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DVD Review: Clueless Whatever! Edition

By Glenn Abel

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photo "Clueless" looks smarter and smarter as the years go by. Amy Heckerling's delightfully cynical tale of worldly teens obsessed with designer clothes, utility vehicles and cell phones still rings true, down to the last fashionista.

The new "Whatever!" edition on DVD is aptly named: The slanguage Heckerling invented for her Beverly Hills High kids survives a decade later, proving every bit as seminal as the pioneering work of Moon Unit Zappa.

"Clueless," of course, was in the makeover business long before reality TV stormed popular culture. Heckerling's heroines delight in transforming a grunge-clad transfer student into a hot property. Reality stuck to the script as the chubby young actress, Brittany Murphy, eventually brushed past "Clueless" stunner Alicia Silverstone to become Hollywood's It Girl.

Paramount doesn't shout about Murphy's supporting role in its marketing for the "Clueless" DVD (retail $19.99). In the extra features, she just turns up as one of the gang paying tribute to Heckerling's film -- and the director's prescience. Silverstone, who won hearts and minds playing 90210 princess Cher, is the sole holdout, an absence that goes unexplained (and unpunished) in the extras.

Despite the acclaim and affection for this loose update of Jane Austen's "Emma," "Clueless" was always in need of a home-video makeover, dating back to the laserdisc days. The new single-disc edition replaces Par's bare-bones DVD release of 2003, which basically came without extras. There are minor improvements in the decent video and audio, and something was done about the so-last-century cover art. The aspect ratio is 1.85:1, as in theaters.

True to the film's spirit, six snappy new featurettes survey the "Clueless" phenomenon. "We're History" explores the pop-culture legacy; "Creative Writing" tells of Heckerling's trials in creating and selling the movie; "Fashion 101" dissects the vines; and so on. A cute bit shows how to play the movie's (PG-rated) "suck and blow" game.

There are no deleted scenes and no commentary, unfortunately, but the featurette interviews with Heckerling and cinematographer Bill Pope ("The Matrix") give fans a pretty good idea of what was what.

"It was the closest I've ever come to something being in my head and being on the screen," says the "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" creator, now in her early 50s. "It was exactly the way I wanted it."

Pope explains the all-ages appeal as, "We never thought of this as a teenage movie."

Heckerling, who makes a hobby of studying slang, says cracking the DNA code of teen linguistics was no big whoop: "A lot of words that come from teenagers are about throwing up."

Fashion designer Mona May recalls the "Clueless" outfits as "not really what the kids were wearing" in the drab era of Nirvana -- "it was a hyper-look." Of Silverstone -- hired after she turned heads as Aerosmith's rock-video Betty -- May says: "I couldn't have dreamed of a better little Barbie doll to dress."

Heckerling says Silverstone "was so cute ... on the verge of womanhood but she's also got such a little girl quality. It's that thing that famous women sex symbols have where women like them also." Pope graciously says "Clueless" "really is Alicia's movie."

The project started life as a TV pitch called "No Worries." (Like "Ridgemont," it eventually spun off a series.) The many "Emma" parallels were added as the series concept morphed into a film script. But, "Unconsciously, I'd been writing an Emma-like character" from the beginning, says Heckerling.

The writer-director found her script "hard for people to understand" since it lacked the usual teenage-wasteland raunch. At Fox, "the men didn't get it." Producer Scott Rudin did, and Paramount won the ensuing budding war. "Clueless" overcame its chick-flick veneer via enthusiastic reviews and word of mouth, and went on to gross $57 million in theaters.

Of Austen's matchmaking heroine, Heckerling says, "If Emma were alive today, she'd be directing films."

Glenn Abel is Executive Editor, Electronic, at The Hollywood Reporter

Reprinted, with permission, from The Hollywood Reporter

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