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Teen Wolf Blu-ray Review

Teen Wolf (1985) movie poster Teen Wolf

Theatrical Release: August 23, 1985 / Running Time: 92 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Rod Daniel / Writers: Joseph Loeb III, Matthew Weisman / Songs List

Cast: Michael J. Fox (Scott Howard), James Hampton (Harold Howard), Susan Ursitti (Boof), Jerry Levine (Stiles), Matt Adler (Lewis), Lorie Griffin (Pamela Wells), Jim MacKrell (Mr. Rusty Thorne), Mark Arnold (Mick), Jay Tarses (Coach Bobby Finstock), Mark Holton (Chubby), Scott Paulin (Kirk Lolley), Elizabeth Gorcey (Tina), Melanie Manos (Gina), Doug Savant (Brad), Charles Zucker (Malcolm), Harvey Vernon (Old Man Clerk), Clare Peck (Miss Hoyt), Gregory Itzin (English Teacher), Doris Hess (Science Teacher), Troy Evans (Dragons Basketball Coach), Lynda Wiesmeier (Rhonda), Carl Steven (Whistle Boy), Richard Brooks (Lemonade), Cort McCown (Beavers Player - uncredited)

Buy Teen Wolf from Amazon.com: Blu-ray Disc Double Feature DVD with Teen Wolf Too Instant Video Download

Back to the Future is well on its way to being considered one of the all-time greatest American films. Teen Wolf, a movie that shares some strong connections to it, isn't regarded quite as highly. As he recounted in his 2002 autobiography Lucky Man, Michael J. Fox was shooting Teen Wolf on a Pasadena street where the Steven Spielberg-produced, Robert Zemeckis-directed BTTF was scouting locations.
Fox would get his wish to be a part of the time travel adventure, when its filmmakers decided Eric Stoltz wasn't right for the role of Marty McFly. Sleep was sacrificed so that Fox could work on his hit NBC sitcom "Family Ties" during the day and shoot BTTF scenes at night and on weekends.

Correctly anticipating that BTTF would be 1985's big summer blockbuster, the makers of Teen Wolf held off releasing their little comedy until Fox was a bona fide movie star. That move seemed to pay off; Teen Wolf opened 7 weeks after BTTF and came close to topping it for a #1 opening weekend. While Wolf didn't have nearly the impact of Future, the two films held onto the top two spots at the box office into late September and Teen Wolf ended up with a very respectable $33 million domestic gross. In international markets, Teen Wolf's makers played up the star's bigger hit even more, renaming his protagonist Marty for Italian audiences, nonsensically titling the film O Garoto do Futuro (Boy from the Future) in Brazil, and proclaiming Michael J. Fox had "returned from the future" in trailers and taglines. At their essence, the movies are not all that different; in each, the ever-affable Fox plays an ordinary high school student who finds himself at the center of something extraordinary.

After fleeting teases, Scott Howard (Michael J. Fox) finally goes full werewolf. Though she ignored him as a human, Pamela Wells (Lorie Griffin) is totally turned on by Scott's beer can-biting party animal werewolf.

Scott Howard, Fox's Teen Wolf protagonist, is a nobody. The basketball team at Nebraska's Beacontown High School is a joke. Though he plays and plays hard, Scott can't claim to be any better than most of his lacking teammates. In the film-opening game, the Beavers are defeated 71-12 to no one's surprise. It's also no surprise that average Scott can't get the time of day from Pamela Wells (Lorie Griffin), the hot blonde thespian classmate he's crushing on. Outside of school, Scott works at Howard's Hardware, a store owned and operated by his father Harold (James Hampton).

Scott has been noticing some fleeting physical changes lately: hair on his hands, long fingernails, pointy ears, fangs. Scott discovers what you already know from the film's title: he is a werewolf, and secretly so is his dad. Historically, differences subject high school students to ridicule and exclusion. You might think that coming out as a teenaged werewolf would be social suicide. Not so for Scott Howard. Transforming into the wolf in the middle of a game, he takes everyone by surprise for a moment. After that, all of Beacontown embraces him.

The benefits of wolfdom (which Scott gets the hang of controlling) are seemingly endless. He is instantly an amazing basketball player, able to dunk (Fox's basketball stand-in is several inches taller than him, not that he doesn't get help dunking) and turn the hopeless Beavers' embarrassing season around. Socially, he is the life of the party, attracting Pamela away from her tough guy boyfriend Mick (Mark Arnold). Scott's friend, the wisecracking "Stiles" (Jerry Levine), puts away the colorfully worded shirts he's known for to cash in on the wolf craze with "T.W." merchandise. Scott breakdances in the hallway, bites into beer cans, does backflips and handstands atop a moving van bearing his likeness, and even gets a small part in the school's Civil War play across from Pamela.

