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Revenge of the Nerds
Because Blu-ray was made for nerds
Loves: '80s films, Revenge of the Nerds
Likes: College movies, T&A comedies
Hates: That college wasn't like it was in the movies
When I was a kid, I watched a lot of HBO and frequented the long-gone Video Plus in Copiague, NY, becoming a big fan of the T&A sex comedies of the '80s. Escapist entertainment at its finest, these movies combined comedy and nudity to create good fun for any red-blooded hetero young man. Sadly, we don't really see many movies like this anymore, what with AIDS and political correctness, so we can only revisit our old favorites and remember the fun we had.
Revenge of the Nerds, along with Real Genius, was one of the pillars of the genre, and a film that created my expectations for what college life would be. Being a part of my school's talented and gifted program, I, like many of you reading, identified with the misfit heroes of this movie, and enjoyed seeing their adventures. Many years later, the film remains just as enjoyable, and the story is as meaningful as ever, with its tale of underdogs overcoming the odds.
Lewis (Robert Carradine) and Gilbert (Anthony Edwards, "ER") are a pair of nerds heading off to college as freshmen. While Gilbert is realistically frightened and nervous, Lewis lives in a dream world where he thinks he will be a big stud at college and he has a chance to score with the hot cheerleaders. I don't know if it was their performances, but I always sided more with the understated Gilbert, rather than the bolder Lewis, who became the face of the Nerds franchise. Either way, they move into the freshman dorm and tack up their computer posters and begin building a robot, with at least Lewis confident that college will be a great time.
Shortly after they move in though, the jock fraternity, Alpha Beta, burns down their own house in a prank, and decide, since they are the Big Men on Campus, that they can take whatever housing they want. With their coach (John Goodman) encouraging them, and the school dean (David Wohl) standing impotently by, they boot the freshmen from their dorm and turn them into refugees living on cots in the gym. It's here where they meet their brothers in struggles, including Lamar, the gay black guy; Wormser, a little genius fast-tracked to college, Poindexter, a stumbling mess of allergies and blindness, and Takashi, a Japanese student without much knowledge of Western culture or language. And of course, there's the belching, farting, nose-picking Booger (Curtis Armstrong), who's more of an outcast than a nerd, but the nerds are the only ones to accept him. Together, they find a place to live and eventually, because of some troubles with the Greeks on campus, they decide to become a fraternity.
It's here that the social commentary starts creeping in a bit, amongst the nudity and potty humor. No one will take the nerds as a fraternity chapter, except for Lambda Lambda Lambda, a national black fraternity, and that's only because their bylaws say they must. It's telling that a group that has experienced so much prejudice and discrimination sees no problem discriminating against the nerds. It's a mirror for what goes on in real life, as minority groups turn against each other, despite whatever gains they might get by working together. Don't expect this concept to be explored much in the film, or at all. It's just there for one to discover if you feel like looking for layers.
Once the frat is established, the movie barrels on into the well-known part of the film, as the nerds wage a war of pranks on the jocks and the cheerleader sorority, including the installation of spy cameras in the girls' bedrooms and bathrooms, and the application of liquid fire to the guys' athletic supporters. That all leads into the climactic Greek games, where the frats and sororities battle in a competition of strength, skill and more strength to decide who controls the Greek Council that makes the rules on campus. Naturally, the Alpha Betas traditionally dominate the games, but the nerds have a few tricks up their sleeves, along with an elaborate stage show for the competition's final talent round. The great part about these scenes isn't the action, but the dialogue that it inspires, which includes some truly classic lines, including one that verges on legendary.
The true end of the film is a bit hokey, but it does put a nice cap on the previously-mentioned social commentary, making a point about outcasts that makes a lot of sense. That it's delivered with the help of the Tri-Lambs' "brothers" at least makes it funny, but the film has kind of lost its energy by this point, due to the vividness of the games that preceded it.
In watching this film for a 61st time, a couple of things stood out, not the least of which was the likelihood that a panty raid like the one in this film would probably end with he nerds in prison, and the school subjected to relentless protests, criticism and resignations. It also struck me how well it's edited, and how much fun Timothy Busfield is as Poindexter. I enjoyed him a lot on "Studio 60," and completely forgot that he played this part. Every time he gets shocked, be it because of an attacking robot, an attacking sorority sister or an attacking blender, his reaction is spot on, with his fall during the nerds' first frat party being a highlight in physical comedy. Another viewing also made me notice that Gilbert's pal Judy is played by Michelle Meyrink, who also starred as a geek in Real Genius, which probably explains my attraction to her, and why I tried to find my Jordan/Judy at college.
