Ron Howard is easily one of the most successful graduates of “Roger Corman University,” which is how directors who got their start at New World Pictures often refer to their humble beginnings. He started as an actor with Eat My Dust, cleverly capitalizing on his Happy Days fame to open the door for a directing gig that came a year later in the form of Grand Theft Auto. Both films are presented in The Ron Howard Action Pack and they benefit from the handsome presentation they get there, which mixes nice new transfers with a generous complement of extras.
Both of these titles have been extensively issued on video, in both VHS and DVD formats (twice on DVD for each, in fact: each film was issued by New Concorde and later Buena Vista). Unfortunately, all previous versions relied on the same, long-in-the-tooth full-frame video masters for each title. In The Ron Howard Action Pack, each is treated to a new anamorphic transfer that shows these films off to their best effect. These transfers make it easier to appreciate how well-shot New World films were, each offering a sharp and colorful image with minimal amounts of age-related debris. The mono mixes are retained for each film and both are clear, skillfully-crafted soundtracks.
Each film gets its own disc in this set and both include a variety of extras that mix material from prior editions with a few new items. On the Eat My Dust disc, the older items are a featurette on the making of the film from the Buena Vista version and a Roger Corman interview by Leonard Maltin. The latter is an entertaining but typically short, under-five-minutes piece. However, the former is a concise, engaging ten-minute featurette taken from interviews with editor Tina Hirsch, cinematographer Eric Saarinen and star Christopher Norris. Their comments are consistently interesting, particularly Hirsch’s breakdown of how she assembled the stunt scenes.
Elsewhere on the Eat My Dust disc, the viewer is treated to a few new extras. The first is a new interview with Ron Howard in which he discusses both films and what it was like to graduate from “Roger Corman University.” He covers some of the same material from his commentary track on Grand Theft Auto but he always finds interesting ways to flesh them out with new details — and the anecdote about how the wrap party for Grand Theft Auto was one of the best moments of his career is unexpectedly touching. There is also an interview with John Solie, the artist who created the distinctive poster art for Grand Theft Auto and many other Corman films. Fans of vintage poster art will enjoy getting a glimpse into how it was put together and the method Solie used.
On the Grand Theft Auto disc, older extras material includes a short intro by Roger Corman and another short Roger Corman interview by Leonard Maltin. From the prior New Concorde edition, there is a convivial if occasionally unfocused featurette in which Corman and Ron Howard discuss their memories of the film.
The Grand Theft Auto disc also boasts a pair of commentary tracks, one old and one new. The old one comes from the New Concorde disc and pairs Corman with Howard for an engaging two-hander of a track. The two share a nice rapport and offer up plenty of fun details, with Howard focusing on the challenges of directing and acting while Corman shares some of the penny-pinching secrets used in the New World style of filmmaking.
The other track features co-writer/bit player Rance Howard, editor Joe Dante, second unit director Allan Arkush and key grip Ben Haller. This is a much more “nuts and bolts” -style track, with a focus on the logistics of doing such a complex production on a tiny budget. Dante and Arkush offer the best quips, documenting the challenges of navigating Corman’s cost-cutting ways to turn out the best possible film (even if it meant doing 85 or 90 setups in one day). There’s also a funny story about a booze-loving production supervisor who stayed at the bar and let the filmmakers do their thing.
Each disc is rounded out by trailers for their main attractions: The Eat My Dust trailer is a fun 60-second quickie narrated in zesty style by Don Steele while the Grand Theft Auto disc features a theatrical trailer and two t.v. spots. They’re all worth watching and it’s interesting to note that the Grand Theft Auto theatrical spot features material shot especially for the trailer itself.
All in all, this is a generous, well-assembled set that offers both dramatically improved transfers and a wealth of extras that are educational for the b-movie buff. If you’re a Corman/New World fan, you can buy it with confidence.