Welcome to this column dedicated to my appreciation of physical media supplements called: Feature Presentations. The goal of this column is not to say whether a film is good or bad and worth picking up or not—I would like to highlight the discs that go the extra mile and provide film fans with enough tasty tidbits to satisfy even the hungriest of cinephiles. With all that out of the way, today’s article will focus on Class of 1999 from Vestron Video.
Growing up, we are all influenced by outside forces, whether through friends, community, or media. Our foundations get impacted, shaped, and molded by what we experience throughout childhood. As we grow older, we can branch out and experience new things, but deep down, those early influences stay with us forever.
I’m a child of the ’80s. Arnold Schwarzenegger was my go-to, and I love the aesthetic of B-movies of this decade. There’s a charm that you don’t find elsewhere in cinema. Exiting the post-“New Hollywood”-era of the 1970s, films of the 1980s found themselves going more commercial. Large production companies were spearheading big-budget releases. While theater chains packed in high-concept, expensive releases, this time also was the pinnacle of smaller-budgeted yet delightful bits of cinematic cheese. And this is where Class of 1999 comes enters.
I can’t recall when I first saw Class of 1999, but I know it was early in my childhood. The idea of killer robots masquerading as teachers, disciplining them with all forms of punishment, was a kick-ass idea and spoke to me as a kid. I loved the gang warfare peppered throughout the movie, and the battle between cyborgs and humans is what my young, developing brain desired.
It has been many years since I last checked out the film and had the opportunity to snag the Vestron Video Blu-ray at a reasonable price. Wanting to see if the film held up as well as I remembered, I jumped on this chance and snagged a copy. I excitedly popped in the disc and hoped the entertainment value was as good as I remembered. And the verdict? Abso-freaking-lutely!
Class of 1999 will never win any prestigious awards, but it’s a blast! Featuring a top-notch cast of character actors including Malcolm McDowell, Stacy Keach, Pam Grier, and Patrick Kilpatrick, enjoyable practical effects, and that 1980s cinematic enchantment you can’t find elsewhere—this is a movie that spoke to me and took me back to a simpler time at the movies where entertainment is first and foremost.
To top off a terrific movie, Vestron Video packed its Blu-ray with a treasure trove of supplemental material.
For some physical media collectors, slipcovers are sometimes more important than the film. Vestron releases are one of the boutique labels where this is the case. The Class of 1999 slip features the theatrical artwork; the interior art wrap features the same image.
Director Mark L. Lester does a feature-length audio commentary, and this is probably the biggest disappointment of the release. There are multiple lengthy gaps of silence as Lester watches the film, and when he speaks, he’s usually narrating the action on the screen or patting himself on the back for his movies being ahead of the curve. Outside of the occasional nugget of interesting information, the story of how Nine Inch Nails came to be on the film’s soundtrack is a highlight; this track is skippable, doubly so as Lester details all this information in the interview feature, “School Safety.”
And speaking of, “School Safety” is a combined interview with Lester and co-producer Eugene Mazzola. A much better feature, Lester recounts most of the production information relayed in the commentary while Mazzola dishes on the film’s stressful production. Speaking from a producer’s point of view, Mazzola discusses the difficulties shooting in rainy Seattle, the caring heart of star Pam Grier and the bankruptcy of Vestron, resulting in the film’s troubled distribution plans. This 20-minute-plus interview does a solid job of painting a picture of the Class of 1999 production.
“New Rules” is an interview with the film’s screenwriter, C. Courtney Joyner. Anyone who has heard Joyner speak in interviews or on commentaries knows he is a knowledgeable and fun listen, and this is no different. Joyner reflects on how he became attached to the project via the movie Prison, and his working relationship with Mark L. Lester. He details changes made to the script based on locations, the designs of the cyborgs, and the original scripted ending. As usual with Joyner sit-downs, this was an engaging interview chock full of interesting information.
“Cyberteachers from Hell” is an interview with special effects creators Eric Allard and Rick Stratton. As the film is an effects-heavy movie, first and foremost, hearing from those responsible for such imagination is welcome. Allard discusses being in charge of the second unit and dealing with over 700 shots with 10-15% of the movie’s overall budget; Stratton gets into the nuts and bolts of how some of Class of 1999‘s show-stopping moments came about. The two break down each of the robots’ designs and the work each of their respective actors endured to create such memorable characters.
The final interview, “Future of Discipline,” is a sit down with the director of photography, Mark Irwin. Irwin discusses his time working with the cast and crew, including lighting the various locations throughout the Seattle area, his proximity with the stunt and special effects team, and why films like Class of 1999 are some of the most fun movies to shoot. A noteworthy story is his recollection of working on David Cronenberg‘s The Fly and how that assisted him in filming the final battle scene in this film.
Vestron Video included a video promo that plays out like an extended trailer scored to the music to Aliens and, I believe, a hip-hop beat over it. It’s weird, but it’s there. The actual theatrical trailer comes with the disc, plus two television spots. The package closes with a still gallery featuring shots from the finished film and marketing photos.
And there you have it! Class of 1999 holds up just as well, if not better, than when I was a kid. The movie harkens back to a more innocent time when cinematic universes and agendas weren’t at the forefront of a film. Instead, it’s all about having a good time, and that’s what Class of 1999 delivers. Vestron Video did what they do best and released a stacked Blu-ray disc that gets the highest marks. A+.