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  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
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  • 2 Teaser trailer

Real Genius

Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 102 mins . PG . PAL


When you think of ‘80s teen films, usually one name instantly assaults the synapses - that of director John Hughes. Before he lost the plot and let loose that hideous Macaulay Culkin banshee of a kid on the world, he managed to catalogue the ins and outs and the ups and downs of ‘80s teendom quite thoroughly through the likes of 16 Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. But he wasn’t alone. Others such as Amy Heckerling and Cameron Crowe also knew the score, as did Martha Coolidge, who gave to the world one of the finest films of the genre back in 1983, the divine Valley Girl. Two years later she unfurled Real Genius, not strictly a teen film, not strictly an adult film – not strictly able to be categorised very well at all, actually - but what a fabulously fun – and funny – film it was. It also featured a likeable (no mean feat) Val Kilmer in what was his second film – and possibly his last decent one...

15-year old Mitch Taylor (Gabe Jarret – who looks suspiciously like a pre-sex change Sarah Jessica Parker - hmm, have you heard of the guy since?) is the latest super brain to join the special group of eggheads under Professor Hathaway’s tutelage at Pacific Tech.

"Mitch, there’s something you need to know. Compared to you, most people have the IQ of a carrot."

The Professor has them working on a full-on laser doobrie capable of crispy-frying anything which has the misfortune to fall within its beam, a task his charges believe they’re doing to advance science – however Hathaway happens to have a little deal going with the government, and they happen to have plans for a little project called ‘Crossbow” which would enable them to use said crispy-frying ability on a single Earth-bound person all the way from space. In all, not very nice stuff at all.

With the Defence Department pushing for a faster result, the pressure travels domino-theory style in a chain of manipulation from the top all thw way down until hitting Mitch and fellow Hathaway star Chris Knight (Val Kilmer), who seems to have popped a somewhat vital brain-bound cog at some point and is now hell-bent on spending his time in pursuit of all that is non-serious – and to think, he was classed as one of the ten finest minds in America. But when the nefariousness of Hathaway’s plans for their school project dawn, it’s time for a spot of seriousness, and more importantly revenge – after all, it’s a moral imperative – and it’s never a good idea to cross anybody who’s smarter than you. Chris, Mitch and assorted dorm-mates including Jordan, the hyper-chick who never sleeps (and who makes the cartoon Tasmanian Devil seem positively chilled out in comparison) and inventive inventor Ick set out to get even – with a little help from a mysterious closet-dwelling, Jesus-like figure and a mind-bogglingly remarkable amount of popcorn...


So, you’re trying to tell me that Real Genius was made in 1985, right? Well, I guess Val Kilmer does look quite young – but if the film is seventeen years old, then how come this transfer makes it look like it was made last week? Yes, the Sony DVD Center well and truly strikes again, with a simply magnificent effort.

Presented in its original 2.35:1 glory – a refreshing rarity for a film of its type, and one which director of photography Vilmus Zsigmond took delightfully subtle advantage of – and anamorphically enhanced, the print is as bright, colourful and beautifully detailed as the day it was filmed. Blacks are as spot on as could be hoped for, darker scenes deliver as good a detail as brighter ones such as in the film’s climax, and really all that can be mustered as gripes are the occurrence of a handful of speckles throughout the film’s 102-minute running time, and two miniscule wobbles – one at around 26:45, and one during the closing credits. These are minor quibbles indeed in a transfer that should make most every other company hang their head in shame at the crappy transfers they’re peddling at full price (Real Genius is a bargain at less than $20), and mostly not even in PAL at that...


Real Genius was made in Dolby Stereo, Real Genius comes to DVD in Dolby Stereo, so we don’t really have any cause for complaint. Sure, the occasional zaps, bangs and pows the film throws at us could have been nicer flying about our rooms with abandon (the limited surround on offer here is scarcely what one could label as exciting), however that which we get is still decent enough, and delivers all which a decent audio transfer should – with good clarity at all times, no nasty gremmies and near as dammit perfect synch.

The dialogue and the soundtrack – eww, yes... the soundtrack. Holy reeking crapola, Batman – the film’s a winner, but whoever picked the sludge for the soundtrack that rubs bottoms with Thomas Newman’s electro by numbers tosh - sludge that was dire even when it was new in the ‘80s - deserves to have their ears cut off (roughly and painfully), then to be sealed in metre-thick concrete and sunk to the deepest depths of the ocean, before being blown up. The fragments should then be found, catalogued, put through an industrial strength blender to smush them into a fine powder, sealed in an impenetrable perspex box, booked on the next Space Shuttle flight and dumped into space, whereby they should be harpooned with a laser and then... oh, alright, I’ll get on with it. Suffice to say we’re talking true horror here, with an assortment of absolutely shit US bands SO completely, utterly and absolutely shit that they somehow didn’t even get foisted on us here in Australia like most of their insidious kind, plus he who is neck and neck with Celine Dion as Canada’s most evil ever export in Bryan Adams (AGH!) and... and... and... Don Henley (NO!) and then, to top it off, the absolutely most cringe-worthy and sad example of sucking up to the Americans in a piss poor desperate attempt to get a Stateside hit possibly ever recorded in the god-awful Everybody Wants to Rule the World from the otherwise usually reliable Tears For Fears. If there was ever a bright and shiny award given for a soundtrack dating a film, it would have to go to Real Genius - heavens, it makes the music from Footloose, or even Top Gun, sound positively hip...


Brain-bustingly good video, more than adequate audio – and then... get used to disappointment. Whilst so much effort was being lavished upon the transfer, sadly it seems somebody forgot to look about for some extras – in fact, any extras even remotely relating to the film. While we pine for what could have been (a Martha Coolidge commentary for example, heck, even a lowly trailer would have been something!) it seems we’ll just have to make do with the completely irrelevant and utterly crappy full frame trailers for Hook (1:59) and Groundhog Day (2:39) that have for some peculiar reason been stuffed onto the disc with obvious delusions of relevance.


Alright, so other than a brilliant video transfer and good enough audio the disc offers nothing, right? Wrong. In all, despite the execrable soundtrack Real Genius delivers a quite wonderful dances with stereotypes story as it combines the best bits of the likes of War Games, Weird Science and Revenge of the Nerds with a touch – just a touch – of teen romance for good measure – as well as a whole lot of originality. Rather than going for the typical “nerds are dorks” angle as was/is usually the case with such films, however, here cleverness is unabashedly celebrated - a refreshing and ever so welcome change. Combine this with comedy that still has a wicked subtlety of delivery plus a biting “heehee’ factor today and you’re looking at an often overlooked and extremely underrated gem which anybody who has never had the pleasure really should make the effort to get acquainted with. After all, it’s a moral imperative!

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      And I quote...
    "An often overlooked and extremely underrated gem - to get acquainted with it is a moral imperative!"
    - Amy Flower
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Pioneer DV-535
    • TV:
          Sony 68cm
    • Receiver:
          Onkyo TX-DS494
    • Speakers:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse RBS662
    • Centre Speaker:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECC442
    • Surrounds:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECR042
    • Subwoofer:
          DTX Digital 4.8
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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