Written by Amanda Pampuro
Like the wife’s novel in “Head and Shoulders,” Class of 1999 is un-pretentious and highly self-confident look at society. It’s a sci-fi film that seems completely unaware of its own genre acting as though it is the only robot movie ever made. While some might call this movie brilliant, a breath of fresh air, the wife’s husband would attribute this to the writer’s own lack of literacy.
This movie is about gangs infiltrating the suburbs, but written by—or for—someone who has no idea what real gangs look like or do. Their gang wars are literalized with World War I type trenches, yielding automatic rifles, and strategizing enemy capture. The actors declare a little too proudly their horrible gang-deeds and initiation ceremonies, speaking with the gusto of a kid who just got a new comic book, not a kid who just watched his friends get shot up.
To combat these rowdy young punks—they’re literal punks, of course, with leather jackets and dyed hair—the school principal hires robot teachers. The robots are recycled military drones, with the kill-programs rewritten into education programs, or so they thought. Soon the programs meld together and the robots are unable to tell the difference between teaching about war and engaging in one.
Although there are killer robots coming after the school kids, they were responsible for a large amount of damage, so that it’s unclear who you’re supposed to be rooting for—the gangs to prevail or the robots to straighten them out.
There is room for social criticism here—are the gang problems really so bad that only robots are fit to sort them out? Is our education system in such a mess that teachers might as well be replaced with robots? Would anyone know the difference? Does corporal punishment make things all better or much, much worse? There are hints of ideas, but none of them are made explicit. It’s just my over-thinking that maybe the school represents something and that the robots could be an allegory.
If I had watched this movie when I was ten, I think I would have been wowed by the action and how crazy high school is going to be. Having already been through high school and wandered the halls of Harper High, I am unable to do my part and suspend my disbelief for this movie. So I will say it is interesting in concept, but much too naive in execution. Watch with a young audience. I’m sorry to say that I’m getting older, still.
Filmed in 1990 and set in 1999, this film predicts that the problems of America’s inner-city schools will spread to the suburbs of Seattle and threaten to destroy society as a whole. Parents and the law will be useless. The only students worthy of this world will be those who have been prepared by stints in prison, to where the schools are really just there to keep feeding kids. Looking back, I don’t think 1990’s fears were too far off, after all this was the beginning of a decade full of educational reform, ending in mass standardized testing and the tyrannical No Child Left Behind act. I see this movie as a sign of Hollywood’s distance from the real world, and its plebeian viewers.
Also worth mentioning, this is the middle movie of a series—the follow up to the 1982 film Class of 1984 and prequel to 1994’s Class of 1999 II: the Substitute. This sequel seems chock full of education-themed one-liners and a dreamy hunk of brains, oh and explosions. Audiences like explosions, right? They had the perfect formula to lure innocent movie goers to the theaters, but 1999 II went straight to DVD—what could have gone wrong? Stay tuned next week to find out!