In the role that he'll probably always be best remembered for, Matthew Broderick plays a high school student named, amazingly enough, Ferris Bueller. He's a popular kid, and a good natured soul even if Principal Roony (Jeffrey Jones of Ed Wood) isn't his biggest fan – you see, Ferris has a tendency to get away with a lot more than Roony would like.
One fine, sunny day, Ferris decides that he needs a day off. He could go to school and he probably should go to school but it's just one of those days where his heart isn't in it and he'd really rather be doing his own thing. He calls up his good friend Cameron (Alan Ruck of Spin City) and the two decide to cut class for the day. Cameron heads over to Ferris' place to pick him up and Ferris decides that before school ends, he's going to show his friend a truly good time and that they're going to go all out and have themselves a great day so that they'll have something good to remember about their time in high school.
Ferris and Cameron aren't going to go it alone, however, and Ferris is able to get his ever so cute girlfriend Sloane Peterson (Mia Sara of Time Cop and Legend) out of class as well by telling the school that her grandmother has died. The three head out on the town and into the heart of Chicago in Cameron's father's red Ferrari, with Principal Roony one step behind them the entire time. Roony hopes to be able to put a notation on Bueller's permanent record and hold him back one more year, theoretically setting a deterring precedent for the students to come.
Say what you will about eighties teen comedies or about John Hughes work in general (which some consider to be overly sentimental, but at least it's got some class and some feeling to it) but Ferris Bueller's Day Off is a sweet and funny movie through and through. Underneath all the flash and style that Ferris flaunts, he really just wants to help his best friend develop a better opinion of himself and a sense of self worth. His father seems to care more about his car than he does his own son. The fact that it's an eighties film that eschews materialism, made in the decade that was all about mass consumption and consumerism, sets it apart a bit from the rest of the pack and makes the sentimentality behind Ferris' actions all the more interesting and poignant. It's still a goofy comedy, but it's got a good heart.
In addition to the sincerity of the sugary content, the movie also works really well as a veritable tour of Chicago. As our three heroes motor around the windy city in the red Italian sports car we get to check out the Sears Tower, Wrigley Field, and a few other familiar Chicago landmarks. It gives us a good look at the city core and a feel for the people who live there by way of some fun supporting characters like kid in the police station played by a young Charlie Sheen and the man in charge at the fancy French restaurant they go to, played by Jonathon Schmock.
Broderick is instantly likeable in the lead role. He's got charisma and a great sense of humor about everything and it's hard not to find yourself getting dragged along for the ride with him and his friends. While he's had more interesting and more serious roles since then, to many of us who grew up in the eighties, Ferris Bueller will always be his signature performance. His charm is in infectious and by the end of the movie there's no debating the coolness of his character. Alan Ruck contrasts Ferris' wit and charm very nicely with his turn as sad-sack Cameron, a kid who just hasn't really come into his own the way that Ferris has while Mia Sara proves she's able to steal any teenage boy's heart as Sloane, the coolest and cutest girl around.
Aside from the three leads, however, the film also really benefits from a strong supporting cast. Jeffrey Jones is great as the principal who doesn't take any crap from the kids, he's pretty manic about his job and takes everything way too seriously for his own good. A young Jennifer Grey, who would later go on to be better known as 'Baby' from Dirty Dancing is fun as Ferris' sister and Cindy Pickett and Lyman Ward are just fine as his parents, Katie and Tom Bueller. Look for future vampire slayer Kristy Swanson in a small part as Simone Adamly in the film as well.
Hughes does a great job of contrasting the excitement that the big city holds for teenagers with the sheer monotony of the day-to-day high school life. Whenever Ferris brings up the fact that they're cutting class and doing their own thing, the movie puts us back in the classroom and shows us how dull it is by way of some completely exaggerated lectures and school related activities. Ben Stein is fantastic as the economics teacher in one of these scenes, droning on and on and on in his lecture – it works almost a little too well but it brings home Ferris' point quite effectively.
