(2002) - New Line
by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits
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
there anything more lame than a bunch of bimbettes talking about
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
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.