Back To School

Back To School (1986)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Rodney Dangerfield, Keith Gordon, Robert Downey Jr., Burt Young
Extras: Theatrical Trailer

During the 80s all sorts of screwball teenage/high school comedies were the soup du jour in Hollywood and a wide variety of these films found their way to movie theaters or direct to video. Director Alan Metter fell back upon infamous stand-up comedian Rodney Dangerfield for his film, who for obvious reasons has a reputation as a no-holds-barred in-your-face comedian, and had recently begun to successfully wet his feet in movies like "Caddyshack" and "Easy Money." The result is as expected an aggressively funny comedy with splendid dialogues, some sweet sixteen feel and a lot of over-the-top situations that cause the characters trouble and the viewer fits of laughter.

Thornton Mellon (Rodney Dangerfield) has had it with his ever-nagging snobbish adulterating wife Vanessa (Adrienne Barbeau). The successful and proud owner of the "Tall And Fat" clothing empire, Thornton realizes that he has completely neglected his son Jason (Keith Gordon) over the past. As a result, Jason prefers to stay in his dorm over the summer than coming back home to Dad and his NEW wife – whom he understandably hates.

To make up to his son, Thornton decides to visit the college and soon even expands on his plans, enrolling as a freshman himself to serve as a shining example for junior who plans to drop out. "You need education," he tells his son despite the fact that he himself never finished high school. But that’s about the change. When the school’s Dean refuses to enroll Thornton due to the difference in age, a solid check for a new school building takes care of the formalities and soon Thornton and his son are sitting in the first lecture together. As expected the "old man" has a slightly skewed point of view when he hears the academic truths the scholars are taught and begins to change things a bit. He even hires NASA to do his and Jason’s homework. But when Thornton goes so far as to steal the professor’s girlfriend, his party is about to come to an end and he has to hit the books – or go back to being the world’s wealthiest dropout!

It is easy to envision the kind of havoc Rodney Dangerfield can wreak in this scenario, isn’t it? With the uncanny delivery of his lines and the impeccable comic timing he is famous for, Dangerfield dominates the entire film with ease and makes it a riotous comedy. Supported by Keith Gordon, Burt Young, and Robert Downey Jr., the film misses no occasion to mock the generation differences while also showing that sometimes practical experience can be just as valuable in life as learned knowledge. We all need education which ultimately give us the freedom to chose what we want to do in our lives, and this message can be found throughout the film in a very good-humored nature. Of course, the film is respectless as well, rebellious and untamed at times. But once the parties end and the glimmer fades, we all have real lives to live and real goals to reach. With its extremely well-written script, "Back To School" wraps all these ideas up in a very entertaining comedy that is not for a minute moralistic, but nonetheless very inspiring.

MGM Home Entertainment is presenting "Back To School" on a double-sided DVD in this release. The first side contains a <$PS,widescreen> version of the film that is not <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> televisions. The flip side features a <$PS,fullframe> presentation of the movie that is realized as an <$OpenMatte,open matte> transfer and adds quite a bit of information at the top and bottom of the screen. The source print used for this DVD shows some signs of age and a number of blemishes here and there. Scratches and dust as well as some heavy grain are clearly visible in certain scenes. The color reproduction of the film is generally good, but the image appears washed out at times with overly soft edges. Shadows are generally deep and solid and highlights are well-balanced with faithfully rendered skin tones. The compression is good, although signs of dot crawl in the shadows are evident as well as occasional <$pixelation,pixelation> artifacts. Nonetheless the film makes a good impression on this DVD and is always pleasant to watch.

"Back To School" contains Dolby Stereo audio tracks in English, French and Spanish. The audio is well produced but has a noticeably narrow frequency response. Without a real low end, the audio comes across rather thin at times with an exaggerated, harsh high end. No notable distortion or noise can be heard in these audio tracks however, making this a solid presentation of this movie.
The film features a soundtrack by Danny Elfman that is well written and nicely fits the 80s comedy flair of the film. Having also written the scores for comedies like "Weird Science" or "Pee Wee’s Big Adventure" he truly hit the mark of the time with his score, although it is very different from the elaborate orchestral work he would put in later on more dramatic movies. Elfman is even making an appearance in the film itself with his band "Oingo Boingo" during the big party scene towards the end of the film.
As extras you will only find the movie’s theatrical trailer on the disc. Optional subtitles in French and Spanish are also on the disc.

"Back To School" is a truly funny comedy that is quite different form the crop of the teenage high school comedies of the time. Not only does Dangerfield’s class act add immensely to the film, but also the plot twist to have a grown middle-aged adult enrolling as a freshman implicitly asks for a lot of comedic moments. MGM Home Entertainment is delivering a solid release of the film on this DVD, although a digitally remastered audio and video transfer could have made quite a difference.