The Breakfast Club finally completes its essay on Blu-ray .
The Production: 3/5
This is going to be a different kind of review, so some explanation is in order. I’m sure you’re wondering why we’re posting a review for a Blu-ray that was actually released 2 ½ months ago. This is not a current item hitting store shelves, and it’s not a current movie. The Breakfast Club’s been released many times on home video over the past 30 years, to be sure. But is a good film and one that’s worthy of examination. And it has frankly never had the kind of in-depth treatment that it just received from The Criterion Collection. When I picked up a copy from Criterion a couple of weeks ago, I immediately dove into the bounty of materials they’d included. And then I made a request to put something up on this title, even though I do not normally handle Criterion releases, and even though we were so far removed from the release date. (I actually once reviewed the Criterion DVD of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but that’s been the extent of my coverage of their offerings – aside from my annual participation in our wish-listing…) I wanted to cover this title because it would allow me to complete a review that I started here nearly ten years ago.
The Breakfast Club continues to hold its own as a demonstration of teen angst and drama, laced with occasional bits of character comedy. It’s a chamber drama, where we meet five high school students stuck in Saturday detention for various infractions: a “brain” (Anthony Michael Hall’s Brian), an “athlete” (Emilio Estevez’ Andrew), a “basket case” (Ally Sheedy’s Allison), a “princess” (Molly Ringwald’s Claire) and a “criminal (Judd Nelson’s John Bender). Over the course of about 90 minutes, writer/director John Hughes examines what happens when the students confront each other and themselves over everything from the trivial (petty taunts at each other and the assistant principal) to the more substantial as their personal secrets and fears are exposed. Some of this gets quite self-important at times, and some of it continues to be genuinely moving, even 33 years after the film’s original release. Hughes is careful in the movie to never talk down to the characters or to his audience. As I’ve noted in my prior reviews of this title, a John Hughes movie speaks to teens in their own language, and thereby works as an expression of teen ideas rather than something imposed by older adults trying to act like they know teen slang and music. The Breakfast Club is a time capsule of teenage attitudes in 1985 – in terms of clothing, hair, music, and lingo – but it’s also a more timeless examination of the teenage mindset. The five basic character types presented here are stereotypes, as the movie openly admits, but they are also archetypes that continue to exist today. Probably the movie’s greatest success is in showing how these characters’ labels actually cover far more complex and interesting human beings once you rip off the covers.
Nearly ten years ago, in September 2008, I posted a review on this website for the Universal DVD release of the “High School Flashback Collection”, a package containing three John Hughes teen movies from the 1980s. Included in the package were Hughes’ science fiction romp Weird Science, his first directorial effort Sixteen Candles and, of course, his most interesting dramatic foray, The Breakfast Club. I noted at the time that the 2008 release was about the third or fourth go-round on DVD for these movies, including some bare-bones editions that had come out with different wrappers. The 2008 edition was the first one to provide some bonus content for these movies, particularly for The Breakfast Club, which was given the most attention with multiple featurettes and a scene-specific commentary. Unfortunately, I realized as I went through the bonus content that it was all pretty skimpy. DVD producer Jason Hillhouse had done the best he could to make something interesting, including getting Anthony Michael Hall and Judd Nelson to sit for a commentary session, but he’d come up empty on trying to get any real substance. I noted that there was no participation from two people who would have been crucial sources of information and insight – actress Molly Ringwald and writer/director John Hughes. Instead, Hillhouse had cobbled together a 51 minute featurette called “Sincerely Yours”, which included soundbites from some of the cast, including Hall, Nelson, Ally Sheedy and supporting player John Kapelos and had various other filmmakers such as Diablo Cody and Michael Lehmann commenting on their opinions about the movie. Hillhouse also threw in a five minute featurette about the origins of the term “The Brat Pack” and a trailer for the film. And that’s about it. When I wrote my review in 2008, I was disappointed to see that a good opportunity to really examine this film had been lost. Among other things, it was known that John Hughes possessed a much longer cut of the movie, with many deleted scenes, and that there were multiple existing interviews with him that could have been accessed had he given permission. There was also an extensive amount of EPK interview material recorded during the production that could have been applied.
