In the 1980s, writer/director John Hughes made a name for himself as the voice of a young generation, with his films The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. These movies showcased both the wild and serious sides of teens in the 80s. As time went on, Hughes turned his attention towards more mature subjects, and then went to kiddie-fare. But, my favorite Hughes film is his 1984 directorial debut Sixteen Candles, a film which manages to be thoughtful and funny at the same time, and still holds up very well today.
It's Samantha Baker's (Molly Ringwald) 16th birthday. Unfortunately for Samantha, it's also the day before her older sister's wedding, so her entire family forgets about her birthday. To make matters worse, she has a crush on a senior named Jake (Michael Schoeffling), who, as far as Samantha knows, doesn't know that she exists. Things really get crazy when Samantha's grandparents invade the house for the wedding, bringing along an exchange student named Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe). To escape the insanity of her home, Samantha goes to a school dance, where she is accosted by Farmer Ted AKA The Geek (Anthony Michael Hall). All the while, Jake has noticed Samantha, as he's grown tired of his stuck-up girlfriend, Caroline (Haviland Morris). As the night progresses, all of these characters intermingle with one another, and many bizarre things occur. Will Samantha's family realize their mistake, and is there any way that she can possibly have a happy birthday?
Many movies aimed at teens emerged in the 80s, but Sixteen Candles is by far the best. To be perfectly honest, I've never felt that any of Hughes' subsequent films matched the brilliance of Sixteen Candles. The Breakfast Club is often applauded for its realistic view of teen angst, but all that it did was further propagate the character stereotypes that it was trying to break down. And sure, Ferris Bueller is a fun movie, but it's far from realistic. Sixteen Candles does the nearly impossible by presenting the kind of realistic diversity which one sees in a real high-school and balances this with a handful of very serious moments and a healthy dose of zany, funny ones.
Granted, many of the characters (Long Duk Dong, Farmer Ted) in the film are exaggerations and the big party is too over the top, but there is enough genuine emotion in Sixteen Candles to overcome this. Who wouldn't be devastated if their family forgot their birthday? This cleverly simple premise gives the film a great hook, and allows the audience to buy into Samantha's longing for attention from anyone, especially Jake. Speaking of Jake, he's a refreshingly original character, a rich boy who is willing to settle for what others consider to be less. Yet, it's Anthony Michael Hall's geeky character which steals the film and gets in some of the best lines. (There are times when I feel that the movie would have been even better had it focused solely on Farmer Ted.) Sixteen Candles may sound like a chick-flick, but this film has something to offer anyone who's ever felt awkward and left-out, as it masterfully walks the line between drama and comedy. As Samantha's brother Mike would say, "Classic."
Universal Home Video jumps out of a cake with his new DVD of Sixteen Candles. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. For this review, I compared this new DVD with the old OOP Image DVD release from 2000. The new transfer is much sharper than the old one, and the colors are more stable, although the older disc (which clearly used a laserdisc transfer) had bolder blues and reds. There is less grain on this new transfer, but a fine sheen of grain is noticeable in most shots. There are also some subtle, yet visible defects from the source print on this new disc. The major difference is the framing of the image. Although both transfers are letterboxed at 1.85:1, there is more visual information on the older release. The picture on the new DVD appears to have been cropped on the left side. When compared side-by-side, there are objects on the left side of the screen on the old transfer which aren't visible on the new one. I'm not sure why this difference exists -- it may be an open matte problem -- but the bottom-line is that there is more to the movie on the old release.
For the audio portion, I once again compared the two discs. This new release contains a newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 track and a DTS 5.1 track, while the old DVD featured a Dolby Digital mono track. Surprisingly, these three tracks all sound very similar. The Dolby 5.1 and DTS 5.1 offer clear dialogue and the film's non-stop music sounds fine, but there is very little in the sense of presence or muscle to the track. The surround effects are limited to mostly musical cues, and there is zero bass response here. When compared side-by-side during the dialogue only scenes, these new tracks sound identical to the old mono track. The major difference comes with the music, which is much louder on the 5.1 tracks, but this is the only real difference.
There are no bonus features on this DVD.
This new release of Sixteen Candles is a mixed-blessing. As the previous release has been out-of-print for some time, and was commanding outrageous prices from collectors, it's great to have a new, affordable version of this great movie. Yet, the DVD does present some real technical problems which can't be ignored.