Class of 1999 (UK - DVD R2)
Gabe likes vengeful teach-bots, and parties like it's...well, you get the idea.
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Director Mark L. Lester has languished in the DTV market in recent years, but '80s action fans will always love him for two reasons: Class of 1984 and Commando. I was fortunate enough to see Class of 1984 for the first time relatively recently when I reviewed Anchor Bay's R1 release. I liked it, and while writing my review I did a quick imdb.com search for Lester. Besides Commando one title stuck out at me— Class of 1999. If you hadn't guessed yet, Class of 1999 is the semi sequel to Class of 1984. Images of the Terminator ripping VHS cover sprung into my mind, and I realized, despite a general craving, that I'd never seen the film. Lucky for me it was made available in the UK last year on DVD.
Things have gotten worse since we left the ‘futuristic’ world of 1984, when a young and idealistic teacher tried to find good in the worst of the worst, only to find himself brutally murdering them after they raped his wife. In 1999, schools have become war zones ruled by 'youth gangs', and police refuse to enter. The school board is forced to seek outside assistance from a freelance weapons and defence company. The company crafts unstoppable android teachers and test their destructive abilities one particularly tainted Seattle school. Things go a bit funny when the teachers decide to impose a little retroactive punishment on the students.
Class of 1999 is an interesting follow up to Class of 1984 in that not only does Lester make the general problem of violence in schools worse, but he reverses the roles of the protagonists and antagonists. In the first film we root for the good teacher as he fights off the bad students. This time around we root for the bad students who fight off the worse teachers. Unfortunately we don't have honestly likeable characters on either side of the conflict this time around, unlike the previous film, which had a tragic lead villain and a personable everyman hero.
What Class of 1999 lacks in class it more than makes up for in sleaze. I'm not saying Class of 1984 was a particularly poignant film, but it did have a general moral message, and Lester seemed to have wanted to make a serious picture. In some ways this was the films downfall, in that it didn't quite embrace its exploitation nature until the final reel. Class of 1999 starts off silly and exploitative, and continues undaunted until its rollicking finale. If forced to pick one film over the other, I may have to choose 1999. If forced to state which film is the ‘better’ of the two, I call 1984, but would not find myself watching it again any time soon, especially not with a room full of rowdy friends.
Though the genius of Roddy McDowell is missed (the man can bring dignity to anything, even garbage like the lesser Planet of the Apes sequels and Fright Night), his absence is more than made up for by B-Movie staples and classic character actors including, but not limited to Malcolm McDowell (no relation), Patrick Kilpatrick, Pam Grier (who really looks like she'd rather be anywhere else), John P. Ryan, and the immortal Stacy Keach, whose white, rat-tailed flat-top steals every scene it appears in. With this many solid adults cast, it's no wonder all the kids seem so flat. Lead teen Bradley Gregg comes off pretty well (kind of a likeable version of every character Stephen Dorff ever played) but the others are painfully unable to transcend the fact that the late '80s and early '90s were an awful time for fashion.
My big regret is that the final twenty minutes of the film are so damn good (in a very low-brow way) that I can't help but look down my nose at the rest of the film. The teachers reverting to their more robotic selves is a blast, and for the most part based on very successful practical make-up effects. Even if they don't look 100% convincing, they look cool, especially Kilpatrick's half man/half machine that survives until the finale. It kind of rips off Stan Winston’s Terminator design, but you can only do so much with a flesh covered android, and frankly, the blatantly borrowed elements are some of the film's best. For an estimated 5.2 million dollar budget, Lester gets his money's worth (though according to imbd.com accounts, the film made back less than half its budget at the box office).
The overall image quality of this disc is a hair on the undefined side. Everything has a sort of blurry look. Black levels are nice, and dark spots discernable. The comic book colouring of the film is effectively vibrant, and skin tones appear accurate. There's some digital blocking during explosions and quick camera moves, but nothing too noticeable. The 1.78:1 framing is inaccurate, but this is only obvious during the film's opening credits, some of which are cropped off. Head and toe room looked fine throughout, so I'm guessing the original ratio was something like 1.66:1.
The Stereo surround soundtrack is fine, but lacks audio discrepancy. Everything is basically on the same volume level, and had the sound design been more aggressive there may have been some muddling. Dialogue is clear and discernable. Surround effects are few and far between, but bass is surprisingly punchy (pun intended). A 5.1 mix may be unnecessary, but might have been nice all the same.
The box art claims that the disc contains a trailer and biographies, but unless they're really well hidden Easter Eggs, neither is present. Zippo, in other words.
Class of 1999 is a fun bit of mindless and dated sci-fi action, not afraid to spill some blood. This is, by all accounts, the uncut version originally rated 'X', and released 'unrated' on US video in the early '90s. Though extras are absent, the A/V is adequate, and if this sounds like your bag based solely on the description, give it a go. I went in with specific expectations and I was not disappointed.
You can purchase this and other imports from my friends at Xploitedcinema.com
Review by Gabriel Powers
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 9th October 2006
Disc Type: Single side, single layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo English
Easter Egg: No
Director: Mark L. Lester
Cast: John P. Ryan, Pam Grier, Malcolm McDowell, Stacey Keach, Joshua Miller
Length: 90 minutes
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