Thursday, October 12, 2017

THREE O'CLOCK HIGH (1987) (Shout Select Blu-ray Review)

Collector's Edition 

Label: Shout! Factory/Shout Select

Region Code: A
Rating: PG-13
Duration: 97 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Stero 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Phil Joanou
Cast: Casey Siemaszko, Annie Ryan, Richard Tyson, Jeffrey Tambor, Philip Baker Hall, John P. Ryan

In the 80's teen-comedy cult-classic Three O'Clock High (1987) average sweater-wearing highschool student Jerry Mitchell (Casey Siemaszko, Stand By Me) has one of the most nightmarish teen experiences of all time, he wakes up late for school, his clothes aren't dried and he ends up drying a shirt in the microwave, his car has flat and so he has to drive himself and his kid sister Brei (Stacey Glick, Brighton Beach Memoirs) to school in his mom;s very uncool car. En route to Weaver High Jerry nearly kills his sister and his own friend Franny (Anne Ryan, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) in a near catastrophic red-light running incident. Once he gets to school the entire student body at the school is buzzing with gossip about the new kid, the bad-ass Buddy Revell (Richard Tyson, Kingpin) a violent delinquent. 

As it turns out Jerry is a reporter for the school newspaper and is assigned to write an article about the new kid, as such Jerry strangely decides to approach buddy while he;s taking a piss at the urinal, and that's when he makes a huge mistake... he touches Buddy. That's all it takes, Buddy hates being touched. the leather jacket clad Terminator-esque Buddy slams Jerry into a mirror, informing him that at 3PM that day they will be fighting in the school parking lot after the final bell. That's the simple and funny set-up of the movie, and the six-hour countdown begins with clocks ticking away while the rather meek Jerry begins sweating anxious bullets in anticipation of what will most likely be his death. 

Three O'Clock High came out on home video at a perfect time for me, right before I started my Freshman year at South Seneca Central school in Ovid, New York. I was already frought with anxieties about what awaited me in the halls of highschool, my uncle Larry had been filling my head with the myriad of freshman atrocities that awaited me, and swirlies were foremost on my mind, and while this movie seemingly confirmed my worst fears it also made me laugh and relieved the tension a bit.

The movie speaks a universal truth about the highschool experience, the fear of bullying and violence we all feared coming into freshman year, having grown up on a steady diet of movies like Class of 1984 (1982) I was very concerned for my own safety, and this was before high school shootings were so damn commonplace, it was a different time indeed but the fears still existed. I remember a kid named Stuart bringing a loaded .45 to school, only to be temporarily suspended, not expelled, so yeah, the times were different, but the fear of swirlies and beat downs were still an imminent and appropriate fear. 

This quirky highschool entry is anchored by the two leads, we have nice guy Jerry, who's a wimp, but he has spunk, but he's also sort of annoying, and looks a bit too old to be a highschool kid. I cannot be the only one the thought that maybe a proper beat down might be just what this guy needed to snap out of his shell, but I certainly was rooting for him. Then we have the bad-ass Buddy Revell, a mysterious terminator figure, he seems indestructible, we know so little about him, and that's part of the fear-factor, he could be capable of anything! We also get a cast of side characters who populate the story, Jerry's sassy kid sister, his horny friend Franny who keeps insisting that they "bond", his dweeby best friend Vincent Costello (Jonathan Wise), the way too serious school security guard, Duke (Mitch Pileggi, Shocker), the extremely Germanic Dean of Discipline Mr. Dolinski (Charles Macaulay), and the Principle Mr. O'Rourk (John P. Ryan, Runaway Train), and the school teacher-adviser who oversees Jerry run the bookstore, Mr. Rice, played by Jeffery Tambor of Arrested Development. 

Jerry tries in vain to get out of having to face Buddy, he first tries to reason with him, when that doesn't work he and a friend attempt to plant a switchblade in Buddy's locker, which backfires, even attempting to hire a school jock to take-on Buddy, and when that doesn't go as planned he straight up robs the school bookstore to pay-off buddy, but Jerry's own self-loathing ruins that plan, too. 

