Taps (1981)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: George C. Scott, Timothy Hutton, Sean Penn, Tom Cruise
Extras: Trailers, Talent Files

"Taps" is one of a handful of movies that seemed to play in an endless loop on HBO back in the mid-1980s. I must have seen the film a couple of dozen times as a lad so it was with some trepidation that I sat down to review this new DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Would "Taps" hold up after some 20 years or would it wind up as another one of those fondly remembered — but ultimately not-so-good — childhood favorites?

"Taps" takes place at the fictional Bunker Hill Military Academy for boys. Led by the almost God-like General Harlan Bache (George C. Scott), the students lead a life of military regimentation but still manage to come across as average teenagers. As the school year winds to a close, Brian Moreland (Timothy Hutton) is named the new Cadet Major for the following year and he and his friends David Shawn (Tom Cruise) and Alex Dwyer (Sean Penn) are all set to have fun in their upcoming senior year. But the Board of Governors has other ideas and decides to close the school.

During a graduation party cadets get into a scuffle with some of the town boys that turns deadly when General Bache intervenes and his ceremonial pistol accidentally goes off. Bache is arrested and suffers a heart attack and the students find themselves standing alone in their fight to keep their beloved school open. Before long, the students have taken up fortified positions within the school and are willing to take up arms against any force that tries to oust them.

"Taps" is presented in 1.85:1 <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> on this DVD, and the overall quality is surprisingly good. The image is a bit soft but at least no noticeable edge enhancement was used in an attempt to artificially sharpen the picture. Colors and black levels are both solid and there are no obvious physical blemishes of any sort on the print. I’ve never seen the film look this good and I certainly wasn’t expecting so solid a transfer given the age of the source materials.

Audio is presented in English <$DD,Dolby Digital> 2.0 Surround and 4.0 tracks as well as a French mono track. The 4.0 channel track opens up the soundstage a bit and utilizes directional effects to a great extent. Dynamic range is quite limited with no real LFE to speak of and a harsh sounding high end. At loud listening levels this harshness becomes quite annoying and it’s a shame that more work wasn’t done on the soundtrack.

Extras on the DVD include talent files; three trailers for the film (one in Spanish); and trailers for "Cast Away," the "Planet of the Apes" box set, "Edward Scissorhands," and "Romeo + Juliet."

So then, how does "Taps" hold up? Well, I came away from this viewing appreciating the film on a level that I never even recognized before. As a kid I was too blinded by the pomp, glory, and guns to realize that "Taps" is actually not what it at first appears to be. What initially comes across as right-minded kids doing what they think is best for their corps is actually a revealing look at the power of the cult of personality. These students idolize a symbol, not the actual man, and are more than willing to pervert that symbol to justify their own ends. "Taps" is a bit like "The Lord of the Flies" as both depict regular kids thrown into stressful situations against their wills, giving rise to fascist impulses. Both end in the same way with some few paying the ultimate price for this folly while the remainder of the "warriors" are only too happy to return to the safety of mom and dad.

Gee, I’m glad I didn’t see all of this before as I’m sure I wouldn’t have approved of such high-falutin’ nonsense mucking up what otherwise is a fine escapist fantasy.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment’s new DVD offers up a great video presentation but is hampered by a bothersome audio mix and the lack of any real extras. Fans of the film will probably be satisfied with the disc but a rental is in order for more casual viewers.