The Birthday Series – Weird Science (1985)

Droids-Birthday-Series-1985

The saga continues. As I’m approaching yet another birthday (sigh!), it’s time to celebrate the films that were lucky enough to be released at the start of August. 1985 gave us John Hughes’ take on the ‘Bride of Frankenstein’, ‘Weird Science’.

weird_science_PosterI’m a big fan of John Hughes’ 80’s films. He created a CV filled with great comedies, and also brought a distinctive voice that defined a genre. Planes, Trains and Automobiles is one of my favourite comedies of all time, but it was his teen movie trifecta Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles, and The Breakfast Club that took the sleaze out of movies aimed at teen’s and replaced it with knowing and heart. The strongest aspect of his teen films is that they don’t exploit teenagers and portray them all as crass, moronic, sex-obsessed misfits. Hughes was able to identify with the awkward years, the problems, the pressure and the hurry to grow up. Why, at that age, are we in a rush to grow up? Being a grown up sucks. Work, bills, responsibility. Where’s the fun in that? Hughes knew that every teenager thinks their problem is the biggest problem anyone’s ever faced, and that no one understands, especially not adults, and he created a body of work that showed teen’s that their problems were not unique to themselves. They were universal. Teens had faced the same problems before, and they will face them again. They will survive their teenage years.

Weird Science 1‘Weird Science’ sticks out like a sore thumb against his other films. This is not to say it doesn’t deal with the traditional John Hughes themes, but it’s the only film that embraces fantasy. All his other films are based in a plausible reality, and the comedy is mostly based around observation. ‘Weird Science’ begins the same way, but very quickly becomes a special effects fantasy, with outrageous set pieces, and physical, slapstick humour. Doing so, it loses a lot of the Hughes charm along the way.

Gary and Wyatt (Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith) are unpopular nerds in Shermer, Illinois. After being humiliated (for the umpteenth time, I’m guessing) in front of a gymnasium full of girls they come up with a scheme to create the perfect woman on a computer. A simulation that will provide them with the answers to all their questions on the most important problem facing a teenage boy… How to get girls. Naturally, the boys scan in playboy centrefolds and lingerie catalogues, but in a savvy move they also scan in theories by Einstein, sports knowledge, and pop culture interests. They want this chick to be smart and cool as well. Needing more juice than a 1985 computer can provide, they tap into a local mainframe, creating a power surge and electrical storm. Frankenstein’s monster appears, in the shapely form of Lisa (Kelly LeBrock). “What would you little maniacs like to do first?”

Weird-Science-2‘Weird Science’ doesn’t work for me. It’s far too manic, too slapstick, too loud, and too handicapped by it’s special effects. It loses sight of the central thrust of the story, which is about Gary and Wyatt becoming confident in themselves, standing up to bullies and learning to relate to girls. It’s weighed down by it’s huge set piece, the house party which takes up most of the films second half. Featuring another electrical storm, leatherclad mutant bikers, a nuclear missile and the veritable demolition of the house, the characters get lost in the mayhem. The first 15-20 minutes are the strongest, where Gary and Wyatt deal with Wyatt’s obnoxious older brother Chet (a gap toothed Bill Paxton), and two obnoxious bullies (a gap toothed Robert Downey Jr and some normal toothed guy), and decide to create the perfect woman. These scenes are easily the most entertaining of the film, typical of Hughes’ style, until the special effects take over and dominate the rest of the film.

Weird-Science-4Despite these problems, there are pleasures to be found. Kelly LeBrock makes Lisa more than just the dream woman, taking an almost big-sisterly role in the boys lives, nudging them in the direction of self-confidence. She’s a natural screen presence and provides warmth and humour to the film. It’s a good performance. However the leads aren’t quite so good. Anthony Michael Hall, so great in Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, is intensely irritating at times. In particular, during a scene in a bar, where Gary and Wyatt get drunk and make friends with local toughs. In this scene, Hall speaks in a harsh, shrieking, nails on a chalk board mush mouth voice that makes every line of dialogue incredibly annoying. On the other hand, Ilan Mitchell-Smith doesn’t have presence enough to have much of an impact. He’s elbowed out by all the over the top performances and the special effects going on around him. Bill Paxton delivers some good laughs as Chet, particularly his reaction to finding his grandparents in then pantry, and an early role for Robert Downey Jr doesn’t amount to much.

