The Legend of Billie Jean – Blu-ray Review

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Film Title: The Legend of Billie Jean
Release Date: 1985
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 95 minutes
Region Coding: Region A
Studio: Mill Creek Entertainment
Audio Format: Dolby Digital 2.0
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Formats Available: Blu-ray
Version Reviewed: 2019 Blu-ray Disc
Blu-ray Release Date: 02/19/19
Director: Matthew Robbins
Cast: Helen SlaterChristian SlaterKeith Gordon, Richard Bradford, Peter Coyote, Martha Gehman, Yeardley Smith, Dean Stockwell, Barry Tubb


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The Movie

“The Legend of Billie Jean” was a 1985 drama directed by Matthew Robbins, best known for also directing the film “*batteries not included” (1987). Robbins also has worked as a writer on such films as “Warning Sign” (1985), “Mimic” (1997), and “Crimson Peak” (2015). The screenplay, here to this film, was written by Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner. This screenwriting team has worked on other films such as “The Jewel of the Nile” (1985), “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Territory” (1991), and “Mona Lisa Smile” (2003).

The story to this eighties drama revolves around a teenage girl, her younger brother and his motor scooter. Yes, a motor scooter but it’s very important to the kid. The owner of the said scooter is a teenage boy named “Binx” (Christian Slater) and he’s also joined by his tomboy older teenage sister “Billie Jean” (Helen Slater). One day Binx decides to get the bright red motor scooter out and takes his sister for a ride. Along the way, they are hounded by an older teenage male named “Hubie” (Barry Tubb) and his friends. The guys all have the hots for Billie Jean, and they treat her young brother like crap. It’s not a very smart way to go about trying to get a girl to date you by this type of behavior.

Eventually, the brother and sister get away from the guys and relax at the lake, taking a swim. Binx and Billie Jean are absolutely furious when they find out that Hubie and his friends have followed them and now have the red motor scooter. Binx does his best to try to get it back, but that jerk Hubie rides off with it only to later return it extremely damaged. How damaged? Try six hundred dollars roughly in damages, and the kids don’t have the money to pay to have it repaired. So, what does the defensive big sister Billie Jean do? She goes and talks to the police, the right thing to do, but the detective “Ringwald” (Peter Coyote) doesn’t offer any help.

Upset that didn’t work she goes and kindly asks for the money (for the repairs) from the boy who did it, Hubie. He’s not at all co-operative, as expected and gets what’s coming to him. She decides to goes as far as to demand that his wealthy father pay. The father, “Pyatt” (Richard Bradford), is the biggest problem here. In fact, this is when things really take a turn for the worse. Let’s just say the boy’s father is just as much of a scumbag as his son, if not more so. Things get out of hand and Binx manages to end up pulling the man’s gun on him once he tries to harm his sister. It’s not really much of a spoiler to tell you that Binx shoots the man, but only in self-defense.

This is one of those eighties teen dramas that you certainly saw play a lot on the premium cable channels not much longer after it was released back in those days. Its story isn’t really completely sound and realistic in manner, but it does come with some laughs and a heck of a lot of heart. Actress Helen Slater, the year before this, starred in the film “Supergirl” (1984) for which she’s probably best known for. That’s not to say that people don’t still think of her as this rebellious “fair is fair” short-haired teenage symbol of freedom.  The film has developed a bit of a cult following over the years since its release and remains just as entertaining today. There are some good performances here from a supporting cast of Yeardley Smith (“The Simpsons”), Keith Gordon (“Christine”), and Dean Stockwell (“Quantum Leap”).

Movie Rating: 4 (out of 5)


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Video Quality

“The Legend of Billie Jean” on Blu-ray is presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, although it was shown theatrically in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. According to IMDb, this was shot on 35mm film and there are no details regarding which cameras were used, just that spherical lenses were.

This has a decent amount of film grain still retained in the transfer but sadly it only really translates into a noticeable pixilated quality due to the amount of compression used when encoding. There are some slight issues at times with the black level, although it seems solid for the most part. Visually this comes with a decent amount of bright colors at times mainly from the eighties style of wardrobe that the characters wear. However, the color palette here can feel a tad bit subdued and a little dull for the most part. The flesh tones appear to be pretty accurate. That’s about where I’ll stop discussing the positive sides of this HD presentation and focus on the reality of things.

This does not do this cult classic film the justice it deserves. One major problem (as discussed above) is that a large amount of film grain under these compression levels just turns to pixilation somewhat similar to that found when watching a video on a bad streaming service. To give you an idea of how much they have compressed this film, it only takes up 17.7GB on a BD-25 (25-gigabyte single layer) Blu-ray Disc. That is not at all impressive and is something typical of this distributor. The fact that they left about 7 gigabytes unused is a bit stupid when they should have just used that space and applied less compression to the video.

