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Movies are products of their times, so it's unfair for some films to be deemed socially backwards when the behavior they depict was accepted at the time. However, there are such issues that are so glaring, that they become the elephant in the room no one talks about, all in the name of nostalgia. It might be easy to ignore the elephant if there's one, but when there are two, most oxygen and space is sucked out of the room, and someone has to mention it.
Make no mistake that even without the elephants, Sixteen Candles, the only 1980s John Hughes flick that I hadn't seen until now, doesn't really work as an insightful and charming story of sixteen-year-old Samantha (Molly Ringwald) coming of sexual age while frustrated with the lack of respect and attention she gets from the people around her. The characters are fairly depthless and lean too heavily on their archetypical natures, even for an ‘80s high school comedy.
This was Hughes' first directorial effort, and the uneven pacing, as well the unfocused narrative, showcases this. His later work certainly found more of a balance between his quirky sensibilities as a writer, and relatability to the characters. Here, they mostly come across as peons for a string of horny jokes. I'm sure a lot of my negative reaction comes from a combination of having this film propped up to me over decades as a beloved Hughes classic, and the fact that I don't hold any nostalgic views about it at all.
Now for the elephants: The film's blatant racism was already uncomfortable at the time, nowadays it makes the film pretty much unwatchable. Sure, Ringwald exudes a natural lovability the way Audrey Hepburn did in Breakfast at Tiffany's, but modern audiences might stay away from both because of their depictions of Asian-American characters. At least in the case of Sixteen Candles, the character is played by a real Asian in the form of Gedde Watanebe's Long Duk Dong, but his exaggerated accent and goofy comic relief behavior (He's Asian but he's somehow interested in sex is the joke) is underlined further by the use of the stereotypical gong sound every time he appears. Let's not even mention the banter between Samantha and her best friend Randy (Liane Curtis), where Samantha tells her that her dream is a Trans Am and a "pink" guy.
The second elephant is another touchy subject: Rape. There's a significant sub-plot where Samantha's love interest Jake (Michael Schoeffling), who's supposed to be a prince charming type, offers his girlfriend Caroline (Havilland Morris) to a horny but "good-hearted" geek named, well, Geek (Snthony Michael Hall). The plan is for Geek to pretend to be Jake and have sex with the blackout drunk Caroline. The sub-plot is played solely for laughs, and perhaps more insultingly, is turned into a sweet meet-cute.
Arrow once again knocks it out of the park with a stunning transfer. The overuse of digital scrubbing from the previous release is mostly gone, giving way to a clear transfer that also retains the grain of the period. The transfer finds a perfect spot between digital clarity and capturing the suburban serenity of Hughes' work.
We get three audio tracks. Two are in DTS-HD 2.0 and 5.1. The 5.1 track captures a nice balance between the ambiant sounds and the dialogue, making the audience feel entrenched to this world. The real reason to crank up the surround system is of course to experience the wall-to-wall 80s pop soundtrack. In that sense the surround track really comes to life, with a surprisingly strong assist from the subwoofer. There's also an extra treat in the form of the VHS and Laserdisc soundtrack in DTS-HD 2.0. A lot of the songs from the theatrical release had to be replaced on home video because the rights lapsed in the ‘90s. This is a great opportunity for budding filmmakers to compare how the tone of any scene can change depending on the music that was used.
Extended Version: We get the addition of a cafeteria scene that doesn't add much to the story. You can watch it separately as well.
Casting Sixteen Candles: The casting director Jackie Burch gives us a candid look at how the mostly newcomer cast was discovered.
When Gedde Met Deborah: Watanebe and Deborah Pollack, who played his love interest in the film, talk about their production experiences in an open and loose-conversation way.
Rudy The Bohunk: This is part of Arrow's usual addition of deep cuts for deep fans. John Kapelos, who has a very small role in the film, talks about how he was cast.
The New Wave Nerd: Director Adam Rifkin (Detroit Rock City) was an extra on set, and talks about how the production was from the perspective of an outsider. This is a great interview for filmmakers who want to learn how to shadow more experienced directors.
The In-Between: A short interview with camera operator Gary Kibbe.
Music for Geeks: Interview with composer Ira Newborn.
A Very Eighties Fairytale: This is a fascinating visual essay by Saraya Roberts. It's very rare for studios to release extra features that actually criticize the film they're on. Roberts expertly lays out the many issues with the film, mostly related to old fashioned gender identities.
Celebrating Sixteen Candles: An expansive making-of documentary that was included in previous DVD and blu-ray releases.
We also get Trailers, TV Spots, Radio Spots, and Image Galleries.
If you're already one of the millions of die-hard fans of Sixteen Candles, then my review shouldn't mean anything. In that case, this is a clear and strong Recommend since Arrow offers a perfect A/V transfer, as well as tons of extras. If you're a newcomer, I don't think the film's intended sweetness can overcome its bevy of narrative and social problems.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com