The Last Detail

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson


Columbia-TriStar, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, fullscreen, languages: English Digital Mono [CC], subtitles: English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, double side-single layer, 28 chapters, production notes, talent files, theatrical trailer, rated R, 103 min., $24.95, street date 12/14/99.

Studio Line

Academy Awards: Nominated for Best Actor-Jack Nicholson, Best Supporting Actor-Randy Quaid, Best Screenplay, 1974.

Directed by Hal Ashby. Starring Jack Nicholson, Otis Young, Randy Quaid, Clifton James, Carol Kane, Michael Moriarty.

Jack Nicholson is at his very best in this highly-acclaimed dramatic comedy about three sailers on the loose. Two hard-boiled career petty officers, Buddusky and Mulhall, are detailed to take a young sailor, Meadows, from a Virginia Naval Base to a New Hampshire Naval Prison to serve an eight-year sentence for a trivial offense. Buddusky and Mulhall take a liking to Meadows and are determined to show him a good time on their journey north. Their escapades begin in Washington where they narrowly escape a bar fight, then get blind drunk in their hotel room. In New York, they tangle with some Marines, and in Boston, Buddusky takes Meadows to a brothel for his first sexual experience. Finally , after reluctantly turning in Meadows, Buddusky and Mulhall realize they are as much prisoners of their own world as Meadows now is of his.

Picture/Sound/Extras (D+/C-/D)

Advertising campaigns offer the public their first glimpse at movies so they clearly are very important. That first impression goes a long way toward influencing attendance, so you want it to be good.

One example of the wrong way to go: the poster art for The Last Detail starring Jack Nicholson. This picture - which is duplicated on the cover of the video releases of the movie - shows a shirtless, mustachioed Nicholson wearing a sailor's cap and holding a cigar. I saw that and all I thought of was the Village People. Based on that image, I got completely the wrong impression of the film. Yeah, Nicholson does appear shirtless in the movie, but it seems like an odd image to send to the public.

As it turns out, The Last Detail has nothing to do with gay sex. It's actually something of an odd buddy picture, as it depicts Nicholson and cohort Otis Young as Navy crewmen who have to escort a recently-discharged young man (Randy Quaid) to prison. The film shows all of their various adventures along the way, most of which are intended to give Quaid's character Meadows experiences to remember while he's separated from society.

Although it really lacks much of a plot, The Last Detail offers a compelling portrait of these characters and makes for an entertaining experience. Nicholson does a terrific job in the kind of maniacal role that would become typical for him. His Buddusky is a wild man who's always on the lookout to cause trouble or at least enjoy it where he finds it. Unsurprisingly, Nicholson latches onto this role and has a grand old time portraying this over-the-top personality; it's a very fun and amusing performance.

Young has a more thankless role as Mulhall, since he has to essentially play "the grounded one" in this pair. He's perfectly fine in the role. Quaid is great as Meadows and received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for the part. He deftly portrays the nuances in the character as he makes a vast personality alteration during the few days he spends with the other two. Quaid is always believable and realistic in the role and he makes the character come to life.

Speaking of actors, keep an eye out for Gilda Radner in an exceptionally small role. Nancy Allen also can be seen, and Carol Kane is today's entry in the "future celebrities who performed a nude scene" category; she plays a young prostitute with exceptionally pointy breasts! (Be careful - those things could take out your eye!)

The Last Detail is kind of an odd little movie, as it starts out as a pretty broad comedy but becomes more melancholy as it continues. I went into it with literally no concept about the story, but I found myself interested and entertained in it. I can't say it's a great film, but it's definitely a compelling work.

The Last Detail appears in both its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and also in a fullscreen version on this double-sided DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed version was evaluated for this review.

TLD doesn't look very good, but I expect that much of the fault lies with the original source material. Film stock from the Seventies tended toward many of the flaws seen in this movie, though they seem a bit more problematic than usual.

Sharpness appears good for the most part, but it's erratic; on occasion, semi-wide shots look fuzzy, and even closer-up images appear soft at times. Moire effects and digital artifacts are an issue at times, but not regularly. The print used was very clean for its age; some grain and speckles appear, but very few.

The movie doesn't feature much color; it's a pretty drab looking affair. On those occasions that demonstrate some bright colors, they look good, but overall, hues seem a bit flat; fleshtones appear slightly yellowy. Black levels are very dark - too dark, as a matter of fact. Deep tones tend to all blend together and offer little detail. Shadows are especially opaque and thick; it's very hard to make out nuances. The Last Detail remains watchable - none of the problems are that severe - but it doesn't offer a very strong viewing experience.

Similarly weak is the film's soundtrack. The monaural audio seems fairly typical of its era, though even when compared to other movies from the early Seventies, it appears somewhat poor. Dialogue is usually intelligible, though some lines weren't terribly clear. Speech and effects both sound flat and thin. The music tends to be somewhat trebly and brittle. Distortion is not usually a factor, but some dialogue seems a bit harsh at times. The age of the material is what granted this soundtrack a "C-", because it isn't radically atypical for the era, but the audio nonetheless seems consistently flat.

Columbia Tristar (CTS) haven't exactly knocked themselves out with supplements. We get four trailers; one is for The Last Detail and the others are for later Nicholson projects (A Few Good Men, Wolf and As Good As It Gets). The DVD also provides the usual crummy CTS talent files. Entries are given for Nicholson, Quaid and director Hal Ashby; they lack much information and are fairly useless. Also included in the package's booklet are some short but interesting production notes; while they lack much detail, they still offer some useful insight into the creation of the film.

The Last Detail is a hard DVD for me to firmly recommend. On one hand, I really liked the movie; it's a strong piece of work. On the other hand, this DVD isn't very high quality. Look at those ratings: when a "C-" is the best I can muster, that's not too hot. Still, The Last Detail is definitely worth at least a rental, and if you have the urge, a purchase may be in order. No, it's not a good disc to demonstrate the strengths of DVD, but it's a strong movie that probably boasts the best presentation its ever had, and that should count for something.

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