Universal // 1985 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // February 22nd, 2007
Don't you...forget about me...
During the 1980s, film and television productions busied themselves with the "plight" of the teenage population of its day. In the decade that institutionalized the moniker "latchkey kids," youngsters appeared to be spiraling downward, wayward, or simply out of control due to the lack of substantive parental guidance in their lives. Yes, this was the same decade that saw the proliferation of that culpable other descriptor, "dual-income," and it appeared that when the already upwardly mobile Mom and Dad toiled to get more, more, more, their pushed-aside children suffered despite the financial influx they otherwise enjoyed.
That's what the youngsters would have had us believe, anyway, and that's the matter at hand in John Hughes' The Breakfast Club, the 1985 think tank expose of the highly spoiled suburban Rubik's Cube generation. The film was an undeniable hit in its day and it brought into existence "The Brat Pack," the group of young actors whose faces would represent the affluent teen "crisis" of the decade. The film set a trend where imitators and also-rans would eagerly mine the supposed angst of the unfulfilled youth. But with 22 years gone by, does the film's original claim and message resonate with anyone beyond its original audience, the thirty- and forty-somethings of today? More to the point of this particular release, is this film the sort of material appropriate to help further an emerging high-definition home entertainment technology?
It's Saturday morning and the usually vacant parking lot of Shermer High School is seeing a small trickle of traffic. It's detention Saturday and five members of the student body are filing into the library to serve sentence for their apparent mid-week misdeeds. Looking at the others around her, social starlet Claire Standish (Molly Ringwald, Sixteen Candles) is certain she's been sent to the, you know, wrong detention room. In fact, Claire's certain there must be a more appropriate area for a girl of her campus stature, and she shifts uneasily in her chair upon noticing the sullen jock next to her, Andrew Clark (Emilio Estevez, Young Guns), an obvious meathead. Behind Andrew is a grubby and absolutely gross guy, John Bender (Judd Nelson, St. Elmo's Fire), who looks like he's ready to slit someone's throat just for kicks. Across from Bender is a gangly looking geek, Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall, Weird Science) whose eyes nervously dart about as if he's chewed a few too many pencils in Physics class or something. And then there's that odd lump behind Brian, a quivering girl-thing called Allison Reynolds (Ally Sheedy, Short Circuit) who appears as if she actually lives in that oversized overcoat of hers. No, these are not Claire's "peers," no way, nuh uh.
Then that jerk, Mr. Vernon (Paul Gleason, Die Hard), stomps in and has the nerve to tell them they all have to write a thousand-word essay about who they are; this right after ignoring Claire's petition that "there must be another detention room" for her. Instead, this creep Vernon glares at them all as if they're scum of the Earth. But really seems to have it out for Bender, who, in turn, seems to enjoy agitating the overbearing prick. With a flap of his hideous polyester sport coat, Vernon spins and leaves the room, reminding them all that he'll be watching them from his office just outside the library door. No sooner has he left than Bender starts in on Claire, mocking her supposed social superiority. Andrew speaks up, not so much to defend the riled redhead but, rather, to put Bender in his place and ensure Vernon won't come back in for another round of his rants. Bender turns on Andrew, mocking his athletic arrogance, and then whirls around to Brian to begin humiliating this obvious brainy goody-goody. Allison cowers in the back of the room, making odd noises as she flicks her thumbnail off her front teeth. This is gonna be a long day.
But just as these five incompatible young people look ready to wage war on one another, they quickly learn what it is that drives them in their social circles and what it was that motivated them to do whatever it was that landed them in detention in the first place. Unexpectedly, the five have begun their own makeshift therapy session, and discover how much they truly have in common. By the time the detention is finished, its likely they'll have gained much more than any stupid essay could achieve.
As an adult, its interesting to watch this sort of film, largely because experience and maturity can make the self-pitying petitions of young people seem so infantile. That attitude, of course, is what these young people are railing against; they always have and likely always will. That appears to be Hughes' intention with The Breakfast Club, holding up a mirror to adults to show them how their overbearing approach can be so completely demeaning and destructive to the up-and-coming next generation. This, ironically, is the perpetual condition of adults as well, who similarly struggle to keep their heads above water in the coldly insensitive and uncaring "real world." It's no surprise to anyone who has given this paradox some thought that both factions are fighting the same battle -- only the "theater of war" is different. Hughes does a good job drawing the parallels between the generations even though, on the surface, it appears he's drawn an aim on the obnoxious adults. The young people reveal very real situations and reactions to the pressures they each face day to day, those imposed by their domineering parents as well as those waged by their campus peers. Through their pained confessions to one another, they gain the rare opportunity to learn the grass isn't always greener, and that they bear the same prejudices towards others that they complain are unfairly levied against themselves. All the while, Hughes sneaks us a peek into the adult mind, which also is inclined to disobedience and finely-honed hypocrisy. From Hughes' perspective, the troubles never change, they just get juggled differently as the years tick by.
