The Principal (1987)

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Released 5-Apr-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Theatrical Trailer-2:06
Trailer-St Elmo's Fire (1:27)
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 1987
Running Time 105:46
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (57:18) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Christopher Cain

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring James Belushi
Louis Gossett, Jr.
Rae Dawn Chong
Michael Wright
J.J. Cohen
Kelly Jo Minter
Esai Morales
Troy Winbush
Jacob Vargas
Thomas Ryan
Reggie Johnson
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $19.95 Music Jay Gruska

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Smoking Yes, frequent, not limited to tobacco
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

I enjoyed this film the first time I saw it. I was looking forward to seeing it on DVD. But something went wrong this time...

Do you remember how they used to make movies about high school with classrooms filled with adults pretending (unsuccessfully) to be high school students? There were reasons they did this: they'd claim that teenagers didn't have the acting skills, and that child-labour laws meant minors couldn't work as many hours as adults, and so forth. Yeah, they had their reasons, but the results were still pretty unsatisfactory. This movie is one of the worst, though have a look at some of the classes in this film, like history with Miss Orozco (Rae Dawn Chong) she looks younger than the students.

Rick Latimer (James Belushi) is a teacher. He is on the slide, having recently been divorced by his wife (who is now dating her attorney). He gets drunk and smashes up the attorney's car, putting paid to his nice job at an up-market school. Rather than fire him, they offer him a promotion to principal. Yup, there's a catch. The job is principal of Brandell High... Many of the students at Brandell have been expelled from other high schools. At Brandell, it's quite normal for a student's high school record to include his or her criminal record.

Rick gets a rough introduction to the school. He learns rapidly that he can't expel students, and that the police aren't interested in helping (Brandell is not in a salubrious neighbourhood, and they have other worries). He's given a tour of the school by the head of security, Jake Phillips (Louis Gossett Jr). He learns that there are multiple gangs roaming the corridors, with the one of the biggest led by Victor Duncan (Michael Wright, looking about 30 ridiculously old to be a high school student).

This film tries to be one of those "crusading principal turns bad school around" films like Lean on Me (which came out 2 years later). There are more "inspirational teacher" films, from To Sir With Love, to Dangerous Minds, via Stand and Deliver, Dead Poets Society, heck, even Wildcats. But this one doesn't work. The film rapidly devolves into a contest between Principal Latimer and Victor Duncan, with a few interesting side-bars (like what happens to Latimer's motorbike). There are some scenes that are really jarring, such as the principal haranguing the teachers when they complain about having disruptive students forced into their classes. And then there's the scene that's utterly unbelievable: (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) the one where the principal disrupts a drug deal (and doesn't get immediately blown away by automatic weapons!).

There are some good scenes, and the climactic sequence is a well-made demonstration of tension. But as a whole, this film doesn't really hang together. I wondered if the problem was Belushi after all, he's best known as a comic actor, and this film is trying to be a drama. But I don't think so; I think the film could have worked with Belushi. I think the problem is the miscasting of the students. This film could have had a bigger impact with real teenagers an adult gang leader is too easy; a teenage gang leader could have been much scarier.

As long as you can look past the idea of so-called high-school students in their thirties, then this film is worth watching. But I can't do it any more. Pity.

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Transfer Quality


This film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and it's 16x9 enhanced. As far as I can tell, this is the original aspect ratio, and that's good (especially when the R1 is pan-and-scan...).

The image is fairly sharp, with just a little softness showing in middle to longer shots (close-ups are really sharp). Shadow detail is rather good. There's absolutely no low-level noise. There's light film grain, or it might be mild over-compression I think it's film grain, because they've given this film two layers, so there's no need to have over-compressed it.

Colour is well-rendered. It's a run-down neighbourhood, so there's little in the way of bright, fully-saturated colour, but what colour there is seems to be conveyed accurately. There's no oversaturation or colour bleed.

There are quite a few tiny flecks and specks, but they are easy to overlook. On a progressive system there's next to no aliasing, but on an interlaced one there's more aliasing to be seen, especially on the diagonal mesh that appears on storeroom windows. There's no moire. There's quite a bit of background shimmer (on an interlaced system). There are no MPEG artefacts. All up, this is quite a decent transfer.

There are subtitles in 21 languages, including English. I watched the English subtitles, and they are easy to read, accurate enough, and timed properly to the dialogue.

The disc is single-sided and dual layered, formatted RSDL. The layer change can be found at 57:18, at a scene change. It's quite a good layer change, and not too obvious, even on a slow player.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


There are soundtracks in five languages, including English I only listened to the English. It is Dolby Digital 2.0, surround-encoded, at 192kbps.

The dialogue is mostly clear and easy to understand, although some lines are too quiet to be easy to hear not the lines full of coarse language, of course... There is nothing noticeable in the way of audio sync errors.

The music, and some of the songs, are by Jay Gruska. The music and songs are pretty generic stuff, and instantly forgettable.

This soundtrack makes no significant use of the surrounds. The subwoofer gets nothing to do unless your amp redirects bass into it.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



The menu is silent and static, using some rather dreadful stills from the film. It's easy to use.

Trailer (2:06)

This is 1.33:1, so I doubt it is the theatrical trailer. It contains a number of scenes that aren't in the finished film (such as a firehose scene).

Trailer: St Elmo's Fire (1:27)

Another 1.33:1 trailer.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

The Region 1 disc is pan-and-scan, with the same surround sound as this disc. The Region 4 disc is wide-screen. That's a simple win to the Region 4, even before we consider that the R1 is supposed to be a single layer.


A movie that can be enjoyed, providing you can overlook the casting of adults as children, on a reasonable DVD.

The video quality is quite good.

The audio quality is good enough.

There are next to no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Wednesday, March 03, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left, Centre, Right: Krix Euphonix; Rears: Krix KDX-M; Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

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