Film Length: 94 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16x9 Enhanced Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
Subtitles: English (Close-Captioned), Spanish, French
Audio: English – Dolby Digital 5.1 & DTS 5.1; Spanish Surround
“So…What would you little maniacs like to do first?”
During the mid-1980s, few directors were as hot as John Hughes, at least in terms of turning out consistently entertaining comedies that resonated with his teenage target audience. Hughes’ films “spoke” to teens like few others, and they reveled in the fact that someone in Hollywood seemed to understand what they were going through. His body of work during over the span of those few years, The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off all seem simple enough on the surface, but are also amazingly intricate explorations of teen angst in amusing yet intimate settings.
Weird Science, for example, appears to be the story of two insecure, unpopular teens that tumble down the path towards self-esteem and “hipness” over the course of an unusual and unbelievable weekend. Careful viewing, however, reveals that director John Hughes has embedded some subtle, more thoughtful messages in this silly, but ultimately entertaining, comedy. Hughes has a real knack for addressing complex social issues within simple frameworks in his films, giving them both accessibility and enduring qualities, two elements sorely lacking in most teen comedies, before or since.
Of the four films mentioned above, Weird Science is probably the most…well, weird. At the very least, it lacks the more subdued, intelligent consideration of what it means to be a teenager that is present in Hughes’ other three films from the era. It also seems to be the most dated, largely due to the wardrobe choices, teased-up hairdos, and ridiculous amount of makeup worn by all of the female leads except Kelly LeBrock. Neither of these observations, however, means it is any less creative. In fact, although the film varies widely in style and tone from some of Hughes’ other works, it only uses different means to arrive at a fairly similar conclusion.
When Weird Science begins, we meet two friends, Garry (Anthony Michael Hall) and Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) who are shunned by everyone else at their school. Harassed by the “in crowd”, including Ian (Robert Downey Jr.) and his buddy Max (Robert Rusler), Garry and Wyatt retreat into a fantasy world, where they are popular, have great parties, and hook-up with the hottest girls (of course there are two in mind). Clearly, there is nothing groundbreaking about this premise. I mean, what teenager doesn’t want that, regardless of how popular they already are? Garry and Wyatt just happen to be more extreme examples of how unpopularity can cause a teenagers to isolate themselves from the harshness of reality by avoiding social interaction outside of strictly defined comfort zones.
The turning point in Garry and Wyatt’s lives occurs late one night as they watch the James Whale classic Frankenstein on television. At this moment, Garry decides they can develop some real insight into women if they can simulate one on Wyatt’s computer (which looks like nothing more than a box with blinking lights on it). Eventually, the power limitations of Wyatt’s PC leave them with a cyber-woman of only 5th grade intelligence, so the dynamic duo decides to hack their way into a government computer network to flesh out the model they are creating. I remember being wowed by this sequence as an 11-year-old at the drive-in, but these effects look a lot worse than they did in 1985. It doesn’t really impact the story at all, but it does date the movie a bit.
As luck would have it, there is an electrical storm hovering over the house precisely as the guys prepare to culminate their experiment. When lightning strikes, it combines with the computer program generated by Garry and Wyatt, giving life to a Barbie doll they hooked up to the computer. Did I say there were subtle and thoughtful messages in this movie? I must have been kidding!
Seriously though, after the woman, subsequently named Lisa (Kelly LeBrock) is created, it turns out she is more than the sex object that the boys might have originally intended her to be. Due to her cool demeanor, boundless self-confidence, and supernatural abilities, the boys let her lead them into some rather uncomfortable situations. Unbeknownst to them, however, Lisa plans to use these experiences to help Garry and Wyatt develop self-esteem and confidence of their own.
First, Lisa takes her two boy-toys to The Kandy Bar, a blues club quite outside of their element, and surprisingly, they manage to come through the night with some new friends. Next, she orchestrates a huge party at Wyatt’s house, which makes him whine like a little girl despite the fact he has always wanted something like this to happen. Finally, Lisa creates a roving biker gang that crashes the party so that Wyatt and Garry will have an opportunity to prove their newfound courage.
Making matters worse, Wyatt is continually being hounded by his greedy scumbag of an older brother Chet (Bill Paxton). I should mention that Paxton is hams it up wonderfully, and is immensely hateable as Chet. It is almost hard to imagine that he has become such a great dramatic actor when watching the sadistic, over-the-top performance he gives in this film.
Undoubtedly, you can tell where this story is heading. Predictably, the would-be heroes come out of their social comas, but also come to learn that the fulfillment of fantasies may not be as pleasing as the fantasies themselves. See! I did say there were subtle and thoughtful messages contained in the film! Fortunately for us moviegoers, the unusual way John Hughes makes all of this come to pass really gives this rehashed premise about ugly ducklings becoming swans more depth and charm than one might expect.
So, How Does It Look?
Since it is a catalog release, I was not sure what to expect fromWeird Science, with regard to picture quality. Thankfully, Universal has done a good job with the transfer, with only a couple of minor things holding it back from greatness. For starters, Weird Science is presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), and it looks very clean, with only an occasional speck or two popping up. Without question, this is better than I have ever seen this movie look before, although most of those times were on cable or VHS. Color reproduction, including flesh tones, is true, offering a good view of how much makeup the women in the film are wearing (you’ve got to love the ‘80s). I also did not notice any compression artifacts or excessive haloing, which is always a plus.
Unfortunately, the image does appear somewhat soft on occasion, with a notable instance popping up in Chapter 16 when Wyatt and Garry return to Wyatt’s house. The transfer also seems to be slightly dark, with slightly below average background detail and shadow delineation. Still, despite these minor issues, the video presentation was quite nice on the whole, especially for a catalog release.
What Is That Noise?
Like the other films in Universal’s “High School Reunion” collection Weird Science’s audio section has been revamped, and is now offered in both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 channel surround. For this review, as I usually do when it is available, I selected the DTS track.
While I can’t say the overall mix is terribly expansive, the front soundstage is pretty wide, and music reproduction, particularly the title track by Oingo Boingo sounds fantastic! Like most of Hughes’ films, Weird Science is somewhat dialogue-heavy, and happily, the reproduction of voices sounds about as good as I could hope for, remaining hiss and distortion free.
Disappointingly, there was a lack of low frequency extension in this title, particularly in areas I expected there to be some, like when the bikers invade Wyatt’s house. Perhaps the source material for a mid-1980s teen comedy has limitations no remixing can overcome. Surround use is also very sparse, even in scenes with a bit of action in them, and is largely confined to an occasional effect or ambient noise. All in all, given the film’s age, I can’t say I was terribly put off by the surround mix, but it did not have the “punch” or sense of space that I would have liked in the scenes that called for it.
The trailer for Weird Science is featured. There is also a recommendation by Universal that you check out other titles like Dazed and Confused, Mallrats, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
The Score Card
The Last Word
John Hughes’ Weird Science is a fun, though dated, comedy about two extremely unpopular teenagers whose fortunes are changed by their experiences during a weird, chaotic weekend. The performances are not as memorable as those in some of Hughes’ other films, the effects are pretty lame by today’s standards, and the story is definitely cheesy, but ironically the movie overcomes these deficiencies to be damn entertaining as a whole.
As far as this release is concerned, I think Weird Science receives a decent treatment, with a solid transfer and several 5.1 channel audio options. Granted, these re-mixes are not going to make your neighbors hateful (or envious), but they do a pretty good job of bringing this film to life. These factors are enough for me to recommend Weird Science, despite the almost complete lack of extras.
September 2nd, 2003