To be fairer to Jason Hillhouse than I was in 2008, I should acknowledge that it is unlikely that either Hughes or Ringwald would have been that interested in participating at that time. John Hughes famously left Hollywood in the latter-90s after the death of his friend John Candy, and after his own movies had retreated from material like The Breakfast Club and Planes, Trains and Automobiles to outright slapstick and simpler fare like Curly Sue. (I remember wincing at the trailer for one of his later productions, Baby’s Day Out, and wondering what had happened to the more intelligent material he had formerly released.) When one looks at the filmography of John Hughes, one finds him starting with a few adult comedy scripts like National Lampoon’s Vacation and Mr. Mom, segueing into his teen movie period, segueing again after Ferris Bueller’s Day Off into adult slapstick, and then veering into preteen creations like Home Alone and veering farther with movies like the Flubber remake. Hughes’ last efforts in film, Reach the Rock and New Port South, done in the late 1990s, appear to have been done more to help promote the work of his sons than anything else. (It’s notable that for Reach the Rock, Hughes actually did some promotional work, including his commentary for the Paramount DVD of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off at that time.) After that point, Hughes retreated to Illinois and no longer had anything to do with Hollywood. (There’s a wonderful blog post about John Hughes, written by Alison Byrne Fields, which I recommend any reader of this review please visit: http://wellknowwhenwegetthere.blogspot.com/2009/08/sincerely-john-hughes.html Fields discusses her teenage experience as a pen pal with Hughes through the latter 1980s and about how she reconnected with him again in 1997.) In 2007 and 2008, I doubt that John Hughes wanted to have a long discussion with anyone about his teen movies from the 1980s, or about giving anyone permission to use his archival interviews about them. And Molly Ringwald parted ways with Hughes in 1986 after Pretty in Pink, and moved on to other films, essentially leaving the teen genre behind her. As with Hughes, it is unlikely that she was enthusiastic in 2007 and 2008 about revisiting her early movies. In 2009, John Hughes passed away in New York at the age of 59.
In 2010, Universal released a Blu-ray edition of The Breakfast Club for its 25th Anniversary. I dutifully went through it to see if Universal had been able to supplement the earlier materials. Instead, I found that they’d just combined the VC-1 transfer from their HD-DVD and a new DTS-HD MA sound encode with the existing commentary and featurettes from the 2008 DVD. In 2015, Universal released a second Blu-ray of the title, this time for the 30th Anniversary. I went through that edition for reviewing purposes, but found once again that there was nothing really new in the bonus features. The 30th Anniversary edition did have a newly struck AVC transfer, so the picture quality looked a bit better. And there was a pop-up trivia track that had been added, really just offering little tidbits on a “notebook paper” frame every few minutes in the movie. But still nothing from John Hughes’ materials, or anything further from the cast. I could understand in retrospect why the additional material was not available for the 2008 or even the 2010 releases, but the lack of attention for the 2015 release was a total head slapper. By 2015, Molly Ringwald was talking about these movies again, appearing in a memorable Ira Glass interview to discuss showing The Breakfast Club to her daughter, and there was no reason to think that John Hughes’ family would not have made his materials available. Sadly, no efforts were made in these areas. It was nice that they did a new transfer, but the lost opportunity for the rest remained. I note that had Universal actually taken the minimal time in 2015 to look into this material, there would have been no need for Criterion to step in. Everything found on the new Criterion release could have been part of the 30th Anniversary edition.
