Release Date: September 16, 2008
Sixteen Candles Starring: Molly Ringwald, Paul Dooley, Justin Henry and Anthony Michael Hall
The Breakfast Club Starring: Emilio Estevez, Paul Gleason, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy
Weird Science Starring: Anthony Michael Hall, Ilan Mitchell-Smith and Kelly LeBrock
Written & Directed by: John Hughes
High School Flashback Collection is the latest DVD release of three John Hughes teen films from the 1980’s. The first one, Sixteen Candles is Hughes’ first directorial effort, filmed on a low budget in Illinois after his success at writing with earlier films such as National Lampoon’s Vacation. It centers on the teen angst suffered by Molly Ringwald’s character as she endures her sixteenth birthday in the midst of many trials and tribulations (including Anthony Michael Hall’s character), while pining for the handsome guy in the senior class. Unlike many other teen films, the Hughes touch combined a basic understanding of onscreen slapstick comedy with a deeper understanding of the anxieties and challenges that teens deal with on a daily basis. Hughes’ films spoke to teens in their own language, rather than something forced on them by adults who didn’t understand the slang. The second film, The Breakfast Club finds Hughes trying for a more classic dramatic situation. This film deals with five high school students (again including Hall and Ringwald) enduring a Saturday detention session and getting to know a lot more about each other than they bargained for. As the characters reveal more about themselves, the film scratches a little deeper beneath the surface than one would expect. And while the resultant monologues can sound a bit self-important, there’s an honest layer of feeling backing them up. The final film, Weird Science finds Hughes trying to cut loose with a simple sci-fi comedy about two computer nerds (again including Hall) who use their PC to create the ultimate woman (Kelly LeBrock). This film has the highest budget of the three and uses most of it for the then-current visual effects that sell the story. There’s a moral here about what the guys learn from LeBrock but the main idea of the film is to watch LeBrock walk into any given situation and shut it down practically with a glance. All three of these films are time capsules of the time they were made and released, given the music and fashions, just to name obvious indicators. The first two reach a little below the surface and the third is intended as a kind of palate cleanser for both Hughes and his audience. (He would return to the teen angst issues with subsequent films for Paramount before switching to adult slapstick and then pre-teen comedies in his final period.)
High School Flashback Collection is the third or fourth go-round on DVD for these movies, not counting appearances on HD-DVD. After an initial bare-bones release in the late 90’s, a “High School Reunion Collection” was released in 2003, featuring new anamorphic transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS tracks, but without any appreciable extras other than trailers. In 2005, a “Brat Pack Collection” of the three films was again released, I believe including the same transfers and some of the audio from the 2003 editions. The current release includes, once again, the 2003 transfers and sound mixes, only this time they have finally been buttressed with a few extras. The packaging proudly announces “Hours of All New Bonus Features”. The reality here is that there are indeed some featurettes included on each disc, with the most material and a commentary included with The Breakfast Club, but the featurettes fall very short of giving a complete picture of the conception or production of these films. The problem here is that the producers, including Jason Hillhouse of the 2007 Fletch release, have been unable to get any participation from John Hughes or Molly Ringwald, just to name the two most crucial figures that would be needed for these discussions. Hillhouse has been able to land Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy for interviews, and even has a commentary of himself with Hall and Nelson for The Breakfast Club, but beyond that he has only a few of the actors playing supporting roles and the films’ costume designer. A little information about the films’ production comes through, but major opportunities have been lost here. Anthony Michael Hall does his best to fill in some blanks, but even he admits he was simply happy to be along for the ride of the three movies. The absence of John Hughes here is more significant than the absence of Chevy Chase was to the materials on the Fletch edition. Hughes is the only person who can put everything into perspective for these films. Sixteen Candles was his first work as a director. The Breakfast Club was his first and only effort to create a serious film. There have been stories for years that Hughes may possess a longer cut of this film that could have been included as a bonus feature here. And only Hughes can explain what he was thinking when he conceived Weird Science. (As a side note, the third film was not alone in playing that subject matter in the summer of 1985. For the record, the other two were My Science Project and Real Genius.) So there is some material finally included with the films on these discs, but much of it consists of reactions to the films by Diablo Cody and Michael Lehmann, which are interesting but irrelevant to the matter at hand. (On the Blade Runner and Star Wars sets of prior years, the observations of other filmmakers were restricted to a brief featurette of their own where other directors could weigh in. Here, we are meant to take those observations as a substitute for what John Hughes would say.) I don’t want to dismiss the work that went into the extras here – there IS some interesting material – but these are unfortunately not the special editions the fans have been hoping to see. Instead, we’re looking at the 2003 editions supplemented with some featurettes that don’t quite qualify as exhaustive by any stretch.
The movies are available on an individual basis, or together in this collection. The collection is packaged in a cute tin that is designed to look like a little red high school locker with an unsecured slip on the back describing all the extras.
VIDEO QUALITY: 3/5
High School Flashback Collection has the same anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfers available for these films since the 2003 “High School Reunion Collection”. They’re quite nice for films that were filmed mostly on lower budgets more than 24 years ago. The Breakfast Club fares the best in the transfer department, simply because it’s the brightest of the three movies.
AUDIO QUALITY: 3/5
High School Flashback Collection has the same English 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS mixes as the 2003 “High School Reunion Collection” releases. There are also 2.0 mono mixes available in Spanish and French. The 5.1 mixes mostly keep things to the front channels, as one might expect. But there is some use of the surrounds for the music and the occasional atmospheric effect.
