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Empire Records (Blu-ray Review)

Empire-RecordsOdd as it may sound, Empire Records is actually a bonafide cult classic.  As much as people of my age range talked about it, quoted it and the frequency with which we watched it, we were in the minority.  The film has been more appreciated on in more recent years, and especially in our nostalgia drenched society, which comes as a bit of a surprise.  This film was loathed by critics and really not seen by audiences.  It didn’t get much of a wide release, but here’s a fun fact; Empire Records didn’t even make one million dollars at the box office.  I would be interested to see the home video intake for the film though, as it seems to have caught on their and grown to a more widespread popularity.  Its also a home media survivor, making the jump to DVD and now crossing over into Blu-ray.

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Film 

Joe runs Empire Records, an independent Delaware store that employs a tight-knit group of music-savvy youths. Hearing that the shop may be sold to a big chain, slacker employee Lucas bets a chunk of the store’s money, hoping to get a big return. When this plan fails, Empire Records falls into serious trouble, and the various other clerks, including lovely Corey and gloomy Deb, must deal with the problem, among many other issues.

First, lets pop a little mood music on.

Yeah, I gave Empire Records a 4.  I can see some faults, yeah its a teen movie and there’s nothing deep or profound about it.  But, its a really damn fun time, and the movie has stuck with me for so many years, that I gotta say I more than just “like like” it.  It may be one that only sticks and my generation finds cool, but you gotta let us have it.

When Empire Records came out, I was in middle school.  So this wasn’t one where I was necessarily identifying with the characters (That would come in the form of Can’t Hardly Wait).  But moreso, I was looking up to people I thought were cool and had interests that I shared.  This movie made working at a retail shop look super cool and awesome.  That all the people there were the “cool” kids.  I think it inspired me and my friends to all try and work at a record store or have a mall job when we got to high school and got our licenses.  Between this and Mallrats, they made the crappy jobs we were about to partake in for the next 4 or so years of our lives, look like fun and a good time.

This was also one of the first movies of the teen ones aimed at me to use music I was familiar with and enjoying on the radio.  It may not have been dynamite at the box office, but I’m pretty sure this film pushed a load of soundtracks.  As seen above, the film was lead by the Gin Blossom’s “Til I Hear It From You” which kept their run that started with “Hey Jealousy” on the move.  It also helped to discover the band Sponge, whose song “Plowed” is featured in the movie.  The best thing, looking back is that it not only used the music of Gwar in the film, but that the band is actually featured in the movie in a fantasy sequence.

Let’s switch gears now that I mentioned Sponge.

One thing that had me when was watching the film back in the 90s was the three main ladies working at Empire Records.  They all had different personalities I loved and looks I could get on board with.  Liv Tyler, for obvious reasons.  I mean, most of us guys all had MAD crushes on her after the Aerosmith video for “Crazy” started blazing through MTV.  This movie was our first chance to see her act and in a movie.  Robin Tunney was like the alt-girl of all our dreams and she really could pull of that shaved head look.  And I don’t care what she looks like now, or the sour face era, but Renee Zellweger was insanely beautiful and adorable in this movie.  She’s also one of the most quoted characters, too.  Wherever she goes or whatnot, we’ll always have this movie.

Its really weird seeing that Anthony LaPaglia went on to headline the TV show Without A Trace in the 00’s.  I almost feel like the Anthony LaPaglia that starred in this movie and the one there are two different people.  Ethan Embry is a 90s teen staple and he’s on super coked out mode in this movie, balancing a thin wire between obnoxious and funny.  Rory Cochrane was a like a god to me and my friends between his role here as Lucas and Slater in Dazed and Confused.  He’s got a thankless but super cool part with a ton of one-liners.  And Rex Manning is actually quite hilarious as to where I thought he was just a dick when I was a kid (He still is, I just think its funny now instead of getting mad).

Here’s a little music to take us out

Is Empire Records a perfect movie?  Nah, probably not.  But I don’t care.  There’s a lot of fun to be had here and great 90s music to enjoy.  I really enjoy this cast and characters (Except Warren, he’s still THE WORST).  Its fun to see them mix it up, screw around and just chew scenery with their scenes.  You couldn’t get away with a movie like this nowadays because people would be bitching about it not being “real” enough or “that would never happen” with a bunch of sequences.  Like, damn, its a movie and a teen comedy at that, can’t we just have some fun if the bits are working?  This movie has passed a time test for me, unlike others of the era (Reality Bites), because I think I just have fun with it and can just relax and enjoy a trip back to my youth and let this movie do its job in making fond memories of my youth click, whether it be a song, a phrase, a moment, whatever.  So thank you, Warner Brothers for damning the man and saving the Empire onto the Blu-ray format!

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Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

Clarity/Detail: Empire Records features an image that isn’t going to set the world on fire, but is a revelation to what’s come before.  The image is sharper than its ever been, with everything appearing much more distinct.  Detail is way better, being able to make out words and pictures on signs and albums where there was blurriness before.  Its a big step up in my opinion.

Depth:  Depth becomes a strong suit.  Far back shots of the store feature a lot of free moving and 3 dimensional environment.  The rooftop sequences also feature a lot of nice loose spacing and clarity with movements.

Black Levels:  Blacks are nice a natural.  Detail is still evident on clothing and Liv Tyler’s hair follicles.

Color Reproduction: This is a colorful film, and I don’t think that’s ever been more evident than it is now.  Blues, oranges, reds and greens all pop up and take shape now more than they ever have.  There’s a good palette here and its displayed nicely.

Flesh Tones: Natural and consistent.  Detail is great in close up shots, showing stubble, cracks, wrinkles and scars.  Johnny Whitworth has something weird going on with his upper lip that I’ve never noticed until seen here.

Noise/Artifacts: Some grain and maybe a spec or two, but really this print is in great shape and very clean.

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Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, German 2.0 Dolby Digital, Spanish-Castilian 2.0 Dolby Digital, Spanish-Latin 1.0 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, German SDH

Dynamics: Here’s the highlight of this release.  Empire Records is a track that needed to display the music well to succeed and does so beautifully.  Every featured song sounds so energetic and alive.  Nice and loose in the track.  Sound effects sound nice an efficient as well, but what you’re coming for is the music and the music sounds awesome.

Low Frequency Extension: Plenty of bass in the mix.  Gunfire and doors slamming boast a nice oompf from the sub.

Surround Sound Presentation: The front speakers do solid work of left to right and right to left action.  Rear speakers mainly have ambiance.  Some unique store sounds pop up in them time to time.

Dialogue Reproduction:  Crisp, loud and clear.

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Extras 

Please not that (except for the trailer) while these are all encoded in AVC, they are very poor quality (Video & Audio) SD upconverts.

Deleted Scenes (HD, 7:39)

Music Video

  • Rex Manning “Say No More” (HD, 3:15)
  • Gwar “Sadam A Go-Go” (HD, 2:35)
  • Gwar “Vlad The Impaler” Live (HD, 3:15)

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:25)

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Summary 

Empire Records is a nice trip back to my past.  I’ve got a real soft spot for the movie and soundtrack which looms largely over the entire thing and even drives it takes me back to different times with some great memories.  I don’t think I know anyone that actually saw this in the theater, but in middle school we all sure had that VHS floating around and it was popped in frequently.  This Blu-ray doesn’t add any new bonus features to the mix, but it does give the film a beautiful looking transfer as well as an audio track that makes this film the unintended musical concert experience it doubles as.  Fans should be more than happy with the upgrade.

Empire-Records-Blu-ray

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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