Judge Christopher Kulik's favorite pickup line is "Can I borrow your underpants for 10 minutes?"
Our reviews of The Brat Pack Movies And Music Collection (published November 14th, 2005), The Breakfast Club (published May 23rd, 2000), The Breakfast Club (Blu-Ray) (published July 28th, 2010), The Breakfast Club (HD DVD/DVD Combo Format) (published February 22nd, 2007), and Universal 100th Anniversary Collection (Blu-ray) (published November 26th, 2012) are also available.
Don't you forget about me…
Ah yes, three early John Hughes' films are being re-released for the billionth time on DVD. However, this set will actually get the attention of consumers for the simple fact they are not bare-bones. Was it worth the wait?
Facts of the Case
Sixteen Candles—High school misfit Samantha "Sam" Baker (Molly Ringwald, Pretty In Pink) has just turned sixteen, but her entire family is busy preparing for her older sister Ginny's (Blanche Baker, French Postcards) wedding. The house is swarming with obnoxious relatives, as well as a Korean exchange student named Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe, Gung Ho). To escape the domestic madness, Sam goes to the school dance and proceeds to speak to the boy of her dreams, a high school senior named Jake. However, her plans are thwarted by ever-pursuing, uber-geek Ted (Anthony Michael Hall, National Lampoon's Vacation).
The Breakfast Club—Five high school students, each from different cliques, are forced to spend a Saturday in detention under the strict supervision of Principal Richard Vernon (Paul Gleason, Die Hard). There's the Brain (Hall), the Princess (Ringwald), the Athlete (Emilio Estevez, The Mighty Ducks), the Basket Case (Ally Sheedy, Wargames) and the Criminal (Judd Nelson, Blue City). Over the course of nine hours they will examine, belittle, and judge each other…eventually opening their minds and hearts, sharing with each other their individual realities.
Weird Science—Computer nerds Gary (Hall) and Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith, The Chocolate War) seem to have bad luck scoring with the opposite sex. While watching 1931's Frankenstein, they get a great idea—create the ideal human female on their computer. As it turns out, their creation Lisa (Kelly LeBrock, The Woman In Red) turns out not to be a sex slave but a social instructor determined to show these boys the ropes of being cool.
For almost fifteen years, many people have often asked the same question: What in the hell happened to John Hughes? One of the most respected screenwriters of the 1980s, the man is (among other things) credited for maturing the high school genre, giving the late John Candy his best acting roles, and also writing & producing one of the biggest box office films of all time, Home Alone. Over the next 10 years, Hughes would leave directing, follow-up on his Home Alone success with more clones than necessary, and eventually lock himself away in his North Chicago mansion. In some circles, he's become legend. If nothing else, he inspired a generation of filmmakers.
Before John Hughes, the teen film had become all about T&A. It was the early 1980s. Long gone were the days of Rebel Without A Cause and Peyton Place. Many cite director Bob Clark as responsible for turning the genre into outrageous, over-the-top obsessions of male hormones and bodily fluids. Truth is, teen films had gone in that direction well before Porky's became an unlikely smash, telling studios that adolescent raunch was all the rage. In the midst of these bouncing boobs and peeping toms, Chicago-based John Hughes had quietly emerged writing stories for National Lampoon magazine. He even wrote films of the Lampoon oeuvre, including Class Reunion and National Lampoon's Vacation, the latter being based on his story Vacation '58.
Despite being in his mid-30s, some of his stories had an uncanny ear for modern-day teenspeak. As his directorial debut would prove, his strikingly authentic teen dialogue would raise more than a few eyebrows. The attitudes of Sixteen Candles were potent and real—a perfect, mirrored reflection of what teen life was really like, without the studio demands of nipples and crotches. An ostensibly bittersweet comedy about a girl who is taken aback at her parents' ignorance of her 16th birthday, Candles brought a much-needed jolt of truth, involving the genuine emotions, dreams, and yearnings of young people at the time. Sex was still glossed over, but it didn't serve as a superficial catalyst. Hughes certainly tapped into some raw nerves, and his on-target observations remain unequaled and endlessly imitated.
With Candles, Hughes set out with several goals in mind. First, he wanted to tell a story from a mostly female perspective, since most movies before then were about boys and their leering, perverted gazes. We follow Sam most of the way, feeling her frustrations and embarrassments at the same time. Most of the supporting male characters like Ted, Jake, and Long Duk Dong appear and disappear largely into the context of Sam's world. When she knows Ted is strolling up behind her on the school bus, we recognize the dread; when she attempts to talk to Jake at the dance, we feel the intimidating pain; when Dong calls her "hot stuff" and accompanies her to the dance, we sympathize with her desire to hide from the outside world.
Secondly, Hughes wanted to reveal real teen attitudes towards friendships, relationships, and sex. In the clique-controlled world of high school, peer pressure and social status became life's ultimatums. It actually mattered if you were rich or poor, tall or short, Catholic or Jewish, and hot or not. It's a cruel world, full of hazing and insults, though Hughes emphasized more than most filmmakers that there is as much pain as joy. In Candles, there is the unacceptance and ridicule of the Geek Squad (which was led by Hall, but also included a fresh John Cusack), and their constant attempts at being "normal" if not "popular." Seniors and girls would make a total mockery of them and, even if they were looking to be lewd in the nude, they actually had hearts which were easily broken as well.
