Sony finally provides an updated transfer for its 1985 cult favorite Real Genius, now available on 4K UHD Blu-ray.
The Production: 4/5
Fifteen year old genius Mitch Taylor (Gabe Jarret) has not only been accepted as a second-term freshman at Pacific Tech, he has also received a full scholarship and assigned to work with senior Chris Knight (Val Kilmer) on Professor Jerry Hathaway’s (William Atherton) laser research project. Unbeknownst to the students, Hathaway has agreed to hand over their final designs to military intelligence, who have top secret plans for this weaponized laser.
Director Martha Coolidge (Valley Girl) along with screenwriters Neal Isreal & Pat Proft (Police Academy) and PJ Torokvei (Back to School) have fashioned a smart comedy in Real Genius, one that rises above the typical 1980s teen comedy through its characters, witty dialogue, and pranks the students continually play on one another (turning the dorm into a skating rink, disassembling and reassembling a student’s car in their dorm room) and not relying on jokes. Coolidge also insisted that the science be real or at least theoretically real (all of the lasers are physical effects with the exception of the final weaponized laser). It is also the performances that make the film such a delight to watch. Val Kilmer (in only his second leading role) plays Chris Knight as a fun-loving goofball that always has a sly remark yet does have a heart to be like an older brother to Mitch, Robert Prescott as Kent the brown-nosing grad student and bully always willing to please Hathaway, Jonathan Gries as Lazlo Hollyfeld the way too smart but frazzled guy who comes and goes mysteriously from the dorm room closet, and William Atherton at his narcissistic best as Professor Jerry Hathaway (one of three roles from the 1980s that typecast him as the unlikeable jerk – the other being EPA agent Walter Peck in Ghostbusters and news reporter Dick Thornburg in Die Hard). When taken in context as a film from the mid 1980s, Real Genius has barely aged at all.
3D Rating: NA
Real Genius has never looked great on home video, with faded colors and soft imagery. Sony has now scanned the original camera negative and created a new 4K digital intermediate that was reviewed and approved by director Martha Coolidge. This new 2160p HEVC-encoded transfer retains the movies theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1 and includes both HDR10 and Dolby Vision high dynamic range on a BD66. This is a major improvement over the previous barebones DVD and out of print MOD Blu-ray releases. Colors are naturally bold and vivid without appearing over saturated. Detail is exceptional, revealing textures in fabrics and even the graffiti on the walls of the dorms, not to mention the wire on Chris Knight’s remote-controlled sphere, are much more visible than before. Contrast is also exceptional, with deep blacks that really allow the use of HDR in the opening CIA conference scene to show off the various shades of black and grey that your display can reproduce. This new transfer truly shows off the beautiful work by director of photography Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind). For those who have not yet upgraded to 4K, the included Blu-ray has been remastered and sourced from the new 4K transfer.
Real Genius also gets two audio upgrades in addition to its “original” stereo track (more on that in a minute). The clear winner is the new Dolby Atmos mix, although it doesn’t get a whole lot to do for most of its running time. Heights are used sparingly, but does offer a nice flyover effect in the opening shot as the Crossbow space shuttle leaves the upper portion of the frame, as well as ambience of closed environments such as a classroom, auditorium, and a rowdy pub. LFE is strong, adding some nice low-end to many of the songs featured in the film as well as Thomas Newman’s percussion and electronic score. Dialogue is clear and understandable throughout. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is very similar to the Atmos track but without headroom. Per the press release, both the Atmos and 5.1 mixes were reviewed and approved by the director. The real head scratcher and disappointment is the included “original” stereo mix in DTS-HD MA 2.0, which sounds like it was recorded from a dirty 35mm print with a stereo optical track. The track is full of static, pops, and sibilance issues, and cannot believe this made its way past quality control at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. What is also interesting about this track is that the previous HD digital versions that included only a stereo track does not have these issues. The included Blu-ray contains the same 5.1 and 2.0 mixes, but not the Atmos mix.
Special Features: 3/5
The UHD disc does not contain any extras, but the included Blu-ray does contain three bonus features of note.
Audio Commentary with Director Martha Coolidge: Originally recorded for the 2017 MOD Blu-ray release, Coolidge discusses how the film was offered to her by producer Brian Grazer, the concept behind the opening title sequence, casting, etc. It is a fairly engaging and informative commentary track.
TV Version (upscaled 1080i; 94:59): This is the edited and cropped version of the film created for broadcast TV. It is a great example of how editing a film for both content and running time, plus panning and scanning to fit a 4:3 display can ruin a good movie.
Balloon Chair Deleted Scene (1080p; 22:59): The much-talked-about balloon chair sequence that was featured in trailers and promotional materials but not included in the final film, followed by raw alternate takes from the sequence.
Digital Copy: An insert contains a code to redeem a digital copy in UHD on Movies Anywhere.
Fans of Real Genius will be very happy with this new transfer, a major improvement over the previous HD digital that has been available for decades. The audio commentary, deleted scene, and remastered Blu-ray are icing on the cake.
Todd has been a reviewer at Home Theater Forum since 2008. His love of movies began as a young child, first showing Super 8 movies in his backyard during the summer to friends and neighbors at age 10. In 1980, he graduated to “talkies” with his award-winning short The Ape-Man, followed by the cult favorite The Adventures of Terrific Man two years later. In addition to movie reviews, Todd has written many articles for Home Theater Forum centering mostly on streaming as well as an occasional hardware review, and is a frequent guest on the Home Theater United podcast.
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