In 10 Words or Less
Same old discs, fancy new cover, cool new CD
Loves: 80s music, Weird Science, The Breakfast Club
Likes: John Hughes, Robert Downey Jr., interesting packaging
Dislikes: Anthony Michael Hall's early acting
Hates: Unnecessary re-releases
The Story So Far...Sixteen Candles | The Breakfast Club | Weird Science
This marks the third release of these films in Region 1. The first time out, Universal put the films out in barebones editions, with letterboxed, non-anamorphic transfers and Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio mixes (though Sixteen Candles has just a 1.0 track.) The second time around, the discs were remixed and remastered and put out as the High School Reunion Collection box set. DVDTalk has reviews of the films here:
The Breakfast Club
The clothes, language and extremes of attitude may have changed, but the five social strata at the core of this film maintain as the foundations of high-school life. Represented by prom queen Claire (Molly Ringwold), geeky Brian (Anthony Michael Hall), rebel Bender (Judd Nelson), loner Allison (Ally Sheedy) and jock Andy (Emilio Estevez), the five groups held for Saturday morning detention are a microcosm of life inside the walls of a teenage penitentiary.
Putting the five disparate characters into a room without anything to do but stare at each other creates the perfect opportunity for what amounts to group therapy. Spilling their guts, they bond over the hardships in their lives. Provide a discipline-crazed principal (Paul Gleason), and the group has a common enemy that draws them together. What results is a prison film for the high-school set and a rather aware view of the sociology of life, not just school life.
Seeing as there's not much of a plot, the film lives and dies with the characters it studies. Their interactions are revealing and, to a point, realistically rendered, if a bit stereotypical. The prissy girl's interest in the bad guy, the loner's efforts to push the "norms"' buttons, the rebel's desire to have others' lives...it all feels "right."
The performances are mostly excellent, starting with the film's primary stimulus, Bender. As the cause for just about everything that happens in the course of the movie, Nelson plays the part of the devil in blue jeans to the hilt, giving the character a depth that most films wouldn't be bothered with providing. Today, it's a bit of a cliche to give the school bully a sad backstory, but here, it works.
A little bit like "Lord of the Flies" and a lot like a hardcore afterschool special, The Breakfast Club dips into melodrama, especially during Brian's emotional library confession, but is mostly an entertaining bit of insight into lives most everyone lived at some point.
The first film directed by John Hughes, this ode to being a forgotten kid is the least complete of his writing/directing efforts. Taking the concept of Sam (Ringwold) and her forgotten birthday, and making her life worse by the minute is certainly a good way to set up a comedic premise, but where it goes from there determines its ultimate success.
Hughes unfortunately gets lost in a sea of gags, trying to keep afloat a story of unrequited high-school love, inside a typhoon of plots involving Sam's sister's impending nuptuals to a complete loser, a house full of visiting family and an Asian exchange student named Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe) with a love of partying. It's a lot to try and juggle, and it doesn't always work, especially with the broad comedy of the grandparents and "the Donger," an element that hasn't really worked in Hughes' favor, as they overpower his truer emotion-based stories.
Ringwold is once again very good, with a fine mix of princess and Everygirl that makes her a heroine just about anyone can get behind. Sadly, her charm didn't translate to adult roles, but she's just about perfect as the girl who's not drop-dead beautiful, but is cute in a way that makes her accessible, yet desirable. Thus, it's completely believable that she would have self-doubt when pursuing Jake, the most popular guy in school, despite his overwhelming interest in her. That inner turmoil sets the stage for the film's main romantic plot, which is buried by the jokes.
While this is certainly a movie about Sam and her troubles, romantic or otherwise, Hall's character, credited simply as "The Geek," is almost as big a part in the film. A total loser who goes by the name of Farmer Ted, The Geek is as awkward a teenage character as has been seen on film, but without the self-realized status of loser that makes similar characters in similar films likeable support for the stars.
