Ferris Bueller's Day Off Review

The eighties can often seem like a veritable downturn in popular culture, ruled by disposable entertainment and stifled creatively by any number of external factors. Where excess ruled the previous decade, the eighties nearly eliminated good taste altogether. On the surface, it wouldn't appear to have been a great time to come of age. It's somewhat surprising, then, to realize that no decade in the history of American movies has put young people on film as affectionately. Total realism probably wasn't achieved, but it's still a significant step in that direction when compared to most of what had come earlier. Since the eighties, American youths have been portrayed as painfully precocious, cynical, hypersensitive, irreverent, and generally unpleasant. This line of thinking is probably more true to reality but there's also a situation of it being self-fulfilling prophecy. Kids do, imitate, mimic and copy things they see and hear. The lack of innocence among modern youth and the fictional portrayals of such is a chicken and egg scenario.

Teenagers can be earnest without being annoying. One somewhat recent film that did this exceptionally well was Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous, made this decade though with a 1970's setting that allowed for a pleasant absence of snark. Having written the source material and the screenplay, Crowe was also partially responsible for 1982's Fast Times at Ridgemont High, a rougher film than Almost Famous but one that still treated its characters warmly. While Crowe's first feature he directed, 1989's Say Anything, further solidified his place among the era's youth, the first name usually mentioned in connection with films about teenagers in the eighties is John Hughes, writer and director of, among others, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. The reclusive Hughes hasn't directed a movie since Curly Sue in 1991, but the success of those films, in addition to Planes, Trains & Automobiles and the fringe effect of his Home Alone script, has secured him a rather unlikely place in film history, regardless of whether he makes another picture.

Ferris Bueller is a movie that absolutely screams when it was made, with a score that would have been acceptable only during a short window of time and clothes indebted to people's cocaine-fueled fascination with ugly impracticality. The mere idea of Matthew Broderick as charismatic and effortlessly cool seems entirely foreign now - another "only in the '80s" anomaly. That the film still feels timeless is a testament to Hughes' script, which relies on virtually nothing that's contemporary. The legacy of Ferris Bueller's Day Off has almost quietly allowed for it to be one of the finest American comedies of the decade. There's little of substance behind the merits. A message of easing up on cautions and occasionally taking a break to live life a bit more carefree will always be worth heeding, if no less idealistic. But it's so watchable, a word sometimes too easily applied to generic, innocuous films but one completely appropriate for describing something as charming and instantly nostalgic as Hughes' movie. If you've seen it even once and later find someone else in the middle of a viewing or flip to it on cable television, the natural thing to do is to watch a few minutes. It just feels right somehow, like you're catching an episode of a favorite show. The blissful lack of a sequel also remains encouraging.

Bueller, too, plays nicely on the basic idea of movies as fantasy creations. Hollywood has always excelled at presenting a scenario audiences can relate to and then tweaking the story enough to remove it from reality so that we live vicariously through semi-perfect characters. The term "Hollywood" is practically synonymous with such a concept. Nearly everything Ferris does in his day of skipping school, likely the last time he'll ever have such an opportunity, merely stretches the line of plausibility without snapping it entirely. The parade, the scene at Chez Quis, getting Sloane out of school - all of these things could happen even if they aren't very likely. It's clearly a Hollywood version of a best-case scenario. By having Broderick talk directly to the viewers, we even feel like co-conspirators in Ferris' mischief. We're given just a sliver of self-importance, but it becomes another way for the character to charm his audience.

The Disc

Paramount's Blu-ray release of Ferris Bueller's Day Off is not region-locked. It contains the same bonus material found on the DVD edition from a few years ago (reviewed by Noel Megahey). The "Bueller...Bueller...Edition" moniker has also been carried over. I can't be bothered to understand the thinking behind such a title and I refuse to otherwise recognize it.

The upgrade to high definition finds the film looking well after 20+ years. I can't imagine why it was shot in 2.35:1 widescreen but that aspect ratio is adhered to on the disc. There are minor instances of speckling still present in the transfer. Nothing to be alarmed about. I found the image overall to be good, not great, and absolutely typical of how a comedy made in the eighties would look. Every aspect of the video is a little better than a DVD would be, without the improvement really astounding anyone. The film has a somewhat flat look absent extreme levels of detail like you'd get in a more modern release. Still, I've never seen it look this good.

I do have a small but significant complaint to make regarding the audio options. Every previous edition of the film on DVD has included an English 2.0 Surround track. It's been omitted for the Blu-ray, replaced by a Spanish mono option. The English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track sounds excellent, but there's simply no good reason for leaving out the original audio. I understand that everyone likes their home theaters and their widescreen displays. That still doesn't mean all movies should only have 5.1 mixes (or be in 1.78:1, for that matter). The lossless audio track here does make good use of the extra speakers, particularly when we hear the "Oh Yeah" song and during Ferris's parade performances. Dialogue is clear as a bell, coming through at a strong and consistent volume. A French 2.0 Dolby Surround dub is also included. Subtitles are white in color and provided in English, English for the hearing impaired, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

As I mentioned above, the same extra features are brought to this Blu-ray as can be found on the equivalent DVD release. Missing is the theatrical trailer and the commentary track John Hughes recorded that's on an even earlier DVD version. Why would the studio people do something like this? Because they can. The bonus material is not in HD and has been pillarboxed to accommodate the 1.33:1 aspect ratio of the featurettes.

"Getting the Class Together: The Cast of Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (27:45) is the longest and probably the most interesting of the supplements. New interviews (from 2005) with Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Jennifer Grey, Jeffrey Jones, Cindy Pickett, Lyman Ward, Edie McClurg, Ben Stein, and Richard Edson are joined by vintage clips of John Hughes and Mia Sara. The two ladies who did the casting on the film were also interviewed for this featurette and provide some welcome insight into that process. The participation of so many members of the cast is a real plus here. Some of the same people are then heard from in "The Making of Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (15:29) which seemed more like a series of anecdotes than an actual look behind the scenes.

Things start to unravel with "Who is Ferris Bueller?" (9:12), which praises character and actor, and, especially, "The World According to Ben Stein" (10:51). Stein's love of his own celebrity normalizes him a little but he's still tough to tolerate. He also seems to miss the unfortunate humor in the idea that George W. Bush spent his time on Air Force One watching Ferris Bueller's Day Off. A "Vintage Ferris Bueller: The Lost Tapes" (10:16) featurette includes some footage from the film's production of things like Broderick and Ruck being interviewed and part of a deleted scene at Chez Quis. The final piece in the extras is a collection of 18 publicity stills from the movie, billed as Class Album.

Final Thoughts

This is essentially the same disc as the DVD special edition only with high definition picture, lossless audio, and the exclusion of the English 2.0 track. The extras are the same and the John Hughes commentary is still absent. Paramount could easily find a way to release this again on Blu-ray if the format survives, especially with the 25th Anniversary only a couple of years away, but I don't know how much would be added. Since this lacks the earlier commentary and also doesn't have an option for the original audio, it's hardly a definitive edition but still has to be considered the best that's currently available.

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