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Blu-ray Reviews

Better Off Dead Blu-ray Review



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#1 of 29 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted July 28 2011 - 09:46 AM

Savage Steve Holland’s Better Off Dead doesn’t exactly know what kind of movie it wants to be. There are touches of a John Hughes-style broad teen comedy like Sixteen Candles. There are moments when one would swear he was in a Walter Mitty-style fantasy film. Some of it plays realistically but much of it seems satirical in intent and decidedly tongue-in-cheek. With a schizophrenic tone that switches from moment to moment, it’s hard to summon up much rooting interest for the movie despite a funny sad sack-leading man and some inventive gags. The movie runs out of freshness at least halfway through and becomes a conventional teen comedy that’s decidedly below par. But while it’s pulling off zingy satire and some hilarious sight gags, it’s an entertaining trifle.



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Better Off Dead (Blu-ray)
Directed by Savage Steve Holland

Studio: CBS/Paramount
Year: 1985


Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1   1080p   VC-1 codec
Running Time: 97 minutes
Rating: PG
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 2.0 English, French, Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish


Region: no designation
MSRP: $ 21.99





Release Date: August 2, 2011

Review Date: July 28, 2011



The Film

3/5


After his girl friend Beth (Amanda Wyss) of six months drops him in favor of the school’s champion skier Roy Stalin (Aaron Dozier), Lane Meyer (John Cusack) goes into a funk that never seems to end. Despite a few futile, half-hearted suicide attempts, Lane realizes the only way to win back his girl is to best his rival at skiing. With the help of best friend Charles De Mar (Curtis Armstrong) and French exchange student Monique Junot (Diane Franklin) who’s an excellent skier, Lane slowly begins to regain some of the confidence he’s lost by his continually failing in everything he has set out to do to impress Beth.


One of the reasons that prevents us from whole-heartedly rooting for Lane to succeed is our negative opinion of Beth from the get-go, ditching a basically decent if perpetually dreamy-eyed teenager like Lane for the champion jerk of the world Roy. With her so wholly unworthy of our protagonist, the audience switches allegiance fairly quickly to Monique even if she’s stupidly tied to the mama’s boy (Daniel Schneider) she’s sharing a home with. Holland (who both wrote and directed) keeps a number of running gags going throughout the film, some of which go into his B and C stories: a paperboy with dead aim on the Meyers' garage windows, Mrs. Meyer (Kim Darby) and her horrible cooking, the geeky little brother (Scooter Stevens) who’s actually an almost superhero popular with the babes and planning his own coup, and a pair of Asian street racers who continually challenge Lane to best them in the most successfully hilarious of the running gags. Holland also stages the best deflation of jerk-jock Roy’s snide putdowns of Lane and Charles ever shown in a film while also filming the various skiing contests with some genuine verve and excitement. There is also a terrifically surprising moment when sketches on a pad jump into animated life and lecture Lane on his poor approach to his problems. Animation goes a little wayward, however, in a later claymation sequence set to the tune “Everybody Wants Some,” which isn’t nearly as clever or effective as it wants to be. In the film’s last quarter hour, Lane gets the expected payback to each of his rivals once the film morphs disappointingly into a standard teen romance.


John Cusack scores points by being less conventionally handsome than most leading men playing teens at the time, and his angst can be both funny and painful to watch (though he ought to be bright enough to see that the girl he’s longing for is no prize). David Ogden Stiers has some funny early moments in the movie, but he fades from memory in later reels. Kim Darby plays the ditzy mother too broadly, and Curtis Armstrong doesn’t make for a convincing teen though his lack of self-pity is a necessary counterpoint to Lane’s depression. Aaron Dozier is perfect as the smug jock, and Diane Franklin as the French exchange student does most of her performance in mime (very well) until late into the movie when she begins speaking English. Yuji Okumoto and Brian Imada as the Orientals taunting Lane are always very funny, and one anticipates their every appearance.



Video Quality

4/5


The film has been framed at 1.78:1 and is presented in 1080p using the VC-1 codec. Sharpness is well above average with the transfer, and colors are moderately well saturated. Flesh tones are occasionally pink but usually very realistic. Black levels are only moderately inky. There are no age-related artifacts to mar the pristine image quality. The film has been divided into 33 chapters.



Audio Quality

3.5/5


The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is surround sound in name only. Dialogue is solidly recorded and resides in the center channel, but the music and ambient effects are spread almost completely across the front soundstage with only the barest of seepage into the rears. There is some effective bass on occasion giving the subwoofer something to do, but the lack of rear channel activity is a shame with all of the opportunities the film has to offer.



Special Features

1/5


The only bonus feature is a theatrical trailer which runs 1 ½ minutes. It’s in 1080p but is in 4:3 format.



In Conclusion

3/5 (not an average)


Better Off Dead squanders much of its freshness and invention with a too-predictable teen angst romantic plot and a haphazard selection of tones that give the film a motley atmosphere from which it never recovers. Fans of the star, however, will enjoy seeing him in this early role years before he struck romantic heartstrings in Say Anything.




Matt Hough

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#2 of 29 OFFLINE   dpippel

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Posted July 28 2011 - 09:53 AM

Thanks for the review Matt! I want my two dollars!!!


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#3 of 29 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted July 28 2011 - 10:06 AM

Matt,


May I also thank you for the review and would

you mind if I dated Beth?


Listen, I wish you were more of a fan of this film,

but it is interesting to get a different perspective from

someone who has not become a cult follower like so

many of us.


Sounds like the film has received reasonably good

treatment on Blu-ray and since my preorder is already

in place with Amazon, I look forward to receiving my

copy shortly.



