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Alan Metter
Rodney Dangerfield, Sally Kellerman, Keith Gordon, Burt Young, Robert Downey Jr., Ned Beatty, Sam Kinison, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
Writing Credits:
Rodney Dangerfield (story), Greg Fields (story), Dennis Snee (story), Steven Kampmann, William Porter, Peter Torokvei, Harold Ramis

Rodney Dangerfield makes the grade with his laugh-riot comedy that's in a class of its own! Higher education will never be the same when co-stars Sally Kellerman, Robert Downey, Jr., Sam Kinison, Ned Beatty and more join the maniac as he takes on the brainiacs! Thorton Melon's (Dangerfield) son is a college misfit, so Thorton's lending some fatherly support ... by enrolling as a fellow freshman! Who cares if the owner of the "Tall and Fat" clothing empire never finished high school? Thorton's pockets are deep enough to buy a ticket to class ... and hire NASA to do his homework! But when he ticks off his professor - and then steals his girlfriend - Thorton takes things just a little too far. Now, he'll have to hit the books - instead of his bank account - or go back to being the world's wealthiest dropout!

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$9.300 million on -unknown- screens.
Domestic Gross
$91.258 million.

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Stereo 2.0
Spanish Monaural
French Dolby Surround 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 97 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 8/7/2007

• “School Daze: The Making of Back to School” Featurette
• “Dissecting the Triple Lindy” Featurette
• “Paying Respect: Remembering Rodney Dangerfield” Featurette
• “Kurt Vonnegut In Memoriam” Featurette
• “News Wrap: From Rocky to Rodney” Featurette
• “Sports Wrap: Rodney – A Diving Force” Featurette
• Photo Gallery
• Trailers and TV Spots


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Back To School: Extra-Curricular Edition (1986)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 7, 2007)

Rodney Dangerfield became a popular comedian due to his put-upon, schlumpy middle-aged “I get no respect” shtick. When he became a movie star, however, things changed a little. Oh, Rodney still displayed all the usual tics and mannerisms, and his basic style stayed the same. However, Rodney turned into something of an icon for hedonism and partying. His character in 1980’s Caddyshack really wants little more than to have a good time, and that general personality carries over to 1986’s Back to School.

Here Dangerfield plays Thornton Melon, the wealthy owner of a chain of clothing stores that cater to the “Tall and Fat”. However, he has his problems. His slutty wife Vanessa (Adrienne Barbeau) disrespects him and cheats on him, while his son Jason (Keith Gordon) turns out to be miserable at college; for his pop’s benefit, he pretends to be BMOC, but he’s really just a nerdy loser who wants to quit.

To keep Jason in school, Thornton takes a radical step: he goes… back to school! Thornton doesn’t have any academic credentials so he buys his way into college when he funds a new building on the Grand Lakes University campus. This upsets snippy business school Dean Philip Barbay (Paxton Whitehead) who resents Thornton’s presence and his effect on academia. The movie follows a mix of threads to their inevitable happy ending.

My synopsis makes Thornton sound like a darker character than my intro hints. That’s because the plot really acts as little more than a loose framework for lots of wacky comedy bits. School exemplifies “high concept” filmmaking; it probably came to life with a basic “Rodney Dangerfield in college!” premise and the story tries to flesh things out as best it can.

You want to know how simple the tale is? I wrote my synopsis from memory – and I’d not seen the film in 20 years! I did it up with the intention that I’d add and change after I watched the flick and had my memory refreshed, but that proved unnecessary. I recalled 99 percent of the tale and needed to alter very little about my recap.

None of the story issue really matter, truth be told, and at times the various elements become a distraction. Most of the flaws come when we focus on Jason. Ala Caddyshack, I guess the filmmakers feel we need a more serious side of the story instead of just comic hijinks, but these moments slow the flick and make it less fun. Gordon holds his own as Jason, and we can certainly understand why he falls for cute and charming Terry Farrell as his dream girl Valerie Desmond, but these scenes still clunk along.

At least the movie offers 80s uber-preppy-baddie William Zabka as Jason’s nemesis. What the heck ever happened to Zabka? Nobody did smug and arrogant like him. A young Robert Downey Jr. creates a delightfully quirky character as Jason’s semi-punk best pal, and I also like Burt Young’s amusingly gruff turn as Thornton’s chauffeur/muscle Lou.

Nonetheless, this is Dangerfield’s movie, and it entertains when it allows him to do his thing. The parts with his love interest (Sally Kellerman) plod a bit, and it doesn’t help that even given Thornton’s freedom at college, it’s absolutely insane to believe that a professor would be able to date a student. That’s just one of many improbable moments that threaten to derail the flick. No, I don’t expect perfect logic from this kind of effort, but the movie’s more absurd bits really tend to throw it off-track.

In addition, Rodney couldn’t act a lick. Anytime the film forces him to do anything other than deliver one-liners, he falls totally flat. As an actor, he’s a great stand-up comic.

The film grants Dangerfield more than enough comedy moments to entertain. As a film, Back to School really kind of stinks. It’s very much a part of its era, as everything about it screams 80s, and not in a good way. Danny Elfman’s score does little more than rework cues from 1985’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, and the flick’s pacing and structure ramble at best.

