The heroes at the Vestron Video Collector's Series are back to prey upon your nostalgia - and wallet - with a pair of video store mainstays this month. Two directors with remarkably different, but almost equally impressive, CVs land on store shelves with the release of Mark Lester's Class of 1999 and Ken Russell's Gothic, both of which were front and center on the shelf of every Mom & Pop and corporate video rental saloon I visited throughout my childhood.
Have the folks at Vestron done these titles up right? I think you probably know the answer to that question, but check below for our thoughts and details on these new releases.
It's been at least 20 years since I'd seen Class of 1999. This film from 1990 envisioned a distant dystopian future in which school violence had gotten so out of control that a separate government department needed to be created just to handle it. Shockingly, this isn't far from the truth, only in the film it was youth gangs that were responsible, when in reality American schools are much more in danger from other lone individuals. I'm not here to make political statements, but it's interesting how close this thematically to where we find ourselves today.
In 1999, the situation in schools has become so out of hand as a result of increasingly violent youth gangs that schools are run like prisons and prisons are overrun with underage offenders. The introduction of "tactical education units", repurposed military robots programmed for education and pacification, has been implemented in order to lessen some of the burden and a few of the choice offenders are released back into the population, but it quickly becomes clear that there's more behind this program that just diplomas.
The last time I watched this film as a teenager, the name Mark L Lester didn't mean much to me, but as I've started to fill in the gaps in my action education, I have begun to appreciate his work more and more. Films like Class of 1984, Commando, Showdown in Little Tokyo, and Extreme Justice are all classics of a kind, and Class of 1999 definitely feels like it fits among his better, more fun work.
Part of the glory of watching Class of 1999 again is the realization that the cast is absolutely amazing, and features a lot of performers who weren't exactly getting their due at the time. The villains in the film are played by genre legends like Stacy Keach, Pam Grier, John P. Ryan, Patrick Kilpatrick, with a cameo from Malcolm McDowell. In theory, the "good" guys shouldn't have stood a chance, but to watch these legends chew the scenery is an absolute delight.
One part Class of 1984 and one part The Terminator (or even Death Machine), Class of 1999 is a ton of fun and well worth checking out.
Vestron presents Class of 1999 in HD for the first time on disc. It's advertised as digitally restored, but don't go expecting the moon and you'll probably be a happier consumer. The transfer isn't particularly sharp, and it is dark in a lot of places, but it's an upgrade from DVD, and I wasn't too distracted by the faults.
As usual, the Vestron Video team have put together an impressive number of quality bonus features for this film and they are well worth the investment. Lester makes an appearance on an informative audio commentary that is definitely worth checking out, but the real winners are the interviews on the disc. We get to hear from Lester and co-producer Eugene Mazzola on the genesis and production of the project, an interesting interview with screenwriter C. Courtney Joyner, there is also an interesting and candid interview with DP Mark Irwin, but the winner for me is a lengthy discussion with the FX leads Eric Allard and Rick Stratton. These two gentlemen had their work cut out for them and they knocked it out of the park. Apart from the general insanity of the film, the FX are very fun and impressive, and one of the great joys of revisiting this film
Class of 1999 is a big, dumb, fun, and oddly topical film that is bound to make any nutso action fan smile. Vestron Video's Blu-ray definitely does it justice.