Friday, June 25, 2010

ST. ELMO'S FIRE: Blu-Ray (Columbia 1985) Sony Home Entertainment

In retrospect, Joel Schumacher’s St. Elmo’s Fire (1985) is a fond farewell to the brat pack teeny-bopper flicks that director John Hughes made justly famous during the first half of the 1980s; the brat packers having matured beyond their teens and, at least in this film, represented as graduates of Georgetown University.

Schumacher has always resisted the term 'brat pack' - suggesting that no such clique ever existed in Hollywood. Nevertheless and for a brief while, the term stuck to the careers of Ally Sheedy, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson and Molly Ringwald (the latter not featured in this movie).

Deriving its title from the electrical weather phenomenon that occurs when a grounded object comes in contact with an atmospheric electric charge, the screenplay by Schumacher and Carl Kurlander explores that painful rift where youth must suddenly come to terms with their lives apart from the cloistered halls of academia and assume their responsibilities as adults With memorable bits of melodrama, the film stars a potpourri of then up and coming talents, most of whom would continue to grow up and evolve in front of the cameras with varying degrees of professional success.

In retrospect, the film seems to favour Rob Lowe's perpetual screw up, Billy Hicks – a once, high man on campus who finds that the world beyond college holds no tangible place for him. With nowhere but down to go, Billy plays sax and seduces a bevy of college lovelies nightly at the local frat watering hole – St. Elmo’s Bar. Under the opening credits we first see Billy and his fellow grads optimistically departing Georgetown with their cap and gowns donned.

From here, however, the narrative takes a quantum leap six months into the future. A concerned waiter, Kirby Keger (Emilion Estevez), preppy aspiring writer, Kevin Dolenz (Andrew McCarthy), political assistant Alec Newbary (Judd Nelson) and his fiancée, Leslie Hunter (Ally Sheedy), arrive at the hospital emergency ward to make their inquiries about Billy and his date, the demure rich girl, Wendy Beamish (Mare Winningham) who have been involved in a drunk driving accident. They are almost immediately followed by drama queen, Jules (Demi Moore) and her latest, nameless boy toy (David Lain Baker).

Learning that both Billy and Wendy have escaped their wreck with only minor injuries, the plot pares off to explore each character's private life. Most immediate of these plot developments involves Kirby's sudden infatuation with Dale Biberman (Andie McDowell); a young doctor whom Kirby obsessively fantasizes about seducing.

In another part of town, we learn that Alec has managed to fast track his career as a promising advisor in the political arena but that his eagerness to marry Leslie has been met with subtle apprehensions. It seems that Leslie has developed affections for Kevin who has always loved her. Uptown, Jules invites Kevin to her new apartment that she has furnished entirely on credit in the hopes that her modest job as a bank teller will lead to a promising affair with her boss.

Meanwhile, in Georgetown's fashionable upscale suburbs, greeting card magnet, Mr. Beamish (Martin Balsam) has invited Billy to dinner in the hopes of learning what his intensions are toward Wendy. But the night is a disaster, capped off by Billy reverting to form, getting drunk and climbing out onto the Beamish's cape cod rooftop with a forty ouncer in hand. Ironically, Wendy finds Billy's adolescent antics charming and continues to see him. However, rather than rely on her father's fortunes to sustain herself, she decides to take a job as an assistant at the downtown welfare office and homeless shelter.

From here the narrative threads become more intertwined. Wendy learns that Billy has impregnated another girl and ends their relationship. To impress Dale, Kirby gets a job driving limo for a Japanese businessman, then throws a house party at his employer's home that goes hopeless awry. As guests begin to trash the place, Alec publicly announces that Leslie is to be his wife, forcing Leslie to reject Alec once and for all reveal her affair with Kevin. The realization that Kevin and Leslie are lovers sends Alec into a painful tailspin of regret and anger that forever fractures their friendships.

Meanwhile, thrust into the newfound responsibilities of becoming a father, Billy makes several half hearted attempts to sober up and procure more serious work. He returns to Georgetown's frat house, hoping that his past reputation will stand in for a chance to prove himself as a sort of campus social director but quickly learns that the new plebs regard him strictly as their front man for acquiring better booze and drugs.

Across town, Jules days of living lavishly on a modest budget have officially caught up with her. She is cast into receivership. Repo men clean out her apartment and she is fired from her job after having skimmed monies in a last ditch attempt to salvage her lifestyle. Assuming the worst, Billy and Kevin break into Jules apartment to discover that she is on the verge of attempting suicide.

As for Kirby, his romantic lusting over Dale has reached a fevered pitch. After pursuing her to a mountain cabin, Kirby learns that Dale is engaged to another doctor. But his heartbreak is cured when, in a moment of farewell, he passionately grabs Dale in a dramatic dip, planting a long and memorable kiss on her lips. The film ends on a rather open and insecure note as the young adults gradually depart Georgetown to pursue their separate lives, realizing that their days as 'lifelong' campus compatriots have suddenly and irreversibly come to an end.

The Schumacher/Kurlander script is notable for conveying the pitfalls of shallow materialism and also for exposing the pressures that youth face during their most awkward transitional period - from carefree college kids to maturing, responsible adults. Fuelled by David Foster's memorable St. Elmo's Fire theme and John Parr's chart topping single, Man In Motion, St. Elmo's Fire is a memorable excursion and a rewarding coming of age flick that will likely continue to endure for many decades to come.

Sony Home Entertainment’s Blu-Ray transfer bests its DVD but only marginally; perhaps because the DVD's video quality was, for its time, quite remarkable. Colors on the Blu-Ray are richly saturated, yet ironically, don't pop as one might expect. The most impressive difference is the Blu-Ray's attention to minute detail in background information and clothing. Flesh tones still appear weak and a tad too pink as they did on the DVD. Contrast levels are adequately represented, but blacks don't feel as solid or deep as one might expect. Infrequently, film grain is more naturally realized on the Blu-Ray. On the DVD it registered as digital grit. On occasion, the image also seems slightly soft. The audio is a 4.0 Dolby Digital mix that captures the dated characteristics of 1980s movie tracks; lacking in some mid-range and bass tonality.

Extras include a brief retrospective interview with Schulmacher on casting the film, a vintage 'making of' featurette, an audio commentary which tends to meander, and the music video to John Parr's Man In Motion. Bottom line: recommended.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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