(Note: This release retains the awkwardly-edited version of the film, which removes the part with Lewis holding the house sign, leading the nerds. Why they couldn't digitally alter the phone number and include the scene, I don't know. The cut is incredibly ham-fisted.)
Packed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase the one-disc release features a static main menu with options to watch the film, adjust languages, select scenes and check out special features. Unlike the previous DVD, the memorable menu music is directly from the film's big musical performance. Language options include an English mono DTS-HD MAster Audio track, along with Dolby Digital French and Spanish mono tracks, while subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish.
I gave good marks to the previous DVD release's video, because it looked pretty good for DVD. I can't do the same for this AVC-encoded, 1080p transfer, because the amount of noise and the softness of the image makes it feel like, at times, you've been transported back to the days of grainy standard-definition television. The attic and outdoor portions of the panty raid scene might as well take place inside a swarm of gnats. On the other hand, some moments feature some very nice levels of fine details, and colors lean more toward the accentuated. On the plus side, compression artifacts and notable damage aren't an issue.
The 2.0 track on the DVD release was dropped this time around in favor of a lossless mono track. The mono was stronger last time out, so it wasn't a bad call, but it wasn't a case of a clear victor. Dialogue coming from the center channel is clean and well separated from the music and sound effects. There's nothing high-end about this presentation, and there never was, but it stays out of the way of enjoying the film, which is the key with a movie like this.
The only difference in extras between this release and the previous special-edition DVD, is the lack of the trailer for the film's sequel. That's right. You're getting less. And the studios wonder why they have trouble pushing Blu-rays.
Thankfully, the extras that were carried over are worth your time, even if they didn't get a high-definition upgrade. First up is an audio commentary featuring Robert Carradine, Timothy Busfield and Curtis Armstrong, along with director Jeff Kanew. Unfortunately, Kanew recorded his comments separately from the actors, and they were all edited together, which takes away some of the energy in the actors' chat. The track is dominated by the thespians though, who have a lot of good memories from the shoot, while Kanew focuses more on the production side of the film. Together they deliver a fun, informative commentary, though it would have been nice if they were all together, or, even better, in two separate tracks.
"I'm a Nerd, and I'm Pretty Proud of It," is a 40-minute featurette looking back at the making of the film and its legacy. Carradine, Busfield, Armstrong, Kanew, Larry B. Scott, Andrew Cassese, Julia Montgomery and Ted McGinley all sit down for interviews that are plenty of fun, especially Carradine, Busfield and Armstrong, who were taped at the same time, so they could play off each other. There's a lot of good insight into the film and how it was made in this piece, and the story of its marketing failure is rather interesting.
A group of six deleted scenes, running just shy of nine minutes long, are included separately or as a group, and three of them are rather interesting, including one that reveals an erased subplot involving Stan, and two that are more politically incorrect than anything that actually made it into the movie.
They aren't quite as interesting though as the TV pilot for a "Revenge of the Nerds" series. Starring Rob Stone ("Mr. Belvedere") and Robbie Rist (Cousin Oliver of "The Brady Bunch"), and featuring Playmate Julie McCullough, it's legitimately one of the worst TV shows ever made, as it just recreates the film in a watered-down TV version, using sitcom jokes that were old hat then. Stone actually isn't awful as Lewis, but whoever cast Rist as Booger deserved an awful fate. This is the kind of curious little extra that home video should always seek to deliver to the fans if it hopes to compete with the convenience of streaming.
The bonus content wraps up with the theatrical trailer for the film.
The Bottom Line
Despite the laughable technology references and pretty bad fashion, this classic '80s sex comedy has aged surprisingly well, mainly because of its tenuous connection to reality, even at the time it was first released. Now available on Blu-ray, this underrated film receives a decent presentation and some very enjoyable extras, especially the horrendous TV pilot and the fun, and surprisingly in-depth featurette. Now that it's on Blu-ray, this is a must-have if you've held off, but an upgrade from DVD is hardly a necessity.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.