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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Real Genius (1985)

"This? This is ice. This is what happens to water when it gets too cold. This? This is Kent. This is what happens to people when they get too sexually frustrated."
- Chris Knight (Val Kilmer)

Review By: Brian Calhoun   
Published: June 10, 2002

Stars: Val Kilmer, Gabe Jarret, Michelle Meyrink
Other Stars: William Atherton, Robert Prescott, Jon Gries
Director: Martha Coolidge

MPAA Rating: PG for language, sexual situations
Run Time: 01h:45m:48s
Release Date: June 11, 2002
UPC: 043396077348
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+CC+ D-

DVD Review

Real Genius has become an undeniable classic since its release in 1985. I can think of few conversations I have had regarding classic comedies that have not eventually turned into a sharing of the film's innumerable and catchy one-liners. Much of its timeless brilliance can be credited to its purity; this is not just another mindless teen movie that portrays adolescents as feeble-minded fools. Quite the contrary, Real Genius portrays youngsters as the truly gifted and intelligent human beings that they are. The filmmakers have entrusted the audience to possess both a sense of humor as well as a sense of intelligence, which contributes greatly to the film's charm.

Mitch Taylor (Gabe Jarret) is a 15-year-old genius whose intelligence has allowed him to make remarkable breakthroughs in laser beam technology. Mitch is recruited by well known professor, Jerry Hathaway, (William Atherton) to attend college at Cal Tech where he can put his I.Q. to good use. He is partnered with the legendary Chris Knight (Val Kilmer), a brilliant student who seems to show more of an interest in having a good time than the pursuit of science. Hathaway's interest in motivating these youngsters to develop a five-megawatt laser goes well beyond his desire to see his students receive a good education. He is using the students as the unwitting pawns as he secretly works with the Department of Defense to create a deadly weapon that could "Vaporize a human target from space."

The feel and flow of Real Genius is believably natural. The screenplay has been tastefully written as not to insult the audience with easily digestible and artificial dialogue. Even though the film is little more than a comedic romp, the interesting discussions between these highly gifted characters is never reduced to clichés as a meager attempt to better connect with the audience. Most movies in this genre portray college students as nothing but party-hungry, sex-starved imbeciles with little to say, aside from the occasional belch. Real Genius takes the genre to a new level by showing teenagers who are bright and articulate, yet still take time out to party.

The appeal of these characters is exemplified through wonderful performances. This is arguably Val Kilmer's best film. There is no doubt that he overacts, but his quirky enthusiasm generates more than just a few laughs. Kilmer's over-the-top performance shows a sense of gusto and dedication that is rarely seen in his later films. The film also boasts a handful of terrific supporting roles from relatively unknowns. Robert Prescott turns in a picture perfect Kent, the ultimate nerd who will do whatever it takes to please Professor Hathaway. Michelle Meyrink is somehow able to turn what could have been the most annoying character into one of the most beloved. She admirably brings a grand sense of realism to Jordan, the incessantly frenetic chatterbox. I certainly cannot forget the timid excellence of Jon Gries as Lazlo Hollyfeld, the eccentric genius who makes his dwelling in the steam tunnels behind a dorm room closet.

Watching Real Genius for the first time in several years, I realized that the film has not aged as well as one might hope, but the elements that have allowed it to become a classic are still quite evident. The film follows a tight formula of 1980s comedies (the music sequences especially transported me into an undesired time warp), but it transcends these barriers as well. Benefiting from an intelligent screenplay, solid performances, and Martha Coolidge's keen directorial skills, Real Genius has admirably stood the test of time.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: It is a great pleasure to finally witness the original 2.35:1 image on home video, but the image quality is a disappointment. While my initial fear was that the picture would simply show signs of its age, I was surprised to discover that the transfer is plagued by quite an abundance of video deficiencies. Nearly every shot exhibits a strong amount of grain. This, along with occasional edge enhancement, distracts from the film-like appearance and causes the picture to appear fuzzy and overblown. Shimmering is also frequently noticed in fine details; the opening credit sequence is especially poor. Color is the transfer's strongest attribute, appearing vibrant and bold throughout. Black level is equally impressive, displaying a thick and rich presence, though uneven contrast provides for muddied shadow detail in darker scenes. The widescreen image joyously recreates the theatrical experience, but I remain disappointed with the dingy characteristic of this transfer.

Also available is a heavily butchered 1:33.1 pan & scan version.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The only offering is the original 2.0 Dolby soundtrack. Although the mix suits the film, I found it to be a sonic letdown where fidelity is severely wanting throughout. The entire mix is very quiescent and consistently sounds muffled and even slightly muted. Dialogue is always intelligible, but it also carries a strident characteristic, often exemplified by a sonic haze that appears to be inherent from the source recording. Stereo and surround effects are utilized judiciously, and most of the soundtrack is mono-centric. The highlight of the soundtrack is the presentation of the musical numbers, which soar throughout the soundstage and breathe life into this otherwise dull mix. Though bass is appropriately strong during these moments, there is otherwise no detection of low end. This is a fitting yet unexciting sound mix.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Hook, Jumanji
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: This is where the disc truly falls apart. I will begin with the packaging. I will go so far as to say that if I went to the store specifically to purchase this title, I would more than likely toss it aside and spend my money on something else after witnessing this ludicrous cover art.

For those who are able to get past the puzzling artwork, do not expect any surprises inside. There are no Real Genius-related special features whatsoever. The only extras are trailers for two films that have nothing to do with the feature. Anyone who wishes to see the Real Genius trailer will have to scour the internet and find where it may be available for download. What a pity, and what a waste of potential.

Real Genius is not an obscure film. It is even heralded by some as a masterpiece. I would think that Columbia TriStar and director Martha Coolidge would recognize this and have put a little tender loving care into this release. Even though fans have been waiting for this title for quite some time, this bare bones release seems like nothing more than a rush job. As seems to be the norm nowadays, we can probably expect to see a Real Genius special edition hit the shelves sometime in the near future.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

After a long wait, I am sorry to say that Real Genius has not been given the treatment it truly deserves on DVD. With no special features in sight and a disappointing transfer, the only pleasing element of this release is the ability to view the film in its original aspect ratio. It does not take a real genius to recognize that this film is worthy of so much more.


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