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By Mark Bell | August 7, 2014

Confession time: I had never seen “The Big Chill” before I received this Blu-ray + 2 DVD combo set from Criterion. As a Spielberg/Lucas kid of the 70s and 80s, I should have been interested in it, given co-writer/director Lawrence Kasdan’s involvement in some of those classic films, but the problem was that I was born in 1970. How the heck could I relate to the issues of a bunch of 30-somethings in the early ’80s?

So “The Big Chill” eventually fell onto my list of Movies I Need to See Someday, and it sat there glaring at me for a long time. “I’m considered a classic now,” it would say. “And you, with your love of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ and ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ – How could you admire Mr. Kasdan’s screenplays for those films but still forsake me?”

And then I saw “The Big Chill” on a list of upcoming Criterion releases and I knew it was time to cross one more movie off that bucket list. I’m glad I finally took the plunge because, at the ripe old age of 44, I can grok the film in ways I could never have imagined when I was a bratty teenager. While watching the story open with a group of college buddies reuniting for the funeral of a friend who has committed suicide, I could feel my mortality staring me in the face, and I felt a little closer to those high school and college friends whose lives I still follow on Facebook.

“The Big Chill” is also remarkable to viewers my age and older because it broke the careers of so many young actors. That cast would have been heralded as a superstar lineup had the movie been made just several years later, but back then they were a hungry group seeking opportunities. They made the most of an ensemble film whose script expertly balances several competing parts without letting one story overshadow everything else.

As a few people noted in the bonus features, there was a lot of studio resistance to the film getting made because it didn’t have a neat and tidy Protagonist vs. Antagonist With Supporting Roles setup, and so there was concern that viewers wouldn’t know who to root for. Well, of course, you don’t watch “The Big Chill” with an eye toward rooting for anyone — you let the various intersecting relationships, with their quirks and nuances, play out and then as the closing credits roll, you decide how you feel about the choices the characters have made. As in our everyday lives, there’s no good vs. evil here, just a bunch of folks trying to deal with the emotional baggage they’ve lugged into a somber weekend that demands they relive the past. We’ve all been there, whether we’ve had several college buddies around us or not.

Getting back to the cast for a moment: I never knew that Kevin Costner was supposed to be in the film, playing the role of dead friend Alex in a flashback that would have concluded the story. Kasdan notes that he cut the scene because it simply didn’t work, and in the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival discussion, co-writer Barbara Benedek points out that Costner said at the audition that he had just been cut out of “War Games.” “Oops,” is Kasdan’s deadpan reply to laughter from the audience.

Not everyone from the movie showed up for that TIFF 2013 discussion (William Hurt and Jeff Goldblum were missing), but most of them were there to celebrate the film’s 30th anniversary. It’s a nice moderated Q&A, although it treads much of the same territory as the 1998 documentary that’s also included in this release. That making-of piece by the prolific Laurent Bouzereau digs into the film’s creation from start to finish and is notable because it was reflecting on “The Big Chill” at the 15-year mark of its existence.

There’s also a new interview with Kasdan in which he reminisces about the movie, along with nearly nine minutes of deleted scenes, most of which take place early in the film. I could understand why they were cut, although they had an amusing running gag in which not everyone is sure they recall Goldblum’s character, Michael. (There’s always that guy who knows everyone but is not quite remembered by all.) Unfortunately, that oft-discussed ending with Costner isn’t here, which is a bummer.

The usual Criterion booklet includes a current day essay by writer and filmmaker Lena Dunham and a piece by film critic Harlan Jacobson from a 1983 issue of “Film Comment” magazine.

Finally, if such things are important to you, this release sports a new 4K digital film transfer, along with two Blu-ray-only audio features: an uncompressed monaural soundtrack and an alternate remastered 5.1 surround soundtrack in DTS-HD. Since I don’t possess a high-end home theater setup, such things are not a big deal to me, although I do of course appreciate a nice print of a movie, sans scratches and hairs and such.

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