We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. What we did was wrong, but we think you're crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us: in the simplest terms with the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain...an athlete...a basket case..a princess...and a criminal. Correct? That's the way we saw each other at 7 o'clock this morning. We were brainwashed.
There's a thread on DVD Talk's forums charmingly titled Criterion DVD's - if they're the best, then they should release "THE BREAKFAST CLUB". You might look at that and snicker. On the other hand, I'm sitting here thinking, "y'know...I'd buy it if they did."
Okay, maybe it's not Truffaut, but if you set Stand by Me to the side for being a period piece, The Breakfast Club is the seminal coming-of-age drama of the '80s. It's a movie with an enduring appeal beyond D-list celebrities nostalgically barking out "hey, remember ________?" incessantly on VH-1. The Breakfast Club is the work of a writer and director who really wanted to dig into the minds of teenagers rather than just lift a few bucks from their wallets. Using the very simple framework of five teens on opposite ends of the social and academic spectrum, one high school, and one Saturday afternoon of detention, John Hughes created a funny, sincere, endearing movie that still feels surprisingly fresh and relevant more than twenty years later.
Any review of The Breakfast Club is going to boil down to two things: the script and the cast. John Hughes' wordy screenplay consists almost entirely of conversations for its hour and a half runtime. It's not mindless teensploitation or an excuse to string together a few elaborate comic setpieces, instead genuinely taking the time for these five archetypes to make the transition from cariactures to characters, both to the audience and each other. The point of The Breakfast Club is that as easy as it is to lump people into one of a few convenient groups, everyone's equally miserable in high school. Oh, and despite misery and self-loathing being central themes of the movie, The Breakfast Club is a comedy too (not to mention an eminently quotable one). Deftly balancing that kind of thought and emotion with a steady stream of laughter is no small feat, but The Breakfast Club juggles these disparate tones effortlessly.
Then there's the cast: Anthony Michael Hall as a geek whose awkwardness masks a dark inner frustration, Emilio Estevez as a hot-tempered jock buckling under the weight of his father's expectations, Molly Ringwald as a lip-glossed spoiled princess, Ally Sheedy as a near-mute cloud jockey in no need of the makeover she's eventually treated to by Ms. Ringwald, and, most memorably, Judd Nelson as thuggish John Bender. If not for Bender, the characters might've sat quietly in the library and eventually gotten around to putting pencil to paper for the essay assigned to them. It's his sarcasm and aggression that spark the conversations and arguments that make up most of the movie, and Bender is by far the most compelling of its five central characters.
The Breakfast Club isn't a dusty artifact from the '80s that's only good for a nostalgic giggle. A few lines of dialogue and a goofy dance montage tether the movie to 1985, but other than that, it's aged remarkably well. As many times as I've seen The Breakfast Club over the past twenty years, I still find myself laughing again and again, and my investment in these characters hasn't weathered any. It's not perfect, no, but none of its flaws are grating enough to keep me from overpraising it in this review. More mature and much brighter than the "teen movie" label suggests, The Breakfast Club remains one of my favorite movies from the '80s, and it's a disappointment to see it treated as shovelware on HD DVD.
Video: This HD DVD of The Breakfast Club is a modest upgrade from Universal's 2003 DVD release, boasting more vivid colors and a slight increase in clarity. It's a difference the movie's most ardent fans are sure to appreciate, but it's not exactly night-and-day. The photography's grainy and not particularly sharp, throttling how much detail there is for this HD DVD to eke out. The transfer itself is fairly clean, with any visible wear limited to a handful of small specks. I'm not disappointed with the way The Breakfast Club looks on HD DVD given its age and lower-budget photography, but it's far from standing out as a showcase title, and it's not enough of an upgrade to fully justify its beefy price tag.
Part of the reason The Breakfast Club is so expensive is that this is a combo disc, playable in both HD DVD and traditional DVD players. The standard definition side is essentially identical to the 2003 DVD release, and like most of Universal's catalog titles, the HD DVD side consists of a single layer. Considering the fairly short length of the movie and the disc's scant extras, the lack of a second layer shouldn't amount to much.
Audio: The flipside of the HD DVD case promises Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 audio, but The Breakfast Club might as well have just been in plain-jane stereo. The surround channels are used sparsely, just to give the synth-pop soundtrack a little more oomph and to toss in some reverb as Bender and Vernon bicker in an empty gym. The soundtrack also coaxes a surprisingly hefty low-frequency wallop from the sub, but those infrequent waves of bass occasionally sound thin and cranked-up rather than meaty or substantial. There's a light but persistent hiss throughout the movie, and although the wall-to-wall dialogue in The Breakfast Club remains easily understood from the first frame to the last, it has a flat, dated, lifeless sound to it. Just okay.
The Breakfast Club also serves up 2.0 monaural dubs in French and Spanish alongside the standard set of subtitles. It's worth noting as well that the music from the original theatrical release is fully intact on this HD DVD.
Supplements: Nothing, really. Just an ancient full-frame trailer on both sides of the combo disc.
Conclusion: The Breakfast Club has long been a personal favorite of mine, but as much as I love the movie, its treatment on HD DVD is kinda lackluster. The high-def video is a step up from the DVD from a few years back, but there's a difference between "yeah, the HD DVD looks better" and "that's worth more than twice the sticker price of the old DVD". The Breakfast Club as a movie comes highly recommended, but the HD DVD...? You might be better off sticking with a rental, waiting for a price drop, or keeping your fingers crossed for a special edition re-release down the road.