A teenager (Christopher Collet, The Manhattan Project) and his kid brother (Corey Haim, in his film debut) spar with their mother's shady new boyfriend (Peter Weller, Robocop) in this dramatic thriller from veteran British director Michael Apted (Gorky Park). Teri Garr (Mr. Mom) stars as the young divorced mother, trying to balance her relationship with her kids and her drifter boyfriend. The boys think they see the man for what he is and need to somehow save their mother from his clutches. The stellar cast includes future superstars Robert Downey Jr. and Sarah Jessica Parker.
'Firstborn' marked the beginning of a successful creative partnership between Sherry Lansing and Stanley Jaffe at Paramount that included the critical and/or commercial successes 'Fatal Attraction' (1987), 'The Accused' (1988), and 'Black Rain' (1989). This 1984 domestic drama directed by chameleon filmmaker Michael Apted is the most undistinguished in their collaboration. It is mainly worth checking out for early performances by its cast. Teen Jake Livingston (Christopher Collet) and his younger brother, Brian (Corey Haim in his film debut), are still recovering emotionally from the divorce of their parents, Wendy (Teri Garr) and Alan (Richard Brandon). When their dad takes them out for dinner, the two brothers are surprised to learn that Alan is already engaged to girlfriend Joanne (Gayle Harbor). Wendy is also beleaguered over her failed marriage and appears lost in a fog as a single mother. One morning, Jake is astonished to discover his mom has a new boyfriend (a pre-RoboCop Peter Weller) sleeping in their house. Sam (Weller) is a stranger to the boys and particularly hard on them. Jake and Brian despise Sam and are unwelcoming to their mother's wish that he live with them.
'Firstborn' is a critique of patriarchal masculinity and manhood during the Reagan era. These ideas intrigue Jake and Brian during their conversation over supper with Alan. Brian tells his dad that he would like a [light]saber as a gift while Jake asks him to bring back a suit of armor from his business trip abroad. Sam, the lacrosse Coach Gant (Richard E. Szlasa), and high school teacher Mr. Harper (James Harper) are each influential patriarchal figures in distinct ways to Jake as he matures from a boy to a man. Collet's performance is outstanding and the best one among the cast. The viewer will appreciate the talent that blossomed in 'The Manhattan Project' two years later. Weller's character is written too one-dimensional with outlandish acts both baffling and repulsive. Garr's Wendy seems inclined to return to her college-age years of booze and parties. Ron Koslow's script belabors on points and contains redundant lines. His climax, though pertinent to the film's masculinist critique, becomes preposterous and will leave the viewer in disbelief.
Despite these flaws, 'Firstborn' deserves to be seen for early performances by the leads as well as supporting turns by Sarah Jessica Parker and Robert Downey Jr. The movie also boasts competent camerawork by the late great cinematographer Ralf D. Bode and wardrobes by future Oscar winner Colleen Atwood. Overall, the film contains the pitfalls of a melodrama but these flaws are redeemed somewhat by Collet's headstrong performance.
Paramount unquestionably lent Olive Films an old master and the visual anomalies are accented on this AVC-encoded BD-25 disc. Presented roughly in 1.78:1, 'Firstborn' shows a healthy amount of film grain in both interior and exterior scenes. There are many white speckles on the print that could have been removed. My video grade would have been higher had Olive expunged other irritating deficiencies on this transfer. There are other periodic print artifacts that can distract from the flow of the story. During the opening, the credits exhibit a telecine wobble so image stability is problematic. Some scenes look quite clear, though. The verdant lawns and green shrubs look sharp. The Blu-ray is better than the DVD but there is room for much improvement.
Dialogue is mostly audible and relatively crisp on the DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track. Due to the sound recording and obvious budget limitations, the audio presentation is exclusively front channel without any faux remixing. Michael Small's mostly electronic score shows some good depth and decent range. Period songs sound average. The bass is a little muffled during some scenes. Unfortunately, there are no subtitles or captions.
There are no supplements.
'Firstborn' is worth seeing primarily as a historical artifact and to watch several young actors before they became stars. Olive Films' visual presentation is mediocre but not unwatchable. It appears that this is the only Blu-ray edition available worldwide. My advice would be to wait for the price to drop to $15 or lower before picking it up. A light recommendation for the movie.