"Real Genius" is one of those comedies that more than a few of my friends and peers discuss and cherish. However, it is a film that I previously had only seen in bits and pieces. About the only thing I could remember was a house being destroyed by popcorn and a very young Val Kilmer running around pretending to be a genius. Before reviewing this film for DVD, I had probably seen a solid third of the film and though it had been well received by practically everybody I knew, I never made a solid effort to see the film. After all of these years, the film was coming to DVD and I would finally get a chance to see the entire picture and see what I had been supposedly missing out on.
In a nutshell, "Real Genius" is about Mitch Taylor (Gabe Jarret), a 16-year old genius who is accepted into a school for the gifted. His roommate is the last young genius to be accepted to the school, Chris Knight (Val Kilmer). Chris may be incredibly brilliant, but he has become quite a slacker and uses his incredible intellect entirely for the purpose of having fun and partying. Apparently, Chris began his days in the school with much the same attitude of Mitch, but after spending time with the Lazlo (Jon Gries), who lives in their closet, Chris has decided that he would become burned out and useless if he did not change his ways. The interaction between Mitch and Chris becomes that of the straight laced versus the class clown and how they attempt to influence each other and find the middle ground that will make them both successful.
Other than the interaction between Chris and Mitch, there is also a plot to bring the forces of good and evil against each other. Chris and Mitch are the forces of good, and they become pitted against the man who runs the school, Professor Hathaway (William Atherton). Hathaway has the young geniuses working on building the ultimate laser, a weapon that can be used from space to disintegrate a man or woman. He pushes the two boys on working as hard as they can to meet the deadlines outlined by the military. They believe this is part of their education and a requirement for graduation. When they finally discover the military purposes of the laser, they are forced to take action against Hathaway.
The cast was very entertaining and easily the strength of the film. Kilmer has only impressed me in "The Doors" and perhaps "The Ghost and the Darkness." However, he showed some promise in his younger days and the performance he put forth in "Real Genius" is one of his more relaxed and better roles. The rest of the cast is equally good, but Jon Gries stole many scenes as the reclusive Lazlo, who somehow vanished into the closet and spent much of his time trying to win as many Frito Lays prizes as possible. Atherton and Jarret were solid and I'm surprised that Jarret did not have more success with his acting career. One interesting cameo to look for is that of producer Dean Devlin.
Watching the film, I could almost understand what all the fuss was about. There were plenty of very hilarious moments. However, there were other times when the film seemed to drag on forever and the only purpose the movie served was that of a time capsule to the early days of my being a teenager. I found myself laughing one moment and fiddling with the DVD case the next. Perhaps in my younger and less intelligent and critical days I would have seen what everybody else had saw in "Real Genius." I do not feel the film has lost much appeal because of age, I just feel that it is a decent comedy that was over-hyped and does not compete with my favorites from that time of my life, "The Breakfast Club" or "The Goonies."
There is good news and there is bad news when it comes to this point of my review. The good news is that Columbia TriStar has went above the call of duty and included the original 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of the film and they have thrown in the heavily cropped 1.33:1 full frame (pan and scan) version of the film to satisfy those who do not like the big thick ugly black bars. Though the film is certainly watchable in full frame, you can see that there is a lot of information lost at the left and right of the film. The bad news is that the image quality of "Real Genius" is not what is typically expected from Columbia TriStar. I found the picture to be soft and grainy. There were also a lot of problems with edge enhancement and moiré patterns. Colors were very good and nicely saturated and black levels were good. The transfer is the best this film has ever seen, but as far as DVD goes, the picture just wasn't as sharp and detailed as typically expected.
Audio is unimpressive, but passable. Mastered in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, the film conveys its soundtrack nicely and cleanly, but without much life or spunk. Dialogue is clear and intelligible, but in one or two instances the levels fell enough that you had some difficulty hearing what was being said. Music is an important element of the picture and the sound quality is good, but feels overall flat. There is not much in the area of ambient sounds, effects or thunderous bass, but for a comedy of the mid eighties, this soundtrack will suit most viewers perfectly fine. This is not a film where you expect much from the audio end and you will not find any surprises with "Real Genius."
Where is my "Real Genius" trailer? It is certainly not on the DVD. However, aside from the French and Spanish subtitles, a trailer for "Hook" and one for "Jumanji" can be found as Bonus Trailers and keeps this DVD from earning a 9 ‘Extras' score. Perhaps the inclusion of both the pan & scan and widescreen transfers should be considered value added content, but I disagree. I want more and I know that the general populace does too.
I do not consider "Real Genius" a waste of time. It made me laugh more than once. However, I cannot agree with my friends and peers and consider this a comedy classic. There are many more comedies from the mid Eighties that deserve a look. "Gremlins" and those already mentioned in my review are true classics. Fans of Val Kilmer should certainly disregard anything I say, because for them this is a must have disc. For others, it really does come down to taste. The film is funny, but not hilarious. It serves as a nice time capsule to the Eighties. Columbia TriStar has done a decent job of delivering this title to DVD, but sans any extras and with a less than stellar transfer.