What separates the John Hughes' teen films from the countless others released before his directorial debut with 'Sixteen Candles' is the genuine respect he showed for the adolescent characters being portrayed and the young audience watching his films. The people occupying the fictional town of Shermer, Illinois act like real teens, with legitimate concerns about those awkward years between childhood and the world of adults. His plots are infused with a general understanding and experience many viewers can relate to. Hughes' films don't treat teenagers condescendingly or portray their emotional lives as superficial or shallow plot devices. In his films, teens are allowed to speak their minds with a unique, authentic voice all their own. No film demonstrates this better than 'The Breakfast Club,' a movie frequently celebrated for defining teen culture.
The structure of the narrative is near brilliant. The film commences with a comedic atmosphere that subtly and cleverly establishes each character's stereotype and social group, including that of Principal Vernon (Paul Gleason). Andy (Emilio Estevez) is the school jock with a great future as long as he does what he's told. Claire (Molly Ringwald) is the popular girl, the princess, everyone thinks is perfect. As the brain and the youngest of the bunch, Brian (Anthony Michael Hall) is seen as the most innocent and harmless. Allison (Ally Sheedy) is the basket case with little to say and who doesn't seem to care what others think. Bender (Judd Nelson) is the troublemaker, a future criminal, who might just be trying to appear tough.
Once Hughes has our attention, the story slowly turns into a serious and somewhat unexpected drama about the modern teenager. Their relationships with their parents are shown in the first few minutes. It's no accident that Bender is seen walking to campus by himself, and Allison's parents just drive away without even looking at her. When the characters sit down, they do so according to preconceived notions of each other. It doesn't matter if anyone in the audience has ever directly experienced a Saturday detention like the one put on screen. The point is to confront the social hierarchies of high school and discover their similarities, and Hughes does this by locking a group of kids up in the library. It's a space where they will eventually have to talk and face up to their stereotypes — not just of each other but also of themselves. "In the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions."
Their shenanigans and tomfoolery during those eight hours is more a consequence of their growing openness and letting down of their guards. With each moment that they reveal more about themselves and their inner thoughts, they also become more rebellious and less fearful of acting according to their prescribed social circles. If we're being just as honest as these kids, then we should admit that cliques are ultimately an effect of fear — afraid of being alone and unaccepted because it's easier and more comfortable to be a part of a group. To resist that pecking order requires at least a small bit of rebelliousness. Of course in one very intimate scene towards the latter part of the story, they admit that come Monday morning high school life will resume as before, suggesting that as much as we are aware of the hierarchies, we continue to abide by them into adulthood. The principal and Carl (John Kapelos) are proof of that fact.
Hughes clearly did something right with 'The Breakfast Club,' since kids today are still watching and enjoying the film. They continue to find a connection with the characters and dilemmas of high school life. In many respects, the 80s teen classic appears to be an accurate portrait of adolescence, a film that doesn't feel condescending or artificial. It digs deeper into what concerns kids most — a desire to talk, be heard, and make friendship, and because of this, 'The Breakfast Club' remains incredibly influential and respected.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc-Stats
Universal Studios Home Entertainment brings the John Hughes teen classic to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 disc housed in the standard blue keepcase. The cover art is a reproduction of the well-known poster which features the main characters posing in front of a white background. At startup, viewers are greeted by randomly selected but skippable trailers thanks to the studio's BD-Live connectivity. Once at the main menu, we find the standard selection of options, plus Universal's commercial-infested News Ticker playing over the full motion captures.
A few years ago, 'The Breakfast Club' was remastered and released on DVD as part of Universal's "High School Reunion Collection." For this Blu-ray edition of the John Hughes classic, the picture seems to have been struck from that same master, which was also used for the HD DVD release in 2006. The teen drama has never been one to serve as demo quality due to how it was originally shot, but for fans that have seen it many times, the film has never looked better.
Although very much dated, with a few negligible soft spots, this 1080p/VC-1 encode (1.85:1) appears true to its source, displaying a thin and consistent grain structure to give it an appreciable film-like appearance. The transfer is clean and clear with terrific resolution, and contrast levels are nicely balanced as visibility of background info is better than ever. Fine object and textural details are strong for a 25-year-old catalog title, though facial complexions are not as revealing as I would prefer. Blacks are surprisingly deep and full-bodied, which adds to the movie's enjoyment. Colors lean heavily towards secondary hues, but the overall palette is accurate while reds and blues really shine.
Again, 'The Breakfast Club' may not impress friends and neighbors, but this high-def image looks like what an 80s comedy rightly should. However, if this is the result of an older print, we can only imagine how much better the film would've turn out had the studio struck a new HD master from the original negative. Owners of the 2006 HD DVD will likely stick with their original purchase.
Also in 2006, Universal stamped the HD DVD of 'The Breakfast Club' with a Dolby Digital-Plus soundtrack that didn't prove to be much of a jump from the DTS codec of the "High School Reunion" DVD. On this Blu-ray, the studio offers a DTS-HD Master Audio track which is again only a small improvement from the previous high-def release.
It's no surprise that surround speakers are silent throughout as the film is a very front-heavy, character-driven presentation with great splashes of music. But the lossless mix exhibits plenty of strong clarity and detail with palpable fidelity in the soundstage. Dynamics and acoustics are much cleaner and can at times spread wide for those 80s song tracks. Low-frequency effects are also in good abundance to provide the music and the one moment of action some depth. Vocals are well-prioritized in the center of the screen and fluid from beginning to end. Channel separation is better than expected with minor but convincing off-screen movement between the fronts. All things considered, the Blu-ray provides fans with a good soundtrack for 'The Breakfast Club.'
On the now defunct HD DVD release of 'The Breakfast Club,' Universal didn't see fit to bother with any special features. But to celebrate the film's 25th Anniversary, the Blu-ray edition corrects past grievances by giving high-def fans a decent package of supplements, though they are the same found on the "Flashback Edition" DVD.
'The Breakfast Club' is arguably John Hughes' most celebrated motion picture, often viewed as defining 80s youth culture. The teen classic is a smart film which provides its adolescent leads with an authentic voice and doesn't treat them like caricatures. The immensely influential movie finally arrives on Blu-ray with a strong and satisfying audio/video presentation and an improved collection of supplements. Taken as a whole, it's a great package, and fans of classic 80s cinema will surely be happy with the purchase.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.