To that end, The Breakfast Club does work, both then and now. Its message is simple and hardly startling -- after all, the time-worn narrative has been a key genre of Hollywood since the days of James Dean and the young Marlon Brando. And though it's nothing new, really, it does succeed in exposing the nuanced differences of teen angst through the more prosperous decade of the 1980s. To the original tone of this review, it's amusing to watch these spoiled teens, sitting in the belly of an obviously well-funded school, gripe and complain about how hard life is for them. But the film doesn't paint them as spoiled crybabies from this perspective but, rather, explains how even money and social stature still can't replace the most basic human needs of understanding and acceptance, especially among the formatively confused young crowd.
To properly deliver this message of angst over entering the adult world, writer/director Hughes needed solid actors that could believably portray the personalities he penned, yet who also had the sort of teen marketability that would make this the "hip" film of 1985. He succeeded. His first win came by way of Molly Ringwald, the rather puffy-mouthed pouting teen who somehow rallied all girls of the day, clearly buoyed by her appearance in the like-minded Sixteen Candles. Then, Emilio Estevez signed on as that handsome guy that looked like someone sort of famous, you know. His prior performances in Tex and The Outsiders gave him the right "squeal appeal" that tantalizes teen girls, yet he still could connect with jocks in the audience. Anthony Michael Hall was familiar as Rusty from National Lampoon's Vacation and just naturally looked the role of geek Brian. Ally Sheedy was something of a gamble -- for Hughes as well as for herself -- as the weirdly ambiguous compulsive liar. Her appearances in Bad Boys and Deadly Lessons gave her the requisite edginess needed to bring Allison to life. Judd Nelson had the most work to do in selling his performance of Bender; his previous two films had not provided him the "emotional bank account" with target viewers that his co-stars enjoyed. This likely works to the film's favor, however, as it's apparent that the intensity of Bender is certainly no accident. Nelson's performance helped him crest the hill to gain solid footing in Brat Pack territory. As an ensemble, then, the five actors work well together. There are times when their extreme polarizations work against the plausibility of the situation, but those are quickly forgiven once the unlikely bonding begins to occur, ultimately leading to a conclusion that isn't terribly surprising yet is effective just the same, even 22 years later.
With the film's message still proving to be of some relevance, the question now is whether this is the sort of picture suitable for the HD-DVD format, now at the time of the technology's infancy. Sadly, the film doesn't gain much, if anything, from the effort. The source print used here is hardly top quality, as it displays frequent specks and scratches. That can be excused, though, if the master offers significant improvements in the areas of color, detail, and overall depth. Again, the film misses, since the picture consistently looks drab and drawn out. The colors never radiate (not even Ringwald's red hair) and the detail levels look barely improved over the 2003 standard definition release. Two strikes now -- but perhaps the disc's audio track will bring in a hit, featuring those well-recognized tunes from Simple Minds and Wang Chung. Strike three: the audio offered is a very pale Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 mix that lacks the punch of the HD-DVD mix format found on other releases. While it's a clean and clear mix, it rarely summons the surround channels and never makes the most of the pop songs that it made famous. And as for extras, all that's here is the film's theatrical trailer (available on either side of this HD-DVD/DVD combo disc). There aren't any HD-DVD exclusives to be found. This is truly confounding since this would have been the perfect opportunity for Hughes to unveil the two-and-a-half hour extended cut that reportedly only he possesses. (Universal reportedly destroyed their film negatives after the picture was hacked to a mega-plex friendly running time of 97 minutes.)
Interestingly enough, Universal pulled this same minimal-effort stunt with The Breakfast Club when DVD was a fledgling new format. Universal was somewhat slow to seriously commit to the then-emerging technology, delivering only a non-anamorphic transfer with an empty Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono audio track. Extras on that disc were a virtual two-ply offering of textual Production Notes and Cast/Crew Bios. Fast forward to the present day, and you'll find the same approach is again being taken with the same film, this time serving as Universal's albatross in regards to the new HD-DVD format. So, is Mr. Vernon working at Universal or something, purposely holding back on the potential of the format as some sort of axe to grind with up-and-coming young adults? Seems so.
Although it can be challenging to see well-to-do kids like these whimper over their "terrible lives," the acting and plot revelations save The Breakfast Club from succumbing to absolute intolerability. The film shows its 1980s vintage, but the fine performances on hand help it retain a bit of its original edginess, if nothing else for nostalgic purposes. Kids haven't changed in generations and neither have adults. For this reason, the picture still has a message to share and should be seen. Unfortunately, though, the HD-DVD difference never showed up here, and therefore this is best rented rather than purchased.
This court finds the cast and crew of The Breakfast Club not guilty in light of the communal therapy they have willfully engaged in. Universal, however, is sentenced to appear at next Saturday's detention session, at which it is expected to write an essay, "Who am I to hamper a home entertainment technology?"
Review content copyright © 2007 Dennis Prince; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 2.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital Plus 2.0 Mono (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailer