The Legend of Billie Jean, ‘Fair is fair’ edition [Blu-ray review]

Not only has the phrase “Fair is fair” become synonymous with the cult classic teen drama The Legend of Billie Jean, it also is the edition name of the newly remastered Blu-ray from Mill Creek Entertainment.  If you aren’t familiar with this movie, you need to see it.  From executive producers Jon Peters and Peter Guber (Batman [1989], Rain Man, The Color Purple), The Legend of Billie Jean has become one of cinema’s best teen movies.  I don’t mean in the John Hughes sense of teen drama, but a film dealing with real and difficult issues.  At the same time, it also adds a sense of the surreal.  Let me explain.

©2014 Mill Creek Entertainment
© 2014 Mill Creek Entertainment

You see, in 1984, while making The Legend of Billie Jean, Helen Slater’s first film, Supergirl, had just opened across the country.  Remember, this was at a time when women were not portrayed as strong, heroic characters.  Now working on her second feature, Helen Slater was to play Billie Jean Davy, a small town girl who won’t let anyone, or anything, stand in her way to seek justice.  The plot seems simple enough at first.  An altercation at the local drive-in between Billie Jean’s brother Binx (Christian Slater in his first feature role) and local bully Hubie Pyatt (Barry Tubb) sets off a chain of events that drives the teens to breaking point.  After Binx’s Honda Elite scooter is stolen and trashed by Hubie, big sister Billie Jean goes to Hubie’s father to make him pay $608 for the cost of the repairs.  Mr. Pyatt (Richard Bradford), being a snake in the grass, tries to take advantage of Billie Jean.  As Billie Jean tries to leave his store, Binx shows up and finds a gun in the cash register.  When Mr. Pyatt confronts him, Binx fires accidentally, striking Mr. Pyatt.  This sets into motion the hunt for the outlaw teens, as they try to set the record straight.

Toss into the mix the comic relief of Billie Jean’s friends Putter (Yeardley Smith – the voice of Lisa on The Simpsons) and Ophelia (Martha Gehman), a determined cop (Peter Coyote) who doesn’t believe Mr. Pyatt’s accusations, a rich kid with too much time on his hands (Keith Gordon), and a cameo by Dean Stockwell, and you have a surreal crime/thriller/teen/comedy/drama that could only have been pulled off in the ‘80s.

The film’s moral issues come to a climax when Billie Jean catches a scene from Saint Joan (1957) on a television.  The image of the steadfast Joan of Arc burning into her memory (and later in a more cinematic way).  Suddenly, Billie Jean is no longer a teenager on the run, but a young woman who will not be stopped.  She crops her golden locks and the teens then devise a plan to expose Mr. Pyatt, get the money they are owed, and be vindicated.  Fair is fair.

Christian Slater and Helen Slater in The Legend of Billie Jean ©2014 Mill Creek Entertainment
Christian Slater and Helen Slater in “The Legend of Billie Jean” © 2014 Mill Creek Entertainment

The plot seems a bit far fetched, but as with many ‘80s films, it works.  Upon seeing Billie Jean’s plea for justice, teens across the region cut off their hair in a show of support.  Billie Jean finally confronts Mr. Pyatt in a fiery [literally] showdown.  The film closes with another staple of ‘80s films – a rock anthem.  This time it’s the powerful sound of Pat Benatar’s triumphant theme song Invincible.

The film itself looks great on Blu-ray, with only minimal grain visible in some shots.  My only complaint is that there is only one extra on the disc.  It’s a commentary track featuring Helen Slater and Yeardley Smith.  By the way, Helen Slater and Christian Slater are not related, as most people thought when the film premiered.  As I said before, The Legend of Billie Jean is more a cult film than a mainstream film.  It certainly won’t please everyone, but if you were a teenager in the 1980s, it will take you back in time, and I hope younger audiences will give this movie a shot.  The message of teen empowerment remains the same today, even if styles have changed.

© 1985, 95 minutes, Rated PG-13


John Humphrey

About John Humphrey

John Humphrey grew up in the Washington, D.C. area where he is a graduate of American University. His interest in art led him to continue his education at Rhode Island School of Design. Since 1987, John has lived in the beautiful coastal city of Wilmington, North Carolina (home of EUE/Screen Gems Studios). John has held several creative positions in graphic design, advertising and publishing fields. He has also created illustrations for magazines, newspapers, children's books, CDs and more. Following a long career in the publishing business, John's love of film guided him to spend more than three years as assistant manager of a 16-plex, all-digital movie theater. He is currently working in the technology industry and pursuing an MBA in Marketing.

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