 

Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner

 

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#4 of 29 OFFLINE   WinstonCely

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Posted July 28 2011 - 10:48 AM

I'm a huge fan, but I don't know that I'm going to buy it on Blu since I've already got it on DVD. I'm kinda like that with most of the older comedies that I have on DVD.

#5 of 29 OFFLINE   Brian Kidd

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Posted July 28 2011 - 02:54 PM

BETTER OFF DEAD is one of the few comedies that I can watch over and over and still experience genuine belly laughs each time. I think it's one of those films you either love or hate. I'm not going to fault you for not liking it as it is definitely not a standard film.
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#6 of 29 OFFLINE   Sam Posten

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Posted July 29 2011 - 12:53 AM

Two dollars!

I lost my signature and all I got was this Nutter t-shirt


#7 of 29 OFFLINE   mylan

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Posted July 29 2011 - 01:02 AM

Somebody threw away a perfectly good white boy, so many one liners in this!
I know enough to know I don't know enough!

#8 of 29 OFFLINE   Greg Kettell

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Posted July 29 2011 - 06:15 AM

It has raisins in it. You like raisins.

#9 of 29 OFFLINE   Craig Beam

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Posted July 29 2011 - 08:53 AM

"Lane, I've been going to this high school for seven and a half years. I'm no dummy." :D

#10 of 29 OFFLINE   dpippel

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Posted July 29 2011 - 10:11 AM

"Gee, I'm real sorry your mom blew up, Ricky."


See what you've started Matt??? Posted Image


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#11 of 29 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted July 29 2011 - 02:07 PM



Originally Posted by dpippel 

"Gee, I'm real sorry your mom blew up, Ricky."


See what you've started Matt??? Posted Image



It's all good. I'm glad the movie has so many fans. I hope the Blu-ray makes lots of money and that will make the studio dip even more deeply into its archives for Blu-ray releases.




#12 of 29 OFFLINE   Steven Good

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Posted July 29 2011 - 04:10 PM

"Mayer? As in Oscar Mayer? Is he your main wiener man?" I saw this twice in the theaters... and really talked it up at my high school. It was smart and stupid, with humor right up my alley. Loved it! So when One Crazy Summer followed, I thought I'd hit the jackpot. Ready for that title to get on Blu-ray ASAP!
Roger Ebert--"This is one more pathetic example of the dumbing of America--to show the films in the wrong aspect ratio to placate the stupid, instead of in the right aspect ratio to reward the knowledgeable."

#13 of 29 OFFLINE   WillG

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Posted July 29 2011 - 04:26 PM

"You'd be wise to do what Mother Says" "Oink Oink....Looking real good, Buddy, Looking real good" "You skate,...I skate,.........We skate" I guess in for the BD, but why doesn't Paramount put together some special features for this? I read a recent article consisting of retrospective interviews with some of the cast, so obviously, there are some willing to talk about the film. Interestingly enough, John Cusack apparently didn't care for the film at all and supposedly lambasted Steve Holland for what would "Kill his career" But you would think that he would warm up to it since it's a very fondly remembered film by many and Cusack went on to have an excellent career, surely in part because of his work in Better off Dead. There's some stories about the film, apparently.
STOP HIM! He's supposed to die!

#14 of 29 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted July 30 2011 - 12:21 AM

I agree. A movie with this kind of cult following deserves some bonus material acknowledging that fact, and surely some of the cast would be more than willing to comment on it.



#15 of 29 OFFLINE   Felix Martinez

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Posted July 30 2011 - 08:26 AM



Originally Posted by WillG 

"...I guess in for the BD, but why doesn't Paramount put together some special features for this? I read a recent article consisting of retrospective interviews with some of the cast, so obviously, there are some willing to talk about the film. Interestingly enough, John Cusack apparently didn't care for the film at all and supposedly lambasted Steve Holland for what would "Kill his career" But you would think that he would warm up to it since it's a very fondly remembered film by many and Cusack went on to have an excellent career, surely in part because of his work in Better off Dead. There's some stories about the film, apparently.


Yes there are.  Here's an interesting read.


And nice review, Matt!  Haven't seen this one in a while and I will be spinning it soon.




#16 of 29 OFFLINE   WillG

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Posted July 30 2011 - 05:11 PM

Wow. The above linked story went into a little more detail than what I had read. Cusack is a good actor, but what a Baby Bitch!
STOP HIM! He's supposed to die!

#17 of 29 OFFLINE   Pete York

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Posted July 30 2011 - 06:57 PM

So Cusack has a snit fit over BETTER OFF DEAD but when he takes a shot at making a comedy the result is HOT TUB TIME MACHINE? Give me a break.


#18 of 29 OFFLINE   scribe1964

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Posted July 31 2011 - 02:56 AM

Interestingly enough, John Cusack apparently didn't care for the film at all and supposedly lambasted Steve Holland for what would "Kill his career"

But didn't Cusack do another movie with Steve Holland???? I doubt he would have done that if "Better Off Dead" had been so bad for his career.

#19 of 29 OFFLINE   Greg Kettell

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Posted July 31 2011 - 04:12 AM

Yep, Cusack did ONE CRAZY SUMMER with Holland after BETTER OFF DEAD.

#20 of 29 OFFLINE   CraigF

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Posted July 31 2011 - 04:15 AM

All I can say is, as a fan of many of Cusack's films, it's a good thing that he didn't do 2012 early in his career. His complaints are empty, spoiled child behavior really. Did he even know about this disc's release? Sounds like not, probably way too far beneath his radar $-wise anyway.