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Ron Howard
Ron Howard, Nancy Morgan, Elizabeth Rogers, Barry Cahill, Rance Howard, Clint Howard, Paul Linke, Marion Ross
Writing Credits:
Ron Howard, Rance Howard

See the greatest cars in the world destroyed!

Ron Howard made his directorial debut and wrote the script for this car-chase collage. A rich heiress elopes to Las Vegas with her boyfriend in a stolen Rolls-Royce prompting her father to offer a reward for her return. The promise of the reward motivates a cross-country chase and spectacular crashes.

Box Office:
$602 thousand.
Domestic Gross
$15 million (worldwide).

Rated PG

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 84 min.
Price: $19.99
Release Date: 11/21/2006

• Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director/Actor Ron Howard and Executive Producer Roger Corman
• Introduction by Roger Corman
• “A Family Affair” Featurette
• Trailer
• Sneak Peeks


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Grand Theft Auto: Tricked-Out Edition (1977)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 5, 2008)

Back in 1977, the concept of Ron Howard as a film director seemed absurd. Little “Opie Cunningham” thinks he can make movies? Ha!

Obviously such derisive opinions didn’t last. Whatever one might think of Howard’s talents as a director, he clearly has established himself as a serious mover and shaker in the industry. Within 10 years of his 1977 directorial debut Grand Theft Auto, Howard had scored popular hits like Night Shift and Splash. Within 20 years, Howard saw 1995’s Apollo 13 become his first Best Picture-nominated effort. And within 25 years, Howard possessed his own Oscars for both Best Picture and Best Director.

Who knew that the Fonz’s square buddy would go so far? Probably not many who saw Grand Theft Auto back in 1977. Produced under Roger Corman’s banner, Auto features Howard as director, co-writer and star. He plays Sam Freeman, a young man of modest means who manages to gain the love of wealthy Paula Powers (Nancy Morgan). Her father Bigby (Barry Cahill) plans to run for governor and he wants Paula to marry blue-blooded Collins Hedgeworth (Paul Linke) to create the appropriate power couple.

Paula refuses and convinces Sam to elope with her. To that end, they hop in the car and motorvate toward Las Vegas. Bigby and her mother Priscilla (Elizabeth Rogers) don’t concede defeat, though, as they use their considerable clout to stop her. In addition, Collins believes Sam brainwashed Paula, so he tries to “save” her. To that end, he broadcasts a $25,000 reward for anyone who halts her progress. When his rich mother Vivian (Marion Ross) hears that Collins is on the highway, she offers her own $25,000 prize for her son’s safe return. The movie follows the efforts by Sam and Paula to succeed in their quest to marry despite all the (literal) roadblocks placed in front of them.

If it was difficult to conceive of “Ron Howard, film director” before Auto came out, it must’ve been even more impossible to imagine after the flick hit screens in 1977. Woof, what a mess! There’s nothing on display here to indicate that a filmmaker of any talent would emerge from it. Silly, stupid and generally tedious, the movie lacks any skill whatsoever.

One might excuse the idiocy of Auto due to its drive-in “B-movie” origins. At no point does the flick pretend to be anything more than a wacky romp in the vein of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. It takes a variety of nutty cartoon characters and sends them on a quest for wealth.

If Auto actually managed to muster any fun or excitement, that would be fine. Does it provide a clever plot or interesting characters? No, and those concerns could be enough to make it forgettable. However, if it gave us anything entertaining, I wouldn’t care as much.

Unfortunately, Auto ends up as nothing more than a long, pointless series of action beats. Sam and Paula are the only moderately realistic characters, but they’re dull as dishwashers. We care about them simply due to reflex; we want them to succeed because it’s the film convention.

All the other personalities are cartoon goofballs, and not a single amusing or endearing character emerges. The wealthy participants are annoying, but not in a “you love to hate them” way; they’re just over the top and irritating. The others who pursue the lovebirds and the reward come out with similar idiotic gusto. Everyone overacts like crazy, perhaps in an attempt to generate something entertaining in the characters. They fail, so the broad caricatures do nothing more than simultaneously bore and annoy.

