Weird Science has always stood as an anomaly in the filmography of famed writer and director John Hughes. Sandwiched in between two of Hughes’s most celebrated works, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller Day’s Off, Weird Science stands apart as one of Hughes less refined efforts. Operating in high concept science fiction, Weird Science offers a look at John Hughes unleashed, displaying a sense of mania and lunacy wrapped around similar themes within Hughes’s filmography.
With the arrival of a new Blu-Ray from Arrow, now is as good a time as any to revisit this obscurity in the work of John Hughes. While it is easy to appreciate why this film has come to hold a cult status amongst fans of Hughes and the general 80’s teen canon, there is also no denying that it is a relic of the 80’s that probably should stay there, with a questionable nature that more than earns the ‘weird’ part of its title.
The film follows two friends, Gary (Anthony Michael Hall) and Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith). Both of them aren’t particularly popular at school, with their nerdy habits and awkward behaviour often getting in the way of their desire to get a girlfriend. So, the boys decide they’re better off having a go at making their own girl on Wyatt’s home computer, an experiment which results in the pair unwittingly bringing a woman to flesh and blood life in the form of Lisa (Kelly LeBrock). With a seemingly infinite arsenal of unexplainable magical abilities, Lisa seeks to make the boys popular and help them come out of their shells and be all they can be.
Weird science operates as pure teenage boy wish fulfilment. When watching it as a 14 year-old, it kinda worked. There’s an element of enthusiasm and escapist sense of joy and abandon that accompanies the boundless and excessive chaos that comes to takeover the latter half of this film as the boys and Lisa throw the party to end all parties. Hughes is certainly letting himself blow off some steam with this effort, clearly not too interested in digging as deep into his characters egos and ids as he was in his two previous films (The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles).
It is also easy to see how this film has earned its cult status. A lot of the humour is utterly bizarre, with some excessively (and aptly) weird tangents taking over as Lisa’s magical intervention warps Gary and Wyatt’s lives. It also boasts some fun performances from actors who would go on to become household names from the great late Bill Paxton, to baby-faced Robert Downey Jr. And while all that can prove to be fun, there’s something just a little off about Weird Science to allow it to stand with the high marks of Hughes’s career.
You can put it down to our more socially conscious times as to why this film doesn’t play as well to modern eyes, but there is also plenty here to make you question whether even this sort of behaviour was acceptable in the 80’s. There’s some uncomfortable scenes of all too casual racism within the Kit Kat Club (a truly uncomfortable scene to sit through), a touch of half-assed class-consciousness, and, perhaps obviously, the sexual politics are dubious at best, from Lisa’s limited agency, to the general attitude that all the teenage boys seem to have towards their female classmates.
There is an argument to be made that the boys do learn to become more sensitive as the film wraps up, but there isn’t a great sense of that development as the film is more concerned with the wild antics that the loosely defined powers of Lisa can provide. The film rewards the boy’s reckless action, which feels uneasy when much of what they do to ‘earn’ these rewards feels superficial and perfunctory rather than grounded in any tangible sense of character development. The only reason the guys are that likeable is largely down to the charisma supplied from the well-matched pairing of Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith. It is in this aspect that the film truly falls at having any chance of standing shoulder to shoulder with Hughes’ more celebrated teen comedies.
There’s still enough here to demonstrate Hughes’s skill at capturing the teenage zeitgeist. As problematic as the central concept is, it undoubtedly appeals to the macho-angst riddled mindset of awkward teenage boys. It also preempts a fever of computer craze that would come to see nearly every teenager have their own computer in some form across the next decade and beyond. Hughes’ observations of cliques and quirky fashion trends also do offer a great deal in terms of giving even background characters a sense of identity and individuality.
For those whose nostalgic fondness for Weird Science remains strong, then this is certainly the Blu-Ray set to get. Arrow’s packages are always a treasure trove for collectors and fans, and this set is no different. It is packed to the brim with features, both new and from previous home entertainment releases. The restoration is also crisp, sharp and clean, with the disc also offering an extended version of the film for the first time on any home entertainment release.
Weird Science is certainly an 80’s curiosity for anyone who is a fan of John Hughes, but it is definitely more of a questionable relic of that era than his other works. The manic energy and off-kilter gags that more than put the weird in the title do offer a bit of trippy entertainment, but there’s no denying that this 80’s favourite just has not aged particularly well at all. But hey, at least the Oingo Boingo title track still bangs.
Dir: John Hughes
Scr: John Hughes
Cast: Anthony Michael Hall, Ilan Mitchell-Smith, Kelly LeBrock, Bill Paxton and Robert Downey Jr.
Prd: Joel Silver
DOP: Matthew F. Leonetti
Music: Ira Newborn
Country: United States
Runtime: 94 minutes
Weird Science is out on DVD and Blu-Ray now.