Ferris Bueller’s Day Off Blu-ray Review

John Hughes’ movies are about as iconic of 1980’s popular culture as you can ask for. Sometimes heavy on drama (the Breakfast Club), they always have memorable comedic moments with quirky characters and often delved into family/friendship dynamics. While some still hold nostalgia such as Pretty in Pink or Sixteen Candles, they have not weathered the years quite as well as our memories might hope. The writer/director’s crowning achievements are arguably Planes, Trains and Automobiles (for adult fare) and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (for teen fare). The latter was a starring vehicle for Matthew Broderick (Wargames, Glory) who played the lead and cemented the young actor’s popularity upon release in 1986. Paramount has now delivered this 80’s classic to us on a new Blu-ray edition.

Depending on your take, Ferris is either a spoiled, manipulative brat or a hero who will not let the pressures/rules of conventional society weigh him down. Feeling the overwhelming need for a mental health day, the high schooler musters his considerable talent and luck to take his best friend, Cameron (Alan Ruck), and girlfriend, Sloane (Mia Sara), out for a day in Chicago while everyone else toils at school or their day job. With the exception of principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) and his sister, Jeanie (Jennifer Grey) who do their best to expose him, everyone else falls under Ferris’ spell.

Ferris knows just how far to push his parent’s gullibility by making them think he is too sick for school (with clammy hands and some perfectly placed synthesized coughs). He soon has the whole high school (and eventually much of Chicago including the police force) raising money to save him from some horrible malady that grows more legendary with each telling. The character is slyly manipulative and flaunts conventions to have his way but is not particularly spiteful. As much as the cat and mouse games he plays with Rooney and Jeanie result in bad luck for them, they are symbolic of exactly what Ferris is rebelling against in his efforts to blow off steam. As mischievous as Ferris is, he is equally charismatic (especially when he breaks “the fourth wall” by talking to the camera), and it is easy to go along for the fun-filled ride through his “day off.”

I was curious how Ferris Bueller’s Day Off would hold up not having seen the film in many years. I am happy to report that the movie delivers as much adolescent escapism as it did over 20 years ago. I would be curious what today’s teenagers would make of Hughes’ comedic escapades. Would it be too light-hearted or seem dated? I cannot answer that, but my nostalgia was perfectly satisfied and anyone who fell in love with Ferris in the 80’s will be happy to revisit his hijinks-laden quest to make the most of a single day and not get caught.

Paramount serves up Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on Blu-ray with a 1080p AVC encoded transfer at the theatrical ratio of 2.35:1. Those hoping to discover new depth and detail in this high-def picture will be very disappointed. This has the stereotypical look of mid to late 80’s movies with “flat” and “soft” being the main qualities that hit you immediately upon viewing. Grain is bit heavy, sometimes seeming noisy and not integrating well into the structure of the picture, and random specks and dirt can be noticed. The main benefit over the previous DVD edition is minimizing digital artifacts and more stable color reproduction. My guess is the shooting style is to blame, and this may be the best Ferris can look in 1080p (though some extra clean up on the print would not hurt).

The 5.1 English Dolby TrueHD (48 kHz / 24-bit) surround track barely deserves to be called such. We should not expect too much with this being an 80’s teen comedy, but, with rare exception, the rear channels go unutilized and I do not think my subwoofer was ever engaged. Dialog comes through clearly in the center and the distinctive Hughes musical choices are well presented in the fronts. There is not much to complain about but also not much to praise.

Additional audio is available in Spanish and French 2.0 Dolby Digital with subtitles in English (SDH), French, Portuguese and Spanish.

All the extras from the 2006 DVD edition are ported over though sadly the director commentary from the 2000 DVD is still MIA. The supplements consist of five featurettes that look to mostly be culled from archival footage from the time of shooting (1985/86) and recent interviews done in 2005. Combined, they deliver over an hour’s worth of material, and, while containing many interesting moments, I think they would have worked better as one long feature. All extras are in standard-def video with stereo sound.

Getting the Class Together: The Cast of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (27:45) – Every cast member of importance and a few extras who have gone on to bigger things recount how they got their role in the film. It is interesting to juxtapose the actor’s early and recent footage to see how 20 years has treated them.

The Making of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (15:29) – Short but interesting background on the movie including details on how quickly Hughes cranked out the script, what it is like to work with the director and improvising on set.

Who is Ferris Bueller? (9:12) – Hughes and a few actors talk about what Ferris means to them and how Broderick fit into the role.

The World According to Ben Stein (10:51) – Ben Stein (economics teacher… “Bueller… Bueller… ?”) reminisces about his career and how Ferris made him a household name.

Vintage Ferris Bueller: The Lost Tapes (10:16) – On set video of Broderick interviewing Alan Ruck, Mia Sara and Jeffrey Jones. The actors have a good camaraderie and seem to enjoy each other’s company.

There is also footage of a “lost scene” from the restaurant with Ferris dealing with the snotty matradee.

Class Album – A collection of still photos of the leads done in “yearbook” style that you navigate with your remote. These have little value.

While it was a real pleasure to revisit Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, this is a movie that does not shine in high-def. The audio and video both show their age, and unless you just have to have the marginal improvements that Paramount’s Blu-ray brings, this is a case where the previous DVD edition will still service you fine. For those who are interested and do not have a copy on home video, this is the best available though go in with tempered expectations. At least the story is still good-natured fun.

– Robert Searle

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