ray in all its ear-charring, color-saturated glory, with a minimum of wear and tear (though there are moments, if you want to find them). The 2.35:1/1080p presentation gives you the entire visual canvas-for better and worse-and there are two audio options: a 2.0 stereo mix and a 5.1 surround sound mix. Both audio choices suffice, but if your ears are sensitive, you’ll most likely be continually readjusting the volume on the 5.1 surround sound track, as the musical numbers jump up the decibel level appreciatively.
Bonus features are skimpy this time around. Resident Twilight Time historian Julie Kirgo does provide a well-written essay in the set’s accompanying booklet, but aside from that, there’s only an isolated audio track of the score, and an MGM anniversary trailer, which may count as an extra to the distributors, but only represents a needless commercial to me. As is their custom, Twilight Time has manufactured a limited run of 3,000 discs for this title, so if this particular Blu-ray long been on your must own wish list, please plan accordingly.
To be fair, I’m not saying that Absolute Beginners is the worst film I’ve ever seen, and…well, let’s just leave it at that.