But Rodney manages to carry the day. He was a truly funny guy, and he could turn even hokey bits into comedy gold. I’d probably rather watch 90 minutes of Dangerfield’s stand-up, but at least he offers enough funny bits to make Back to School an amusing – if erratic – experience.

Ratings footnote: the “PG-13” was only a couple years old when School hit screens, so it wasn’t as codified yet. Whereas now a “PG-13” allows a film one use of the dreaded “F”-word, this flick presents it at least three times; there might be more but I can only remember those three. Also, we get a nice topless shot of a girl in a shower. That’s still okay in “PG-13”, but the combination of language and nudity would clearly make this one an “R” in 2007.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B-/ Bonus B-

Back to School appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though the transfer never faltered badly, it also never became anything special.

All the various elements displayed pros and cons, and sharpness was no exception. Much of the movie appeared reasonably detailed and concise, but exceptions occurred. Wide shots tended to be a bit soft and indistinct. I noticed no jagged edges or shimmering, but some edge haloes cropped up at times. As for source flaws, the flick looked a bit grainier than expected, and I also saw a few specks and marks. However, it usually seemed pretty clean; the grain was the biggest distraction.

Many 80s comedies suffered from somewhat muddy colors, and that came into effect with School. Though many of the hues looked fairly lively and dynamic, they also often seemed a little messy and drab. They were acceptable most of the time, however. Blacks tended to be a bit dense, and shadows tended toward the thick side of the street. I thought the transfer was good enough for a “B-“, but don’t expect anything special.

Along the same lines, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Back to School seemed lackluster. The soundfield opened up matters to a minor degree. Most of the material concentrated on the front speakers. Music offered fine stereo delineation, and various effects spread to the sides in a moderately satisfying way. Nothing particularly memorable occurred, but these elements broadened the settings.

The surrounds added a bit of ambience with a handful of unique pieces. For instance, at one point a door knock came from the right rear speaker. These instances popped up infrequently, though, so don’t expect much from the back channels.

Audio quality was dated but fine. Speech seemed satisfactory. The lines appeared natural and concise, without edginess or other issues. Music showed reasonable range and punch, while effects offered decent clarity and accuracy. The audio wasn’t special but it suited the film.

Most of this DVD’s extras come from a series of featurettes. School Daze: The Making of Back to School runs 17 minutes, 11 seconds as it offers the usual mix of movie clips, archival elements, and interviews. We hear from director Alan Metter, production designer David L. Snyder, co-writer Harold Ramis, producer Chuck Russell, and actors Burt Young, William Zabka, Sally Kellerman, and Keith Gordon. The program looks at script issues and changes, cast, characters, and performances, sets and shooting at the University of Wisconsin, some musical choices, some Rodney-related memories, the movie’s reception, and other production notes.

While not the most direct encapsulation of the film’s creation, “Daze” works pretty well. We get a lot of fun facts about the significant issues and find these presented in an entertaining manner. This ads up to an enjoyable look at the flick.

For the six-minute and five-second Dissecting the Triple Lindy, we get remarks from Russell, Ramis, Metter, Zabka, stunt coordinator Dick Zicker, stunt diver Abbe Gore, and stunt double Michael Ostovich. They discuss the design and execution of the movie’s climactic dive. The participants dissect the wacky dive well in this neat little show.

Paying Respect: Remembering Rodney Dangerfield goes for 10 minutes, two seconds and features Russell, Metter, Ramis, Snyder, Zabka, wife Joan Dangerfield, and actor Jeffrey Jones. “Respect” looks at Rodney’s life and career as well as aspects of his work and some memories of the comic. This doesn’t turn into a full biography, but it succeeds in its attempts to convey elements of Dangerfield’s personality. It’s certainly not the usual hagiography, as “Respect” practically revels in its examination of Rodney’s demons; drugs, depression and drink dominate the discussion. It’s an intriguing program.

Another tribute comes to us via the one-minute and 19-second Kurt Vonnegut: In Memoriam. It offers notes from Russell. It doesn’t tell us much, though, as it mostly just rehashes the Vonnegut-related clips from the movie. That makes it a bit of a waste of time.

For a glimpse of supporting actor Burt Young, we head to News Wrap: From Rocky to Rodney. The three-minute and 22-second clip offers a promotional piece from 1986. We hear a little from Young as he discusses his character and his life. We get a few slightly useful details but not much to inform us.

Finally, Sports Wrap: Rodney – A Diving Force fills one minute, 35 seconds. Another vintage snippet from 1986, this one does little more than show the Triple Lindy scene from the movie. Skip it.

A Photo Gallery offers 18 stills from the movie. It’s a bland and forgettable collection. We also get three TV spots, the theatrical trailer for School and ads for Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj, Get Shorty and the “Best of the 80s”.

If you want to see some classic comedy… look somewhere else. Back to School has a lot of funny moments, but it also comes with a lot problems. It’s enjoyable but frustrating. The DVD presents adequate picture and audio as well as a smattering of reasonably interesting extras. This is a decent DVD for a sporadically amusing movie.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.0909 Stars Number of Votes: 11
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