I get the feeling that the script of Auto consists of a long series of car crashes and little else. The stunts receive top billing here, as it feels like the paper-thin plot exists for no reason other than to show us smash after smash after smash. These seem gratuitous at best and tedious at worst. We get so many of them – and with so little real logic or purpose – that they backfire. They don’t excite and thrill; instead, they just make us yawn.

You wanna know what the worst thing about Auto is? There’s no time display on the DVD, so I never knew how much of the movie remained. That made the experience all the more frustrating, as I couldn’t count down to the conclusion I so longed to reach. This became a long, long 84 minutes that I don’t recommend.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio C-/ Bonus C+

Grand Theft Auto appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Does this make Auto a pan and scan transfer? I don’t know, as I could find no information to indicate if it cropped the original photography or if it offered an “open matte” picture with additional material at the top and bottom. I suspect that this was a pan and scan affair, unfortunately, since a smattering of shots looked cramped on the sides. This wasn’t a terrible issue, but I thought the movie came across as less open than it should. Two-shots of people in cars tended to chop off the sides of the actors, and other elements appeared too tight.

Whatever the appropriate dimensions should be, the transfer itself seemed pretty good. Sharpness was consistently good. A few shots looked a smidgen soft, but those occurred infrequently. The majority of the flick demonstrated nice definition. No jagged edges or edge enhancement cropped up, but a bit of shimmering appeared at times. Source flaws were a moderate distraction. I noticed occasional specks and marks, though these stayed reasonably minor for an older movie.

Colors seemed quite good. The film demonstrated a natural palette that boasted lively, full tones. Blacks were also deep and firm, while shadows showed pretty nice clarity and delineation. Only the print flaws and slight softness knocked my grade down to a “B”, as I liked most of what I saw.

While this release of Grand Theft Auto came with a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix, the result remained very true to its monaural origins. At most, I could consider the audio to be “broad mono”. Material came from the sides but only in a way that focused on the center. Music, explosions and other elements that could have used the side and rear speakers failed to do so; the focus always stayed firmly in the middle realm.

I didn’t mind that, even though the lack of breadth made the 5.1 remix pointless. The quality clearly showed its age, though. Speech tended to be flat and thin, as the lines were intelligible but without much warmth. Music seemed bland as well. The score and songs failed to display any vivacity and never came to life.

Effects faltered throughout the film. At best they were tinny and drab, and they showed noticeable distortion at times. Some hum also emerged from the mix. Since the movie was a low-budget affair from 1977, I didn’t think these flaws were severe enough to lower my grade below “C-“, but this remained a problematic soundtrack.

When we head to the extras, we start with an audio commentary from co-writer/director/actor Ron Howard and executive producer Roger Corman. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. They discuss how Howard got the job as director and the project’s development, what it was like for Howard as a first-time filmmaker, cast and performances, cars and stunts, budgetary issues, locations, influences, test screenings, and a few production anecdotes.

Though it sputters during the film’s second half, the commentary usually satisfies. Howard dominates, but Corman throws in a fair amount of information as well. They interact well as they reminisce about this flick. Howard clearly looks back fondly on the experience, and that translates into a mostly enjoyable discussion.

We can watch the movie with an Introduction by Roger Corman. This 36-second clip tells us that Howard was very cool and collected during the making of his first film – and that’s all she wrote!

A Family Affair provides an eight-minute and 40-second featurette. It mixes movie clips, archival elements and interviews with writer/associate producer/actor Rance Howard and actor Clint Howard. Ron Howard’s dad and brother talk a little about the development of the script and other aspects of production. Many of these stories repeat from the commentary, but we get a few new tales and different perspectives in this fairly interesting clip.

A few ads open the disc. We get promos for Apocalypto, “The Roger Corman Collection” and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. The theatrical trailer for Auto also appears here.

Back in 1977 when I was 10, something like Grand Theft Auto might’ve worked as a wacky romp. Three decades later, I can find no redeeming qualities from it. Idiotic, pointless and thoroughly devoid of entertainment value, the film doesn’t even qualify as a mindless diversion. Yeah, it’s brainless, but it doesn’t amuse or thrill at all. The DVD comes with pretty good picture, although I suspect it provides a pan and scan image. Audio is flawed, and we don’t get many extras, though at least the elements we find are generally interesting. I have no major complaints about this release, but the movie itself is a goofy dud.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.25 Stars Number of Votes: 8
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