If seeing the words "integrity" and "'80s teen movie" in the same sentence seem an oxymoron to some, they likely haven't seen a John Hughes movie. Arguably no other filmmaker in history has mined the adolescent experience with as much sensitivity, humanity and respect as the unassuming Illinois native, who carved out a mini-industry in the early '80s with a series of teen epics unrivaled in the genre. 'Sixteen Candles,' 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off,' 'Weird Science' and 'Pretty in Pink' are all classics to anyone under the age of forty. I have no idea how Hughes managed to break into the movie business, but he certainly remains an anomaly (and since his late '90s vanishing act, an enigma) in an industry that has long exploited teenagers by reveling in their basest instincts. That was not true of Hughes, a then-thirtysomething auteur who looked as unhip as the high school principal but was in fact the coolest teenager on the block. He wrote characters, both young and old alike, who were authentic and intelligent, and dramatized the angst of adolescence with stories that were universal in their appeal and popularity. When I was fifteen, he was a god.
'The Breakfast Club' may be the defining moment of the Hughes teen ouvere. Its plot is likely familiar. Five fellow high school students, completely diverse in class and status, are forced to share a Saturday detention -- the teenager's definition of hell. There's the jock (Emilio Estevez), the brain (Anthony Michael Hall), the prom queen (Molly Ringwald), the rebel (Judd Nelson) and the recluse (Ally Sheedy). When they aren't bored, or bickering, or baring wounds, they rally together against the authoritarian gaze of Principal Vernon (the late Paul Gleason), and befriend the kindly and wise janitor (John Kapelos). By the end of the day, after a bit of pot smoking, robot dancing and a reckless side trip to the snack machine, their detention has turned into a group therapy session. They may no longer be friends once classes resume on Monday, but for one brief, unforgettable day, they were The Breakfast Club.
Plotwise, not much happens in 'The Breakfast Club.' Here is the rare teen movie with no sex, no nudity, and no violence. The adults aren't all idiots, and the kids are not sex-starved monsters. Perhaps Hughes' secret is that he craftily preys on our preconceptions by first defining his characters as archetypes -- we see them as rigidly as they see themselves -- then, through surprisingly literate dialogue and subtle storytelling, he shatters every single one of our assumptions and prejudices. Though I still know the movie like the back of my hand (I must have memorized every single line of dialogue in my teens), watching the film again for this review after a very long break, I was reminded of Hughes's extrordinary disregard of the rules of teen movies. We never get the expected payoff scenes. There is no comeuppance for the principal. The kids don't pair off in the way that genre conventions usually demand. No one's problems are wrapped up all neat and tidy like a television sitcom. And best of all, the film's ending is not cliched. Free of sentimentality but not cynical, 'The Breakfast Club' suggests that these kids will very likely not speak again as they pass by each other in the hallways. But they have grown and matured enough to realize that even if they can't change the strict hierarchy that governs high school culture, they have made an inner acknowledgement of each other's shared humanity.
As seminal as 'The Breakfast Club' may be to my generation, there is still the question of whether it can crossover to other generations, or instead be relegated to the dustbin of teen movie history. I recently did a few searches of online message forums, and was heartened to see how often the film is still quoted by teenagers all over the world. If nothing else, it continues to be rediscovered on cable and home video. So how ironic that the film's theme song, "Don't You (Forget About Me)," now seems like a plea more than a question. Fashions and fads may come and go, and the kids may not be listening to Simple Minds anymore, but somehow, I don't think 'The Breakfast Club' will be forgotten anytime soon.
'The Breakfast Club' has been making the rounds on various cable networks lately, and hit standard-def DVD in a remastered version a few years back. So this new HD DVD/DVD combo does not offer any surprises. No big restoration here -- just a perfectly fine, perfectly watchable transfer.
Presented in 1.85:1 widescreen and 1080p/VC-1 video (on a HD-15 single-layer disc), the source material is a bit soft and dour. Granted, 'The Breakfast Club' was never a visually stylish film, and like most of John Hughes' directorial efforts it borders on looking like a television movie. The print can be unusually grainy, especially during the opening credits. Some dirt is noticeable, and sharpness is middling. Overall depth and detail is fine for a 1985 catalog title, but still below what I've seen in remasters of other material of the same vintage. The main upgrade here is in purity and strength of color. The blue neon accents of the library where the kids spend the majority of the film has a nice, rich glow, and from the deep green of lockers aligning the school's hallways to Molly Ringwald's red lips, hues are a bit punchier than standard-def. Unfortunately, they look a bit fuzzy too, though again, so is the rest of the transfer. As far as HD DVD goes, this one is average at best.
Also not offering much of an upgrade is the film's soundtrack. Universal gives us a Dolby Digital-Plus track encoded at 1.5mbps, but it scarcely seems worth the effort. As much as I like the film, sonically it is practically stereo. I think I counted about a couple of blurry sounds in the rears -- Judd Nelson bouncing a basketball in a echo-ey gymnasium is about as exciting as it gets -- and even the pop songs are rather flat. There is decent enough bass in tunes like "Don't You (Forget About Me)," and that's about it. At least dialogue is pretty clear, with only some of Ally Sheedy's mumblings hard to discern.
Universal reallu broke the bank with this one. Woo-hoo! A theatrical trailer!!! (And on the standard-def DVD side only, to boot.)
If you want to know what it was like to be a teenager in the '80s, just watch 'The Breakfast Club.' Not just another teen movie, this one is a rite of passage, so it's great to see the film make its HD DVD debut. Alas, I'm still waiting for a true special edition of the film (really, can you think of any other '80s classic that deserves one more?). This transfer and soundtrack are just fine, but nothing more. A decent enough release, but if you already own the film on standard-def DVD, there isn't much reason here to upgrade.