Since little had been done in those areas, and since Criterion tends to keep an eye out for movies that deserve extra attention, The Breakfast Club came up as something they wanted to examine. From what I can see, Criterion arranged to license the 2015 AVC transfer and the existing sound mixes from Universal, along with whatever they wanted from the prior bonus features. But then they went to work, adding in a raft of special content that included pretty much everything I’d been asking Universal to do for ten years. The first thing they did was get ahold of John Hughes’ materials from his family in Chicago, including the tape of the workprint cut of The Breakfast Club and Hughes’ notebooks. Then they pulled all the EPK materials from Universal, including the raw interviews done on location during the 1984 shoot – including discussions with cast members who are no longer with us – and the completed EPK package, which itself contains a battered standard-definition 4×3 trailer for the film. Then they located two audio pieces with John Hughes – one from a 1985 AFI seminar and another from a 1999 radio interview he did in Chicago. They also found the 2014 Ringwald interview from This American Life and two 1985 segments of the Today Show where the cast appeared to promote the movie. Finally, Criterion conducted new interviews with Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy in 2017, going much farther into depth than the soundbites heard in the 2008 Hillhouse featurettes. The resulting Blu-ray is one that is packed with information about the making of this film, and the attitudes and intentions of the people who made it. At long last, we have an edition of this movie that gives a pretty full picture – or at least the most full picture we’ll ever have of it or could really want. I’m truly grateful to Criterion for doing this. And I Recommend this one for purchase, even if the note is coming 2 ½ months after its release.
3D Rating: NA
The Breakfast Club is presented in a 1:85:1 1080p AVC transfer (@ an average of 27 mbps) that is a little grainier and a little more detailed than the VC-1 transfer seen on Universal’s 2010 Blu-ray. From everything I can see, the transfer here is the same one used for Universal’s 2015 30th Anniversary Blu-ray, and it’s based on a 4K scan of the original negative. One oddity is that the bitrates on the Criterion disc are different from those seen on the 2015 Blu-ray, with the Criterion averaging at 27 mbps and the Universal Blu averaging at 30 mbps. I’m not sure how that came about, but there’s no visible difference in the actual picture, which looks great. If I had to guess, I’d say that Criterion was making more room for the extensive special features on the single disc.
The Breakfast Club is presented in two options in English: a Linear PCM track of the original mono audio (@ an average 2.3 mbps) and the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track previously heard on the two Universal Blu-rays (@ an average 3.9 mbps, ramping up to 4.2 mbps in the louder musical moments). The mono track is clean and quite easy on the ears – and this is the only time it’s been made available on Blu-ray. (I’m not certain that the original mono has actually ever been available on any form of DVD, but I could be wrong, given how many times Universal put the title out…) The 5.1 track continues to be fun, mostly for when the songs play at various points in the movie. As I noted in my earlier reviews, most of the sound mix for the film lives in the front channels, given that this is a dialogue-driven movie. So the original mono track probably makes the most sense, but the 5.1 conversion gives it a little more theatrical space when the Simple Minds pipe up. And I should note that the bitrates on the 5.1 mix are a little lower than the Universal release, where they lived at about 4.2 mbps and ramped up to 5.3 mbps at the same moments where the Criterion disc sees its mix ramp up. Again, I think this is likely due to Criterion needing memory capacity for the special features.
Special Features: 5/5
The Breakfast Club finally gets a packed special edition, courtesy of the Criterion Collection’s researchers. The commentary and the largest featurette from the Universal releases are carried over here, but that’s only the beginning of the dessert:
Commentary with Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson and Jason Hillhouse (FROM THE 2008 DVD RELEASE) – Direct from the 2008 DVD, we get a scene-specific commentary for this film, but instead of John Hughes, we have Hall and Nelson being gently prodded along by DVD producer Jason Hillhouse. They relate some material about the location shoot and the rehearsals, but their observations are unfortunately limited. It’s a congenial chat between people that enjoy each other’s company, but there isn’t anything groundbreaking here. Listening to sections of this track again ten years after the fact, I caught some additional moments of fun – particularly one early on where Hall and Nelson have a great time with a shot where you can see Sheedy’s Allison steal John Bender’s knife in the background of a shot. (He plants it on her table and turns around – and while he’s continuing to vent in the other direction, she can be seen swiping it…)
Sincerely Yours (51:00, 480p) (FROM THE 2008 DVD) – This is a series of interview snippets in 12 parts, with Hall and Nelson, joined by John Kapelos and Ally Sheedy and others including Diablo Cody and Michael Lehmann. Again, some interesting material comes out here and there – Sheedy admits her on-set nickname for Hall, and all of them express their affection for Paul Gleason – but this is not that revealing of a piece. Once again, the absence of John Hughes and Molly Ringwald can really be felt here. The difference now is that there’s a LOT more material to address that deficit.
