Sony // 1985 // 108 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // November 20th, 2001
You can always count on your friends.
Don't ever let the fire go out.
Everyone knows about "The Rat Pack." Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, Joey Bishop...they were a popular group of wild and wholly stars back in the 1960s. In the 1980s a second generation of packers arrived, aptly dubbed "The Brat Pack." This group seemed to included everyone from every John Hughes movie ever made, plus other teenage features from the '80s. One such film (which seems to be the quintessential "Brat Pack" film) was director/co-writer Joel Schumacher's twentysomething drama St. Elmo's Fire. Starring an array of (at the time) up and coming young faces, St. Elmo's Fire comes to DVD in an edition that should induce your player to burst into flames care of Columbia TriStar!
Set against the backdrop of St. Elmo's, their favorite watering hole, seven friends are about to learn some lessons in love, betrayal, honesty and integrity. Leslie (Ally Sheedy, The Breakfast Club) and Alec (Judd Nelson, From The Hip) are lovers on the verge of romantic disaster. Alec wants to get married, but Leslie's not ready. However, Alec's theory is that until he gets married he can screw every blonde saleswoman in sight. Wendy (Mare Winningham, Georgia) is a reluctant virgin in love with Billy (Robe Lowe, TVs The West Wing), a reckless wild child who is still married and a deadbeat dad. Kevin (Andrew McCarthy, Weekend At Bernie's) is a bitter and cynical writer who seems to have given up on women...until he realizes that he may be in love with his best bud's girlfriend. Kirbo (Emilio Estevez) is a law student who is obsessed with an older woman (Andie MacDowell, Groundhog Day), a successful medical professional that seems only vaguely. Finally there's Jules (Demi Moore, The Butcher's Wife), a beautiful woman who is on a fast track to nowhere with drugs, married men, and too high a credit limit.
After college comes the real world -- but are these young adults ready for the responsibilities that come with growing up and living their lives?
I'd never seen St. Elmo's Fire. After watching it, there was no reason in the world why I should have liked it. It was schmaltzy, it was contrived, and it was cheesy. Many of the lines in the film seemed to be plucked out of some new-age pontification book for the zestfully youthful urban upstart professional. This was, in the best sense of the word, a "dumb" film.
And yet, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed every stupid, silly, sobering minute of this film. Maybe it's because I love the '80s and this is a movie that reeks of that era (at one point a character goes through his record collection and tosses off what seems to be every rock group from 1985). St. Elmo's Fire sort of felt like a mini-precursor to Aaron Spelling's Melrose Place. Everyone in the movie seems to have troubles that they've brought upon themselves due to either A.) a crush and/or sex with someone that should be off limits, B.) booze, or C.) being a complete butthole and making decisions that are absurdly idiotic. Yes, St. Elmo's Fire is just like our lives, only their dialogue is scripted much more cleverly.
Joel Schumacher is easily one of my least favorite directors. This is the guy behind such stinkers as Batman Forever, Batman and Robin, 8MM, and Flawless. Schumacher has directed a few decent movies (including the Michael Douglas vehicle Falling Down and the vampire flick The Lost Boys), but overall this batting average is pretty low. So, it was a surprise to find that I actually liked St. Elmo's Fire. It seemed to suck me in and kept me riveted. It was like watching a late night infomercial -- insubstantial and stupid, yet eerily compelling at the same time.
Except for a scant few, the characters in St. Elmo's Fire are all either weasels, deceptive clods or selfish ninnies. Judd Nelson is his usual arrogant self as he cheats on his bland live-in girlfriend Sheedy. Emilio Estevez plays a man obsessed by Andie MacDowell, going so far as to track her down in the mountains during the middle of a bitter cold winter. Demi Moore is a self-centered tramp who snorts coke and sleeps with anyone who can advance her life. Finally, there's Rob Lowe as a drunken, irresponsible flake who is pined for by Mare Winningham, a mousy virgin who wouldn't know a fashionable dress if it leapt off a hanger and mated with her face. Yes, all these immature characters come together and when they do it's like a car wreck...you can't keep your eyes off of 'em.
The screenplay is nothing new, just a lot of clichéd plotlines and character studies thrown together for our amusement. This character likes that character, this character has issues with drugs, this character pines for the wrong person...blah blah blah. Yet St. Elmo's Fire is able to pull it all off with some wit, fun, and good music (the soundtrack, including David Foster's score, is one of the best from the 1980s). St. Elmo's Fire is brain dead entertainment, yet somehow it all works. Don't ask me how, don't ask me why...I'm as baffled as you are. It just does.
St. Elmo's Fire is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Columbia has done a nice job on this 15+ year old film by making sure that the colors are all even and bright with solid black levels throughout. Edge enhancement was kept to a minimum, as was digital artifacting. While a small amount of grain and dirt show up in a few spots, overall this is a nice looking image with only minor imperfections.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 4.0 Surround (as well as 2.0 in Spanish, French, and Portuguese). The 4.0 Surround track is nice though hardly impressive. All aspects of the dialogue, effects, and music were clear of any distortion or hiss, though the mix seemed to lack any substantial directional effects or qualities. Ultimately, this is a decent if only mediocre track. Also included on this disc are English, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Spanish, Korean, and Thai subtitles.
While I wouldn't consider this DVD edition of St. Elmo's Fire a "special edition," I was fairly impressed with the number of extra features included on this disc. To start off, there is a commentary track by director Joel Schumacher. Schumacher comes off as a bit monotone and bland but he does have some interesting stories and behind-the-scenes stories to share with the viewer. Schumacher pinpoints the 1980s with a slight verbal retrospective about Donald Trump and junk-bond king Michael Milkin being role models for young people at the time when the film was released. This track ends up being a decent companion for fans of the film.
Next up is a nine-minute original "making-of" featurette produced in 1985 for the film. This is one of those typical promo featurettes that is light, fluffy, and very, very insubstantial. There are a few interviews with the director and the cast, but the bulk of this is made up of clips from the film.
A music video for the popular song "Man in Motion" by John "Where Are They Now?" Parr is included in a full frame presentation, as well as some filmographies on the cast and crew and theatrical trailers for the films St. Elmo's Fire, Jerry Maguire, About Last Night..., and Groundhog Day.
I was surprised that I liked St. Elmo's Fire as much as I did. It could be because this movie feels like it's a stroll down memory lane. They just don't make movies like this anymore (and I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing). Columbia has done a nice job on this disc, and the extra features make the pot all the sweeter!
St. Elmo's Fire is free to go, as is Columbia for decent work on this disc. As for me, I'll be where the eagles flyin' higher and higher...yes, I'm going to be a man in motion, all I need's this set of wheels...
Review content copyright © 2001 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 4.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Four Theatrical Trailers
* Commentary by Director Joel Schumacher
* Original Featurette
* Music Video: John Parr's "Man In Motion"
* Production Notes