Farmer Ted is so annoyingly geeky that it makes most every scene he's in feel forced, like his talk with Jake, in which he makes martinis and is loaned a car and a girl. His only redeeming quality is his role as a sounding board for Sam in one of the film's pivotal moments. Incredibly, he actually has two subordinate geeks who follow him around, one of which is played by a very young-looking John Cusack. He's not the only Cusack on board, as sister Joan is around to serve as a human sight gag.
While the ingredients are in place for Hughes to tell a touching story of what it's like to be a teenager and feel meaningless, the film feels like a standard-issue teen flick, complete with a house-trashing party, sex jokes, and the necessary school dance. It may have its place in teen-culture history, but against the rest of the genre, it doesn't hold up its end.
It may be the wonderful song by Oingo Boingo or the '80s-hot Kelly LeBrock, but this is my favorite Hughes film outside of Ferris Bueller's Day Off. That's somewhat surprising, considering it stars Hall, in one of his most annoying performances to date. Much like the geek Godfather he played in Sixteen Candles, Hall's Gary lords over his equally geeky friend Wyatt, acting as though he has social skills.
Having a nerdy sleepover while Wyatt's parents are away, they duo come up with an idea that's pure high-concept: create a girl the way Frankenstein made his monster. So, setting up Wyatt's computer to combine the best of all worlds and feed it into a Barbie doll, they, with the help of some elemental magic, create Lisa. Played by LeBrock, Lisa is the perfect girl, who has, in addition to an amazing body, ultimate intelligence and a voracious sexual appetite, genie-like powers.
The rest of the movie is pure teen wish fulfillment, as Gary and Wyatt use Lisa to get what they want, which is mainly cool cars, sex and popularity at school. Unfortunately for them, that's not easy, even with a magic woman at your side, as they learn from their run-ins with Wyatt's militaristic brother Chet (Bill Paxton) and the cool kids at school (one of which is Robert Downey, Jr., sporting yet another in a line of fine fad hairstyles he has had.) As with all good fables, magic can take you only so far, before you have to rely on yourself.
While Sixteen Candles was interrupted by its many gags, that's all Weird Science has going for it, aside from the gawk factor of LeBrock. That's just fine, as the jokes continue to work, as long as they keep Gary and Wyatt in their places. Seeing a true geek escape their social role doesn't work, if you haven't suffered along with them (as Napoleon Dynamite shows.) Gary and Wyatt suffer plenty, which makes Wyatt a sympathetic character, and Gary an older version of Farmer Ted.
Hughes was very capable of combining comedy and emotion, but with his third film as writer and director, Weird Science, that all came seemingly to an end, as he became a purely comedic film maker, creating movies without the feeling of true emotion that informed his early work. When he's making gems like Weird Science or Ferris Bueller, that's fine, but when it ends up as Baby's Day Out it's just a waste.
One of the biggest reasons this set is going to draw some eyes is the packaging, which is definitely unique. Instead of your usual keepcase, the three films are packaged in a 3-ring binder that's almost an inch taller than traditional DVD cases, and a half-inch wider, which means it won't sit well on most DVD shelves.
The discs for the three films are each in a full-length envelope that hangs from the binder clips (like this but taller and with a flap.) Meanwhile, the bonus CD (see The Extras) is in a standard two-punch envelope. The binder is certainly not flimsy, and features film descriptions and a six-question trivia quiz on the inside covers, but I can easily see it give fits to an audience that goes crazy when they don't get a paper insert with their DVDs.
The DVDs themselves are the exact same discs that were made available back in 2003 as a part of the now out-of-print High School Reunion Collection, right down to the copyright date on the disc art. In fact, each of the discs has a forced preview for the unavailable Reunion Collection up front.
The Breakfast Club has the most involved main menu, which starts with an animated introduction centered on the characters' archetypes, and leads into a well-designed and slightly animated selection of option. Options include scene selections, bonus materials, languages and play the film. The scene selection menus have still previews and titles for each chapter, while the available languages include English Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks and English, Spanish and French subtitles. There's no closed captioning.
For Weird Science, the main menu is the most attractive of the three, with some nice, but simple animation built around the film's logo. The choices offered are play, select scenes, view special features and adjust languages. The chapter select menus feature still previews and titles, and the languages available are English Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 and Spanish Dolby soundtracks and English, Spanish and French subtitles. Closed captioning is not available.
