Long before such inane programs as 'The OC,' 'Laguna Beach', and 'Beverly Hills 90210,' there was "The Brat Pack," which occupied the imagination of the 1980s youth culture. For those unfamiliar with the term, the nickname was popularized by a magazine story covering 'St. Elmo's Fire' and used in reference to the young cast, as well as other popular teen actors of the time. Soon after, the title became a disparaging label for almost every coming-of-age film throughout the 1980s, especially those films featuring well-to-do, affluent, middle-class teens faced with shallow, superficial, and universal challenges.
Joel Schumacher's 'St. Elmo's Fire', along with John Hughes's 'The Breakfast Club', were two of the defining movies of "The Brat Pack" genre, revolving around a group of seven friends all recently graduated from Georgetown University. While each character struggles with a unique emotional tax, they're all confronted by post-university responsibilities they feel ill-equipped to handle. At the time of its release, the movie served as a great melodrama for young adults and teens, such as myself. But two decades later, the quintessential teen-flick is caught in a time capsule, enjoyed more for its nostalgia trip than for its plot about the complexities of adulthood after graduation.
The story is mostly centered around a love triangle between Kevin (Andrew McCarthy), Alec (Judd Nelson) and Leslie (Ally Sheedy). Already feeling doubtful about her relationship with the ambitious Alec (the epitome of a yuppie Republican), Leslie is a young woman pursuing her career and discovering a sense of self before marriage. Kevin is a sullen and gloomy writer, hopelessly and secretly in love with Leslie, but also aspiring to write the perfect piece on the meaning of life. Needless to say, the situation puts a strain on their friendship and their love for one another, but as they come to realize, this is only one of many emotional obstacles they must confront and learn to conquer.
Meanwhile, their friends are tested by other common, everyday hurdles they too must overcome if they are to survive in the real world. Billy Hicks (Rob Lowe) is the former frat boy still living in the glory days, and a reluctant husband avoiding fatherhood. Wendy (Mare Winningham) is a self-conscious social worker from a wealthy family looking to establish her independence, but foolishly in love with Billy. Jules (Demi Moore) is the incessant "party girl" of the group, living an extravagant lifestyle but confronted with the prospect of financial ruin. Kirby (Emilio Estevez) works at St. Elmo's Bar striving to be a lawyer, but develops a disturbing obsession for Dale (Andy McDowell), a hospital intern.
As the summary would suggest, the narrative is very much anecdotal, with some of the most trivial emotional arcs, clearly designed to reach the widest possible audience. Each intermittent story could just as easily work as individual episodes on a long-running TV series. As a film (and something I did not notice when I was young), the topical dilemmas facing the characters feel forced and rushed, reaching for easy conclusions to their frustrations. Worst of all, the narrative is greatly hindered by the period in which it was filmed. Subplots and backstories which once seemed bitterly passionate and touching are now histrionic and campy.
In spite of all that, Schumacher's direction remains entertaining, capturing the glossy and romantic lifestyles of his characters, nicely supported by Stephen H. Burum's lovely cinematography and David Forster's still-memorable score. Co-written with Carl Kurlander, the script is very much a product of its time and has not aged well --- a film useful for reminiscing, but not much else. Still, Billy's story about St. Elmo's Fire not only works as a charming summation of the film's intent, but also serves as great metaphor for all of life's challenges into adulthood. If for nothing else, that aspect of this unforgotten coming-of-age tale has not faltered, firmly cementing this 80s flick in the memory of its many fans.
Joel Schumacher has never been one to shy away from plenty of color and flashy production values, and this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer (2.40:1) really captures his visual style. Faithfully preserving Stephen H. Burum's photography, the clean encode boasts terrific resolution, detailed clarity, and a comfortably bright contrast level with crisp whites.
The warm color palette displays nice variance and saturation, with primaries looking particularly vibrant and flamboyant. Skin tones appear accurate and natural for the autumn weather, revealing noticeable texture in close-ups. Blacks are surprisingly well-rendered and stable, while shadow delineation remains fairly strong throughout. The image also arrives with a pleasant depth of field. Fine object and architectural details are most appreciated, as the stitching and threading of costumes are clearly visible, and distant objects within each scene are resolute and distinct. Although the picture quality is very much dated, this Blu-ray edition offers an impressive and attractive video presentation for this 80s melodrama.
Much like the video, the Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is a great improvement from its legacy equivalent. Only, when the 80s music is queued, one stumbles in the dark reaching for the remote. Other than that, the lossless track provides a nice listen, with plenty of flashback moments.
Delivering an expansive and clean quality, the mix possesses a sharp and spacious presence that spreads evenly in the soundstage. Separation and movement between the front channels is seamless and convincing. Dialogue is mostly clear and precise, but a few more intimate conversations are a bit difficult to make out. Although the sound design doesn't offer much in terms of ambient effects, the musical score and song selections fill the entire system and extend the soundfield for some appreciable moments of immersion. Dynamic range is wide and reaches the high-end without a hitch, while low bass provides a healthy weight to each song. Overall, the mix turns in a pleasant high-resolution track.
Though not a very extensive set of features for a movie some would consider a classic in its genre, the Blu-ray release of 'St. Elmo's Fire' arrives with the same supplements as previous editions, presented in standard definition, and a couple of exclusives. It's not bad, but it could be better.
Joel Schumacher's unforgotten coming-of-age movie, 'St. Elmo's Fire', is very much a product of its time, offering those who were there a moment to reminisce. Though it hasn't aged well, the technical aspects of this 80s flick, one which defined "The Brat Pack" subgenre, still hold up as the memorabilia of a style unique to the decade. This Blu-ray release offers improved video and a noticeable audio upgrade. The supplement package is okay. Fans should be satisfied. Everyone else will want to make this a rental first.
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