BACK TO SCHOOL
Think of a Rodney Dangerfield movie and three titles immediately jump into your head- EASY MONEY, CADDYSHACK and BACK TO SCHOOL ($25). Unfortunately getting to see Rodney’s three greatest works on DVD has been no easy task. EASY MONEY is still MIA; there has been a cropped edition of CADDYSHACK available on DVD for years that I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole (fortunately Warner rectified that situation with a wide screen collector’s edition). This of course leaves BACK TO SCHOOL a title that MGM Home Entertainment has issued on DVD from their acquired Orion Pictures library.
In BACK TO SCHOOL Rodney Dangerfield plays himself… I mean, Rodney plays Thornton Melon, a self made multimillionaire, who has taken his father’s humble little tailor shop and turned it into a nation wide chain of clothing stores that cater to the tall and fat. In spite of his money, Thornton’s greatest joy remains his son Jason (Keith Gordon). After dumping his unfaithful, shrewish wife Vanessa (Adrienne Barbeau), Thornton decides to pay a surprise visit to Jason at college. Unfortunately, Jason isn’t happy in his studies and is thinking of dropping out. Thornton tries to talk Jason out of quitting school, but his son argues that he became rich and successful without a college education.
Hoping to beat Jason at his own game, Thornton enrolls in school, insisting that he and his son go through college together. Of course, that’s all the set up that Rodney… er, I mean Thornton requires to turn into a one-man "animal house" and start partying all over the campus. Of course, college life isn’t all partying, Thornton does have time to romance his beautiful English professor Dr. Diane Turner (Sally Kellerman), as well as get under the skin of his snooty economic professor Dr. Phillip Barbay (Paxton Whitehead). Rodney rips off the jokes in typical Rodney fashion, while everyone else just keeps setting him up. The cast of BACK TO SCHOOL also includes Burt Young, Robert Downey Jr., Terry Farrell, M. Emmet Walsh, William Zabka and Ned Beatty as Dean Martin (it’s still funny every time Rodney says it). Look for comedian Sam Kinison in an inspired cameo, which could quite possibly be the film’s most hilarious moment.
MGM Home Entertainment has issued BACK TO SCHOOL on a two-sided DVD that offers viewers a choice of full screen or wide screen presentations. All I can say is BACK TO SCHOOL gets no respect on DVD. Image-wise the full screen and wide screen versions are about equal, which isn’t too good. The rest of my comments will pertain to the wide screen version of the movie. First of all, BACK TO SCHOOL doesn’t look as if it were given a new transfer, even though this is the first time the film has been issued wide screen. If this were a brand new transfer, the presentation would feature the anamorphic enhancement of playback on 16:9 televisions. Second, the framing of the wide screen version of the movie is troublesome. Too much of the frame is matted out on the bottom on the image; check the opening credits to see what I mean. Third, the image isn’t as sharp or detailed as one generally sees on a brand new transfer. Forth, the film element contains a lot of blemishes and image has considerable grain. Combining all these factors leads me to suspect that either this wide screen transfer was laying around at Orion for years, or someone took an existing 4:3 transfer and placed the black bars at the top and bottom of the image to create a 1.85:1 matte.
Getting back to how the DVD looks… Colors are variable, appearing faded in some scenes and more vibrant in others. Flesh tones usually run towards the pale side, however the color red is usually well saturated- go figure. Blacks are fairly accurate, but don’t go looking for much by way of shadow detail. Digital compression artifacts did not affect the image in any significant way.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 channel soundtrack decodes to standard surround and is somewhat better than the image. Sound effects are very subtle and not terribly directional. Dialogue is clean enough to understand all the jokes. Danny Elfman’s music sounds decent, but if you want high fidelity try an Oingo Boingo CD, or a collection of his music that includes the BACK TO SCHOOL theme. French and Spanish language soundtracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are French and Spanish subtitles. The interactive menus would not engage on a first-generation Toshiba DVD player, although I could watch the movie by hitting the play button. Trying the DVD in a second-generation Pioneer player, the menus did come up, although they proved to be a rather basic affair. Through the menus, one can access the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a theatrical trailer.
MGM Home Entertainment’s DVD edition of BACK TO SCHOOL is watchable, but it isn’t a quality release. After seeing some of the phenomenal looking DVDs that MGM has released in the past, I know they can do better. Hopefully they will and BACK TO SCHOOL will get an upgrade, just like Warner did with CADDYSHACK.
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