Deleted & Extended Scenes (51:39, 4×3, 480p) – The first major treasure trove hits with this item. What we’re looking at is a transfer of a videotape of John Hughes’ longer cut of the movie, which originally ran to nearly 2 ½ hours. Not all of the footage here is new – some of this is simply extensions of existing scenes. And there is no chapter list for the new scenes – you simply dig in and start the meal. (If I have a gentle criticism here, it’s that the only way to navigate this stuff is the old VHS way – fast forward and rewind. If you try to go to the next chapter, you’ll exit the section.) People should be aware this is not 1080p material in beautiful condition – it’s an old videotape and it very much looks and sounds like one. Once you start to actually watch the scenes, there’s some great material to be found. John Bender’s vicious depiction of his family home life is now answered by depictions from Claire and Brian. Claire’s is the one you’d expect, where her parents can’t be bothered to be involved in her life. Brian’s is actually unsettling – and it offers an explanation in retrospect as to why he’s so desperate to be perfect for his parents. The released film has a fun moment with janitor Carl (John Kapelos), where Bender ridicules him and he responds that he actually knows a LOT more than Bender or the others think he does. The longer cut lets Kapelos completely loose – first he pushes Bender’s insult all the way over the edge by saying you become a janitor by “f***ing up” and then “f****ing up some more” and so on. But then he really goes to town – offering each of the students his prediction for their future as of 1985. The scary part about the monologue is that it feels quite accurate – if anything, the janitor out-Benders Bender for a minute. The reaction shot seen in the released film of Bender smiling at Carl’s response is actually for this moment, and it makes more sense here. There’s also a few extensions of scenes of Richard Vernon (Paul Gleason) and Carl, where Carl is equally as cutting with the assistant principal as he is with the kids. There’s a moment in the hallway with Allison breaking into a teacher’s locker and finding a Prince album that she’ll later have in the released film. The climactic moment of confession for everyone has a longer sequence for Brian – whose story is both more disturbing and paradoxically funnier in its uncut state. And the closing moments where everyone leaves are now augmented to show John Hughes’ deleted cameo as Brian’s father. This is mostly great stuff. (I perhaps could have lived without seeing the scene of Allison eating in the bathroom, but to each their own…) I’ll note that there is one additional moment that is not included in this collection, although a couple of shots from it are included in the new interview with Ally Sheedy – where during the students’ music and marijuana binge, her character actually isolates herself in the sound booth. I’ve read about additional material past what we have here (such as with other teachers at the school dealing with Vernon), but I now believe that to have existed only in early script drafts and not as actually shot scenes.
Cast & Crew Interviews:
Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy (18:38, 1080p) (NEW INTERVIEWS) – Two new interviews from 2017 are presented here and intercut, although each one gets plenty of time. These are not soundbites, but rather in-depth discussions from each woman about how she got involved in the movie and how it was made. Ringwald discusses how she was originally asked to play Allison but campaigned to play the part of Claire (originally known as Cathy). Ringwald goes through a lot of areas, but the most interesting for me is the part where she’s asked the old question of whether the students would be friends come Monday. In the film, her character categorically says NO, admitting that social pressures would never permit her or Andrew to acknowledge the others. Looking back 30+ years later, Ringwald equivocates. At one moment, she wants to believe they would actually have learned something from their day together, which would, by the way, prove that the detention might actually have a positive learning component nobody anticipated. But the next moment, Ringwald admits that the kids probably wouldn’t acknowledge each other, given their ages and the reality of school life. She finally says the answer is probably in the middle – which is the likely correct answer: They’d be friends but they wouldn’t be advertising it, and it probably would create some uncomfortable moments among all of them. Sheedy for her part goes into depth about how she felt closer to Allison as a character than she did to Jennifer Mack in Wargames. Sheedy apparently got involved with both the costuming and the heavy eye makeup and frumped hair look they came up with for Allison. To Sheedy, this was both the way Allison should look and the way she saw herself. Sheedy also mentions the deleted moments of her alone in the sound booth, with a few bits of the footage being included here, saying that when she told Hughes that she wouldn’t be hanging around with the others at that moment, he responded by spending an afternoon shooting what she would be doing.
