Plot: What’s it about?
Lane Myer (John Cusack) has seen better days. He’s in the midst of trying out for the high school ski team and the love of his life, Beth (Amanda Wyss), is about to dump him for the local ski jock (and Captain of the high school ski team) simply because he can ski the K-12. The K-12 is the local trail that no one can seem to ski without taking their life in their own hands. Lane doesn’t make the team and is devastated when Beth breaks the news to him. Deciding that the only way out is suicide (hence the title of the film), Lane tries, unsuccessfully, to end it all. Essentially, that’s the plot, but there’s more…there’s so much more to the movie than just that! Each character in the film is hilarious and has many of his/her moments. Probably the thing I remember most about this movie is the paperboy, constantly charging after Lane wanting his money ("Two dollars, I want my two dollars").
A new foreign exchange student (Diane Franklin) has just moved in with Lane’s annoying neighbors. Ricky (Dan Schneider) and his ever annoying mother (Laura Waterbury). She learns that the less she says, the better; but it’s not before long that she starts to see something in Lane that he can’t realize because he’s still obsessed with winning back his former girlfriend. There’s two Chinese brothers who constantly try and drag race Lane, one doesn’t speak English at all and the other can only talk like Howard Cossell (a bit of a dated reference, but who cares). And then there’s, of course, Charles de Mar (Curtis Armstrong) who has managed to turn his same act from "Risky Business" and "Revenge of the Nerds" to a good role here. Charles is a high school loser, going on his seventh year and it appears that his only goal is to try to score some drugs. He snorts everything from Jello to snow off of the K-12 in an attempt to get high. Finally, the challenge is extended to Lane that if he beats Roy (Aaron Dozier), he will become the new Captain of the ski team and will most likely win back Beth because of his new found fame. Naturally he can’t see that Monique, the foreign exchange student, has fallen for him.
Better Off Dead is one of my favorite movies of the 80’s genre. Movies like "The Breakfast Club" and "Ferris Bueller’s Day Off" can certainly compete, but not compare. It has a lot of things teens of now and then can relate to, but with a pretty dark edge. The director, "Savage" Steve Holland went onto direct the "unofficial" sequel entitled "One Crazy Summer" again re-teaming with Cusack for the role there as well. The characters are unforgettable and it’s a slice of nostaligia when I viewed the disc. In what other movie do you have a claymation hamburger singing Van Halen? That alone is worth the price of admission! If you’re one of the few who hasn’t seen the film, give it a rental. The disc is featureless (more on that later), but for hard core fans (me) it’s a bullet that you’ll have to bite to add this to your collection.
Video: How does it look?
About the best thing that can be said for this disc is that now, for the first time, we can see the movie in it’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. While the film has never looked better, it still doesn’t look that great. There are some scenes in the anamorphic image that look downright terrible and the whole presentation seems to have a real soft tone to it. A bit of edge enhancement also lends to the fact that this was a very low budget film from over 15 years ago. Still, colors are warm and natural and the new transfer is a major improvement over any VHS edition that you might have lying around. For all of its shortcomings, Better Off Dead looks ok at best, but us die hard fans won’t really mind.
Audio: How does it sound?
Paramount usually tries their best to remix the titles into a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. That’s not the case here, as they have gone with a stereo mix (Surround). Honestly, a new soundtrack wouldn’t do much for the movie, as long as we can hear what’s being said, it’s worth it. The track has some stereotypical "80’s" music in it, complete with synthesizer and all. Dialogue is a bit raspy at times, but I think it’s a fault of the original recording and not that of the audio on the disc. On the whole, it serves its purpose and nothing more.
Supplements: What are the extras?
I just had to comment on this, I’ve let Paramount off the hook so many times before, but it’s almost funny that a good majority of their discs have no features. And I mean nothing at all! Here is a shot of the Special Features from the back of the box. Notice how the "Special Features" (which aren’t rated, by the way) don’t even fill up the space they left for them. Yet another of my favorites that will most likely never get the treatment that it deserves.