While The Breakfast Club is justifiably revered as a classic teen film, primarily due to the involvement of masterful writer/director John Hughes, its insightful approach to teen angst makes it just as timely today as it was the ‘80s. Hughes understood more than any of his contemporaries that teens aren’t just stereotypical comic fodder, they’re universally relatable when treated as complex characters. In Criterion’s expansive new Blu-ray release, hours of bonus features delve into the production details and legacy of this important work.
The setup of the film is so simple that it seems more like a play. Five high school students with nothing in common show up for all-day Saturday detention at school, consigned to an empty library for nine hours of soul-searching to ponder the error of their ways. As revealed by Hughes in the bonus features, that basic approach was very much by design, crafted to make the low budget appealing to studio execs considering taking a chance on the emerging director. While he had completed directing Sixteen Candles just prior to this, The Breakfast Club was actually written first and was intended to be his directing debut.
Although the teens are introduced as the simple classifications betrayed by their appearance, such as athlete and princess, they’re gradually revealed to share similar hardships and fears about the future that prove they actually have a lot in common. Judd Nelson’s rebel character John Bender controls the first half of the film, as his foolish antics forcibly break down the barriers between the standoffish students until he’s forcibly removed to temporary solitary confinement.
From there, the students gradually open up to each other to discuss the issues they have at home and school, finding that they share common troubles and leading to some truly vulnerable moments in the closing act. The visceral reality of those moments is what solidifies the greatness of the film, as Hughes proves his understanding of the minds of teens and the timeless travails of high school. His meticulous attention to the characters ensures that the film still doesn’t feel dated, and probably never will.
Criterion’s release features a brand-new 4K digital transfer from the original 35mm negative, along with a remastered monaural soundtrack from the 35mm source, ensuring the best possible presentation of the film. To take it a step further, they also included an alternate 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio track, giving the sound some added depth to bring it more in line with current audio standards. While the sound is still overwhelmingly front and center due to the source and the dialogue-heavy nature of the work, the artificially expanded soundstage of the 5.1 track was much more preferable to me than the original monaural. But wait, there’s also a third audio option: an entertaining commentary track recorded in 2008 by stars Nelson and Anthony Michael Hall sharing their recollections about the production.
I’m blown away by the extent of the bonus features included here, and I gladly made my way through all of them in full, probably not for the last time. I started with the nearly one hour of extended and deleted scenes, rejoicing in the extra footage finally available for viewing even though it was apparently only retained at Universal on old VHS sources. That anachronistic presentation actually added appeal, since it makes the picture appear similar to how many of us originally used to watch the film on tape at home. While the scenes seemed to be mostly extended rather than deleted, there’s still a wealth of new material to savor.
Although Hughes is no longer with us, he makes two key audio appearances in the bonus features: a 45-minute American Film Institute seminar recorded in 1985, and a 15-minute radio interview from 1999. The AFI talk explores how he was able to make his move from writing for National Lampoon into the director’s chair, with fascinating trivia along the way such as the revelation that John Cusack and Virginia Madsen were originally cast for the film years before it finally got made. The radio interview isn’t as interesting, but explores his fascination with import music and record shopping that contributed to his renown as a soundtrack tastemaker.
Elsewhere, the disc includes promotional interviews filmed with the individual cast members during the film’s production, giving us the opportunity to see the actors in their character costumes off set as they discuss how they got cast and their hopes for the film’s reception. They also all appeared on the Today Show (split into two groups) for brief promotional interviews with Jane Pauley, and while the spots are as softball as one would expect, it’s still a treat to see the actors together off set in the same era.
There’s also a lengthy documentary filmed in 2008 featuring interviews with the cast and other creators influenced by the film, such as Diablo Cody (Juno) and Michael Lehmann (Heathers). This one is probably the most disposable of all due to the reverential, non-revealing interviews seemingly designed more for marketing than insight, but it’s nice to see what most of the actors looked like around 2008.
As for new material, Criterion filmed new interviews with Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy where they discuss the film’s legacy, and also recorded audio of Nelson reading from Hughes’s production notes. Those notes reveal the care Hughes put into character design, right down to designing color palettes for their wardrobes that shifted and blended as the characters grew to understand they weren’t so different after all.
Ringwald also has a recent audio featurette here courtesy of an appearance on This American Life in 2014 after watching the film with her daughter for the first time and recording her reactions. That segment is particularly touching as Ringwald recounts her experience of seeing the film from a parent’s point of view instead of a kid, and also shares her daughter’s tearful explanation for which character she relates to the most.
Anybody who was a teen in the ‘80s likely has a fond spot in their hearts for this film. I was mid-way through high school when it was made, just like Ringwald and Hall, and I still remember the thrill of spotting the iconic advance movie poster in a theater and gleefully recognizing that this was definitely a film for me. Now that I have my own child approaching high school age, Criterion’s release has made me realize that it will be a film for her too, even as it continues to resonate with me as a parent.