Anchor Bay // 1988 // 102 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Daryl Loomis // November 18th, 2008
How times have changed. Heathers is one of the great pieces of teen satire ever put on film, but could never be made today. The darkest of black comedies, it seems that school shootings, teen suicide, and bomb threats are no longer appropriate subjects for comedy. For just this reason, however, in a post-Columbine America, Heathers is as relevant today, maybe more so, as it was in 1988. A decade after its initial release, Anchor Bay has reissued this fantastic film in a two-disc standard edition, a single-disc Blu-Ray, and this limited edition collector's set, which contains all three of these discs in a metal locker with a slew of extra goodies that are the picture of excess and the perfect gift for obsessive Heathers fans, of which there are more than a few.
The Westerburg High School class of 1988 is ruled by the Swatch Dogs and Diet Coke Heads. Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder, A Scanner Darkly) is part of the Heathers clique. Led by Heather Chandler (Kim Walker, Say Anything...) and alongside Heather McNamera (Lisanne Falk, Less Than Zero) and Heather Duke (Shannen Doherty, Blindfold: Acts of Obsession), this fearsome foursome has an iron clutch on the campus. When they're not at college parties or purging their lunches, they make their classmates' lives miserable. But the tides of power are shifting. Jason Dean (Christian Slater, Hard Rain) has arrived in town and Veronica's smitten with his motorcycle and his rebel ways. He has a bone to pick with the school elite, however, and he's about to make Veronica's most violent dreams come true.
Heathers is one of those movies that I saw when I was young that I continue to revere today. Like much that I loved as a kid, I have to forgive big problems with most of my early favorites (such as Bloodsport or The Last Starfighter) based on when they were made and the place I was in when I first saw them. Not so with Heathers. It isn't just the strong performances or the wickedly dark writing. For a film with such satirical bite upon its release, this has only grown in its aftermath. The initial DVD release of the film came out a little over two years after the Columbine High School massacre helped to usher in the fad of school shootings and just weeks after 9/11. In light of these sad facts, it became clear that Heathers had something that its teen comedy contemporaries did not. Stomping on the blind optimism that plagued so many John Hughes movies from the same period, it took jab after cynical jab, from the teen perspective, at the dishonest and self-serving ways that people act in light of tragedy.
As much as Heathers skewers society in this way, it also give a realistic, if a little exaggerated, portrayal of the piranha-filled waters of high school life. The godmother of films like Mean Girls, this is a society filled with cliques that despise each other. There is no better day coming; these groups will not get along all of a sudden. This is a kill-or-be-killed world, and the Heathers reign supreme. Veronica may not like her friends very much, but she clearly knows that it is better to be with the Heathers than against them and, for sheer survival, she's willing to endure her abuse at their hands and use her own to inflict her own, sometimes on others and sometimes on herself.
Expertly written by Daniel Waters (Sex and Death 101), directed by Michael Lehmann (Hudson Hawk), and performed by the entire cast, Heathers takes multiple viewings to fully appreciate. From the infinitely quotable, razor sharp dialog to the subtly elaborate production design to the mounds of anachronisms and surreal imagery, this is the best work in the careers of everyone involved. Truly breakout performances from Ryder and Slater, they have fantastic onscreen chemistry and there is nobody I could imagine playing Veronica or J.D. (though Jennifer Connelly was originally slated for Ryder's part).
Enough about the film, though, as the Verdict has plenty of great reviews of Heathers, this review is on the box set and there's plenty to talk about. With both standard definition and Blu-ray copies of the film, it's easy to give a side by side comparison of the two versions. Anchor Bay appears to have eliminated some of the transfer errors from their original version but, otherwise, this is the exact same transfer as before. It looks better than it ever did on video, but the colors are washed out and there is consistent grain throughout the film. The Blu-ray, on the other hand, while not sporting the awe-inspiring image of some new discs, it is a massive improvement over its SD cousin. Strong color saturation and black levels with nearly pristine clarity, Heathers has never looked better, and you can really see the detail on those Swatches. The sound is equal to the picture on both counts, as well. The surround track on the standard disc is not noticeably different from the old release. It is clear enough, but there is little in the way of spatial effects and scant use of the surround channels. On the Blu-ray side, another significant improvement. While, once again, an imperfect mix, it does represent the film very well. The dialogue and sound effects can be heard loud and clear in the Dolby True-HD surround track, allowing the background noise to be heard better than ever before.
The extras on both the SD and Blu-ray editions are identical, though the ones in High Def do look a little better. Unfortunately, though, aside from one featurette, they are also the same as those from the original release. First, the seminal documentary on the film, Swatch Dogs and Diet Coke Heads, gives viewers basically everything they would want to know about the film. Through interviews with the principle members of the cast and crew, we learn of the problems with release and distribution, on-set anecdotes, and its impact since its release. It's a good collection of interviews, one that makes me smile every time I've seen it. Also from the original DVD release, a commentary with director Lehmann, writer Waters, and producer Denise Di Novi, who rehash much of the material from the documentary, but is also an interesting listen. The only new feature on the discs is a second featurette, Return to Westerburg High. With a little time and distance, many of the cast and crew are back to discuss the film anew. Again, there is a lot of rehashed information, but it is valuable to hear how their perspectives on the film have changed. Finally, the original trailer and the original, far darker, ending (in script form) is available on DVD-ROM.
On its own, it's a good DVD with interesting, if redundant, special features. Together with this collector's edition box, it is the definitive release of this cult classic, one that more than dwarfs the original tin collector's box that Anchor Bay released. It all comes inside of a baby blue metal locker (though the lock dial does not turn, it is still a nice looking box). The discs are housed together in a fully signed black yearbook-style case with 20 pages of information about the film, ads for products and businesses mentioned in the movie, and other little tidbits. Along with this, we have a fake Algebra book that contains one of three collectible T-shirts. One is a white Big Fun band shirt, one is black with white lettering that reads "What's your damage?," and the third, the one I received and the only one I didn't want, a black shirt that reads "Greetings and salutations." Oh, well, you can't have it all, I guess. To top it off, a sheet of magnets allows you to express your love for Heathers on your fridge with catch phrases from the movie and pictures from the characters. Now I can declare "I heart Hull Clean" and "What's your damage" to anyone looking at my fridge.
Maybe I'd have wanted more substantial special features on the disc aside from the rehashed documentaries and commentary. Maybe the picture could have looked a little better (especially on the standard definition disc). Maybe I got the only one of the three shirts that I didn't like. So what? This is the definitive edition of one of my favorite films, and I'm thrilled that Anchor Bay went to the trouble they did. This is one of the best DVD releases of the year, and may be my top choice for the year. Go Rottweilers!
One of these nights, your friends are going to come over to play some croquet
and maybe eat some pate. Afterward, you'll all retire up to your room and, when
they see this collector's set sitting on the shelf, they're going to look at you
and say, "Wow, Heather, your locker is so very!"
Review content copyright © 2008 Daryl Loomis; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Top 100 Films: #88
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, True HD)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Audio Commentary
* "Swatch Dogs and Diet Coke Heads"
* "Return to Westerburg High"
* Original ending screenplay excerpt (DVD-ROM)
* Collectible locker box
* Refrigerator Magnets