The next four interviews come from the EPK interviews done on location at the school in 1984. The material comes from 33-year old videotape, like the deleted footage in the earlier section. What we’re seeing here is mostly the raw footage before it would be edited into soundbites for the usual featurettes, although a small amount of the on-set footage has been edited into the video while the interviewees continue their comments.. Meaning that there’s a chance to see real humanity here and something more than the usual backpatting.
Judd Nelson (12:36, 4×3, 480p) – Nelson’s interview is quite literate in terms of Nelson’s discussions of acting and his references. Of course, there’s also the opening moment of raw footage where the cameraman is trying to frame out Nelson’s cigarette and get him to put it out, since they don’t want that in the material Universal will be using to promote the movie…
Ally Sheedy (15:23, 4×3, 480p) – Ally Sheedy’s interview is a time-capsule look back to who she was in 1984, when the discussion of the movie was completely fresh.
Irene Brafstein (8:58, 4×3, 480p) – Irene Brafstein is interviewed here about the challenges for young actors who are still in school to be working on a movie set for months at a time while still needing to spend time studying the same regular subjects as any other teenager. Brafstein notes that the only student-age actors on the movie are Anthony Michael Hall and Molly Ringwald, while the others are in their 20s and thus no longer in school. (Irene Brafstein was a studio teacher and welfare worker on movie and television productions, after having had a career as a regular school teacher before then. She did this work on multiple John Hughes movies, including this one and on Pretty in Pink. She passed away in 1998.)
Paul Gleason (11:09, 4×3, 480p) – Paul Gleason’s interview is probably the lightest and happiest of the bunch. For a man who regularly played villainous and unpleasant characters like Richard Vernon or Trading Places’ Clarence Beeks, Gleason is surprisingly warm and generous, repeatedly offering hearfelt praise to the other cast members and to John Hughes for giving all of them the room to work on their characters. Gleason discusses his character as an unpleasant person that he actually doesn’t like. Also included in this interview is some of the raw on-set EPK video from the 1984 shoot, including moments where Gleason happily clowns with the rest of the cast between shots. (After watching this interview, it’s no surprise that the 2008 featurette interviews would include everyone declaring their affection for him and their sadness at his passing in 2006.)
John Hughes: Two audio pieces with John Hughes are included here. Given how few interviews Hughes ever conducted, it’s great to have these.
American Film Institute Seminar – May 1, 1985 (47:21, Audio Only) – This is the audio of a seminar held with John Hughes at AFI in Los Angeles three months after the movie came out. There’s an interview and discussion with Hughes about his thoughts and intentions on the production of the movie, and then a Q&A with AFI students, where he’s asked about multiple areas of the movie. He discusses casting, shooting and everything else you could think of. (There’s one interesting contrast that comes out here – Ally Sheedy has stated that he cast her in this movie based on her appearance in Wargames. Hughes says here that he actually cast her because he saw her in the 1983 Bad Boys – a much more interesting and challenging selection, if you know both films. And for those who are about to ask, I’m not referring to the Michael Bay movie – the 1983 film is a very different animal…) Hughes also describes the origin of the film’s title as being from a weekday morning detention that makes more sense in a logical way. Hughes figured people would forgive him the use of the name for a weekend detention, since it gave him a better title. The seminar actually is broken into 16 chapters. Of course, if you’re using a plasma TV (as I am) and you’re concerned about burn-in with a single image staying up throughout the discussion, you can always turn the set off and just run the sound through your receiver…
Sound Opinions – 1999 (16:05, Audio Only) – This is a Chicago radio show hosted by Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot that normally focuses on the rock and roll scene. John Hughes visited the show to talk to the guys in 1999 as part of his promotion of the soundtrack for Reach the Rock, and the discussion actually wound up going through many of his movies’ music choices, including The Breakfast Club. In one surprising moment, Hughes and the group discuss how “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” is actually not a song written by the Simple Minds – it was written by 80s movie song stylist Keith Forsey and given to Jim Kerr to perform. (There’s a whole discussion about whether such a song is “legitimate”, in that it didn’t spring from the Simple Minds trying to create an album, but that’s a whole other discussion…) The guys discuss how Hughes would find bands and music – he mentions having hung around the Chicago record store Wax Trax. They also discuss that Hughes tended to leave the bands alone when it came to having them record songs, or just using songs they’d already recorded. He says that there was only one instance, on Pretty in Pink, where he asked a band to adjust something as he’d liked an earlier version of their song better. The end of this interview segment indicates that there was actually a continuation that had been recorded at the time – either this no longer exists, or it wasn’t particularly relevant to The Breakfast Club. Again, the whole reason Hughes even did the interview was to promote the Reach the Rock soundtrack, which really was a promotion for his son’s work. Following this, the only remotely Hollywood work he did was to produce New Port South for his son to direct. And after that point, he did not wish to be involved. The last decade of his life was spent with his family.