Weird-Science-5While the film doesn’t work, the central concept of ‘Weird Science’ is a strong one. I like the innocence of the Frankenstein inspired premise of two awkward boys who create their dream woman on a computer, and instead of using her for sex, she’s more of a nurturing figure who advises them on girls and helps them gain the confidence they need to make it through their teenage years. I mention this, because ‘Weird Science’ was turned into a TV show in the mid 90’s, starring Vanessa Angel as Lisa, John Mallory Asher and Michael Manasseri as Gary and Wyatt, and most importantly, Lee Tergesen as Chet. This is an underrated show, taking the best parts of the film, which is the relationships between the characters, and combining it with the ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ template where each episode sees the boys make some sort of wish that gets them into a different scenario which resets at the end of each episode. There’s homages to classic films such as ‘Fantastic Voyage’, musicals like ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and the ongoing gag of hiding the existence of Lisa from Chet. And it’s here where a lot of the best laughs generate. Tergesen is simply hilarious as Chet, nailing not only the obnoxiousness, but also the desperate confusion as Chet is repeatedly the punchline of jokes he doesn’t understand. The series ran for 5 seasons from 1994-98. If you ever run across it while flicking channels, I recommend you give it a look.

weird_science-showMany of the 80’s John Hughes films remain amongst my favourite films. I suppose everyone needs a dud to put everything in perspective.

Remember to take some cake!

Droid

1andahalfchangs

Droid

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About Judge Droid

In between refining my procrastination skills I talk a lot of shit about movies and such.

28 responses to “The Birthday Series – Weird Science (1985)”

  1. Xiphos0311 says :

    I’m going to disagree that WS sticks out in any way compared to other films of John Hughes, I think it’s a continuation of his “Shermer” stories. I see it like this Ferris Bueller is entirely based on fantasy just as much as Weird Science is. There are elements of both 16 Candles and even the Breakfast Club, which is arguably the most grounded of Hughes work, had more then a pinch of fantastical elements in them.

    Each their own but I thought Weird Science worked well and it was a nice step out of the usual for John Hughes.

    • Droid says :

      I’m going to disagree, of course. I wrote “This is not to say it doesn’t deal with the traditional John Hughes themes, but it’s the only film that embraces fantasy. All his other films are based in a plausible reality, and the comedy is mostly based around observation.” I haven’t said one is one thing, and the others are not, and there’s no middle ground. No matter how outlandish Ferris, Candles or Breaky get, you can always say that the characters could do that in real life. It’s far fetched (particularly in Ferris’ case), but it’s at least plausible. Weird Science is two kids making a real woman on their computer. It’s 100% fantasy. It’s a “Shermer” film, but just falls outside of touching distance with the others.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        Ferris Buelller is entirely implausible on the whole. Elements of it are believable, just like elements of WS are believable, but as a whole FB is the fevered wish of kid sitting in study hall on a nice day looking out the window. Excluding the float scene and the restaurant scene which are total fantasy, just getting into downtown Chicago from the burbs and doing all the things they did on different sides of Chicago then getting back in time to go swimming and destroy a Ferrari is stretching believability to it’s breaking point. Of course if they only spent like five minutes at the art museum, Stock exchange, baseball, game etc. I guess it could work

      • Droid says :

        My point isn’t that the day is plausible, but every situation Ferris is in, is grounded in reality. Yes, he gets on a float and sings a song. This is unlikely to happen to Ferris. But the fact remains that people sing songs on floats all the time. It happens in reality, and is therefore plausible. A nuclear missile raising up in the middle of a house is not plausible. Turning your brother into a turd shaped creature isn’t plausible. Creating a real woman with magic powers on your computer isn’t plausible, etc etc. This is my point. You can pick apart almost every single movie ever made for being implausible if you really want to.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        It’s just as improbable that Ferris would be able to get away with every scam, his sister who hated and was jealous of him and wanted payback the whole movie would cover for him or that Cameron would take the weight for the car. There is so much that isn’t anywhere near reality but in the hyper dreamworld of Hughes, many things are possible there without being probable. in Weird Science Hughes took that notion to the extreme and melded it with a teenagers wants and desires for a perfect women and the “greatest” party ever.

      • koutchboom says :

        Also Jeffery Jones being principle when he’s clearly a pedo!

    • Continentalop says :

      I’m going to agree with Xi. even if I don’t know if I really agree with his reasoning (if you can figure that out). I don’t know why WS works for me, but it just does.

      Probably because like a lot of “technically” bad or not-so-good movies, such as say The Hammer, what it lacks in the technical and polishing department it makes up in spades in heart and a truthfulness. WS feels honest, even if it is the most absurd story ever.

      Or some shit like that. I like it better than a lot of other John Hughes movies.

      • Droid says :

        Fair enough. People like what they like.

        The honest parts of WS is the interaction between the characters. The first 15 minutes and then it’s here and there during the movie. But it’s inbetween too many out of control, noisy scenes that almost work, but just don’t for some reason. I find it to be the weakest of the John Hughes 80’s efforts.

      • Continentalop says :

        I guess by honesty and truthfulness is that it is very much the nerd/loser’s HS fantasy, and every one feels like a nerd/loser to a certain degree in HS. Hughes did a really good job of tapping into that in this film IMO and give us something that we could all relate to.