The film is highly stylized with some fun camerawork from Barry Sonnenfeld (Blood Simple), it moves away from reality yet somehow captures the drama and teen-angst of highschool, it wonderfully captures that highschool anxiety, which is why I think the movie holds up so well now. The director purposefully set out not to ape the teen films of John Hughes, the film is decidedly more quirky and less teen-romantic, it shares more with Heathers (1988) in my mind than it does with Sixteen Candles, and it also owes a great debt to Martin Scorsese's After Hours (1985), which the director cops to right away in the extras. While the movie tanked when it first hit theaters it has developed a cult following conceit hit home video, the movie is loaded with quotable lines and relatable high school weirdness, it's still a very funny dark comedy about the anxieties of highschool.

Audio/Video: Three O'Clock High (1987) arrives on Collector's Edition Blu-ray from Shout! Factory imprint Shout Select framed in 1.85:1 widescreen, this doesn't look like a fresh new scan but instead a dated master provided by Universal, so it's not the fresh scan I'd have hoped for, but still this is a good looking Blu-ray. Grain is well-managed, a little thick in places, colors look good, but clarity and depth are lacking. It looks a tiny bit dark at times, but the source looks solid, there's some white speckling and very minor blemishes now and again, but nothing egregious or worrisome. Notably, it doesn't appear to have any aggressive digital noise reduction as I've read the German disc does, which is why I never imported it. The image looks good, but I couldn't help but wonder how great this would have looked with a fresh 2K scan from the original 35mm elements, I wanted to see more detail in Jerry's little blue sweater, lol. The English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo track is solid, clean and crisp with decent separation, the Tangerine Dream score comes through very nicely, and everything is well-balanced. Optional English subtitles are provided. 

Shout! offer up new extras for this one, beginning with an audio commentary from director Phil Joanou, moderated by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures, who also produced the new extras. It touches on how he came to the project, offered it by Spielberg after directing a few episodes of Amazing Stories, how he nearly turned the project down because he felt it was too much of a John Hughes type teen pictures. There's also over an hour of brand new interviews with Phil Joanou, Screenwriters Richard Christian Matheson And Tom Szollosiand Costume Designer Jane Ruhm. Notably both Joanou and the screenwriter/producer offer up slightly opposing views in regards to the Steven Spielberg not being credited as a producer. The director says that producer Aaron spelling wouldn't sell the script to Amblin Entertainment, but that Spielberg and Amblin "ghost produced" the film. Meanwhile the producer and screenwriter imply that Spielberg had his name removed as he was unhappy with the finished film and felt it did not represent the Amblin brand, it was too violent and dark. Costume Designer Jane Ruhm shows up and discusses her start right out of film school on the Roger Corman produced Candy Stripe Nurses (1974), before breaking into costume design on Death Race 2000(1975), and onto Speilberg's Amazing Stories TV show which is where she met director Joanou and got the gig on Three O'Clock High.  

The disc is finished-up with a trailer for the film and an image gallery containing stills, behind-the-scene images, key art and various home video releases. The single-disc release comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase that wisely keeps the iconic Drew Struzan artwork on the a-side and an image from the film on the b-side, the disc art features a scene from the parking lot battle royal. 

Special Features: 

- NEW Audio Commentary With Director Phil Joanou
- NEW “Head Of The Class” An Interview With Phil Joanou(33 min) HD 
- NEW “Passing the Test” Interviews With Screenwriters Richard Christian Matheson And Tom Szollosi (18 min) HD 
- NEW “School Clothes” An Interview With Costume Designer Jane Ruhm (14 min) HD 
- Theatrical Trailer(2 min) 
- Still Gallery (7 min) 

In my mind Three O'Clock High (1987) is a stone-cold cult-classic that deserves to be right up there with the John Hughes films, it one of my favorite teen black comedies, and I am loving the new extras on this disc, very highly recommended.