Reefer Madness
R1 - America - Off Color Films / Fox
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak and TJ McDonald (26th August 2005).
The Film

Louis J. GasnierĎs Reefer Madness represents the launching of Americaís first doomed war. Before Iraq and before Vietnam there was ĎThe War on Drugsí. A sensational piece of governmental propaganda, the filmís original purpose of the film was to scare adults and children alike with the horror of Satanís own demon weed - Marijuana. In the modern world, Reefer Madness serves a far greater purpose; it reminds us that those who are in power often believe it is the ends that justify the means and seldom feel the need for the truth to interfere with their message.

What makes the timeless classic a true masterpiece of misinformation is the fact that it does not take the facts and distort them; it simply gets every single thing wrong. This, for me, is the greatest irony of the piece. The film takes a couple of rosy cheeked American teenagers Mary (Dorothy Short) and Bill (Kenneth Craig) and introduces them - through the influence of an obviously sadistic Ďfriendí - to the drug-filled seedy underbelly of society. One joke and they are laughing like maniacs - and hereís their first mistake. Pot doesnít make you laugh like the villain from a bond film, it makes you laugh like Ralph Wiggum! From there itís a quick step to high speed dangerous driving (lets face it, most stoned people who rode on escalators would be yelling worriedly at the driver to slow down), and finally on to the pre-marital sex. That last one I know for a fact is wrong, or I would be smoking up all the time.

Beyond the obvious, what I find even more hilarious about this comedy (and thatís definitely what it is folks, whatever its original intention it has long since moved into the realm of farce - Just like George W.) are the now out-dated references to the counter culture of the time. From the clothes that mark rebellious youth, to the jazz music that corrupts their souls - even the implicit racism in the few African Americans glimpsed in the background of the dimly lit drug parlour all, to me, paint an interesting and somewhat embarrassing view of society in the 1930s. I cannot help but feel slightly ashamed for my grandparents.

As an educational film, it is contemptible. As an historical piece, it is insightful. As a comedy, Reefer Madness is in that wonderful class of hilarity that includes the kid in your class with the Ďkick meí sign taped to his back. If you find yourself halfway through the film and you are smiling, perhaps even chuckling, but not laughing till your sides hurt then the solution is simple; watch it stoned.

Video

Presented in the filmís original theatrical ratio of 1.33:1, Off Color Films have included two transfers on this disc, a colorized version and the original black and white.

The color transfer was created by Legend Films. Using a relatively new 48-bit colorization process to achieve a final image in high definition or to film quality as stated in their official site.
Much like their previous releases Carnival of Souls and Night of the Living Dead the colorization isnít perfect but far from the traditional color techniques utilized in the past that give the film a caked-on look. As with the previous Off Color film releases this color transfer is primarily for those viewers that have a built-in dislike for black and white films. For a film of this age and one that has been in the public domain for quite some time you shouldnít expect a top notch transfer, and what we get is average at best. The image isnít perfectly sharp, softness has a consistent presence throughout. There are occasional scratches, dirt and specks that pop up and are only partially annoying since they last seconds. The most annoying aspect is that there are instances in the film where frames are clearly missing.
If you are not particularly fond of black and white films then you should be content with this version. As a film buff, I prefer to view the film in its original black and white format that was intended by the director and thankfully Off Color Films have included that on the disc.

The black and white transfer is by no means the best, suffering from more of less the same problems that the color transfer does, it looks like a VHS copy has been used as the source for this transfer. Film grain is heavy, dirt, specks, scratches are occasionally prominent. Blacks are heavy but shadow detail is very limited. Itís a shame Off Color didnít put the same effort in cleaning up the black and white print for purists.

Audio

The color version and the black and white version feature different soundtracks. The color version includes English tracks in DTS 5.1 (half-rate) and in Dolby Digital 5.1. The black and white is only viewable with its English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track.