      • Droid says :

        I feel he did it better in Sixteen Candles and Breakfast Club.

      • Continentalop says :

        16 Candles yes. I disagree about the Breakfast Club. That was a way to romanticized version of HS students for my taste.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        What bugged me about the Breakfast Club and ultimately made me downgrade it after a few times watching was how in the end Hughes backed off from the core truths he spent the whole movie building.

        What I mean is this, near the end, after they get high and are sitting around talking, the nerd says something to the affect that on Monday none of you will talk to me because your friends will think that you’re uncool. That was probably the most honest point in all Hughes movies. Bender latches onto it and rails on Red head over them dating but in the end the Breakfast Club come together and Bender and Redhead get together and everybody seems to decide to become friends. This is AFTER the Stoner, The Hot Chick and the Jock all agree that they would not be friends come Monday. That just had the ringing clang of insincerity to me.

      • Continentalop says :

        That was EXACTLY my problem Xi. It’s like Hughes wanted to present a bigger fantasy than anything in WS: that if kids just got to know each other, they would get along. My life experience says “Bullshit.”

        Horrible movie, but the honest ending of The Last American Virgin kicks the shit out of Breakfast Club.

      • koutchboom says :

        Heheheh I wonder if Flubber was originally a sequel to WS that never happened?

        You guys know Hughes also wrote the Dennis the Menace movie.

      • Droid says :

        I think the ending of BC is open. I don’t think any of them will be good friends or anything on Monday. Maybe Estevez and Sheedy (although I kinda preferred Sheedy before she was cleaned up). What I think the movie is about, is that everything isn’t as simplistic as we think in HS. People aren’t just “the nerd”, “the jock”, “the princess” etc etc. And at the end, these kids have this understanding. Things won’t change greatly on Monday, apart from the fact that they will look at the other kids at school a little bit differently. I do agree that the Ringwald/Nelson ending was not quite right.

        Apart from that, BC is about EVIL adults! Every adult in that movie, apart from the wise janitor, is a cunt.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        What was the ending to the The last American Virgin? I know I’ve seen it but it was years and years ago.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        Yeah Sheedy was way better when she was dirty.

      • Droid says :

        You guys know Hughes also wrote the Dennis the Menace movie.

        Doncha know, Koutch? John Hughes was kidnapped by aliens in 1989 and replaced by an evil lookalike as part of Phase One. They got to Tim Burton in 2001, John McTiernan in 2002 and David Fincher in 2008. I expect them to initiate Phase Two any day now, where the aliens hold a team of ILM nerds captive and force them to digitally insert Nicole Kidman and Jude Law into every film ever made.

      • koutchboom says :

        You saw the start of that Hugo trailer didn’t you? ITS BEGINNING!

      • Droid says :

        It really is. I’ve seen three trailers in the past couple of days with Jude Law in it. Sherlock 2, Contagion and Hugo.

        Bastards!

    • tombando says :

      Ferris b is the only one of those i liked. The whole ‘save ferris’ bit on the water tower where sis drives by and almost wrecks her car was great. Basically hated the kids in bc and preferred real genius w kilmer to ws.

  2. Xiphos0311 says :

    The wise janitor character was just a MCH and three shades of complexion away from being a magical negro type.

  3. just pillow talk says :

    Weird Science never worked for me as a whole movie…some parts I liked, but there wasn’t enough laughs or not enough drama, something, to make it resonate with me. It’s just kind of…there, for me.

    Breakfast Club i thought was alright, preferred Ferris Buehler the most. And that is complete fantasy, the ultimate day off.

  4. Continentalop says :

    Xi, here is the ending to THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN:

  5. Jarv says :

    Love this.

    I’m going to disagree as well. This is the first Hughes film I saw, so I don’t compare it to the rest and as a pure piece if fluff/ wish fulfillment I think it does work.

    Hall is annoying- particularly in the bar scene.nevertheless there are moments here that tell a lot- for example, those two retards would be dumb enough to make another to impress people.

    I’d probably go as high as 3 for it, but a lot of that is nostalgia fuelled

  6. DocPazuzu says :

    “How ’bout… a nice grreeeaaasssyy pork sandwich — served in a dirty ashtray.”

    ’83-’86 John Hughes is unassailable in terms of sheer awesomeness (for those of us born ’66 -´72). I will not brook any dissent in this matter (but may do so tomorrow when I’ve sobered up).

  7. ThereWolf says :

    I wouldn’t call WS a ‘dud’, bit harsh that.

    I think Hughes meant it to be crazy, change of pace and all that. Maybe it’s OTT at times and you’re absolutely right about the bar scene, I dunno what Hughes was thinking allowing Hall to go with that. Anyway, I love WS, must give it another watch. Bueller’s great, as is Planes Trains…

    Top write-up, Droid.

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