Vision Quest (Warner Archive Collection)
Warner Bros. // R // $21.99 // May 16, 2017
Review by Tyler Foster | posted June 7, 2017
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
E - M A I L
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
Louden Swain (Matthew Modine) is nothing if not committed. At the beginning of the wrestling season, he's got one goal: drop two weight classes so that he can fight the district's most formidable challenger, Shute (Frank Jasper). His best friend Kuch (Michael Shoeffling) thinks he's crazy (while being reasonably supportive), his coach (Charles Hallahan) is skeptical that Louden can pull it off without hurting the team, and Louden's dad (Ronny Cox) is just concerned for Louden's health. Despite the protestations of his teammates, Louden runs everywhere, eats almost nothing, and thinks about little else...until he and his father end up taking on a down-on-her-luck artist named Carla (Linda Fiorentino) while she waits for her car to be repaired. With the big bout between himself and Shute on the horizon, Louden has to figure out what exactly he wants -- not just in terms of the wrestling season, but his entire future.

Vision Quest is a strange little movie. Despite the structure that aims the film at a "big game"-type showdown, this isn't a sports movie. The tone and approach of the movie is more subtle than the average teen movie, not to mention it's rated R, which may have limited its audience in 1985. It's centered around a romance, which alternates between content that would be questioned today and surprisingly modern insight. The film lives and dies on the strength of its central performance by Matthew Modine, who exudes a pure and disarmingly clueless innocence that helps the movie skate past more than a few rough patches. It'd be easy to imagine the film's appeal is purely nostalgic, but it's unique enough that it's easy to imagine new viewers might like its' specific concoction of ingredients.

The core conflict in Vision Quest isn't Shute, or Louden achieving his goals, or even the romance, but a decidedly adult perspective on teenage dreams: high school is only temporary, and life moves on. Louden may fall for Carla, but Carla has dreams of her own, dreams which will take her thousands of miles away and have nothing to do with a gawky high schooler whose whole life is wrestling. The wrestling itself may lead to a scholarship, but unless it's what Louden wants to do with his life, that too is finite, a goal that will last him one summer. Around Louden, other characters struggle with the same passage of time: Kuch is trapped between an abusive father and a depressing career in the military, and Louden's chef co-worker at a swanky hotel, Elmo (J.C. Quinn) seems to be living vicariously through the potential ahead of Louden -- not even his specific accomplishments, but the fact that Louden still has time to choose who or what he's going to become.

This dynamic also plays out in Louden and Carla's courtship, with Carla a more wise 20-something to Louden's clueless 18. The strength of Fiorentino's performance lies in realizing that difference in experience, even when Louden's behavior is really kinda creepy. It's a testament to both performers that a scene where Carla catches Louden sniffing her underwear, or another where he confesses how many wet dreams he has end up being less awful than they sound on paper: his unwavering sweetness and her wry amusement go a long way. Unlike many teen films of the 1980s, the screenplay by Darryl Ponicsan seems to actually respect the idea of Carla as her own person, on a path that won't be detoured by a high school crush. There's some clash between the way the film dramatizes how Louden's obsessive training is taking a toll on him and the way Carla pushes him to stick to his goals and focus on more than her, but again, there's enough in Fiorentino's performance to make it work.

There are a couple of minor issues: it's hard to understand why Carla would stand for some of Louden's reaction when he briefly believes that she's slept with his favorite teacher, Tanneran (Harold Sylvester). In fact, the character of Tanneran, as good as he is, is one of no less than five father figures for Louden. The film doesn't actually feel bloated or weighed down by the inclusion of dad, grandpa (Roberts Blossom), Coach, Elmo, and Tanneran, but there is a sense that these could've been condensed these into fewer characters. There's also an awkward early scene where Louden flees an overly gropey male guest in the hotel that reeks of homophobia, but that too is defused by Modine's affable nature. Louden is upset in the moment, but recounting it to Kuch later, he seems to take it in stride. There is also Daphne Zuniga, as school paper editor Maggie, a character that feels as if she's being set up as a future romance for Louden, especially when he writes a paper on the clitoris that she raves about, only to end up fading into the background as the film draws to a climax.

The Blu-ray
Warner Archive follows its usual template with Vision Quest -- the art from their DVD, reformatted for the different dimensions of a Viva Elite Blu-ray case (non-eco-friendly), with Archive Collection branding on the front. The art is laser-printed rather than professionally done, but the disc itself is a pressed Blu-ray and not a BD-R like some MOD services offer. My only quibble -- still uncorrected from the very first WAC Blu-rays -- is that the spine width isn't quite large enough, so the edges of the front and back curl around onto the spine.

The Video and Audio
After languishing for many years as a full-screen only DVD, and then finally a widescreen SD presentation via Archive, Vision Quest gets a 2K-remastered 1.78:1 1080p AVC transfer that is about as good as any fan could hope for. The cinematography, by French Connection DP Owen Roizman, has a grittiness to it that helps ground the film more than other teen films of the same era, and that grittiness is retained in this faithful, nicely textured transfer. Colors, including the red that Louden is often dressed in, have a nice pop, and skintones appear nicely accurate throughout. The only minor quibble is that some of the night sequences tilt teal, but it's hard to tell if that's accurate to the original photography or the transfer's one modern indulgence. Sound is a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track that mostly offers a richer and expanded space for the film's soundtrack to play out in, as this is a character piece more interested in conversations than "action." The resulting track isn't necessarily crisp, but it does seem faithful. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.

The Extras
Warner Archive has not produced any new extras for this release. The only supplement is two original theatrical trailers, a greenband and a redband, which at least has a bit of historical curiosity to it. I'm pretty sure both trailers contain a single deleted shot of Linda Fiorentino, as well.

Conclusion
While I was watching Vision Quest I wasn't quite sure what Becker and Ponicsan were out to accomplish, but ruminating on the film a couple of days later, I have a certain admiration for its sober perspective on high school as merely the first step n a person's life. It's rife with familiar faces (including Madonna, in her first feature film appearance, performing songs in a bar), a bit more stylish than its contemporaries, and quietly unique. Warner Archive's Blu-ray gives the film a strong persentation, even if it remains bereft of extras. Recommended.



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