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HTF Review: "Better Off Dead" (With screenshots)

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#1 of 66 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted July 09 2002 - 11:10 PM

Posted Image

Better Off Dead

Studio: Paramount
Year: 1985
Rated: PG
Film Length: 97 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)

Two Dollars. I want my Two Dollars

Please allow me to get on my soapbox for a
moment. Paramount is releasing two comedies
next week that come as a direct result of the
membership of Home Theater Forum. Top Secret!
and Better Off Dead were titles that our
membership campaigned for the studio to release.
We would like to thank Paramount for listening
and for releasing perhaps two of the greatest
comedy titles in their catalog.

Posted Image

I really feel as if I am holding the Holy Grail.
Better Off Dead is without question one of
the funniest teen comedy movies ever made. It's
one of the quirkiest movies to come out of the 80's,
mixing an off-beat plot with surrealistic humor.
What's amazing about this film is that it's not
the smartest or best-produced movie of its kind,
but it works totally off the efforts of John
Cusack, whose boyish charm (and often) deadpan
delivery will have you chuckling out loud.

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At the age of 16, Lane Meyer (John Cusack) feels
his world is crumbling around him. He has just
been dumped by his girlfriend Beth (Amanda Wyss)
who feels she should be hanging around someone
more popular.

Posted ImagePosted Image

Things at home aren't much better. He's surrounded
by the weirdest and most unhip family ever imaginable.
There's Badger, his coupon-clipping brother, a mother
whose meals literally walk off the table, a dad who
has affection for TV dinners, and a best friend
who snorts Jell-O. To top things off, the radio
in his car is only playing breakup songs and now
that he has broken up with Beth, everyone from his
science teacher to Barney Rubble wants to date her
(that kills me every time). To make things worse,
two Chinese guys, one speaking no English one speaking
like Howard Cosell, constantly want to race him on
the roads.

Posted Image

So Lane considers the next step, and his half-serious
suicide attempts become as hilarious as the antics
around him. Enter Monique (Diane Franklin), a foreign
exchange student determined to rid Lane of his
suicidal tendencies and win his heart in the process.

Posted ImagePosted Image

Will Lane end up with Beth or Monique? Will Lane
win the K-12, the hardest ski slope in California?
Will the paperboy ever get his two dollars?

How is the transfer?

Based upon Paramount's reputation for putting
out immaculate transfers, I was anticipating that
Better Off Dead would look spectacular on DVD.

I hate to be the person to break the news to all
the fans -- this movie doesn't look as good as it

You'll see it right from the opening moments
of the film -- there is an abundant amount of film
grain everywhere. It sticks out like a sore thumb
as Lane (Cusack) steps into his bathroom. The white
tiles and tub are littered with grain. From that
moment on, you can't get the grain out of your mind.
It's everywhere.

The film just doesn't look fresh on this format.
Red color in the flesh tones and a lack of sharpness
in the picture detail give Better Off Dead a
very dated look to it. You can even see a good
amount of film blemish scattered throughout. It's
sort of surprised me that the last 30 minutes of
the film looked better than the first 60 minutes.
Perhaps I was getting used to the graininess at
that point. Through all of this, colors do manage to
stand out rather vividly -- especially on the ski
slopes where you have all the colors set against
a white background.

Posted Image

The stereo surround track sounds pretty good.
In pro-logic mode sound remained strong across
the front channels while the rears provided an
array of background noise from howling wind atop
the California mountain to thunder claps outside
of the fast-food restaurant to the sounds of
shoppers inside a Supermarket. It's nothing to
write home about, mind you, but listening to the
film in pro-logic added to the overall experience.

I just don't know what to make of this transfer.
It could have been so much better and perhaps I
am making such a big deal about such a small film
because it is one of my favorites. The transfer
isn't horrible, but I think fans are going to be
a little agitated when they see this on their
projections televisions.

Special Features

Posted ImagePosted Image

There are none.

Not even a friggin' trailer on this DVD.

Final Thoughts

A bare-bones release with a lackluster transfer.