Of course, life can't just be a series of great times, or at least feature films can't be. Teen Wolf's obvious moral, hinted early on when Harold paraphrases Spider-Man's Uncle Ben on the great responsibility that comes with great power, hangs over the film, as popularity goes to Scott's head and causes him to overlook "Boof" (Susan Ursitti), the lifelong pal who's not crazy about what he's becoming.

Grounding the picture in reality, Harold Howard (James Hampton) sees either Scott or another werewolf doing a handstand on top of Stiles' Wolfmobile and making a fool of himself. Scott's colorfully-dressed friend Stiles (Jerry Levine) strikes out in his latest attempt to buy a liquor store keg without an ID.

I've seen Teen Wolf more times than the vast majority of the human race. Along with Back to the Future, it was one of a few childhood favorites I rewatched frequently on a television broadcast taping. I never forgot the movie and while my early attachment to it prevents me from being completely objective, I long ago recognized its ridiculousness and enjoyed it all the more for it. In fact, Teen Wolf was one of the catalog titles whose DVD debut I most and longest anticipated. Four years after that pre-ordered release, I was still crazy enough about the film to pay $10 to see it in on the big screen, care of an uncleanly local theater's midnight Saturday showing. My appreciation for Teen Wolf encompasses laughing with and at the movie. Few things give me as much pleasure as it and though I recognize that my opinion points more to "favorite" than "best", I'll seriously defend its merits any time they are called into question.

Choosing to review Teen Wolf's first Blu-ray Disc release was less about getting the film in high-definition than about paying tribute and creating a permanent record of my views on it.

I can understand why people might dismiss the film. It's called Teen Wolf, for crying out loud. A werewolf in high school is a wacky premise. The movie knows this and embraces it wholeheartedly. It teases the transformation for nearly half the 92-minute runtime and when it finally puts it out there, making Michael J. Fox up more like an undersized Sasquatch than a wolf, it allows a moment for the idea to sink in with the student body and other spectators. After that, it dives headfirst into its conceit that a werewolf would easily become the coolest and most talented guy in school. Why? How do body hair and fangs make a hardwood hero? What about an animalistic young man invites friendship, romance, and commerce? Who knows and who cares? The one sure thing is that it's a funny concept sharply played for laughs.

Coach Bobby Finstock (Jay Tarses) shares a stirring anecdote he finds applicable to Scott's uncertain feelings. With the game and the season on the line, Mick (Mark Arnold) does all he can, standing under the basket and staring down Scott as he shoots two decisive free throws.

When you've seen Teen Wolf as many times as I have, you come to notice, appreciate, and question the little things. For instance, two of the most entertaining supporting turns I've ever seen are found here. You get Jay Tarses, a comedy writer and TV show creator in a rare bit of acting, stealing scenes as the delightfully apathetic Coach Bobby Finstock, dispatching rules and anecdotes of no use to Scott and company. He appropriately comprises about a third of the movie's memorable quotes IMDb page,
with lines like "It doesn't matter how you play the game, it's whether you win or lose. And even that doesn't make all that much difference." The other standout is Scott Paulin as pretentious theatre director Kirk Lolley, who turns the simplest of reactions into perturbed monologues.

Those who have ever played or watched basketball will recognize that the film has an extremely limited understanding of the sport and even less ability to dramatize it gracefully. The prolonged sequences of gameplay are staged in hilariously, and unintentionally, poor fashion. Fox looks like he hadn't picked up a basketball prior to production and his jumped free throws and luckily rolled-in layups never fail to amuse. Nor does the fact that in the big championship game, antagonist Mick is allowed to stand under the basket and sneer at Scott as he shoots a decisive pair of foul shots with no time left on the clock.

Though far from subtle, the Scott-Pamela-Boof love triangle isn't overemphasized. It's clear from the start that Boof cares about Scott and that there isn't a single positive quality to Pamela besides her smoking looks. Still, it's fun to see it play out to expectation.

One of the film's biggest strengths is its musical sense. The score by the late Miles Goodman is bizarre and haunting. Its heart-pounding opening and potent transformation synthesizer supply a hint of horror the film otherwise lacks. The original pop songs laid over the film make as strong an impression, including Mark Vieha's "Way to Go" stopping and resuming through a key central montage, Mark Safan's "Win in the End" taking its time to join the climactic comeback, Bunny and the Wolf Sisters' "Big Bad Wolf" demonstrating that Teen Wolf's presence dictates song and dance selection at the school's spring dance, and Amy Holland's "Shooting for the Moon" (earlier instrumentally incorporated) closing the film on the right sweet note. And I will never stop associating The Beach Boys' "Surfin' U.S.A." with the incomparable and dangerously imitable thrills of Stiles and Scott's van surfing escapades.