Sixteen Candles is now considered an all-time classic, a film which broke new ground and remains immensely influential. Still, there is something about the film which has always bugged me. When I recently saw it for the third time, I put my finger on many things which prevented me from being fully engaged and love the film as much as the so-called majority. My conclusion? Candles is overrated. Very overrated. By 1984, Hughes' themes had already been exploited in such fine films as Fast Times At Ridgemont High, My Bodyguard, and The Last American Virgin, the latter of which almost makes Sixteen Candles look like fantasy when it comes to realism of high school life. However, my verdict is more due to Hughes only partially succeeding with his goals, with numerous indulgences acting as roadblocks.
The most aggravating aspect is the disappearance of Sam in much of the second half. Instead, we are treated to the sometimes amusing, sometimes annoying shenanigans of the supporting characters. I especially found the subplot involving Long Duk Dong to be completely unfunny and borderline offensive. Ted's adventures with Jake's girlfriend (a delightful Havilland Morris, who had an even better role in Gremlins 2: The New Batch) has some laughs, but the whole angle is utterly pointless. They seem to be just an excuse for Ted to boast and brag to his geek buddies that he got laid with the prom queen; not particularly original (or insightful) when it comes to teen movies. Finally, the ending left a bad taste in my mouth, as it insists on contradicting the film's authenticity with a scene only found in the movies, not in real life. I felt cheated, despite superb performances and Hughes' exceptional dialogue. I still think it's good film, though I know I'm in the minority when I say I'd rather watch Hughes' unfairly maligned Career Opportunities than see this again.
One year later, the King of Teen Movies would redeem himself. Hughes went 180 degrees with The Breakfast Club, a masterpiece which not only completely blows out Candles but also all genre entries released before. To this day, Club remains my vote for the greatest film about teenagers ever made, in a close race with 1982's Last American Virgin and 1989's Heathers. The screenplay, performances, editing, music, and direction all remain top-notch; plus, despite some dated references, much of the film holds up today as a quintessential essay on teenage growing pains. Even though I graduated twelve years after the film's release, Club was still dead-on when it came to teen attitudes towards parents, hazing among the cliques, and the unfortunate state of the public school system. And it remains so today.
When Club was originally released in 1985, the tide was beginning to turn. Raunchy teen comedies began to be replaced by intelligent, sharply written films about adolescents such as The Sure Thing, Just One of The Guys, and Back To The Future. Even with the brain-dead characterizations found in the slasher films still running rampant, filmmakers took a more challenging channel of thought, when it came to writing teen characters. The following year, we had River's Edge, Lucas, and, of course, Hughes' Pretty In Pink, all of which had flushed crudeness down the toilet in favor of nuance, subtlety, and emotional range. Club's theatrical aura and philosophical nature forced critics to analyze it seriously, even with the moderate amount of comedy. Indeed, its success could never be duplicated, although many have surely tried (don't even get me started on Empire Records or Can't Hardly Wait).
Unlike Candles' cake-and-frosting, fairy-tale recipe, Club had a sharper, much harsher edge. It wears its R-rating proudly (if not deservedly) for strong language, though never gratuitous and always spoken with a naturalness which emphasizes Hughes' gift for nailing teen dialogue. Indeed, the film is not much more than a series of extended conversations covering a variety of topics, making it feel like a film made by Woody Allen or Eric Rohmer. Amazingly, peachiness is avoided, allowing Club to come off more as a meditation on what passes from generation to generation, the years of experimentation and rebellion, as well as the uncertainty of a frightening future.
The brilliance of Club has been attacked many times over the years. Many have noted, among other things, the adult characters have no real narrative purpose, the montages are embarrassing (and nothing more than simple tools to pad the film's running time), and the stereotypes are simply exposed rather than satirized. Ok, fine, the janitor's position is a bit too obvious, but the role of the principal is extremely pivotal, even if he's slightly underused. The film is primarily about these high school kids, thus making it more appropriate to focus on them. However, every one of the adults (including the kids' parents), in their brief scenes, speak volumes about the generational differences and how they perceive the individuals who will succeed them later down the road. As for the montages, I felt they were necessary, if only to avoid staginess and not allow the film to become overly talky. As for the stereotypes, Hughes isn't so much concerned about satirizing them as to merely allude to them, and it's clear he wanted to overcome the traditional, cinematic depictions of high schoolers.
Unfortunately, those stereotypes are in full force in Weird Science. This watchable debacle is pure Hughes on a verbal level, but its outlandish premise, flashy special effects, and loud final act make it tough to take for non-fans. Admittedly, this was the first time I sat down to watch it, and while it wasn't headache-inducing, it was a bit too broad (and stupid) for my sensibilities. The story itself is intentionally ridiculous, which is a benefit in not taking the film seriously. The problem is I didn't laugh all that much. It's clear Hughes is trying to have some fun here, mixing teen innocence with sci-fi madness, but the film plays like some kind of David Cronenberg-like acid trip. The second half is especially troublesome, as it just runs out ideas and surprises. The film also insists on shoving a moral message down your throat at the conclusion, which was completely unnecessary. Truth be told, Science is an acquired taste, and while I never want to see the film again, there is some quick praise I'd like to dole out to its eclectic cast.
