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Paramount Studios presents
"Suicide is never the answer, little trooper! Dying when you're not sick is really sick, you know? Really!"
DVD ReviewThe name of "Savage" Steve Holland probably won't ring a whole lot of bells with most people, but in the mid-1980s, he wrote and directed two rather entertaining films that snugly fit into the teen comedies of the day without shamelessly imitating them. One of his works was Better Off Dead, a movie approaching the trials and tribulations of high school life for one Lane Meyer, portrayed by John Cusack. Holland's winning touch to this been-there-before formula was to make most of the humor surreal and totally out of left-field. When compared to most of the teen epics produced nowadays, it's amazing how well it's held up, mostly thanks to a reliance on clever gags exaggerating the life of a teenager, rather than an endless stream of sex jokes, bathroom jokes and nudity. In fact, seen beside newer films in this vein, Better Off Dead is positively 'G'-rated.
Lane Meyer begins his story fairly well off, and dating Beth, his "one true love" as it were. Unfortunately, Beth decides to dump Lane in favor of dating the captain of the local ski-team, Roy Stalin. Stalin, as his name might imply, is basically a jerk, and he proceeds to make life miserable for Lane and his oddball friends, because that's what jerks do. Devastated by the break-up, Lane goes into a suicidal slump and tries to come up with ways to do himself in, yet never quite manages the courage to do anything about it. His parents (brilliantly portrayed by David Ogden Stiers and Kim Darby) don't really seem to understand, and his only true friend, Charles DeMar, is a drug-obsessed kook with little in the way of practical advice. Unable to get his life in gear, Lane only finds solace in his awkward relationship with a French foreign-exchange student staying across the street.
In its own, quirky way, Better Off Dead is fun because it doesn't totally stick to telling the central story, which could be potentially depressing and boring. Instead, all sorts of strange things are thrown in to make a fairly casual mix. Logic is not something to look for here, it's all just an excuse for some good jokes and sight-gags. Although the film is a bit dated (it has the distinct feel of the 80s all around it), it still functions well because no matter what the era, high-school troubles are pretty much all the same, so virtually anyone can relate to these characters. John Cusack makes a very sympathetic awkward teenager, so in that respect, the casting works. Technical details like that were probably the least thought on Steve Holland's mind however, even though he proves himself a very capable director of comedy here.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: Overall the anamorphic widescreen transfer is quite nice, with vibrant colors and a relatively sharp presentation. The age of the source does seem to result in some heavy grain, compression artifacts, and a noticeable flicker in the brightness quality of the print from scene to scene. None of this is remotely fatal, though, and in general, the transfer is impressive quality for a film of the age as well as a project that doesn't really have any huge following or expectations.
Image Transfer Grade: C+
Audio Transfer Review: The stereo audio is serviceable, but really doesn't have much depth or effects. True, this isn't a movie that begs for an elaborate mix, but what's there could probably be engineered just a hair better. As it is, nothing sounds distorted or hard to understand, it just could use some more push here and there.
Audio Transfer Grade: C+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Extras Review: No additional features are present on this disc. Bare-bones is the way it basically plays out, which is a little disappointing how a revisitation of the film with a documentary or a commentary would have been nice. As it is, there are only basic menus. The box cover has opted to use an entirely new piece of art rather than the original poster, which is unfortunately nowhere to be found in the packaging.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsAmazingly funny, even after all these years, Better Off Dead will probably be on a lot of shopping lists. While the disc is totally bare of supplements, it's a comedy that begs to be re-discovered 16 years later. Hopefully this means Steve Holland's One Crazy Summer is close to a DVD home as well.
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