There are some mysteries magnified by repeat viewing. One of them involves Harold's longstanding rivalry with Scott's prickly Vice Principal Rusty Thorne (Jim MacKrell). You'd think their history with lycanthropy would have somehow been remembered and reported back to Scott in some way. Then there is the curious subplot of Lewis (Matt Adler), a friend of Stiles and Scott. Points are made to indicate that Lewis is frightened by Scott's werewolf state, as he avoids him and fades from the picture. Oddly, this is never resolved or definitively addressed.

Still, that's nothing compared to the backstory hinted at in one short bowling alley exchange. It's established early on that Mick is 20 years old, having done jail time before returning to the rival high school. (Actor Mark Arnold was in fact 27 during shooting, as was Jerry Levine. Baby-faced Fox was 23 and Mark Holton, playing "Chubby", was 26.) Jealous to see Scott getting close to his girlfriend, a heated Mick reminds Scott that he's handled his kind before, having shot off the head of Scott's chicken-stealing mother. Is this why Mick served time? Is this really how Scott's implicitly dead mother met her end? Would Mick have used a silver bullet? Teen Wolf raises such questions without ever letting us know if there's any truth in this brief, tense, and forgettable exchange.

The championship game finale allows a clearer look at Michael J. Fox as Scott inevitably chooses not to wolf up against the Dragons. Scott shares a nice walk and talk with lifelong friend Boof (Susan Ursitti) on the same block Pasadena block that George McFly and Lorraine Baines call home in 1955.

While the PG-13 rating was introduced the year before, Teen Wolf earned a PG by the MPAA's 1985 standards. There is little doubt that today it would not get the same PG. Not that there is much bad language or any nudity in Teen Wolf. There is, however, a rowdy party that includes teen drinking and peripheral marijuana use. There is implied sex. And Scott's first wolf power is to sniff out Stiles' brother's missing pot stash. I guess that might merit a PG-13 by today's rulings, although that party scene would appear to break certain unwritten rules in the minds of the MPAA, whose PG is far more prudish than it used to be and now readily applied to animated family films.

The warm reception given to Teen Wolf quickly inspired a TV show and a sequel (more on those below), but it didn't do much to advance careers. Between the continuing sagas of Back to the Future and "Family Ties", Fox was a star in demand and was able to headline movies for another ten years before returning to TV and then semi-retiring out of consideration to his fight with Parkinson's Disease. Castmates have left the industry (Ursitti, Griffin, and MacKrell) and moved to different callings (Levine succeeding as a TV comedy director and Adler, who is married to "Just Shoot Me!" star Laura San Giacomo, going into ADR looping and voiceover), though some still turn up in parts here and there (like Arnold and Holton). Doug Savant, best known as Tom Scavo on "Desperate Housewives", plays one of the Beavers' visible but indistinct starters.

Writer Jeph Loeb has managed to find steady work, producing shows like "Smallville", "Heroes", and "Lost." For a while, director Rod Daniel kept busy too, heading back to TV series and telemovies, after eight years in feature films (which included the canine comedies K-9 and Beethoven's 2nd).

Over twenty-five years since its theatrical debut and with a less kindred but identically titled television series soon to air on MTV, Teen Wolf came to Blu-ray last week from current distributor MGM and its video partner 20th Century Fox. Read on for our review of the disc.

Teen Wolf Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital Mono 2.0 (Spanish, French)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish, French
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled or Captioned
Release Date: March 29, 2011
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
Still available in Teen Wolf & Teen Wolf Too: Double Feature DVD ($14.98 SRP)
Also available on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Blu-ray preserves Teen Wolf's 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio, which was mostly unmatted for TV and VHS. What is immediately obvious to me is how much detail the movie gains in 1080p. The element isn't entirely spotless; black scratches and specks turn up infrequently. But the picture looks quite great on the whole and visibly improves upon the DVD's transfer. The film retains the appearance of a low-budget mid-'80s comedy, remaining dark at times and its colors tending to look slightly pale compared to subsequent eras of cinema. While staying true to its original design, the picture nonetheless meets today's high expectations in a big way, even holding up in previously problematic places.

The DTS-HD Mono 2.0 master audio leaves more to be desired. The thin and inconsistent dialogue is slightly overpowered by the score and songs, requiring some volume adjustment. This never has the clarity you want from a Blu-ray soundtrack. Undoubtedly, the presentation is hindered by the quality of the original recordings and looping. But one wishes modern technology could achieve better results than this. Offering a 5.1-channel remix in addition to the faithful monaural also couldn't hurt. French and Spanish dubs and subtitles are included.

