"High School Flashback Collection" DVD Review
October 03, 2008 by Zach Demeter
The John Hughes movies that found their way onto movie screens in the mid 1980s were forever engrained into the heads of those who saw them. Hughes created characters that were easily identified by those watching the film and to this day they still remain as fresh as ever. Although Hughes eventually removed himself from filmmaking altogether, his first three films stand out as not only excellent pieces all unto themselves but they have also managed to stand the test of time with timeless scenarios that are told in a way that is neither cheesy or hokey. Hughes mastered the art of telling a story for teens that wasn’t saturated with clichés, which few have been able to do since.
Sixteen Candles. The Breakfast Club. Weird Science. By now those three films, the first three that Hughes made, have become staples in 80s teens movie collections. Not only did they grow up with them, but by now they may have even been able to pass them onto their own children who are entering their teen years. True, the Hughes films were a bit more risqué in nature than the other tame fare that adorned screens in the 80s, but the issues that teens were able to relate to, along with the overall hilarity of the films themselves, have left a lasting impact on the 80s generations.
Being a child of the nineties I didn’t exactly grow up on Hughes films. In fact, aside from Uncle Buck, I’d never seen any of the films he directed (yes I was that deprived as a child). I knew my brothers and sister loved the first two films in this set, but the third I’d never even heard much about. I went in completely open minded, fully realizing that it was rare that I actually enjoyed a 80s movie, but nonetheless I was looking forward to the films. I have to say, even though they definitely aged, they did it exceedingly well—never once did I feel like I was watching a strictly 80s film and the writing and directing was simply superb.
One thing that immediately struck me odd was the amount of profanity and nudity that was in Sixteen Candles. The 80s really were a mystical time for the MPAA; granted, the PG-13 rating hadn’t been created by the time Candles was in theaters and it really doesn’t deserve an R rating, but it certainly will surprise you if you expect the PG rating it has to reflect what PG films today contain. In any case, the rating had no effect on my enjoyment of the film; it just came as a bit of a surprise. The film itself was really just a treat to watch and I found myself laughing at each and every one of the characters. Although it was more “girl focused” than the other two films in this set, Sixteen Candles really has universal appeal with the inclusion of Michael Anthony Hall’s character. This one is quite easily one of my favorites out of the set and I’m still surprised by how enjoyable it was. I’ll likely hammer this point home many times, but Hughes films really do stand up, even after over twenty years.
The next film in the bunch is a bit more on the serious side. While Sixteen Candles contained quite a bit of laughs, the humor found in The Breakfast Club is much more serious and almost depressing in nature. Judd Nelson’s character especially changes the entire mood of the picture and while the film was entertaining, it really didn’t feel as laid back as the rest. The Breakfast Club was just a lot more serious with its story, with each of the characters having their own reasons for being in detention. The bully of a principal even learns something about himself (through way of the janitor) and while nothing changes at the end of the day, we see each of the characters grew to respect and like one another. Obviously the big catalyst would be if their relationships really would remain the same the next day at school, but that mystery is good to hang onto.
The final film in the set is Weird Science, which is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s a very sporadic and random film and definitely not one that fits in with the rest; in fact, aside from them all focusing on teens and including Michael Anthony Hall as one of the characters, the three films in this set are all wildly different, which is both surprising and refreshing. Hughes definitely set out to do three very diverse films and as off the wall as Weird Science is, that is part of its charm. The party sequence especially is just ridiculous to watch and is almost cartoonish in nature, but it’s Bill Paxton’s character that is the highlight of the film for me. It shouldn’t be too surprising to see Paxton in a film from the 80s, but his role here as the jerk brother was just perfect. Add to that a very young Robert Downey Jr. as one of the bullies from the school and you have yourselves a film filled with hot women, strange visuals and an absolutely ridiculous plot. The makings of a perfect movie, I’d say.
