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Better Off Dead (1985)

Paramount Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/2/2011

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/6/2011

In this age of home video, cable TV, video-on-demand, downloading, Digital Copy, and flat out pirating, it's hard to imagine little movies anymore. By little movies, I don't mean films which are physically small in stature (I'm not even sure what that would mean.), I'm talking about movies which fly under the radar and aren't seen my many people. Years ago, movies like this existed and would often have to struggle to find an audience. But, once they found that audience, word would spread and through positive talk or simple tenacity, people would find the movie and love it. Better Off Dead is such a film. It came and went in the theater, but soon found a home on cable, where I must have seen it at least a dozen times. However, over the years, the film's clout has grown and it's now made its way to Blu-ray Disc.

John Cusack stars in Better Off Dead as Lane Meyer, a quintessential loser...only he doesn't realize it. He's dating Beth (Amanda Wyss) and he's trying out for the ski team. But, when the day is over, he hasn't made the ski team, and Beth has dumped him for Roy Stalin (Aaron Dozier), the ski team captain. This sends Lane into a deep depression, but no one around him notices. Lane's Dad (David Ogden Stiers) is convinced that he's on drugs, and his Mom (Kim Darby) is too concerned with odd recipes to focus on Lane. Lane's brother, Badger (Scooter Stevens), is obsessed with ordering things from cereal boxes. His best friend, Charles (Curtis Armstrong), wants to be a drug addict, but can't find any drugs. This leads Lane to contemplate suicide (hence the title), but he can't get that right. His behavior catches the eye of Monique (Diane Franklin), the French foreign exchange student living with the weird family across the street. Perhaps she can help Lane turn his life around.

Better Off Dead came out in 1985, a time when the American film industry was still clinging to the success of 1982's Porky's, and everyone was looking for the next big teenaged sex comedy. On paper, I can imagine that Better Off Dead sounded like it was going to be yet another of the silly comedies which came about at the time. The movie's basic premise -- boy has girl, boy loses girl, boy finds new girl -- would have seemed like the sort of simplistic thing which would have formed the backbone for a movie in the Porky's model. If that had been the case, then Better Off Dead would have deserved to have come and gone overnight.

But, that wasn't the case. The film was written and directed by Savage Steve Holland, an animator who was taking his first crack at directing a feature film. He made Better Off Dead stand out from its peers by infusing it with an incredibly odd sense of humor. The movie doesn't just feature quirky characters, which could have been found in any film of the time, but flat-out weird characters whose actions don't serve the narrative -- they are simply weird for weird's sake. The movie doesn't feature Airplane! style humor, which would have been appropriate for the time, but rather absurdist comedy which would have been more at home in a British film. From the menacing paperboys to the animated hamburgers to the aardvark coats, this is a very strange and silly film, which is also very funny. I don't think that it's a huge leap to guess that the crazy humor featured in Better Off Dead was an influence on things like Family Guy.

Watching Better Off Dead today, some of the film feels very dated, most notably the soundtrack which is dominated by songs by Howard Jones and the singer from The Fixx. But, the funny moments are still very funny. The cast is pitch-perfect, most notably Cusack whose career was just getting off the ground. Rumor has it that Cusack has disowned this film, which is truly a shame, as it remains an 80s classic, as does One Crazy Summer, which he also made with Savage Steve Holland. Whatever the case, if you've never seen Better Off Dead, then give it a chance. If you have a taste for silly movies, you'll love it.

Better Off Dead is the one time that bacon hasn't looked appetizing on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at 27 Mbps. (Paramount usually has AVC transfers on their Blu-ray Discs.) The image is fairly sharp and clear. However, there is a fine sheen of grain on the image throughout the film. This isn't necessarily distracting, but it's always there. There are also some very mild defects from the source material, such as white dots. The colors look very good, most notably the reds, but the picture is a tad dark at times. The level of detail is better than the old DVD release, but the image is undeniably flat. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is yet another case of an old stereo (mono?) track which has been upgraded to 5.1, but doesn't really offer any dynamic effects. The bulk of the audio comes from the front and center channels. Stereo effects are OK, but the surround effects are far too subtle. There are some mild subwoofer effects during musical cues.

The only extra on the Better Off Dead Blu-ray Disc is the original TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2011 by Mike Long