The Movie (3/5)
I missed the boat on movies made for teens that actually seemed to understand teens. Growing into adolescence during the mid 2000s we had like one or two solid offerings, and the rest always felt like condescending or incredibly immature parallels to the world I lived in. In stark contrast to those, the teen comedies and dramas of the 1980s feel like Criterion Collection releases. Under the guiding eye of visionaries such as John Hughes and his many imitators, we got teen oriented pictures that blurred the line between reality and fiction, presenting coming of age tales with three-dimensional characters and real problems; they tackled the frustrations that come with the teenager’s lack of autonomy, the occasionally oppressive ideals of the public school system, and the identity crisis that many adolescents face when racing to come of age. Vision Quest, a 1985 teen film with a wrestling focus from Warner Bros., starring Matthew Modine, Linda Fiorento, and Ronnie Cox, falls into this category…..or at least it tries to.
Vision Quest is Louden Swain’s coming of age tale. A high school senior in the Pacific Northwest, he’s dedicated his entire career to the high school wrestling team, designing his entire life around his training regime. Deciding the weight class and competition he’s faced thus far is not enough, he takes it upon himself to push things further and drop 30 pounds to gain a chance to wrestle a lightweight champion from another school, named Shute. Louden’s life and his training regime becomes complicated when, after losing her car to an accident, a young woman named Carla takes up temporary residence at his house. Realizing she’s the girl of his dreams, Louden is torn between his passion for wrestling, and drive to make Carla his own and finally take that next step towards manhood. Drama ensues as the two of them try to make things work, against all of the odds laid out before them.
As far as 80s coming of age movies, I would probably put Vision Quest less in the Breakfast Club realm, and more in that weird place where Risky Business tends to land. It tries incredibly hard to be a dramatic wrestling movie, one that shows off the dangers of Louden’s incredible efforts to cut weight in order to wrestle Shute, but never fully commits to any real sense of consequence. In parallel, it tries way too hard to make Louden and Carla’s awkward relationship work. One moment, these two are fighting, and kind of just getting to know each other, and next minute, BAM they are going at it at a campfire. It fails to construct any real chemistry leading into a moment that should be held up as the climactic moment of a coming of age movie such as this. Instead, it feels contrived; it lacks the catharsis that other romantic collisions have, in movies such as Sixteen Candles and the like.
That being said, beyond the issues with the screenplay written by Darryl Ponicsan, Vision Quest is a fairly competently made movie. Matthew Modine turns in an engaging and aloof performance as the lead character Louden Swain. Because of Modine’s laid back style on screen, Louden’s dismissal of the breakdown of his body due to his extreme weight cutting methods becomes all the more serious. It forces us as an audience to worry for this dumb kid, who believes he’s invincible, much like most high school seniors; in watching Vision Quest, I felt an almost parent-like sense of frustration watching Louden carelessly throw himself at his wrestling training, and even more frustration when he put it aside because he was conflicted about some girl. Opposite him, Linda Fiorento turns in a fierce, sensual performance as Carla, the woman of Louden’s dreams. She does an excellent job of playing the foil to all of Louden’s advances, and continues to feel genuine as a character even after Louden cracks her hard, edgy exterior. Ronny Cox even jumps in, with more of a cameo role as Louden’s lighthearted, hard working Dad. His performance, and those of the supporting cast, which include names such as Michael Schoeffling, Daphne Zuniga, and even a very young Forrest Whittaker, are adequate for the needs of a story that’s really just about our two leads.
Vision Quest typically feels kind of weird and awkward, approaching sex from a very immature perspective, even more so than many of the teen comedies of the day. There is however, one particular moment of poignancy in which Carla has to force an angry and frustrated Louden off her midway through the movie. After chastising him, she makes a comment about the nature of adolescence, exclaiming essentially that young kids can get away with murder because they’re young and naive. It’s one of the film’s most thought provoking lines, and does a great job of summarizing the themes of this movie; this movie is about a naive kid who pushes himself too hard, and must deal with the consequences of such recklessness. Unfortunately, rather than ground itself in reality, the creative team has elected for escapism instead, skirting the consequences for a satisfying finale. What a shame.
