Lionsgate // 1990 // 96 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // September 12th, 2008
Hired to Teach. Programmed to Kill.
"The mind is a terrible thing to waste -- don't make me waste yours."
A semi-sequel to Class of 1984, Class of 1999 is set in a world gone mad with teenagers running riot. With violence on the rise and no-go zones becoming increasingly common, drastic action is called for.
Into the fray steps school headmaster Miles Longford (Malcolm McDowell, A Clockwork Orange); in partnership with scientist Bob Forrest (Stacy Keach, Man with the Screaming Brain), he secretly places robot teachers in the school.
The teachers start out well, managing to exert some control over the disruptive teenagers, but then they go too far and students start dying.
Recently released from jail and returned to school to test out the new system, Cody Culp (Bradley Gregg) soon grows suspicious of the new teachers. Aided by Christie Longford (Tracy Lin), the headmaster's daughter, Cody sets out to expose the truth and take down the school's new violent regime.
High-school delinquents clash with The Terminator in Class of 1999, one of the more enjoyable slices of trash cinema from my childhood. With exploitation movie favorite Pam Grier (Jackie Brown) as a killer robot, students who look like extras from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and Stacy Keach sporting what looks like a dead rat on his head while wearing the most striking set of contact lenses imaginable, what's not to like?
Director Mark L. Lester's vision of the future is one that could only come from the eighties (yes, the film may have been released in 1990 but trust me, this is very much a product of the eighties). Although some good location work and cinematography help to create a convincing vision of a world on the brink, the costume design is so gloriously over the top as to border on camp. Tight, multicolored leggings, bulky leather jackets, and ridiculous headwear are sure to elicit a few giggles from viewers, especially those not old enough to remember the eighties.
That's not to say all the laughs are unintentional. On the contrary, Class of 1999 is a darkly comic tale with plenty of humorous moments, such as the protocols given to each of the robots for handling the students, which include "Karate Moves" and "Fight Combination #1." Similarly, John P. Ryan's Mr. Hardin, a real stickler for discipline, hands out the most severe ass-spanking since my trip to Amsterdam that I'd rather not talk about.
Though never fully explored, the film is, at its core, an observation on society's breakdown, simultaneously offering an extreme example of the old violence breeding violence maxim. But fear not, action fans, the themes in the film are all just an excuse to have robots ramming their fists through victims' chests and for Stacy Keach to glare maniacally every time he's on screen.
Since it's shot on a relatively small budget, effects work in Class of 1999 is understandably limited. In spite of this, the work provided by the effects team frequently impresses. From Pam Grier sporting a flamethrower attachment on her arm to students being ripped in two, the makeup and prosthetics employed show that a small budget needn't mean a lack of ambition. The film's finale, which really ups the Terminator influence to near-breaking point, is fantastic; it's a crescendo of gore-soaked violence that delivers on the promise the DVD blurb made. So often smaller-budgeted movies do all they can to avoid the big action sequences, but not here. The last 20 minutes sees all hell break loose, as the students take the battle to the teachers. Sure, the attempts at aping The Terminator, replete with an exposed exoskeleton adorned with the odd piece of flesh, may look more like something out of Gerry Anderson's nightmares than James Cameron's classic, but once again, the spirit of the movie wins out.
The disc's 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer contains an extremely lively color palette, lending the film a comic book feel. Unfortunately the image is marred by a soft appearance, with frequent artifacting. Still, the picture quality is acceptable when taking into account the film's age and budget. The film's audio, presented here in the Dolby Digital 2.0 format, has its moments, but is rather nondescript. Dialogue is clear, with decent bass levels when the action kicks in.
Setting the movie in 1999, only nine years into the future at the time of the film's release, wasn't the smartest move. Firstly, it instantly dates the movie, and secondly, there was a great amount of faith, on the writers' part, to assume the field of robotics would advance so quickly. Still, the movie is so much fun it's really hard to care.
More pressingly, it would have been nice to see some extras on the disc. Bar several trailers, there's zero added value to this release, which is just poor.
A film like Class of 1999 doesn't aspire to be anything more than a rollicking good time. What little social commentary there is never goes too deep, giving the viewer a cerebral workout is the last thing on its mind. This is high-concept action moviemaking to savor. While Class of 1999 may splutter when dealing with lengthy exposition, with hackneyed dialogue to boot, the screenplay avoids taking itself too seriously and revels in its B-movie roots. Like it or not, it's hard not to admire and get caught up in the goofiness of it all.
The film is not guilty. Although it is commended for releasing the film, Lionsgate is asked to stay behind after class because it put out such a poor disc.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Unrated