While parts of the movie have aged a bit, notably the fashions, styles, cars and the slang, the themes are still as relevant now as they were almost twenty years ago. People are still materialists, teenagers are still sometimes insecure, high school kids still don't want to go to class day in, day out, and we can all still use an impromptu day off now and then.
The 2.35.1 Anamorphic Widescreen transfer on this release is nice and sharp. Color reproduction is strong, the reds look very good without any bleeding problems, and the black levels are rich and deep and don't pixelate or break up at all. There aren't any issues in terms of serious print damage to report, simply some fine grain evident in a few scenes, and a lot of the muddiness and the mpeg compression artifacts that were present on the first DVD release have been eliminated. There is some aliasing and mild edge enhancement present on the disc but you really do have to be looking for it in order for it to be a problem. Flesh tones look lifelike and natural, fine detail looks good in both the foreground and the background of the image, and there's really not a whole lot worth complaining about here as the movie looks just fine.
The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track on this release is pretty strong, with the music in particular (Yello's Oh Yeah sounds great!) sounding very nice as it swells up in the rear channels in a few spots. Although the majority of the action comes from the front and center of the setup, the rears kick in when they need to and for the most part, everything sounds very good on this release. Dialogue is clean and clear and free of any hiss or distortion, and the levels are well balanced insuring that nothing overpowers the performers. Bass response is strong and lively, the high end sounds nice and crisp, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off sounds great on DVD.
Paramount has also supplied Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround Sound tracks in both English and French, subtitles in English and Spanish, and an English closed captioning option for the feature. Unfortunately, for purists, the original mono mix is not included on this release.
The first DVD release of Ferris Bueller's Day Off came out six years ago. While that disc was fine for the time, a lot has changed in the industry since then and while that release did have a director's commentary, fans were left wanting more. Paramount has stepped up to the plate and delivered some pretty interesting extras on this new release (which is not, as some have speculated, a two disc set but is in fact a single disc), and here's how they pan out…
The first of the supplements on this release is Getting The Class Together: The Cast Of Ferris Bueller's Day Off. This is a collection of interviews with the cast and crew of the film, including segments with Matthew Broderick, Jennifer Gray, Ben Stein and of course, Alan Ruck. Broderick, interestingly enough, discusses his concern of coming off of the stage version of Biloxi Blues into the role of Ferris Bueller, despite the fact that the roles are quite different. He also points out that for some reason in his early years he found himself in roles where he wound up talking to the audience a lot. Some vintage interview clips with John Hughes from 1986 (look at that hair) cover the basics of Broderick's performance. Jennifer Grey talks about the connection that she felt with some of her co-stars almost immediately and talks about how it's not fair that Ferris gets away with everything while her character, Jamie, can't get away with anything and therefore can't contain her grief about her life and her hatred for her brother. Cindy Pickett, clad in a Pink Floyd t-shirt, discusses how she ended up marrying Lyman Ward in real life and how she feels about her performance in retrospective and reminisces about her audition. Ben Stein, who is more or less always funny, talks about how the kids in the class started applauding for him after his performance in front of the class because he thought that he had really taught something to them about the basics of economics. Kristy Swanson, who looks fantastic, talks about how her agent had her read for the part and how John Hughes had already shot the part, which is how she ended up in a different role that Hughes wrote for her. At 27:44 it's a reasonably thorough look at the film through more modern eyes courtesy of the people who made it and fans of the movie will likely enjoy this look back. Plenty of clips from the film are used throughout here to illustrate various points and although some of this is talking head footage it's a well put together piece with some good information.
Up next is a documentary simply titled The Making Of Ferris Bueller's Day Off which examines the behind the scenes activities that resulted in the finished version of the film that we all know and love. Kicking off with the instantly recognizable sounds off Yello, we're then treated to some keen behind the scenes footage before Ben Stein tells us what a genius John Hughes is. Producer Tom Jacobson talks about how quickly John Hughes was able to put the script together very quickly because there was the threat of an upcoming writer's strike that put a bit of outside pressure on the project. Broderick claims that he heard Hughes wrote the script in six days, which is pretty amazing. Some more of the vintage 1986 Hughes interview footage is found in here which gives us the director's take on the making of the film, and Jennifer Grey shows up in here as well, as does the always amusing Edie McClurg who played Grace the secretary. Alan Ruck shows up to talk about his experiences here and goes into some detail about the car, used in the film (there were three of them all together) and again, plenty of clips and still photographs are used throughout this segment. At 15:26 it probably could have just been edited into the first documentary as they tend to cover some of the same ground, but what's here is good material though more behind the scenes footage, if it's even available, would have been a nice touch.
A third featurette called Who Is Ferris Bueller is a biographical bit on Matthew Broderick that also examines the character of Ferris in a fair bit of detail. Starting off with Stein's infamous role call, then cutting into various clips of people asking about Bueller from the film, we then segue into some vintage interview footage with John Hughes (this time from 1987) who talks about how he wanted to create a character who could benefit from not taking himself quite so seriously. Footage of Jeffrey Jones from 1985 explains why Ferris is such a fun character, while some modern day interview footage with Jones explains how he and Broderick were committed to making the movie work. Broderick and Pickett show up in here as well, talking about what they like about the character of Ferris Bueller and the mom/son relationship they have on screen while Alan Ruck explains what he likes about the character. This segment runs 9:06 from beginning to end.
The Economics Teacher gets his time to shine in the next featurette, The World According To Ben Stein. Again, starting with the role call scene, leads into a quick section of Stein related material, both new and old. Stein talks about how he got into show business, how he ended up being cast in the film, and about his real life experience in business and how he used to work with Nixon. As such, he seems to really enjoy the more comedic turn that his life has taken, and he states that his work in this film is his personal career highlight. At 10:51 in length, it's a good talk with Stein, who proves to be an interesting and hilarious subject.
Vintage Ferris Bueller: The Lost Tapes is a great selection of on set interviews from when the film was still in production that runs a combined total of 10:01 in length. It starts with Broderick and Ruck interviewing one another about their roles, talking about how they enjoyed their parts in the movie, and what it was like working together on this film and Biloxi Blues. It's a fun piece, very tongue in cheek, and they seem to be having fun with each other. Up next is a segment with Alan Ruck and Mia Sara, talking about the film, who they played, how they feel about the movie. After that we're treated to a lost scene entitled The Isles Of Langerhans that involves the three kids trying to order in the French restaurant. This is not a finished version of the scene as the boom microphone is in the shot and it's not light properly but it's cool to see it as it's kind of funny. From there we get a segment called Meet The Principal in which Broderick interviews Jeffrey Jones about why his character is so obsessed with catching Ferris in the movie. The section finishes up with more of Ruck and Broderick goofing around, talking about which character they resemble more, Ferris, Cameron, or Lee Harvey Oswald.
Finally, Paramount has also included a Class Album supplement that is essentially a photo gallery of about twenty promotional images shot for the movie.
Trailers for the Airplane Special Edition DVD, the Tommy Boy – Holy Schnike! DVD, and Cameron Crowe's Elizabeth Town play before you get to the main menu screen and are also available in the special features section as well should you not get enough of them the first time. The disc also includes chapter selection available off of the main menu, but you probably knew that already.
For whatever reason, the John Hughes commentary track that was on the earlier Paramount DVD release has not been carried over for this new special edition. Why this is the case is anyone's guess, but the fact that it isn't here is definitely an unfortunate strike against this otherwise fine release. Likewise, the trailer for Ferris Bueller's Day Off is nowhere to be seen on this release.
One of the few true comedy classics of the eighties gets a fine re-release on DVD from Paramount. The Ferris Bueller's Day Off – Bueller… Bueller… Edition looks and sounds great and while it would have been really nice to see the John Hughes commentary track on here, the extras that are supplied are interesting and amusing in their own right. Highly Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.