Electronic Press Kit (23:49 Total, 4×3, 480p) – This is the assembled EPK video package presented by Universal to the media in 1985 for the movie. It’s clearly a transfer from 33 year-old videotape and it’s not in the greatest condition, but it’s interesting to see how they intended to promote the movie on the day. The nearly 24 minute collection is broken down into seven sections: “Ensemble Profile”, “John Hughes Profile”, “Dede Allen Profile” (about the film’s famous editor), “Youth Picture”, “Roller Coaster”, a short featurette and then the film’s theatrical trailer.
The Today Show (9:42 Total, 4×3, 480p) – Two segments from early 1985 airings of The Today Show, hosted by Jane Pauley, are included here. The first one has Molly Ringwald and Judd Nelson, and the second one has Ally Sheedy, Emilio Estevez and Anthony Michael Hall. Even by the time of this interview, the 17 year-old Hall looks notably different from his 16 year-old look in the movie.
Describe the Ruckus (12:13, 1080p) (NEW ASSEMBLY) – This is an interesting idea. The Criterion gang were able to get their hands on John Hughes’ handwritten notebooks of his ideas and thoughts for the script and production of The Breakfast Club. So for this featurette, they literally present those notes, while having Judd Nelson read them aloud on the soundtrack. This is fun in more ways than intended, as Nelson misreads various of Hughes’ notes along the way. An early section describing detention as akin to jail trips Nelson up – Hughes’ handwriting indicates “Big House – Shermer”, referring to the high school name. Nelson reads that as “Big House – Slammer”. In a sense, this is the reverse of watching bad subtitling on a foreign film… On the other hand, it’s really interesting to see Hughes’ notes and a bit more entertaining than just scrolling through a gallery of photos.
This American Life – May 23, 2014 (15:13, Audio Only) – This is the Ira Glass interview with Molly Ringwald on NPR from four years ago. It’s fascinating for multiple reasons. Ringwald was discussing her career with Ira Glass, and brought him a tape of her sitting down to watch The Breakfast Club with her 10 year-old daughter Mathilda. Some of the tape is played of them setting up the movie (Ringwald is not an expert on HDMI for sure), and then of Mathilda’s reaction to the movie afterwards. There’s a genuinely surprising bit about who Mathilda identified with the most out of the students – Ringwald clearly expected her to identify with her and got a different answer. Ringwald’s 2014 reaction to the movie is a new one – that of a parent. Ringwald even says that she feels more for the parents of the characters at this point in her life. It’s an unexpectedly raw interview, and one that I wish John Hughes could have lived to hear.
The movie is subtitled in English. The usual pop-up menus are present.
The Breakfast Club finally gets a solid, in-depth release on Blu-ray. The movie itself has always been solid, and continues to be engaging, now 33 years after its original release. The picture and sound presentation have already been quite good. The difference now is the additional content, which has been boosted by the Criterion Collection to 11. I’m pleased to Recommend this title for purchase. Don’t worry that the disc was released in January. It’s still just as good in March.