I opted to review all three of the films in brief because, quite frankly, you should have seen them by now. I hadn’t, but I remedied that situation and with just small summaries of both, you should get a good idea of what to expect from this set. In all it’s a solid purchase if you don’t already own the films, but if you do it’ll be the extras that make or break this double dip for you. As expected, the films come Highly Recommended.
So how do these releases fair? Well they come complete with a shiny red tin package, although the A/V transfers for these films have been pulled from their previous 2003/2005 DVD releases. This is not a huge drawback, although the grain levels are quite a bit higher than something that would have been authored more recently and the detail isn’t as sharp either. Still, these are minor quibbles and for the most part the films are solid in presentation. Each contains a DTS 5.1 mix as well, although as with most comedies, it’s the fronts that get utilized the most (although the surrounds get a decent workout with Weird Science). If DTS isn’t your thing, there’s an English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, as well as French and Spanish 2.0 tracks.
For the extras we get a mixture of featurettes across the three films. Starting us off is Sixteen Candles with the "Celebrating Sixteen Candles" (38:04) featurettes. These featurettes are all newly recorded and feature interviews with as many members of the original cast (i.e., Anthony Michael Hall for the most part…no one else seemed to want to join in), although we get quite a bit of input from outsiders as well, such as screenwriter Diablo Cody, who gets quite a bit of face time across all three extras. She seems to genuinely love these films and speaks volumes about them—it’s odd to see her on screen more than the rest of the interviewees, but she definitely has plenty to say about the films. Unfortunately without input from Hughes or Molly Ringwald, this Sixteen Candles extra rings a bit hollow.
Arguably Breakfast Club is the biggest of the three films in this set and it gets treated as such. The near hour long "Sincerely Yours" (51:09) takes us through the history of the film and once again brings in cast and film lovers alike. This time around we get to hear from Judd Nelson, who also comments on "The Most Convenient Definitions: The Origin of the Brat Pack" (5:35), where we get to see just how much Hall and Nelson didn’t like the phrase. Finally for Breakfast Club we have the crown jewel of the set: a brand new commentary with Anthony Michael Hall and Judd Nelson and Special Features Producer Jason Hillhouse. I know people will likely question who Hillhouse is, but I’ve been a fan of his work on DVD extras for some time now and I greatly enjoyed his participation on this commentary. It came as a bit of a surprise and while it may sound as if he himself worked on the film with how familiar is dialogue is about the film, but if you’ve heard the man on previous commentaries or DVD extras, then you know he really just knows a hell of a lot about the materials he’s covering and is often very passionate about them. But don’t let my comments scare you; Hillhouse does talk on the track, but its Nelson and Hall who make for the most fun, as they joke and comment their way through the film. Considering that I found the film mildly depressing, I actually enjoyed this commentary a bit more than the film itself.
Moving onto the final film in the set we get the weakest extras of them all. "It's Alive!: Resurrecting Weird Science" (16:40, 4 parts) is a very, very short extra about the film, again with comments from cast and film lovers. Cody is even rather quiet about this one and it definitely seems like the “black sheep” out of the box set in more ways than one. As a bonus (i.e., filler) we get the “Weird Science TV Pilot Episode” (22:37). I’d completely forgotten about this series, but considering how many seasons it ran I’m surprised I didn’t know more about it. I watched this pilot, but after watching the brilliance of the original film, I just couldn’t get into the series; simply too awkward for me, but I can see where it gained some appeal.
Trailers for Breakfast Club and Weird Science are included, although Sixteen Candles trailer is oddly absent.
Overall whether you pick this set up depends on how much you love the films and if you previously own them. There’s nothing new in the A/V department, so unless you’re dying to watch the extras, then I’d just give this set a Rental. Although the set is fairly cheap ($29.99 on Amazon as of this writing, which evens out to about $10 a film…not shabby), so even if you’re in possession of the previous releases, it may be worth it depending on how badly you want a shiny, embossed red tin mimicking a locker to adorn your DVD shelf.
High School Flashback Collection is now available on DVD.