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Martha Coolidge
Val Kilmer, Gabriel Jarret, Michelle Meyrink, William Atherton, Jon Gries
Neal Israel, Pat Proft, Peter Torokvei

When he gets mad, he doesn't get even... he gets creative.
Rated PG.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Standard 1.33:1
English Dolby Surround
English, French, Spanish

Runtime: 106 min.
Price: $24.95
Release Date: 6/4/2002

• Trailers.


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Real Genius (1985)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Every geek has his day, and the mid-Eighties offered prime exposure for the dorks of the world. They started to pop up as the protagonists in a mix of flicks, including 1984’s Revenge of the Nerds and 1985’s Weird Science.

For my money, the best of the bunch also came from 1985 in the form of Real Genius. At least that’s what I used to think. I always enjoyed Genius and thought it seemed funny, clever and warm.

I hadn’t seen Genius in quite some time before I got the DVD, so I looked forward to the experience. Unfortunately, it didn’t appear quite as amusing as I remembered. Although the movie had some moments, for the most part it came across as smug and very dated.

Genius follows Mitch Taylor (Gabe Jarret), a 15-year-old brainiac who gets accepted to a prestigious math and science university by TV celebrity professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton). Nerdy Mitch gets paired with an older roommate named Chris Knight (Val Kilmer). A former wonderboy of Mitch’s ilk, Chris loosened up considerably over the years and now is a wisecracking party boy, though he continues to exhibit brilliance when desired.

An antagonism develops between Mitch and Kent (Robert Prescott), Hathaway’s brown-nosing assistant. Clearly Kent resents the attention the new boy gets, and he tries to make him unhappy. Chris helps come to his rescue, however, and he also teaches Mitch that there’s more to life than just books and studying.

Hathaway pushes the students to develop a powerful laser. What the kids don’t know is that Hathaway has a deal with the government to create a new ultrapowerful weapons system; he threatens to flunk Chris if he doesn’t succeed. This puts pressure on Chris and the others and also sets up a moral dilemma when they discover the purpose of the laser.

Actually, “moral dilemma” is too strong a term, for Genius treats matters far too simplistically for me to regard anything is such a vague manner. That offered probably the most disappointing aspect of Genius: the black and white way. The movie clearly comes as a product of its era, as it displays heaping helpings of anti-Reagan politics. Admittedly, these remain unstated; we never hear any formal reference to the president or anything else that would specifically identify the period, although at one point, Chris does wear a T-shirt that appears to show a caricature of the president.

However, even without such exact labeling, the movie’s intentions seem clear. The laser system Hathaway develops obviously parallels Reagan’s “Star Wars” initiative, and the film makes it very clear that its creators think this is a very bad idea. Its proponents come across as insidious and nasty; all Atherton needs is a moustache to twirl.

Don’t mistake my criticism of the film as an endorsement of Reagan’s politics. I don’t intend to use this review as a soapbox, but I sympathize with the filmmakers’ thoughts. My objection relates to the clumsy manner in which they execute the material. The movie’s liberal tendencies aren’t limited to their era, but the style used seems very “Eighties”. While a Seventies liberal flick like Harold and Maude adopted a self-righteous tone, Genius seems more sardonic and smug. The flick takes on a tone of irony and smugness that seems very typical for its era.

It doesn’t age well. While Kilmer’s Chris seemed funny and clever 15 years ago, now he just appears arrogant and obnoxious. Kilmer does very well in the role, and he exhibits a lot of talent for light comedy; it’d be interesting to see him try more parts of this sort. However, the character is so patronizing and superior that he gets old pretty quickly.

Actually, the acting of Genius offers its strongest aspects. Kilmer almost overcomes the flaws inherent in his role, and Atherton also makes Hathaway a very entertaining villain. Yes, he seems excessively evil, but Atherton portrays him in the same wonderfully amusing weaselly manner that made similar characters in Die Hard and Ghostbusters interesting. Jarret offers a mildly weak link as simpy Mitch, but other than his fluffy hairstyle, he does decently in the role.

Honestly, I felt very disappointed by Real Genius. Some of my favorite comedies from the Eighties aged well - like Ruthless People - but Genius largely fell flat. The movie provided a couple of amusing moments, but otherwise it seemed smug and condescending and left me largely cold.

Trivia note: look for Dean Devlin in a minor role as one of the college nerds; he turns up in the “Tanning Invitational” scene as “Milton”. If you don’t know the name, Devlin gained greater success as the producer of flicks like Independence Day.

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

Real Genius appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 and in a fullscreen version on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. Frankly, I expected little from the picture quality of Real Genius, but I encountered a surprisingly terrific image.

Sharpness looked generally solid. A few wide shots appeared slightly soft, but those examples occurred infrequently. Most of the movie seemed nicely crisp and distinct. Some light shimmering occurred on a couple of occasions, but I saw no jagged edges or edge enhancement. Print flaws appeared startlingly infrequent. I noticed a couple of instances of specks and grit, but not many, especially given the age of the material. I’ve seen brand-new flicks that looked dirtier than the nicely clean and fresh Genius.

Many films from the Eighties displayed muddy colors, and Genius occasionally showed that concern. At times, the hues appeared somewhat flat and murky. However, those problems seemed fairly modest, and most of the colors came across as reasonably accurate and vivid. To be sure, I’ve seen many worse examples from the era. Black levels also appeared a little flat, but they were generally deep and distinct, while shadow detail was appropriately heavy and opaque. Overall, Real Genius showed some of the usual problems endemic of its era, but the image usually looked very positive.

I also felt pleasantly surprised by the Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of Real Genius. The soundfield seemed quite active and involving. Comedies usually feature a forward bias, and Genius fell into that mold. However, it showed good stereo presence for music, and it also displayed a broad and lively environment. Effects seemed accurately placed in the side speakers, and they also blended together neatly. Panning appeared clean and smooth, and the surrounds kicked in a reasonable amount of information. They didn’t become terrifically active, but during scenes like the opening shot of a space ship as it passed from front to rear, the rear speakers added a nice sense of dimensionality to the setting.

Audio quality worked fairly well. At times, dialogue seemed somewhat brittle and edgy, but those concerns largely vanished after the first few scenes of the movie. Usually speech came across as acceptably natural and distinct, and I noticed no concerns related to intelligibility. Effects seemed clear and accurate, and they showed decent depth at times. Music also showed good dynamic range. Some of the film’s synthesizer score and tunes lacked high-end clarity, but that came mainly from the original recordings. Usually the tunes were reasonably bright, and they demonstrated some solid bass at times. Ultimately, Real Genius offered a very satisfying soundtrack for its age.

The only area in which Real Genius flops relates to its extras. All we find are trailers for Hook and Jumanji. That’s it!

I would have enjoyed additional supplements to provide some extra insight about the production, but I doubt they could have restored my prior affection for Real Genius. This used to be one of my favorite comedies, but now it seems supercilious and arrogant. The movie had a few decent bits, but overall it failed to amuse or entertain me. However, the DVD offers surprisingly strong picture and sound, though it fails to deliver any substantial supplements. I didn’t like the film enough to recommend it for anyone who doesn’t already care for Genius, but fans should be very happy with the fine presentation of the movie.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4594 Stars Number of Votes: 37
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