School is something that everyone has in common. Not all of us can recount experiences from Little League or working at a fast-food joint, but everyone has been to school. High school, in particular, is a strange and usually memorable experience. For some reason, someone thought it would be a good idea to place hundreds of young adults in the same building for seven or eight hours a day. These young adults are at the very early stages of really discovering themselves, and are just beginning to make important decisions that will change the rest of their lives. Some of them are angry, some of them want to stand out, and some of them just want to be left alone. But they're all under the same roof.
Obviously, things don't always go smoothly.
I was never really picked on much in school. I didn't try to call much attention to myself, although I liked to make people laugh. I loved to carry on and have fun, but I knew when to shut up (something I may have forgotten since then!). However, everyone can remember a point in their high school life where they felt humiliated, scared, or an angry combination of both. It sucked, didn't it?
Showtime's original TV movie Bang Bang You're Dead is a striking example of the modern high school experience. While violence has always existed in a school setting, the extent of "zero tolerance" and "violence prevention" has never been more prevalent than it is today. For example, I graduated in 1997…while my school didn't have the metal detectors that most schools do now, I remember seeing armed guards and the occasional police officer. I was never searched or questioned, and it's a sad thing that any student would have to be. However, violence is very real and I recognize that. There will always be conflicts and problems, and age no longer makes you exempt from confrontation. It's how you deal with that confrontation that defines who you are.
The movie focuses on Trevor Adams (played wonderfully by Ben Foster), a young man who was the victim of bullying at school, but made the unfortunate choice of lashing back too strongly. He went so far as to stage a bomb threat, but the device itself wasn't active and couldn't cause any harm. However, the threat itself was enough to get him into hot water, both at home and in school. Since the incident, things had only gotten worse. People now thought of him as a terrorist, and the bullying only got worse. He was constantly searched by security because of his new reputation, and he was tortured by gossip and name-calling…whether it was behind his back or to his face.
Anyway, enough background. The real meat of the story comes from what happens after the initial event. After his life has gotten worse, a few people step in to see things from his point of view. Initially, a teacher of his, Val Duncan (played by Tom Cavanaugh) helps him eventually come to terms with his anger through acting. Also there for him is new student Jenny Dahlquist (Jane McGregor), who also chooses to see Ben through objective eyes. Although the character descriptions themselves tend to be a bit clichéd, the overall performances are strong and really help the overall production.
Bang Bang You're Dead is based on the William Mastrosimone play of the same name. It's not a word-for-word adaptation of the play itself, but it uses the play as a plot device. Specifically, Trevor's 'acting' refers to his performance in the school play, which happens to be 'Bang Bang You're Dead'. Through the controversial plot (focusing on a boy who kills his parents and schoolmates), Trevor is able to see things from a whole new perspective. Naturally, the play is met with much resistance from parents and administrators, but the determined cast wants to see it through. While the ending may seem a little too idealistic for some, the message is strong and deserves to be heard.
While it occasionally drifts into 'made-for-TV' land, I found Bang Bang You're Dead to be a compelling effort and worthy of attention. The performances are strong, the production is surprisingly good, and the overall theme is timely and thought-provoking. While it would be great if this film could be shown to students in school, most administrators sadly wouldn't approve. In truth, they'd probably dismiss it just as the parents and administrators did in the film.
Now available on DVD from Paramount, Bang Bang You're Dead can hopefully receive a much larger audience. It's definitely worth your time, no matter if you're in high school or your kids are. While the DVD is great in the technical department, there's not much else to it. Let's see what we get:
Quality Control Department
Video looks solid here, and better than most original broadcasts I've seen. This film is presented in its original 1.33:1 made-for-TV aspect ratio, and is very clean and sharp. The color palette is somewhat washed-out, but this was the intended look of the movie (although the reds seem a touch strong). There were no compression issues present…it's a movie-only disc, so it has room to breathe. I did spot some ghosting (when objects leave a faint trail behind them) near the end of the film, but only when there were instances of quick movement. However, this is most likely due to the stark lighting during the play's performance, and shouldn't be counted as a negative. Overall, everything looks great and shouldn't warrant any major complaints…this is a fine job by Paramount, and a major plus.
This was a dialogue-driven TV movie, so don't expect tons of surround activity. Presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, everything sounds clean and clear. Dialogue is easy to make out, even in the crowded atmosphere of a high school. Musical cues opened up nicely, and really helped convey the proper tone. The music selection sometimes drifted into 'flavor of the week' category (which may hurt this in the long run), but the overall mood is excellent. The instrumental theme for the movie is also nice…it's a little similar to the theme from Mark Romanek's One Hour Photo, released a short time after this film was completed. Overall, this was a nice audio experience, and also helps to enhance the impact of this film dramatically.
Menu design and presentation:
Not much to speak of, as the disc stumbles a bit from here on out. The main menu is of the typical 'cover art static image' with no accompanying music. It's a shame too, as the movie is good enough to warrant more attention than what it's given here. Packaging is a little better, but not by much…while the keep-case artwork is well-done, there's no insert included.
The complete lack of extras really hurts this one. The disc succeeds in nearly every technical department, but there's nothing included to support the movie itself. Granted, this was a low-budget, made-for-TV movie and probably doesn't have much in the way of behind the scenes stuff, but there could have been something more than just 'Play' and 'Scene Selections'. Some may say that the movie speaks for itself, but it would have been awesome to see more footage of actual play performances (as seen briefly in the credits). By the way, if you're interested in reading more about the play's background and history, there's a link provided below.
This was a well-done movie in all regards, and does a good job of capturing multiple sides of high school violence and revenge. The acting (especially by the two leads) was also noteworthy, and helps this movie break the typically corny boundaries of your average made-for-TV movie. The disc itself presents the movie well from a technical standpoint, but I still think Paramount dropped the ball by not going for any extras. Overall, this disc is Recommended for nearly everyone…students, teachers, administrators, you name it (althoug the price is a little high for a movie-only disc). It's not light entertainment and rarely pulls any punches, but that's a good thing in this case. If this was watered down for the major networks, it wouldn't really get its point across. Overall, Bang Bang You're Dead is a striking effort that will hopefully turn some heads, as the message is loud and clear…there's much more to ending school violence than making kids walk through metal detectors.
Other Links of Interest
Official Website for the play by William Mastrosimone
Thomas Cavanagh filmography at IMDb
Ben Foster filmography at IMDb
Randy Miller III is a part-time cartooning instructor based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in an art gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.