I feel sort of let down. Paramount obviously
knew the popularity of this film. I think they
could have done more with it. You mean to tell
me that a simple trailer couldn't have been included
in all this?!

I can almost hear the studio whispering to me,
"Buck up little camper, be happy you got this
title released in the first place

Posted Image

So buck up little fans, don't let this bad news ruin
your desire to buy one of the best teen comedies
ever made. Head straight to your local dealer...
go that way, really fast....and if something gets
in your way...turn. Just remember there is nothing
worse than throwing away a perfectly good white boy.

Release Date: July 16, 2002


Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner


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#2 of 66 ONLINE   Patrick Sun

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Posted July 09 2002 - 11:17 PM

One of my all-time favorite movies (spent many of days in college quoting this film with many of my dorm mates and watching it on tape numerous times). Even with the so-so video transfer, I will buy it and enjoy it. "How do you say...Duck head!" "Rick-KAYYYYY!!!!" And the Asian Howard Cosell always cracked me up, as well as the "race" at the stop lights. Minute for minute, this film is just flat out humorous. It gets better with each viewing.
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#3 of 66 OFFLINE   James L White

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Posted July 09 2002 - 11:25 PM

barebones, why does this NOT come as a surprise,kind of pissed that the video isn't up to typical Paramount standardsPosted Image
I think I'll pass unless I can find it for a good price Posted Image but another fine review none the less
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#4 of 66 OFFLINE   streeter



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Posted July 10 2002 - 12:10 AM

Doesn't surprise me either. We can always expect few special features and high prices from Paramount. BOOO
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#5 of 66 OFFLINE   JonZ


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Posted July 10 2002 - 12:44 AM

(In Howard Cosell voice)Bare Bones, not even a trailer,a ok trnasfer,2.0 soundtrack and Ill bet it will still be a $24 disc. This has been one of my comedy faves since I saw it on cable 15 years ago.

#6 of 66 OFFLINE   John Berggren

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Posted July 10 2002 - 12:55 AM

You like raisins... I really wish you had better news on the transfer and the features. I'll see how discounted I can get this title. I've never seen it in it's OAR, so at least that's a bonus.
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#7 of 66 OFFLINE   Chris Brunner

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Posted July 10 2002 - 12:56 AM

Next Tuesday (16th) is a strange day for me. I will no longer have a movie to pine for on DVD. Posted Image

I guess I will focus all of that longing on the 'Better Off Dead Remastered Director's Edition'.

'Till then, thanks Mr. Blythe, Paramount and the HTF for making this possible.


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#8 of 66 OFFLINE   Marc Colella

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Posted July 10 2002 - 01:09 AM

I can't wait to get my testicles on this DVD.

Ummm, I mean tentacles, tentacles... big difference.

Posted Image

#9 of 66 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden



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Posted July 10 2002 - 01:24 AM

Based on the review and screen shots, it looks like a low budget 80s comedy, which is what I expected. I'm just glad that they did not try to "sharpen it up" with EE. I plan on picking this up and watching it after an international dinner of Fraunch Fries, Fraunch Dressing, and to drink...Peru. A year ago, Paramount would have had a MSRP of $30 for this one. At least they are heading in the right direction, even if they still have a ways to go. Regards,
Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#10 of 66 OFFLINE   John Stone

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Posted July 10 2002 - 01:26 AM

Great review, Ron. I share your enthusiasm for this film. Better Off Dead has been at the top of my want list ever since I purchased my first DVD player.

I understand the lack of extras (see below quote from Martin Blythe), but I'm really bummed about the poor transfer. Here's a 4/16/2002 Martin Blythe quote that helps explain why Paramount chose to go with a bare-bones release at this time:

[quote] It was indeed because of the poll on home theater forum that this title got released on DVD. It came to us through CBS and we didn't have access to bonus materials. At least not right away and we delayed the release once already. I suppose we could have delayed the release till next year in order to look for them but fans have to decide: take it now as is or wait indefinitely. As you may know, fans of One Upon a Time in the West have been patiently waiting and they're still waiting... That's the dilemma.

