Sony // 1985 // 108 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // August 24th, 2009
Don't Ever Let the Fire Go Out.
Like many born after 1970, my adolescence was at least partially fueled by the '80s movies from the so-called Brat Pack, that collection of young, irresponsible, and beautiful actors and actresses who were often seen together in John Hughes films. I saw most of the so-called Brat Pack features, like The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, but somehow I always avoided St. Elmo's Fire. Part of the reason was a youthful disdain for Rob Lowe and Demi Moore, and part of the reason was that the plot descriptions I read didn't sound particularly gripping. I could relate to the high school angst of The Breakfast Club, but the post-graduation difficulties of St. Elmo's Fire didn't seem likely to appeal to my teenage brain. Now I'm nearing thirty, and I've finally seen St. Elmo's Fire. Although I can see it as an important document of the 1980s and a film that's sure to inspire nostalgia in a large number of people, it hasn't aged quite as well as other Brat Pack features.
St. Elmo's Fire is the story of seven recent college graduates dealing with the real world and each other. They are:
* Alec Newbury (Judd Nelson, The Breakfast Club) is the straightest arrow of the group, and a promising young political aide. He can't stay faithful to his girlfriend Leslie, even though he keeps begging her to marry him.
* Leslie (Ally Sheedy) has a bright future as an architect, but isn't sure that she wants to marry Alec, or anyone, until she's found herself.
* Billy (Rob Lowe, The Stand) is the resident screw-up. He's beautiful and charismatic, but is still stuck in the partying days of college even though he has a wife and kid to support and can't hold down a job. He also has an on-again, off-again relationship with Wendy, the virginal rich girl.
* Wendy (Mare Winningham, One Trick Pony) is the most sheltered member of the group, a rich girl who seems to want more independence than her conservative family offers, but she's also not ready to jump head first into the hedonism of many of her friends.
* Kevin (Andrew McCarthy, Pretty in Pink) is a bitter write who wants fame and fortune but is stuck writing crap to get by. He's totally and secretly in love with a woman whose identity he won't reveal, and he's so uninterested in other women that many people think he's gay.
* Jules (Demi Moore, Ghost) is the resident party girl for the group, and she's in a huge amount of debt to keep up her fashionable lifestyle even as she's spinning out of control from too much fun.
* Kirby (Emilo Estevex, The Breakfast Club) starts out as a lawyer, but when he finds the love of his life switches to med school, and eventually to being a personal assistant to a diplomat. Although he barely knows the girl he's chasing, he does everything possible to try to win her heart.
St. Elmo's Fire is a difficult film to judge. It certainly succeeds in capturing the aimlessness that often accompanies the transition from college to the so-called "real world," and how ill-prepared most of us are to make that transition. It also does a pretty good job painting a set of portraits for a close set of characters who have obviously shared a rich history together. Although everything is a bit too dramatic, fits together a bit too well, there's still a sense that this film is connected to reality, at least a little more than say The Breakfast Club.
I was also generally impressed with the acting in the film. I was already a fan of most of the actors in the film, with the exception of Rob Lowe and Demi Moore. I was worried that the two of them would ruin the flick, but they both give strong performances. Rob Lowe was especially impressive because I'm used to seeing him in more masculine roles, but his Billy is actually very fey, looking like he's wearing make up for most of the film. In fact, the least interesting performance for me was from the usually solid Emilio Estevez. His Kirby is just a bit too hyper, like Estevez was doing too much coke. The rest of the cast performs solidly, from Ally Sheedy's promising young architect to Judd Nelson as Alec.
The film is also a solid nostalgia trip from the '80s. Think big hair, long sax solos, and lots of cheesy synths on the soundtrack. More than some other '80s films with the same stars, St. Elmo's Fire shows the "mature" sensibilities of dress and taste, which means in some ways it has aged less well.
This Blu-ray release is also pretty good. The film source is generally free of damage, and although grain is a little distracting at times, the overall picture looks good. Detail could be better, but the film handles the darker scenes better than I would have expected. The audio is clear, with well-balanced dialogue, and the dated soundtrack comes through loud and clear.
The extras start by porting over all the supplements from the previous DVD edition. From that release we get Joel Schumacher's audio commentary, where he discusses production info and shares behind the scenes stories. There's also the vintage making-of featurette that gives a time-capsule peek back into the '80s, as well as a music video for the title song. Up new for Blu-ray are two different features. One is a short piece featuring Joel Schumacher again, remembering the film. The other is a set of deleted scenes that round out the disc.
St. Elmo's Fire doesn't really have much of a plot. Each set of characters has an arc they go through, but there's nothing really driving the whole show, no big event coming up, or anything to prepare for. This gives the film an aimless quality that mirrors the lives of the characters, but doesn't make it much fun to watch. It also puts the focus squarely on the characters, and although they're compelling, well-drawn characters, they're all pretty obnoxious and self-centered. There was at least one moment for every character where I wanted to smack them upside the head. Character-driven dramas with unlikeable characters are a very hard sell, especially two decades on.
Twenty-four years on it's hard to recommend St. Elmo's Fire to new viewers. It's essentially plotless and the characters aren't very likeable, even if it does offer an interesting peek into the Me decade. For fans of the film, this Blu-ray is probably worth upgrading to for the improved video and extra supplements.
Guilty of being self-centered, although Sony is acquitted for an excellent Blu-ray presentation.
Review content copyright © 2009 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (French)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Music Video