The strongest element is the teaming of Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith. They are terrific together, and their dialogue has its fair share of comic gems; the scenes in the downtown blues club are a highlight, as the boys' discover alcohol for the first time. Also, Bill Paxton is very funny as Smith's older brother, though I have to admit it took me awhile to adjust to his mentally moronic characterization. Plus, it's great to see a very young Robert Downey, Jr. hamming it up as a teenage punk, as well as Michael Berryman (of The Hills Have Eyes fame) as a mutant biker. Finally, there is Kelly LeBrock. Is she beautiful? Yes, so I can't hate her for that. Does she hold her own? For the most part. Do I wish her one-dimensional character had more layers? You betcha! Plus, if I ever met Hughes in person, I would ask him just one question: Was Bo Derek really unavailable at the time???
If you scrolled down here just to read up on the discs themselves, I understand. However, prepare for disappointment. All three films have been released many times before, and this is the first time Universal has conjured up some extras, hence the "Flashback Edition" labels. What would normally turn out to be a time for celebration instead turns out to be largely a waste of time. In a perfect world, John Hughes would be around to do commentaries and interviews, but he's only seen in a few old photos and while his ghost can be felt at times, his non-participation is a major debit. I don't altogether blame Universal for this, and I even give them credit for doing what was possibly the best they could with the bonus features. Hughes' absence is one thing, but Ringwald is also AWOL along with many other cast and crew collaborators. Come on, Molly. You mean to say you could do a cameo in Not Another Teen Movie but not participate in any of the extras here?
Among the three, Club was given the most attention, with a commentary, a 12-part documentary, and a featurette on the Brat Pack. The commentary—which features Hall and Nelson—is what I was looking forward to the most, but I was stunned at how dull it was. There is some information offered, but there's an annoying "moderator" of sorts (he had nothing to do with the film), who doesn't even ask questions. He just seems to joke around with the star duo, while going off-topic many times for no rhyme or reason. What a wasted opportunity! The documentary (which runs nearly an hour), is marginally better, with Sheedy and John Kapelos (who played the janitor) making welcome appearances, although Estevez opted to remain at home. To shed some light on the film's cultural significance, Universal brings Amy Heckerling (director of Fast Times At Ridgemont High), Diablo Cody (Oscar-winning screenwriter of Juno), Michael Lehmann (director of Heathers), and some other critics/historians onboard. Finally, the Brat Pack featurette is short and lacking, not really offering much that wasn't already known. Ho-hum!
The ten-part documentary for Candles has more participants, if not more insight. Cast members Havilland Morris, Gedde Watanabe, Justin Henry, and Blanche Baker drop by for some words (that's right ladies: no Michael Schoeffling, sorry!). Like Club's documentary, there is heavy emphasis on scene-reenactments, weird animation, and old photographs; the intentions are worthy, but the execution is, again, unspectacular. Finally, Science has a four-part documentary (the shortest of the bunch) which spends too much time discussing the horrible fashion and hairstyles of the time, rather than talk about the actual making of the film. Masochists will appreciate the inclusion of the theatrical trailer and the pilot episode of the cable TV series, with Vanessa Angel (Kingpin) taking over LeBrock's digital reigns.
Technically speaking, this set is no better or worse than the The Brat Pack Movies and Music Collection which Universal released almost three years ago. Instead of a blue sleeve, however, they give us a shiny, red locker case with the three films inside regular DVD packaging. Not too shabby, except that the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen prints seem to be exactly the same ones offered before. All of the films are modestly presented despite their respective ages; oddly enough, the one that suffers the most is Science, even though it was the last one to be released. Dirt and debris are kept to a minimum, and I caught very few anomalies while watching them; the only downsides are the soft images and occasionally muted colors. Sonically, all three have a DD 5.1 track and a French 2.0 track. Candles and Club also boast a DTS track and optional Spanish tracks. (How can Universal treat Simple Minds with so much respect and not Oingo Boingo?) Subtitles on all three are available in English, French, and Spanish.
Considering Universal's somewhat sorry excuse for bonus features, I must ask: Where is John Hughes when you really need him? The only thing he's ever done is a commentary track for Ferris Bueller's Day Off back in 1999…and it wasn't even included on the special edition! Is Hollywood ticked off at him? Or is he remaining a hermit for his own reasons? We may never know, but at least we have his work to savor and revisit time and time again. He may be no Bergman or Fellini, but his fan base is enormous, and will no doubt continue that way as the 21st century drags on.
Despite their shortcomings, Candles and Science are free to go, while Club is found not guilty and cleared of all future charges it might attain. Universal is let off with a warning because of their good, if misplaced, intentions. Court is adjourned!
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