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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Hostage High (1997)

"If you try to escape and don't tell me, people are going to die!"
- Jason (Rick Schroder)

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: October 22, 2001

Stars: Rick Schroder, Freddie Prinze Jr., Henry Winkler
Other Stars: Ren Woods, Katie Wright, Pat Finn
Director: Michael W. Watkins

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for (violence)
Run Time: 01h:33m:07s
Release Date: October 16, 2001
UPC: 012236120049
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ C-B+B- C-

DVD Review

The tastelessly titled Hostage High (with its dim-witted subtitle: "School's out...FOREVER!"), is a violent drama about a disgruntled high school student who returns one day to kill as many students and teachers as possible in an effort to prove that it is their fault he is a failure in life. I suppose the title isn't quite as bad as the cheesy Detention, which was its original, made-for-cable title when it was released on television in 1997. The movie was one of several "serious" attempts to get actor Ricky (now Rick) Schroder back in the spotlight as a major actor, rather than a simple character who could never shake his "cute kid" reputation. I guess it takes a former child star pumping endless rounds into teenagers to get "serious actor" respect, so here he plays a psychotic.

Based on a true story, the movie follows a day when Jason Copeland (Schroder) gets especially upset and decides to return to the local high school that flunked him out, Johnson High. He takes over the school with a load of firepower, initially killing and injuring countless students, but then settling with a group of hostages and having to be dealt with by the town's police. In the process, students like Aaron Sullivan (Freddie Prinze Jr.) try to gain his trust so they can negotiate an end to the terrible events. At the same time, local policeman Skip Fine (Henry Winkler) tries to handle the negotiation from the outside. Basically, it just becomes a long, tense waiting game as Copeland holds the teens without any kind of solid plan or list of demands.

That's basically the story; there's little in the way of depth or enhancement, which is the first major pitfall for me. If you're going to make a film about violent school shootings, maybe there should be a point or a particular message, otherwise it feels pretty darn exploitative. It's also desperately simplistic in terms of its portrayal of the event. The "good" kids are all clean-cut, sports-playing, and prom-obsessed, but you know that Jason is the evil one from the beginning because he's apparently poor, dresses shabbily, and has an unshaven look. In other words, negative stereotypes used in very obvious ways. It is also odd that most of the kids in the film are being played by actors in their late 20s. That aside, the lack of any central message made me feel uncomfortable. Certainly, school shootings (especially true-to-life stories) really don't make good action/thrillers, because they are neither fictional nor are they particularly dignified. During the initial attack in which Jason kills at least a dozen kids, there is a soundtrack of some kind of faux 'dark rock'; someone attempting a bad imitation of bands like Nine Inch Nails, almost as if to imply that this music is exclusively reserved for crazy people who might murder you.

Does Rick Schroder do a good job? I guess. The role isn't very demanding; he spends the early moments of the film doing "spooky" things in his room, intended to showcase his insanity, and then he just goes nuts and menaces people. It's fairly average for the psycho routine required for the character, and there's not much emotional depth beyond his rants against society and the world. None of the cast really seems to do anything spectacular; the biggest star, Henry Winkler, just quite doesn't fit with the mood and tone, but he does an admirable job with what he's given. Overall, Hostage High gives off the vibe of being a grim and violent after-school special, except with virtually no moral or message at all except—get this#&8212a "stay in school" angle. I appreciate that the filmmakers may have wanted to create an intense document of the event, but it feels more like a scare-tactic, exploitative experience where the violence and anger overrides anything worth saying in the picture.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The full-frame image is very impressive and clear, showing off very nice clarity, warm colors, and a sharp balance between light and shadow. There's some grain which causes slight movement in certain textures and darker scenes, but it's nothing major that effects large portions of the movie. It could have been a touch better, but as it stands, it's better than most full-frame transfers. Note: 1:33:1 is the original aspect ratio to the best of my knowledge.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Spanishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: There's not much difference between the Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 stereo versions, except a slight edge in clarity in the 5.1 version. Very few, if any, surround channel effects are employed, and not much in the way of directional effects is used either. The majority of the film is directed into the center channel with some stereo effects. It sounds very good and never lacks proper impact, but it also isn't a major surround experience of any kind, and shouldn't be expected to match that.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Actor Henry Winkler, Producer Paul Natt
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Gallery
Extras Review: The commentary track is the meatiest extra, and provides some detailed insight into the film. Henry Winkler and Paul Natt stay pretty much on topic and provide behind-the-scenes facts and information. In my own opinion, Paul Natt sounds almost too smart to have been involved in such a simplistic film, but he certainly knows what he's talking about in terms of the engineering of the film. Winkler adds his own opinions every now and then, but is a little overwhelmed at times by being such a minor focus in the film. A few, long sections go by without anything being said, but that's mainly because they spend so much time setting up a sequence, there's almost nothing left to say while the scene plays out. The rest of the disc has cast/crew bios, a brief behind-the-scenes photo gallery, and the original trailer. I honestly question the source of the trailer because I don't think the film was released theatrically, and further, the trailer is one of those "restricted" trailers (basically when a trailer itself is rated 'R'), except the trailer has nothing in it worthy of a restricted level.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

Hostage High is mildly entertaining, but it smacks of a "movie of the week" syndrome, putting more effort into tasteless shocks and horror rather than tackling any meaningful issues about youth violence. Still, the shootings portrayed in the film actually went relatively unnoticed by the public at large since it occurred during the L.A. riots. I just don't think this film has much to say. Perhaps a better idea would have been to set the story after the events of the school-takeover, and then try and examine it's effects of people and the study of how it came to happen.


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