Already an established comedy writer who had scripted two National Lampoon films in the early eighties, it was with a very different type of comedy that John Hughes established himself as a director with Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, character analyses of intelligent yet disenfranchised teens whose parents and teachers didn’t understand them.
His third film as director, released in the summer of 1985 only six months after The Breakfast Club, was a radical departure from his previous two, blending the manic hijinks of his by then three National Lampoon scripts with a new dimension as with Weird Science he moved for the only time in his career into the genre of science fiction, albeit superficially.
Now restored from a 4K scan of the original negative for a new Blu-ray release by Arrow, Weird Science is presented in three versions, the original theatrical cut, an extended version featuring additional scenes which can also be viewed separately, and the alternative “television” cut featuring toned-down dialogue and alternative takes.
Hughes having come up with the idea while principal photography of The Breakfast Club was underway, he presented the idea to one of that iconic ensemble, Anthony Michael Hall, who had previously starred in Sixteen Candles, Weird Science becoming their third collaboration as he played sixteen-year-old Gary Wyatt alongside Ilan Mitchell-Smith as his best friend, fifteen-year-old Wyatt Donnelly.
The most unpopular nerds at Shermer High School, Illinois, they are bullied at school and at home, Wyatt regularly tortured by his older brother Chet (Aliens‘ Bill Paxton arguably having the most fun of all the cast), but inspired by James Whales adaptation of Frankenstein and harnessing the surprising power of Wyatt’s home computer they decide to create their perfect woman.
A scenario which could be ripe for either crude exploitation or cloying sentiment, while Weird Science is inextricably and helplessly intertwined with the eighties it also has a sweetness and kindness in it, in the friendship of Gary and Wyatt, and in the character of “the perfect woman” Lisa (Kelly LeBrock in only her second film role following her titular appearance as The Woman in Red).
Crafted from the talent of Beethoven, the knowledge of Einstein, the personality of David Lee Roth and a roster of Playboy models and with her first appearance backlit in dry ice and pink neon in an oversize crop-top and underwear, LeBrock is relaxed and in control in every scene, the film not so much about teenage boys discovering her as about her leading Gary and Wyatt to themselves.
With a supporting cast which includes Vamp‘s Robert Rusler and an unfeasibly young Robert Downey fully earning the “junior” in his name as well as Killer Klowns from Outer Space‘s Suzanne Snyder, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior‘s Vernon Wells and The Hills Have Eyes‘ Michael Berryman, there are clumsy moments which feel out of place such as Lisa threatening Gary’s father with a gun, even though it is later demonstrated to be a water pistol, yet compared with modern teens Gary and Wyatt seem positively tame.
Using computers to enhance their social lives rather than spy on girls, ruin reputations or instigate a high school shooting, Gary and Wyatt are essentially nice guys if hopeless, helpless and naive, Weird Science was one of the first comedies to optimistically tap into the information age after Electric Dreams the previous year, Frankenstein updated for the digital age and creating an emancipated woman comfortable in her flawless skin.
Arrow’s new edition containing an archive featurette along with new interviews with casting director Jackie Burch, makeup creator Craig Reardon, composer Ira Newborn and editor Chris Lebenzon, all fondly recall their collaborations with John Hughes who died suddenly in 2009 aged only fifty-nine, a chronicler of the teen experience of his time, supporting actor John Kapelos praising his “courage, spirit, ego, talent and business acumen.”