As a child of the 1980s, I was witness to all kinds of bullying toward nerds, dorks, and geeks. If it wasn’t happening in front of me (or to me), then it was happening on-screen. You’d think a film like Revenge of the Nerds (1984) would create some kind of guiding star, but, sadly, that film not only falls into the many pitfalls and stereotypes of social pariahs, but also contains quite a bit of misogyny and one of the worst depictions of non-consensual sex on screen. (Just because she’s having a good time, doesn’t mean she knew who her partner was.) A year later, though, a savior arrived in the form of Val Kilmer’s Chris Knight, a brilliant mind with a sharp tongue who allies himself with good people, in Martha Coolidge’s Real Genius. This film is one that I quote frequently and remember fondly. It will always put me in a better mood. Not only does the film hold up fairly well, but the deeper aspects of the narrative become more obvious some 37 years since its release. Thanks to Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, fans such as myself can now enjoy Real Genius with a brand-new 4K UHD release that includes Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, plus brand-new bonus features.
15-year-old Mitch Taylor (Gabriel Jarret) thinks he’s won the lottery when he learns that his application for admittance to Pacific Technical University has not only been accepted, but that he’ll be working directly with esteemed television host and PTU instructor Dr. Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton), as well as famous mind Chris Knight, on a laser project that’s had Hathaway’s team stumped for some time. The leap from regular high school to PTU is a lot for Mitch, but, with the help of Chris, Mitch eventually finds a home among like-minded classmates “Ick” Ikagami (Mark Kamiyama), Jordan (Michele Meyrink), and Chris himself. But when Mitch and Chris start to consider what their project could be used for, the ethical nature of their powerful intellect forms a problem they may be ill-equipped to solve.
Some films take on greater weight when you watch them as an adult, while others can’t withstand an adult’s perspective. Real Genius is a film that maintains its youthful energy but also reveals itself to be rebellious in ways a child’s view wouldn’t notice. The opening of the film is a mixed-media presentation where the evolution of humanity’s weapons is put before us while Carmen McRae’s “You Took Advantage of Me” plays. It’s a soulful tune about a person who was unaware of how they were being used by someone they trusted. This song juxtaposed against the images of cave drawings to complex schematics conveys a certain naiveté that comes along with the inventive and the way their inventions are used. The script doesn’t hide this as, after the opening credits, the audience is shown a promo video for a brand-new weapon followed by a meeting among covert government officials who openly discuss global crimes and a desire to weaponized space. They even casually discuss murdering a colleague after he leaves the meeting, citing ethical conflicts as the reason for removing himself. Screenwriters Neal Israel (Police Academy), Pat Proft (Hot Shots), and Peter Torokvei (Back to School) put it right up front that the story that follows is going to ask the audience to consider the ethics that are often left out of engineering and scientific advancements. To quote another fictional character, Dr. Ian Malcom from Jurassic Park, the script asks a variation on “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Though the audience is reminded of the use of Hathaway’s project multiple times throughout the film, as well as the pressures on Hathaway to get the job done (see: the presumed-murdered ex-colleague), Kilmer’s performance as Chris is so effortless and hilarious that we tend to forget about what’s at stake. Admittedly, this is a bit of a weakness in the script as it relates to the end of the film. It tries really hard to apply a pacifist, counterculture view as Chris, Mitch, and company redirect the completed laser to Hathaway’s home — a way to protest the use of their technological breakthrough as a weapon, to out Hathaway to the governor of California (whom they invited out), and dole out a specific form of retribution for his manipulation — an act that’s a lot like how Einstein discovered the means of atomic energy (E=MC2) and then protested its use as an armament. One can only imagine that the act of vengeance upon Chris and Mitch by the shadow government forces is going to be violent and swift (based on the opening scenes of the film), yet the conclusion we see is so joyful to the sounds of Tears for Fears’s “Everyone Wants to Rule The World” that we, as the audience, tend to forget that the whole world of Real Genius is built on violence and carnage. The jokes are still funny, though, and the film (in performance, representation, and narrative structure) continues to hold up. So at least there’s that.
So, what makes this edition worth the pick-up?
The 4K UHD Blu-ray Combo Pack includes a 4K UHD disc that has the feature film, a Blu-ray disc that includes the feature film, a commentary track from Coolidge, the TV version of the film (not before released), a single deleted scene, and over 20 minutes of raw footage of the shooting of that scene. As of this writing, I cannot confirm what the digital copy includes as nothing is noted on the press notes which accompanied that review copy and nothing appears when I pull up the film on iTunes. There’s not a lot included as far as mind-blowing bonus features, so the clincher comes down to whether the remaster/restoration is worth the cost.
The short answer is: yes.
According to the accompanying press notes for the review copy, the 4K UHD edition is created from an original camera negative, meaning that both the video and sound on this edition derived from the source. Additionally, both were reviewed and approved by Coolidge. This is an absolutely plus as not every remaster or restoration released by any major studio or boutique gets someone who worked on the film (director, assistant director, cinematographer, etc.) to review and/or approve a new edition. That Coolidge did offers a bit of comfort ahead of watching the film. That said, just in the opening of the film, you start to notice the difference. Reviewing the film via a 43in 4K UHD LG television, using an Xbox One as the player, and a 5.1 Yamaha system for sound, everything felt brand-new. The sound is beautifully balanced so that dialogue is clear and supportive sound is immersive. This isn’t a film that *needs* to feel immersive, but the idea of 5.1 is for the audience to feel surrounded, enveloped by the movie, and the audio work here does exactly that. For comparison, a recent home review for the 4K UHD edition of action comedy Drive (1997) did have 5.1 but often required audio adjustment and rarely felt immersive. The look of the film is also improved, still possessing the soft lens common with many comedies of the day, but the colors are more natural in skin tone, the various colors of the lasers popping just a bit more, and the overall ambiance of the film reduced to a more genuine look. If you compare the party sequence from the TV version to the 4K UHD edition, the 4K UHD looks more grounded and far less blown out. With the tighter focus, Real Genius as a whole comes across as more serious in its realism, even while being totally ridiculous in concept.
If, like me, your automatic response to “You know, um, something strange happened to me this morning …” *is* “Was it a dream where you see yourself standing in sort of sun-god robes on a pyramid with a thousand naked women screaming and throwing little pickles at you?,” then chances are you’ve already pre-ordered the 4K UHD edition of Real Genius. That it comes with remastered video and sound to offer an updated look and feel is just icing on the cake for those who’ve enjoyed this college comedy for decades.
Real Genius Special Features:
4K UHD Disc
- Feature scanned from the original camera negative and presented in 4K resolution with Dolby Vision, reviewed and approved by director Martha Coolidge (1:45:47)
- All-new Dolby Atmos and 5.1 audio, reviewed and approved by director Martha Coolidge + Original Dolby Stereo
- Feature presented in High Definition, sourced from the 4K master
- 5.1 + Dolby Stereo audio
- NEW: “Balloon Chair” Deleted Scene (1:10)
- NEW: “Balloon Chair” Raw Takes Montage (22:59)
- NEW: TV Version of the film (1:34:59)
- Feature Commentary with Director Martha Coolidge
Available on 4K UHD Blu-ray Combo Pack September 13th, 2022.
For more information, head to Sony Pictures’s Real Genius webpage.