This groovy Teen Wolf title logo, used in the trailer and poster but not the film, might have made for a better menu screen over the Blu-ray's non-existent one. Thanks to this Blu-ray, I've now seen two minutes of MTV's original "Teen Wolf" drama series and know that I don't need to see any more.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Teen Wolf is joined by just two bonus features on Blu-ray. Its DVD extra, the movie's beat-up, awesomely '80s original theatrical trailer (1:50), is preserved, complete with a deleted shot and an unthreatening work-in-progress keg order.

In addition, we get a sneak peek for MTV's upcoming hour-long "Teen Wolf" original series (2:42).
There is absolutely no reason to think that anyone who likes the movie will enjoy this Twilight-esque teen drama, which seems like a needless misuse of a not quite beloved brand name.

One thing from Teen Wolf's DVD glaringly absent here is its much-maligned sequel, Jason Bateman's Teen Wolf Too. Some fans of the original may appreciate not having to see "Teen Wolf Too" while browsing through the spines of their collection, but even those considering the sequel wretched and inferior couldn't have minded getting it essentially included for free. I know that's how I felt about the DVD. And the thinking behind that must have been "Who in their right mind is going to buy Teen Wolf Too on its own?", a question that seems as valid today as this release suggests Bateman's boxing werewolf won't be available on Blu-ray anytime soon.

I can understand that the studio might not have wanted to spend the time or money needed to strike a hi-def master for a film only narrowly missing IMDb's Bottom 100 list, especially if the MTV show's June launch was a deadline to meet. But I don't think anyone would have objected to a drag and drop of the DVD's standard-definition transfer with bonus feature designation. As is, this disc is dual-layered, but only barely exceeds the capacity of a single-layered disc, meaning Blu-ray's liberating space constraints could not have been an issue. And if they were, the studio could have always included the double-sided Double Feature DVD to make this a more desirable combo pack.

As far as hypothetical bonus features are concerned, I think a different tie-in TV series would have been far more welcome and appropriate here. I'm talking about the 1986-87 animated TV series (called "The Cartoon Adventures of Teen Wolf" overseas). Made at a time when every successful movie led to an animated series, this show probably doesn't hold up very well these days, but any one of the 21 episodes produced would have been warmly embraced as relevant cheese, camp, or nostalgia. As an MGM Television product, rights shouldn't have been an issue and the show has never been released to DVD in the US (the complete series was released in Australia).

The Blu-ray doesn't even offer a menu screen. Four gray bars pop up over the movie and expand upward, allowing you to tinker with language settings, jump to a scene, and access the two measly extras. Movies starting at disc insertion is okay by me, but I don't know who wants the movie to keep going when you want to check out extras. After finishing and displaying some disclaimer screens, the movie starts all over again. Frustratingly, the disc supports neither resuming play nor bookmarking, which I've quickly noticed is one of Blu-ray's biggest nuisances.

There are no inserts or slipcovers to spruce up the standard slim ecologically-cut case. Its artwork at least makes use of nice original poster artwork, albeit with the title removed from Michael J. Fox's undershirt, his revealing pose makes very little sense.

To the sounds of The Beach Boys' "Surfin' U.S.A.", Teen Wolf (Michael J. Fox or possibly a stunt double) has the confidence to surf atop the moving Wolfmobile.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Teen Wolf is cheesy, predictable, poorly-acted in places, and fairly preposterous, but I honestly love it just the way it is. I doubt that seeing this for the first time today will be able to give you the kind of appreciation that countless viewings over a quarter-century have given me. Still, I recommend it as one of the 1980s' most entertaining comedies. Some of the humor is at the film's expense, much of it is not, and though this isn't outstanding and timeless like Back to the Future is, it's very enjoyable in a slightly similar way.

Providing really good picture, adequate sound, and disappointingly few bonus features, Teen Wolf's Blu-ray debut is about what you would expect for the movie. Even as one of the film's biggest fans, I'm not convinced that the Blu-ray is a good enough value to justify rebuying the film or choosing it over the double feature DVD currently selling for barely half as much. Sure, the feature presentation is better here and Teen Wolf Too is only good because it's so bad, but the Blu-ray's lack of menus, resuming, and bookmarking frustrates. On a movie like this, such minor issues may be significant enough to turn you away.

More on the Blu-ray / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy Teen Wolf Double Feature DVD / Download

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Teen Wolf Songs List (in order of use): The Beach Boys - "Surfin' U.S.A.", David Morgan - "Good News", David Palmer - "Silhouette", Mark Vieha - "Way to Go", Bunny and the Wolf Sisters - "Big Bad Wolf", James House - "Flesh on Fire", Mark Safan - "Win in the End", Amy Holland - "Shooting for the Moon"

Buy Teen Wolf: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack from Amazon Marketplace: CD Vinyl Record Audio Cassette

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Reviewed April 5, 2011.



Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1985 Atlantic Releasing Corporation, Wolfkill Productions and 2011 Metro Goldwyn Mayer and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
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