All and all, the video here is somewhat decent, at least good enough to still enjoy the film, and it is an upgrade over the previous DVD. I think a lot of people, like myself, after viewing this will hoping for a bit more. However, what we got was a catalog title released on a Blu-ray at a cheaper (budget) price and it’s for a reason. To put it bluntly, this is as visually compressed as a mediocre release from back in the early days of Blu-ray (2006) and still comes across as just acceptable, even over a decade later. It could certainly look a whole lot better and I’ll end on that regarding video quality.

Video Quality Rating: 3 (out of 5)


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Audio Quality

Audio here is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, which makes absolutely no sense considering that is a format which hasn’t been used since the days of DVD. They should have put a lossless mix here but instead opted for an outdated format. The original 2014 released Blu-ray had this exact same audio mix. That itself is pretty pathetic considering it has been decades since it was considered acceptable to pass off this type of audio quality. I guess in hindsight it’s now cool they’re smacking that retro VHS slipcover on these because the audio is only a slight improvement. It’s about as retro as you can digitally get in terms of audio.

It’s not the worst audio mix I’ve ever heard but it’s something I’d expect from a DVD, and that’s just not cool. This movie has some pretty memorable songs on the soundtrack. The dialogue doesn’t sound as crisp and clear as it perhaps could have, and the music doesn’t have the fidelity it should. A lossless mix could have made a bit of a difference here in rating on a large scale. Considering it’s the second time the film has been released this distributor and the negative reviews it received be before: you’d expect they would have fixed this. Not the case.

As mentioned, this isn’t an absolute unbearable audio mix but it comes nowhere even close to doing a film as respected as this (with a cult following) anywhere near justice. It’s a damn shame. This outdated AC3 encoded Dolby Digital Stereo mix just feels flat in terms of tone. The songs on the soundtrack like Pat Benatar “Invincible” and Billy Idol “Rebel Yell” sound about as flat as a cassette tape. That can be cool for a retro feel… for about five minutes or so, and then you’re looking for ways on your AV receiver to add some filters or such. It really needs a better sound mix, especially for a film with a powerful soundtrack. C’mon!

That said, it still manages to do a drama like this some slight justice. The mix is clean, admittedly, and full of lively music and sound effects at times. Dialogue is distinctly delivered all throughout the film and certainly will require no volume adjustments, as Dolby Digital tends to actually be louder than lossless formats. It’s just not really that good in terms of sound. Unlike the previous film I’d watched with this treatment (also from this distributor), I have to say yet again that the music here was pretty important and it’s not at all done justice.

I’m going to go as far as to again say shame on Mill Creek Entertainment for putting Dolby Digital sound on this release. They’ve put Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo on a lot of their previous Blu-ray releases and just keep trying to pull off those half-assed and lazy attempts at home video releases. Half, appropriately enough, is what this release gets for audio quality.

Audio Quality Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)


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Bonus Materials

  • Audio Commentary Track with stars Helen Slater & Yeardley Smith

The only bonus material included here on this “Fair is Fair” edition is an audio commentary, which I guess is… fair? I mean, it’s fair that they actually used the audio commentary track here that was first included on a 2011 DVD release from Sony that was only available via their Movie-On-Demand (MOD) service. This audio commentary actually is pretty good and fans will enjoy hearing some insight to the making of the film and the film’s star Helen Slater and one of her co-stars Yeardley Smith (“Lisa Simpson” herself) joining in.

Bonus Materials Rating: 1 (out of 5)


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Closing Thoughts

“The Legend of Billie Jean” is considered to be a bit of a cult classic and I find it to be a somewhat enjoyable film. Sure, its entire plot and ending have their issues that I will not get into to avoid dishing out any “spoilers” but it still is just one of those eighties films that found an audience.

In terms of Blu-ray release, this (exact same as the 2014 version) comes with a slightly above average quality video presentation and an entirely outdated lossy sound presentation. The only real positive thing here (aside from the film) is that you do get an audio commentary ported over from a previous DVD release that proves to be rather entertaining and informative. Fans will want to pick this version up only if they’re wanting the “VHS retro” slipcover as the original Blu-ray actually currently (at time of writing) sales for a tiny bit cheaper.

In terms of Blu-ray release, this gets:
3 (out of 5) for video quality
2.5 (out of 5) for audio quality
1 (out of 5) for bonus materials


Overall Verdict:

Fair in That it’s Fairly Cheap


Available As:

2019 “VHS retro” Blu-ray Release

Original 2014 “Fair is Fair” Blu-ray Release


2019 Blu-ray Disc Screenshots:

 

 


Packaging:

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