Both the DTS and Dolby 5.1 tracks on the color version did not seem all that different, they are basically mono tracks spread over the 5.1 channels, so depth is extremely limited, and for a film of its age it wasnít really made for the digital surround era therefore immersive it is not. In fact 95% of the activity is focused on the centre speaker, with about 5% to the left and right front for the jazz music score. In terms of clarity these tracks do the job, illuminating most common problems with tracks of this age there is relatively no hiss, pops or drop outs which is a good thing.
The Dolby 2.0 Mono track present on the black and white version is much like its 5.1 counterparts, dialogue is clear but there is occasional distortion in the way of low hiss aside from that nothing else seems out of place with this track and seems much more suitable than a DTS track.
The disc also includes subtitles in English.

Extras

First up is the audio commentary by Mike Nelson, of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, and much like previous Off Color releases such as Carnival of Souls and Night of the Living Dead he takes us on a humorous journey throughout the film. He starts with a brief background regarding the film but within a minute heís straight into the smart-ass comments and poking fun at the whole concept of this film. From the hilarious warning that precedes the film to the castís silly clothing and terrible dialogue nothing is felt sacred as Nelson rips into this film. This film is basically a mockery on its own so Iím not sure how effectively funny this track may be to some people, but itís an enjoyable one none-the-less, however I found that there were far too many silent gaps.

Following that the color design audio commentary features Legend Films president Barry Sandrew, the creative director of the colorization process Rosemary Horvath and David D. Martin. This technical track covers the colorization process applied to the film, right from the start Sandrew comments that they aim to make this a Ďfuní track rather than an instructional one on the colorization process. However despite their best not to it does on occasion turn into exactly that, which lets face it is also a little boring, but there are some shining moments that make this track at least worthy of your time. These include the creative decision to give the film a Ďcomic bookí look, their overall goal for adding the color was to give the film a certain look and feel. Itís also interesting to learn that a lot of research goes into the colorization process including getting background signage right and interior color deco that reflects that time and place. For the most part itís actually a decent track to listen to, however beware as it does sometimes delve into ĎI donít careí territory.

Nest up is the featurette entitled Grandpa Ganja's Marijuana Handbook that runs for 24 minutes 33 seconds. This is basically an interview segment that features an old man yapping to us about the benefits of marijuana use. He cover 12 topics that include Marijuana and the bible, marijuana and creativity, potís effects on intelligence, marijuana as medicine, on buying pot, safety in numbers, how to use marijuana, whatís so funny (The laughter as a result of taking it), pot and sex, marijuana and exercise, smoke your pants (clothing made from hemp), and catch a buzz and hit the road (driving under the influence). Iím not quite sure what to say about this other than itís like watching a crazy old man giving you a history lesson about pot and then showing you how to use it. I think the best part about the whole thing was while he was yapping away his cat started to eat some of the marijuana leaves from his plant ands this guy didnít even notice it, he just kept talking, while this was happening I couldnít help but think the state that cat may have been after that. Thatís about all I really got from this incredibly one-sided look at marijuana, Iím sure other people might find this interesting but it was more patronizing than anything else.

The Grandpa Ganja segment also includes about 3 minutes 59 seconds of outtakes from the recording session, these are primarily goofs and mistakes, probably cause the guy was high as a kite while filming this piece.

Rounding out the discís extras is an all new Reefer Madness theatrical trailer, which runs for 1 minute 59 seconds and is a color trailer advertising the DVD release.

An insert is included in the case that features a chapter listing.

Overall

Reefer Madness the funniest kind of propaganda film, originally made as a warning piece for young people, its misinformed look at marijuana use is hysterically funny. Off Color Films include both the Colorized version plus the original black and white version of the film and have presented it with average picture and sound quality. The DVD includes a few extras the better of which are the pair of commentaries. A documentary on the film's history would have made an excellent addition but sadly we get none of that here. If you're looking to buy a copy of this film on DVD this release is the best version you'll find, especially since this release has extras!

The Film: B Video: C+ Audio: B Extras: B Overall: B-

 


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