Fair Enough at the Very Least: 'The Legend of Billie Jean: Fair Is Fair Edition'

One might believe in the "Legend" of Billie Jean Davy if the distributor cared a little more about extras.

The Legend of Billie Jean

Director: Matthew Robbins
Cast: Helen Slater, Christian Slater, Dean Stockwell, Peter Coyote, Keith Gordon, Yeardley Smith, Martha Gehman
Length: 96 minutes
Studio: TriStar Pictures
Year: 1985
Distributor: Mill Creek Entertainment
MPAA Rating: R
UK Release Date: Import
US Release Date: 2014-07-22

The Legend of Billie Jean is among the most recent releases from a company called Mill Creek Entertainment, whose contract with Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has allowed the company to re-release a great many features from the catalogues of Columbia and TriStar pictures. This has also allowed the company to re-craft itself into something of an “Anti-Criterion” collection. Whereas Criterion painstakingly unearths and creates as many DVD Extras as possible to educate and entertain movie fans everywhere. Mill Creek, on the other hand, licenses the releases of other companies (like Sony) and deletes almost every DVD extra that was previously available, partially in order to keep everything to one single disc. Regardless of the extras of previous releases, Mill Creek’s re-releases tend to be as “bare bones” as they come.

This is worth noting when it comes to the new “Legend of Billie Jean Fair is Fair Edition” Blu-Ray from Mill Creek. Fans of this cult hit (and there are many) might be fooled into believing that such a title constitutes a real commemorative “special edition” and could be enticed to run (not walk) to their local video store, assuming that any still exist around them. To the credit of Mill Creek and their “Fair is Fair Edition”, this Blu-Ray of The Legend of Billie Jean does indeed contain an extra in the form of a commentary by stars Helen Slater and Yeardley Smith. Those cult fans who already purchased Sony’s 2011 DVD release of this film will already own the exact same commentary that Mill Creek surprisingly includes here as a repeat. While Mill Creek should be credited for this inclusion, repeat or not, this commentary is the only “extra” on the entire disc with no trailers, promotional materials, interviews or other enticements to purchase (or repurchase) this cool film.

That is a definite black mark on this release as, while not exactly Citizen Kane or even The Breakfast Club, The Legend of Billie Jean does have the aforementioned large cult following and fans of the stars and the film itself would be well within their rights to expect something a little meatier than the bare bones treatment here.

For newbies, it’s still hard not to root for the titular heroine (Helen Slater), the strong, independent teenager with a fiercely loyal side that propels both the movie and the “Legend” of the title. Billie Jean Davy and her younger brother Binx (Christian Slater, no relation in real life) are two kids from the poorer side of town (living in a trailer park) within the coastal surf city of Corpus Christi, Texas. This makes them a consistent target for bullying by the richer kids, while the way Billie Jean looks marks her as a constant target for harassment by many of the same kids.

It is a run-in with wealthy Hubie Pyatt (Barry Tubb) that starts the main story rolling. Hubie’s harassment of the Davy kids results in a severe beating for Binx and the complete destruction of his Honda Motor Scooter, which was actually considered cool during the time this movie was released. Billie Jean demands the $608 repair cost from Hubie’s father (Richard Bradford), who responds by attempting to rape her and then eating a bullet courtesy of young master Binx. This sets the duo off on a cross-country chase with friends Ophelia (Martha Gehman) and Putter (Yeardley Smith, soon to be known as the voice of Lisa Simpson). Along the way, Billie Jean becomes a folk hero for her bravery and rebellion, equal parts Patty Hearst and Bonnie Parker.

While much of this is exciting to see, it is hard not to note the lack of realism displayed here. Our heroine captures the support of the public, but still commits many crimes along the way. While most of these are minor, the public is also led to believe that she and her “gang” kidnapped a wealthy kid (actually a willing co-conspirator) in Lloyd Muldaur (Keith Gordon). Yet Billie Jean is consistently enticed by Police Detective Larry Ringwald (Peter Coyote) to turn herself in for implied immunity. Legend or no, someone would have to stand for confessed crimes.

Further, while there is a lot of cleverness to be found in this film, such as the way her own legend allows her to evade capture, against popular belief, quite a bit of the film is simple, repetitive and episodic, leading one to expect or even demand a spectacular ending as soon as possible. Sure, director Matthew Robbins throws in a few side stories to keep the plot going, but it’s hard not to expect a little more fruition from such a promising caper.

As it stands, however, The Legend of Billie Jean does remain interesting and entertaining throughout its run, even if it is a bit short on plot and a lot short on realism. Both Helen and Christian Slater prove their acting chops with convincing South Texas accents (both are natives of New York State) and Peter Coyote gives one of the more pathos-driven performances of his career.

Sure, it’s hard not to expect a little more both from this feature and from the new Blu Ray disc that presents it. However, fans of the film who haven’t picked up a previous release will surely appreciate what Mill Creek actually does include. While this edition is hardly “Special” (surely Mill Creek could have at least downloaded the trailer from YouTube for one tiny little extra extra), “Fair is Fair” is fair enough at the very least.

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