Widely regarded as the least of John Hughes’ directorial outings about teen travails, Weird Science feels today like the poet laureate of high-school angst’s Vanilla Sky — anomalous to his usual genre but analogous to trials and tribulations found in his other work. Not for nothing does fire consume fictitious Shermer, Illinois’ “You are here” sign. We’re in familiar territory … just hotter.
That is, of course, in more definitions than temperature, once Kelly LeBrock’s Lisa emerges from that fog-machine reverie as personified male pubescent lust. Lisa is an amalgam of Penthouse Pet, Albert Einstein and David Lee Roth created by lonely, horny teenagers Gary (Anthony Michael Hall) and Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) using Wyatt’s supercomputer, a Barbie doll, a major power surge and the blissfully unexplained serendipity offered by the title.
“So,” Lisa asks them in a come-hither purr, “what would you little maniacs like to do first?” Never their plaything as you might predict, Lisa instead becomes Gary and Wyatt’s genie and, eventually, a guru nudging them toward confidence and, more importantly, conviction. It’s a key distinction that, on a revisit through Arrow Video’s freshly remastered Blu-ray, Weird Science makes clear early on even as raunchiness and rowdiness reach levels generally unmatched in Hughes’ other films. The writer-director subverts the idea of retroactive problematic concerns because Lisa becomes entirely too human for Wyatt and Gary to objectify or disappoint too strongly.
(OK, it’s not entirely free of complaint with a use of one pejorative that also mars Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure these days, as well as an extended jive-talk parody voice that Hall does in the middle of a largely African-American bar. But at the same time, that’s aso what dopey suburban dipshits do, and you could persuasively argue that the more questionable choices of Hughes’ characters are rooted in anthropological observation over chortling endorsement.)
In a second half that plays like Sixteen Candles with a Weird Tales filter, Weird Science puts even more meaning behind a scantily-clad superwoman, apocalyptic marauders motorcycling through a mansion, and the comeuppance of Chet (Bill Paxton), Wyatt’s stogey-chomping sibling who is transformed into something resembling his favorite insult — a stewed buttwad. (Paxton has had many iconic roles, none as overtly odious as Chet — whose ridiculously severe haircut resembles a buzz he still sees fit to somehow slather and flatten with pomade.)
Ultimately, Weird Science feels no less impossible than the standards to which Gary, Wyatt or any other Hughes teenagers aspire. In this context, “I was scared … but what could I do?” specifically refers to Gary and Wyatt muster the will to eject bad guys from Wyatt’s house. But it’s a question through which many people continue to interrogate their high school experience, and Weird Science embraces that weight, right down to a throwaway scene in which Lisa helps even a gaggle of mall dweebs feel cool. Any sort of modern remake could tip the story too far into humiliation or edge over such a comparatively gentle raison d’etre. All these decades later, Weird Science still sees as much oddity in the great social experiment as any scientific one.
As usual, Arrow has done a fine job with the Blu-ray’s audio tracks and visual transfers. Although the 5.1 DTS Master Audio HD track really only kicks in on Oingo Boingo’s title song and a few fantastical developments down the stretch, it’s got appreciable oomph. (There’s also a DTS HD-MA 2.0 stereo track for purists.) Newly remastered, the video emphasizes the clarity of both Wyatt and Gary’s natural acne as much as it does the neon-fringe fashions of the day.
You can choose from three different cuts — the theatrical version, an extended version with two additional (but unremarkable) scenes, and an edited-for-TV version presented in a full-frame, 1.33:1 image. The extra scenes are available on their own, as is a split-screen comparison of changes required for cable TV. If anything, all these Mister Falcons and melon farmers illustrate just how much more permissive editorial standards have become in 34 years. Weird Science could air virtually unchanged today.
Special features include trailers, teasers, TV and radio spots, storyboards and “It’s Alive! Resurrecting ‘Weird Science’ ” — a featurette ported over from a previous Blu-ray release. In it, Hall, actress Ally Sheedy, filmmakers Diablo Cody, Amy Heckerling and Michael Lehmann, film critic Owen Gleiberman and more discuss the film’s enduring legacy.
Newly added from Arrow are retrospective discussions with the film’s casting director Jackie Burch, co-star John Kapelos, makeup effects artist Craig Reardon (creator of the “Chet blob”), co-editor Chris Lebenzon and composer Ira Newborn. The biggest revelations involve other finalists for Lisa — one sensible, one surprising — but there are some fine anecdotes peppered throughout even if every subject dips into repetitive, if genuine and deserved, Hughes worship.