I don’t have much else to say about Vision Quest, besides that it has an odd title. It’s a perfectly average piece of 80s teen escapism. It delivers an experience that never flatlines, but never really takes things to new heights. It’s like a wannabe John Hughes movie with a little bit of Risky Business sprinkled in for flavor, but the ingredients don’t totally compliment one another that well, leaving you with a creamy mess of stylish uncertainty.
The Video (4/5)
Vision Quest was shot on 4-perf 35mm film with spherical lenses, and cropped from its native 1.33:1 aspect ratio to 1.85:1 for theatrical projection. The film, presented here in 1080p resolution, has been ever so slightly expanded from its native aspect ratio to 1.78:1.
I’ve spoken at length, both to colleagues, friends, and you guys as readers about my disdain for 1980s Kodak film stock. It’s often grainy, and got a bit of a blue/grey slant to it that just isn’t as vibrant. When combined with the choices of lenses that cinematographers seemed to be drawn to during this decade, it often resulted in a very soft looking image. All of those comments apply here to Warner Archive’s new master of Vision Quest. It’s soft, with a shallow depth of field in which detail drops off, and incredibly grainy; it’s a healthy grain, but I’ve certainly seen finer, and I’m sure I will again. Colors fall typically into the greys, blues, and browns, likely a distinct choice made by director Harold Becker and cinematographer Owen Roizman in order to make it look natural, but as a result it looks drab. Beyond the limitations that are inherent to the film as a result of it being an 80s production, Warner has done an excellent job re-debuting this movie in 1080p. The image is steady, and impeccably clean. I just don’t like 80s cinematography. Bleh.
The Audio (4/5)
Vision Quest was originally presented in theaters on 35mm release prints with a stereo optical soundtrack. To recreate that experience, the Warner Archive team has presented the film here with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo soundtrack.
Vision Quest features some pretty basic sound design in terms of dialogue and sound effects presentation; what makes this track killer however is its powerful presentation of licensed music, especially during Madonna’s cameo in the bar scene. The music used has a lot of forceful bass, and is mixed well into the rest of the track’s dialogue and sound effects. It won’t blow the foam off your speakers, but it sounds excellent in playback.
Special Features/Packaging (3/5)
Vision Quest has been released to Blu-ray by Warner Archive in a standard Blu-ray keepcase. The front artwork features a slight redesign of the theatrical poster, with Modine and Fiorento embracing each other against a stark white background underneath the film’s title in cursive writing. The back artwork features Modine shirtless, training for his wrestling meet. Next to him is a review quote, a paragraph about the film, and two other small shots from the film above theatrical credits and technical specs from the release. This is all set to a solid black background. A par for the course job for the Warner Archive crew in terms of packaging.
The only features included for this release are the film’s Red Band and Green Band Trailers, as seen leading into its original 1985 release. There are minor differences between the two, as expected due to the lack of limitations placed on Red Band trailers.
With just average packaging and no real substantial extras to speak of, it feels as if Vision Quest seems to lack……vision, in this department.
Technical Specs (click for technical FAQs)
Region Coding: None
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:`
DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo (English)
Runtime: 107 minutes
At the end of the day, Vision Quest is the kind of movie that is a little more style heavy than substance. It features a soundtrack littered with pop hits, and even has a Madonna performance in a scene or two to properly date it back to the 80s. It’s got a troubled screenplay devoid of any real gravity, but is balanced with some strong leading performances and a decent supporting cast. It’s maybe a B or C tier 80s coming of age picture; you get what you pay for here. Warner Archive has done a more than adequate job bringing this title back to home video, with a great video and audio transfer, and decent packaging. Could I have used a commentary or something? Sure. But this release will be more than enough for fans of the film.