The main menu for Sixteen Candles is the simplest of the bunch, built around an animated display of Polaroid photos. Options include play, select scenes, recommendations, and language choices. Like the other two DVDs, the scene selection menus have still previews and titles for each chapter, while the available languages include English Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks and English, Spanish and French subtitles. There's no closed captioning.
The oldest of the three, Sixteen Candles isn't the most consistent in terms of the video quality, though the anamorphic widescreen transfer is much better than the original DVD, with a sharper image and more appropriate color. Noticeable dirt and damage can be seen throughout the film, and the night scenes are extremely grainy. The audio, a new DTS track for this release, is lively during the many bits of pop-music soundtrack, but is relatively generic otherwise. The dialogue at least is clear and easy to understand.
Weird Science's anamorphic widescreen transfer doesn't fare much better during darker scenes, becoming grainy and dull. The lighter scenes are fine, considering their age, though the film has a softness that reveals its age. Dirt and damage can be seen early in the transfer, and sporadically later on, but for the most part, this disc looks pretty good. The 5.1 DTS remix of the soundtrack is a big improvement on the original sound, as the sound effects and music are enhanced through the surround speakers, and the dialogue comes out crisply from dead center. There's no dynamic action-movie panning or directionality, but the mix is appropriate, and the most active of the three films.
Digital remastering seems to have helped The Breakfast Club the most, as the controlled environment of the library looks excellent in this anamorphic widescreen transfer. The colors and level of detail are solid, and the film looks sharper than the other two. The only negative is the dirt that can be seen throughout the transfer. Starting with the opening theme, the 5.1 DTS track is obviously a stronger representation of the soundtrack than the previous tracks. It's not nearly as active as that of Weird Science, but then, there aren't any sci-fi hi-jinks in this movie.
The Breakfast Club and Weird Science contain the same set of extras, made up of the film's theatrical trailer and a screen of recommendations from the Universal library. Of course, if you bought this set, or the High School Reunion Collection, you own two of the three recommendations.
Sixteen Candles, on the other hand, doesn't even try to pretend it has extras, slapping the lame recommendation screen right on the main menu, and oddly denying us the theatrical trailer.
The best extra in this set is the music portion of The Brat Pack Movies and Music Collection, which takes the form of an 8-track CD of songs from John Hughes' films. Six of the eight songs are home-runs, including legendary Brat Pack music like OMD's "If You Leave" and Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget About Me). If you're like me, this is more fuel for your iPod.
Two songs made me wonder though. Yello's "Oh Yeah" has never been a song you listen to in its entirety, as it serves better as musical support in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. The studio must have felt they needed eight songs, because they dug deep for the last one, pulling out Flesh for Lulu's "I Go Crazy" from Some Kind of Wonderful. I don't think I've ever heard the song outside of that film before.
Here's the track listing:
- "True" - Spandau Ballet
- "Tenderness" - General Public
- "If You Leave" - OMD
Pretty in Pink
- "Weird Science" - Oingo Boingo
- "Oh Yeah" - Yello
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
- "Pretty in Pink" - The Psychedelic Furs
Pretty in Pink
- "Don't You (Forget About Me)" - Simple Minds
The Breakfast Club
- "I Go Crazy" - Flesh for Lulu
Some Kind of Wonderful
The Bottom Line
If there's one thing I learned from watching this set, it's the fact that I really hate the young Anthony Michael Hall. Naming this set The High School Reunion Collection was fine, but The Brat Pack Collection is another matter entirely. Weird Science, though featuring Downey Jr. and Hall, is really just not a Brat Pack film. But since St. Elmo's Fire, Class and Pretty in Pink are owned by other companies, this is as close as Universal could get it seems. The new packaging is pretty cool, but not shelf-friendly, and the bonus CD is a welcome addition, but there's no reason someone who has the High School Reunion discs should need to upgrade. If you held out until now, it's a pretty good deal on three fun movies, unless Universal decides to actually make special edition DVDs for these movies some day.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.