SPECIAL FEATURES: 2 ½/5 ½
Each of the three discs has a series of featurettes discussing the making of the film in question. The second two films augment the initial featurettes with a little more material. The featurettes for each film have a series of chapters and can be played individually or via the “Play All” function. As an interesting side note, the full featurettes for each film each end with a splash page advertising the “High School Reunion Collection” edition DVDs for the other two films.
I’ll divide my discussion of the special features between the discs:
Sixteen Candles comes with a featurette on the making of the film.
Celebrating Sixteen Candles (38:02, Anamorphic) – Listed on the packaging as an “11-part documentary” and on the disc itself as a “10-part documentary” (it’s 11 parts in total), this is actually a series of interview snippets with Anthony Michael Hall, Paul Dooley, Gedde Watanabe, Justin Henry, John Kapelos and others about the film, intercut with footage from the film. There is no on-set footage and no other material available. As I mentioned, Diablo Cody, Michael Lehmann, Amy Heckerling and others weigh in with their impressions on almost everything, but they don’t add anything to our understanding of what John Hughes had in mind with the film and how he dealt with its challenges. The most helpful interview here, obviously, is with Anthony Michael Hall, who says what he can about the movie, but admits that this was early in his career and he really felt privileged to be there. The absence of both Hughes and Molly Ringwald is keenly felt here. Another actor does give one bit of interesting information – the school dance in the film was filmed without any air conditioning due to the low budget, resulting in an extremely hot and uncomfortable shoot where actresses had to be blow-dried outside between takes.
The Breakfast Club comes with a bit more material:
Feature Commentary with Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson and Jason Hillhouse – For the first time, we get a scene-specific commentary for this film, but instead of John Hughes, we have Hall and Nelson being gently prodded along by Hillhouse. They relate some material about the location shoot and the rehearsals, but their observations are unfortunately limited. It’s a congenial chat between people that enjoy each other’s company, but there isn’t anything groundbreaking here. Much of what is discussed here also pops up in the featurettes.
Sincerely Yours (51:09, Anamorphic) – This is a series of interview snippets in 12 parts, this time with Hall and Nelson, joined by Kapelos and Ally Sheedy and others including Cody and Lehmann. Again, some interesting material comes out here and there – Sheedy admits her on-set nickname for Hall, and all of them express their affection for Paul Gleason – but this is not that revealing of a piece. Once again, the absence of Hughes and Ringwald can really be felt here.
The Most Convenient Definitions: The Origins of the Brat Pack (5:34, Anamorphic) – This is a brief discussion via interview snippets of the label “The Brat Pack” and how that applied to the various younger actors who became stars during the 1980’s. The origin of the term as related to the two films is revealed as coming from an article by David Blum on Emilio Estevez that blossomed into something else.
Theatrical Trailer (1:28, Non-Anamorphic) – A non-anamorphic older copy of the trailer is included on the disc. It’s in decent shape, but there is some dirt and distress here and there on the print.
Weird Science comes with a featurette, a trailer and a copy of the TV series pilot:
It’s Alive!: Resurrecting WEIRD SCIENCE (16:38, Anamorphic) – This is a 4-part featurette including interview snippets with Hall, Kapelos and the wardrobe designer, along with Cody and Lehmann and the other outside commenters regarding the production of the film and what Hughes might have been thinking when he made it. This film, unlike the other two, was filmed in Los Angeles, on stages and on local locations. The final part of the featurette discusses John Hughes’ departure from Hollywood and the fact that he has not returned in years. Two people mention that Hughes had tired of the business side of the movie business, and that he may have moved on to other challenges. Regardless, this discussion does not include Hughes himself, so it’s all speculation. Given that some confusion is voiced about exactly why Hughes chose to make this film after the more serious fare he had just done (and what he then returned to with his productions of Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful), it would really have helped to get some input from Hughes.
WEIRD SCIENCE: TV Pilot Episode (22:35, Non-Anamorphic) – Here we have the 1994 pilot episode of the inexplicable TV series based on the film. The show is clearly a lower-budgeted and stripped down version of the film, with other actors substituted for the film’s cast. It’s interesting as a curiosity, but I found it quite grating after only a few minutes. Picture quality is decent, but the cheap visual effects don’t come across that well.
Theatrical Trailer (1:32, Non-Anamorphic) – A non-anamorphic older copy of the trailer is included on the disc. It’s in about the same shape as the trailer included with The Breakfast Club.
Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish for the films and the special features. Standard chapter menus are included for quick reference for each film.
IN THE END...
High School Flashback Collection does offer some extra material for the first time in the multiple DVD releases that these films have seen. But the question is whether that material is truly rewarding for the viewer. The absence of John Hughes and Molly Ringwald is truly unfortunate, and the additional interview time given to Diablo Cody and Michael Lehmann does not solve this problem. Some viewers may feel that the “Hours of All New Bonus Features” don’t add up to enough to justify purchasing the films again. (And in fact, the total time on the featurettes is actually just under 2 hours, not counting the two 90 second trailers and the 23 minute pilot.) If you’re interested in these movies and have never purchased them before, they’re certainly a step up from the prior edition – in that the same image and audio has now been supplemented with interview material. But if you already own the “High School Reunion Collection”, you may want to rent these before purchasing.
September 13, 2008.