Martin Blythe

Maybe we can look forward to a Special Edition one day, Martin? I'd double-dip this title without reservation.

Despite the less than perfect release, I really am pleased to finally have Better Off Dead in my collection. Thanks Paramount.

#11 of 66 OFFLINE   Will K

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Posted July 10 2002 - 02:15 AM

There seems to be a recurring theme with Paramount's catalog releases of late. While I am grateful of their commitment to OAR, more and more titles are appearing completely barebones without even a trailer(Graveyard Shift, Silver Bullet, Thief Of Hearts, to name a few). I also understand all or most of the 9/3 titles will not have trailers, either. What gives?
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#12 of 66 OFFLINE   Ron-P



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Posted July 10 2002 - 02:37 AM

Major bummer on such a lack-luster DVD for such a great movie. But I will buy this one.

[quote] You make a gnarly run like that and girls will get sterile just looking at you. [quote]

Peace Out~Posted Image
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#13 of 66 OFFLINE   MichaelW


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Posted July 10 2002 - 03:04 AM

Sophomore in HS when this came out. I was in love with Diane Franklin after this movie. Not sure whatever happened to her. Bueno for its release on DVD.
I didn't do anything. I'm a nice man, I mind my own business. So you tell me that's that before I beat the hell from you. I have so much strength in me, you have no idea. I have a love in my life, it makes me stronger than anything you can imagine. I'd say that's that, matress man!

#14 of 66 OFFLINE   ChrisMatson



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Posted July 10 2002 - 03:07 AM

I really like this movie, and I want to replace the old VHS (*shudder*) tape we have. The lowest price I could find is $15.99 over at buy.com. We may be able to do better at B&Ms when it streets. I think I'll wait to see what the Weekly Roundup finds on Sunday!

#15 of 66 OFFLINE   Dean DeMass

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Posted July 10 2002 - 04:05 AM

Great review Ron, I can't wait to pick this up. ****snorts snow**** "Do you realize what this is? It's pure snow! You know what the street value of this mountain is?" -Dean-

#16 of 66 OFFLINE   Jenna


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Posted July 10 2002 - 05:07 AM

[quote] Ill bet it will still be a $24 disc. [quote]
Well, you win that bet...at least at some stores, anyway.
I was a little surprised to have found this DVD already on the shelf at "Fye" - one of the little, expensive movie stores in the Asheville Mall. Talk about jumping the release date...this one was on their shelves on Monday, July 8th! They had it marked regularly $24.99, but had a "sale" sticker on it marked $19.99. (They also had jumped the release date on practically every new release they had out, but the prices were just too high to bother with.)

No, I didn't buy it, as it WAS a bare bones release in the dreaded "snapper" case, and I know I could pick it up cheaper at BestBuy on it's scheduled release date, next Tuesday.

I'd never caught this film until it showed up on DirecTV about a month ago. While it was humorous, it's not my favorite John Cusack movie. If the transfer is as poor as Ron eluded to, I just may pass...

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#17 of 66 OFFLINE   Craig S

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Posted July 10 2002 - 05:28 AM

[quote] No, I didn't buy it, as it WAS a bare bones release in the dreaded "snapper" case [quote] Huh?? Paramount's never used snappers.
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#18 of 66 OFFLINE   John Berggren

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Posted July 10 2002 - 05:29 AM

I'm confused too. This one should be in a keepcase.
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#19 of 66 OFFLINE   Greg S

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Posted July 10 2002 - 05:40 AM

Can't wait!! Now I can finally get the wife to understand what I mean when I say ... $2, I want my $2!!! I LOVE THAT PART!!!! Greg

#20 of 66 OFFLINE   Matthew Chmiel

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Posted July 10 2002 - 05:45 AM

The DVD could've been packaged in a paper bag and had an SRP of $30 and I still would've bought it. Better Off Dead... is one of my favorite movies and on Tuesday I will be buying it.

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