[27 August 2008]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
In considering Paramount Home Entertainment’s “I Love the 80s” edition of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, I found myself wondering what the point of this release could be. Sure, Paramount has partnered with VH1 to promote a whole line of DVDs celebrating the ‘80s and its influential films, and to be sure, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is one of the best-loved and most influential films of that era. But it received anniversary edition DVD treatment only two short years ago. So the point of this release must be purely financial. Perhaps the studio is hoping it will lend a little of the Bueller magic to the line’s other movies.
And it does have a certain magic to it, which undoubtedly explains why this movie is still so popular. Ferris himself, of course, leads the ultimate charmed life, but John Hughes, in creating such a character and then bringing him to life within Matthew Broderick’s note-perfect performance, also possesses an undeniable magic touch.
Paramount is releasing 40 films in new “retro” packaging, highlighting many of Hughes’ teen flicks like Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful, as well as some of his other 80s work such as Planes, Trains & AutomobilesNational Lampoon’s Vacation and She’s Having a Baby. Also among the rereleases are other iconic 80s films including Beverly Hills Cop, Footloose, Top Gun, Fatal Attraction, American Gigolo, and Urban Cowboy. Obviously, because so many of these titles are culled from the teen movie genre of the mid-’80s (and therefore, naturally, several of them are also John Hughes films), these films still resonate with audiences.
As a writer and director Hughes, in particular, seemed to have tapped into the psyche of those on the verge of impending adulthood (which is the main theme in Ferris Bueller, one last burst of childlike wonderment and free-thinking abandon before growing up) in a way no one before, or since, has been able to. Everyone can relate to a Hughes film because everyone is, or has been, a teen. My mother has a favorite Hughes film, as do my far younger siblings and my son. Because I was the target audience when they were originally released. Unlike other films aimed at adolescent audiences, which tend to talk down to teens or trivialize their experiences, a Hughes brand teen film is character-driven, clever, and treats members of its audience as equals.
It’s the focus on characters that make even the outlandish adventures of Ferris Bueller into something universal. Because being that age and having that relationship with the world around you is universal. For those who were not teens in the mid-to-late ‘80s, Hughes’ movies nevertheless have a way of reminding you what its truly like to be 17. For those not yet alive when Ferris conned Cameron into taking the car, Hughes still manages to convey that understanding of what’s happening to you right now.
If you were a teen at the height of the era, John Hughes movies, and Ferris Bueller especially, have a way of instantly taking you back to what you were feeling and thinking as you attempted to navigate your world of changing priorities and adult responsibilities. Watching these films immediately places you right back in the confusion and excitement of youth, just like hearing the quintessential songs of the era (many of which Hughes used to genius effect on soundtracks and scores) can.
Speaking of the songs, each “I Love The 80s” DVD is packaged with a bonus CD featuring four classic tracks: “Take on Me” from a-ha, “Lips Like Sugar” by Echo & The Bunnymen, “Need You Tonight” from INXS and Erasure’s “Chains of Love”. This so-called bonus also receives another resounding, “Why?” None of these tracks are featured in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, nor are they included in any of the other films in the series, to my knowledge.
Maybe I’m just being cynical. After all they are great, iconic songs of the decade in question, but shouldn’t Paramount have included some of the great, lesser known songs from Ferris Bueller (Some Big Audio Dynamite, the English Beat or the Flowerpot Men’s “Beat City” would have been great!), or even the INXS and Echo & the Bunnymen tracks that actually do appear on some of those other film’s soundtracks? I might be willing to consider that to be something of a bonus.
And speaking of bonuses, the 20th anniversary “Bueller, Bueller” Special Collector’s Edition is far superior—though by no means perfect—to this one, in its bonus features, with fun behind-the-scenes cast and crew commentary that makes it clear everyone involved truly loves this film even 20 years on. Some of the interviews are from earlier editions, and do seem dated.
The “I Love the 80s” version, in contrast, only includes a single special feature, the director’s commentary track with John Hughes from the original DVD release. While it is interesting to hear the ideas behind both the story and the film’s production (Hughes also wrote the screenplay), to get the director’s impressions of his then young and rising star and to note that many of the high school sets were shared with Hughes’ other movies, the commentary isn’t an exciting enough extra to excuse the lack of other features, especially given the fact that the list price for this version is actually more than any of the previous DVD releases.
Of course, cynicism aside, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is still a fabulous movie. Matthew Broderick is as brilliant as can be, his interaction with the other actors, especially Alan Ruck as Cameron, is a marvel of the mastery of comic timing. The only thing that seems dated at all, in fact, is the characters’ clothing.
The film—and Ferris—is still as fresh and fun, witty and irreverent as ever. It’s a true classic, a pinnacle of its genre. But, unfortunately, that’s no reason to cough up for this particular DVD. If you already own a version of Ferris Bueller on DVD, don’t bother with this one. If you don’t have it, look for an earlier version. Or just wait a couple years for the next one.