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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 6/7/02

Happy Campers
2001 (2002) - New Line

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Happy Campers

Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/F

Specs and Features

94 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, full-frame (1.33:1), single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), Snapper case packaging, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (20 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 and 2.0), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

"Is there anything more lame than a bunch of bimbettes talking about s-e-x?"

Daniel Waters' first screenwriting credit was the black comedy classic Heathers. After that he wrote a handful of films - many of them bombs - that ran the gamut from average (Batman Returns) to flat out awful (Demolition Man). None of his work since Heathers has captured the wit and intelligence of that first script, but Happy Campers is a step in the right direction. After the headmaster (Peter Stormare) of Camp Bleeding Dove is fried to a crisp during a thunderstorm, nouveau-bohemian Wichita (Brad Renfro) and goody two shoes Wendy (Dominique Swain) lead a sex-starved group of counselors to the brink of anarchy and back. While the campers are busy torturing and exploring each other, the counselors are having a good ole time doing the same, albeit with the assistance of a few illicit substances. Relative newcomer James King (Pearl Harbor and Slackers) spices things up a bit as Pixel, Bleeding Dove's resident tease and the stuff every teen boy's fantasies are made of.

Scribe Waters achieves mixed results as a first-time director. With a good script to guide them, his young cast delivers all the right comic, smart-ass notes without missing a beat. There's some really funny stuff in here, a lot of it involving the various ways the summer residents of the camp treat one another. In one of the film's more awkwardly funny scenes, poor little Todd (affectionately referred to as "don't touch me" Todd) is tricked into "revealing" that he, like the rest of the boys, enjoys an occasional sexcapade with his…mother. It's stuff like this that Waters', through writing and direction, does well. The shortcoming in his direction lies on the technical side. Happy Campers is a generic looking film with a few too many wobbly hand-held shots and a bland, flat color palette. If you can get past the film's bland exterior, you'll enjoy its potent jabs at the 80's summer camp film and its dark, witty nods to the films that influenced it.

New Line offers Happy Campers to DVD fans in both anamorphic widescreen and pan and scan on one dual-layered disc. The pan and scan image reveals slightly more image at the top, but crops a fair amount of visual information from the sides. The widescreen image is the preferred of the two and presents a nice picture. Colors are intact with no bleed to mar their appearance, and image detail is more than adequate. Grain is lightly apparent in some areas, but the only real drawback to the image is handful of scenes that are shot through colored filters. These sequences, representing nighttime shots and various stages of inclement weather, have a tendency to look hazy and artificial, and do not come across properly on DVD. The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track is sufficient for the film's dialogue heavy mix. Outside of an occasional smattering of nature-related noises and music cues, surround and ambient effects are minimal, and bass is nearly non-existent. Still the dialogue track is clear and coherent, and without defect. Not a bad effort for a low budget release.

You'll find no extras on this DVD, not even a theatrical trailer. Happy Campers screened at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, but wasn't able to land a theatrical distribution. New Line released it direct-to-video, and the lack of extras leads me to believe they're going after the ever-growing DVD rental market with this title. It's got a few recognized, noteworthy names in its cast, so that may help it find its way into the viewers' homes. It's a worthy, if flawed, follow-up to Heathers, and it's certainly better than a lot of the cookie cutter teen films that actually found their way into theatres over the past couple of years. The disc itself is none too thrilling, so it's worth a rental at best. If you happen across it in the video store, give it a go.

Dan Kelly
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