Better Off Dead (1985)

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Released 3-Feb-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Romantic Comedy None
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1985
Running Time 93:16
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Programme
Region Coding 4 Directed By Savage Steve Holland

Paramount Home Entertainment
Starring John Cusack
David Ogden Stiers
Kim Darby
Demian Slade
Scooter Stevens
Diane Franklin
Laura Waterbury
Dan Schneider
Yuji Okumoto
Brian Imada
Chuck Mitchell
Amanda Wyss
Curtis Armstrong
Case ?
RPI $24.95 Music Rupert Hine
Michael Anthony
David Lee Roth

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)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement Yes
Action In or After Credits Yes, one little scene

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

Plot Synopsis

    Ah, the 1980s - an era that is hard to forget for anyone who actually lived through it. It's a decade that produced so many memorable items, but memorable mostly for all the wrong reasons. However, something that came to prominence in the movie world during this period, did manage to produce some classic film-going moments; the teen comedy. Better Off Dead is certainly one of the more well-known offerings in this genre.

    A very young John Cusack plays Lane Myer, a suburban high school student with a somewhat unhealthy obsession with his beautiful girlfriend, Beth (Amanda Wyss). When you look at his family life though, and the sort of friends he hangs out with (Charles De Mar, played by Curtis Armstrong), you can see why he clings to the only thing in his life that he sees as being good (or even remotely normal). When Beth dumps Lane for the school ski captain, he decides there's nothing left to live for, and comes up with increasingly unsuccessful methods of killing himself.

    All the while, his bizarre life goes on around him, as Lane comes to grips with the fact that everyone else now wants to go out with Beth (and I do mean everyone), begins a job at the local burger house, marvels at the weirdness of his family, while his trusty friend constantly tries to offer him useless words of advice and wisdom. Most importantly though, Monique (Diane Franklin), a French exchange student, moves in to live with Lane's weird neighbours, and begins to take an interest in him. Will Lane see past his obsession with Beth to notice what Monique has to offer?

    Now that certainly doesn't really sound like the plot of an interesting or overly funny movie, but the humour isn't in the story itself. What makes this film stand out is the weird and quirky characters, combined with the weird situations they constantly find themselves in. The humour certainly isn't realistic, and even includes singing/dancing hamburgers, talking pencil sketches, living/breathing hot meals, jelly/snow snorting, and much more. Having just read that last sentence I can see that I haven't really made the film sound any more inviting, but for those that haven't partaken of this classic yet, you should know that the way they're executed is what makes these things work. The other thing that makes the film work is John Cusack's excellent performance, as he deadpans his way through all the mayhem going on around him. He also creates a lovable character that you can't help rooting for.

    I once had a long argument with a friend about how Better Off Dead was a better film than Ferris Bueller's Day Off, but when we came to actually try and compare specific merits it was almost impossible, due to the fact that they're so different. It's very hard to compare this film to any other in the genre, because it is so unique and quirky. I think it really stands on its own in many ways, and if you like the humour it's trying to achieve then you're in for a treat.

    I remember absolutely loving this movie when I first saw it back in the 1980s as a teenager, and had high expectations when viewing it again for this review. It didn't quite live up to those expectations, and seemed a little dated in some areas, but I still found it to be a classic of its day. I'd certainly recommend it to those who also have fond memories from all those years ago, and to those who've not yet had the pleasure I'd recommend you at least check it out with a rental.

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Transfer Quality


    The Region 1 version of this disc came out back in July of 2002, and after reading reviews at the time which lamented the poor video transfer, I had a faint shallow hope that the intervening 18 months might mean a new transfer. Alas it seems not - this is a very disappointing effort. I can understand that this may not have been looked on as a big seller, but it still could have been made to look a little better than a rental VHS.

    This transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. The original theatrical aspect ratio was the slightly wider 1.85:1.

    The word "sharp" isn't one that jumps to mind when viewing this transfer. Most scenes are soft and/or grainy, with fairly poor detail definition. Black levels are acceptable, but with occasional low-level noise present, and poor shadow detail. Sure the movie is almost 20 years old, but that's not really an excuse.

    The colours actually aren't too bad (probably the most acceptable aspect of the video transfer), with bright 1980s colours showing no signs of bleeding or chroma noise. They are however lacking a little in vibrancy, but I'm not sure if that's partly as a result of the excessive grain everywhere.

    Film to video artefacts include aliasing, which often appears on Lane's family car (7:40, 74:02), moiré (such as 26:40), and telecine wobble and shimmer during the closing credits. There are also regular small film artefacts throughout the movie, but I didn't notice any major blemishes.

    Subtitle streams consist of English, English for the Hearing Impaired, French, German, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and Spanish. I sampled the English stream, and it was acceptable if not perfect.

    This is a single layered DVD.

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


    Well, if you were hoping that things could only get better after the disappointing video transfer, I'm afraid the audio manages to do just as poor a job.

    There are 4 audio tracks; English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192kb/s), French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192kb/s), German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192kb/s), and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192kb/s). I listened to the English track only.

    Dialogue sounds a little distant and tinny, and occasionally is a bit hard to make out. Generally, it is at least audible though. There are a few spots in the film where audio sync was out as well (such as the 86:00 mark).

    The music is a mix of tunes from the era, plus the score by Rupert Hine. There's even an uncredited song by Van Halen. The music is appropriate, if a little dated now, but in my opinion that's part of the joy of watching these types of 1980s films.

    The surrounds got very little work, even using Prologic II processing, although there were the occasional sounds making it to the rears. It's not exactly an immersive experience though.

    The subwoofer slept through most of the feature.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    Move along, nothing to see here.

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 version of this disc misses out on:

    Both regions are equally lacking in extras, and the video and audio quality appear to also be identical. Let your wallet do the deciding on this one.


    A classic 1980s comedy which admittedly has dated somewhat since I first watched it as a teenager. There's still a lot of good material to be found within though, and is well worth a viewing for those of us that can remember its initial release.

    Video quality is better than a VHS, but not by a great deal. I guess the plus side is that at least you know it isn't going to get any worse over time.

    Audio is sometimes muffled, sometimes tinny, and never particularly good.

    There are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© David L (Only my Mum would have any interest in my bio)
Monday, March 08, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDOmni 3600, using RGB output
DisplaySony 1252QM CRT Projector, 250cm custom built 16x9 matte screen. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS797- THX Select
SpeakersAccusound ES-55 Speaker set, Welling WS12 Subwoofer

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Comments (Add)
This movie rocks. - AxE REPLY POSTED