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The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes DVD Review

The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes

Theatrical Release: December 31, 1969 / Running Time: 90 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Robert Butler / Writer: Joseph L. McEveety

Cast: Kurt Russell (Dexter Reilly), Cesar Romero (A.J. Arno), Joe Flynn (Dean Higgins), William Schallert (Professor Quigley), Alan Hewitt (Dean Collingsgood), Richard Bakalyan (Charlie Walsh), Debbie Paine (Annie), Frank Webb (Pete), Michael McGreevey (Schuyler), Jon Provost (Bradley), Frank Welker (Henry), Alexander Clarke (Myles)


Dexter Reilly (Kurt Russell) is a mediocre student at Medfield College who undergoes an extraordinary change. When the school's dean (Joe Flynn) won't use funding to buy his institution a computer, the students take it upon themselves. Dexter decides to go visit his old boss, the bigshot businessman A.J. Arno (Cesar Romero), with his classmates, and they encourage Arno to donate a computer. Medfield gets their new computer, which in 1969, takes up an entire room and requires quite a bit of manpower just to set up. Meanwhile, Medfield's Dean Higgins is upset that Arno is no longer delivering on the $20,000 he planned to contribute, in light of the computer.

One night, when Dexter volunteers to take care of a malfunctioning part on his own, an accident occurs, and suddenly, Dexter Reilly has become a human computer. The information and logic capabilities from Arno's computer have been transferred into his body. Dexter immediately becomes a worldwide phenomenon; visiting New York, overseeing space shuttle launches, and making all kinds of new friends who see the potential of his powers.

The students of Medfield College assemble their new state-of-the-art computer. All right, get your machine ready, I'm coming out.

Caught up in his overnight celebrity status, Dexter begins to lose sight of his college friends. Realizing everyone is out to profit off him, the teenaged phenomenon decides to remain faithful to Medfield, and heads off the school's team (with the friends he appoints) in a series of academic challenges sponsored by an encyclopedia company. With no seeming end to the information at Dexter's quick disposal, Medfield's team has no trouble at all advancing in competitions. That is, until one of the answers ("applejack") triggers off an involuntary response in Dexter to report various figures on some kind of operation.

Next thing you know, Dexter has vanished, and foul play is suspected. His classmates suspect the computer's original owner is somehow behind their friend's disappearance, and they hatch a plan of their own to disguise as painters and bring their friend back. Even if that happens, though, Dexter is beginning to show signs that the days of his extraordinary computing powers may be numbered.

Dexter Reilly greets confetti-throwers in New York... ...and a variety of ethnically-adorned world leaders.

The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes is a thoroughly entertaining film. It recalls The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (1964) but rather than just letting the idea of a mishap giving a college student special powers run its course through episodic fare, Computer actually has a plot and an engaging and consistently advancing one. Kurt Russell does a fine job in the leading role, his 5th of ten performances for Disney in the '60s and '70s. While he doesn't have the comedic refinement of Disney's two most reliable leading men of the day (Fred MacMurray and Dean Jones), he does have enough charisma for the film to rely on.

Computer is not satisfied with just coasting along on its wacky premise. In fact, it's not overwhelmingly funny, as you might hope for. It doesn't really attempt to be; instead, the film takes its fantastic premise and allows its amusing story to be told in the tightest and most effective fashion. It doesn't preach a message, and it doesn't allow itself to get too bogged down on bizarre, physical antics as many a Disney film from this era did. Perhaps the oddest thing about the film is its title, which is never really addressed outside of an opening number. This song has a fast pacing and allure that's not unlike the film of the same name.

Buy The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.33:1 Fullscreen
Dolby Mono 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English
Closed Captioned
Release Date: January 14, 2003
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $14.99 (Was $19.99)
White Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes is presented in 1.33:1 fullscreen, which is almost certainly not its theatrical aspect ratio. On the plus side, the picture quality was stunningly positive. Other than a few tiny flaws here and there, the transfer was entirely commendable. The picture was consistently sharp and clear (some stock footage being the rare exception). Colors were vibrant and bright. You'll be surprised that a movie over thirty years old will look as blooming and lively as this.

The aspect ratio issue is a murky one, and reformatted fullscreen transfers plague the greater majority of classic live action titles. While the Special Editions that get anamorphic widescreen transfers may exhibit cleaner prints after the remastering work, Computer displays greater contrast and a more vivid palette.

A.J. Arno and henchman are after the computer boy. Dexter just loves trivia challenges with his friends.

There is the possibility that The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes was filmed with the intentions to be a television movie, in which case the fullscreen ratio would be acceptable to a degree. While the flawless framing would support that, there's been no confirmation from Disney that this is true. Just one of the two sequels, which debuted on DVD in May 2004, were presented in widescreen.

The film is presented in Dolby Mono, and it's okay. The audio does seem rather subdued for most of the picture, with occassional exceptions, such as the bouncy opening title song. Dialogue was entirely understandable, though, so whatever complaints you may have in this department are more likely to be lodged with the sound recording equipment and mixers. The DVD presumably provides a faithful recreation of a mostly flat soundtrack.

EXTRAS

The disc opens with a 1-minute trailer promoting "Disney Family Favorites" on DVD, highlighting Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco, Hocus Pocus, Muppet Treasure Island, and The Journey of Natty Gann. More time and effort probably went into making this preview than it did into some of these DVDs advertised. This, the only extra, also gets its own Sneak Peeks menu.

The menu screens are still 4x3 frames accompanied by a flux of computer sounds.

Dexter rapidly absorbs encyclopedia material with the encouragement of his cronies. You know you've got it made when you finish an aptitude test in minutes and begin to eat lunch!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes is entertaining in a great number of ways. With a strong comedic premise, the film succeeds by instead taking its plot seriously and allowing the humor to enhance and not dominate the film. It works better than the majority of live action comedies from this period, and if nothing else, you'll be amazed by what was high-priced, cutting-edge technology back then.

Amazingly enough, the film isn't considerably dated beyond its limited depiction of computers. At its heart, its story of a young man trying to deal with the unusual powers he is given blends action and humor to divert and delight those of any age. The fullframe presentation and lack of extras are overshadowed by the film's sheer entertainment value and heart. To boot, the video quality exceeded my expectations, and is undoubtedly the best this movie has looked. With its low retail price, this is one of the easiest live action '60s films to recommend on DVD, in spite of a basic presentation from the Disney studio.

More on the DVD

UltimateDisney.com | Review Index | Live Action (Pre-1980) Films Page | Kurt Russell on Disney DVD

Related Reviews
Now You See Him, Now You Don't (1972) | The Strongest Man in the World (1975)
Starring Kurt Russell: Follow Me, Boys! (1966) | The Fox and the Hound (1981) | Miracle (2004) (coming soon)
1960s Films: The Parent Trap (1961) | The Moon-Spinners (1964) | The Gnome-Mobile (1967)
College: The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (1964) | Midnight Madness (1980) | Computers: Tron (1982)

Coming to DVD in May - The Two Sequels:
Now You See Him, Now You Don't (1972) | The Strongest Man in the World (1975)

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