I’m one of the few who hasn’t experienced the magic of Robert Cormier’s novel “The Chocolate War”, and I was surprised to hear that it was the most banned book for a time (and still might be). When the film came out, not only did I not hear about it, but in 1988 I was in the middle of high school, and I (along with many other people) sure as hell could have used this film back then, not to say that all the John Hughes films weren’t a welcome breath of air into my life.
For those unfamilia… with the story, Jerry (Ilan Mitchell-Smith, Weird Science) has just come to the Trinity school. He still is dealing with the death of his mother and his father seems pretty distant, so he decides to occupy his time with some things at school, including football which, for his physique, he’s not really built for. He runs into a guy named Archie (Wallace Langham, The Larry Sanders Show). Archie is a member of the Vigils, who are the “Skull and Bones Society” of the school, who also count Bill (Adam Baldwin, Full Metal Jacket) and Obie (Doug Hutchison, The Green Mile) as members.
At Trinity, Brother Leon (John Glover, Smallville) is head of the school’s chocolate drive, and the drive is a bit different this year, in the sense that the boys have to sell twice as much chocolate and at double the price. Leon employs Archie and to help promote a goal of selling 20,000 boxes at the school in order to raise much needed funds. Archie holds the chocolate back from Jerry at first, but when it’s made available to sell, Jerry refuses. His refusal helps to disturb the social order at the school in an unintended effort to make things as equal as possible.
Now from what everyone has said about the film before and what they say about it now, the underlying motive in the film appears to be one of questioning authority. That much is clear, and Jerry’s refusal to sell the candy is one of a personal choice, and he endures a lot of personal castigation for it. But at the end of the day, the choice is his, and he’s more than comfortable with it. The ending sequence is one that is pretty powerful (and not like the ending in the book), and it helps to show you that at the end of the day, stick to your guns and what YOU feel like doing, no matter where the sensibilities of the “mob rule” shift.
The DVD preserves the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 anamorphic. The backgrounds look good and the film looks pretty clear for a two decades old indie film.
The appearance of a Dolby Digital 5.1 is a bit of a surprise at first, but when you realize that there’s quite a few songs that pepper the film, from artists like Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, you understand why it’s here. And it sounds good too. There’s not a lot of immersion to talk about and the dialogue is a little too muted, but those complaints are nothing new. The film’s mono track is also here for the purists.
There are a couple of extras associated with this release. First is a commentary by Keith Gordon, whose direction was his first at the helm (he’s gone on to direct such productions as Waking the Dead, but some might also recognize him as Rodney Dangerfield’s son in Back to School). He recalls how the actors got their parts and recalls some of the specific production and technical information. He also discusses securing the film rights to the book, and how he came to the material, and does a good job of breaking down shots. There are very little gaps of noticeable silence during the track, someone must have just put a microphone in front of him and said “go.” The other feature is an interview with Gordon where he recalls shooting the film, which was his first as a director. He also recalls his career overall, from the origins (yes, back in the Jaws 2 days) and discusses how he got into directing. In addition, he talks about what he wanted to accomplish for the film, from storytelling to casting to just about every other aspect you can think of before, during and after the production. He’s a very articulate guy (the interview footage is almost another hour on top of the commentary) and it’s an interesting piece that serves as a good complement to the commentary by a guy that has a lot of recollection about “his first.”
Those who have grown up with The Chocolate War will be relieved to see it finally arrive on DVD. The story still holds up after two decades, especially in times like this. With ample participation by Gordon, fans of the film should pick this up, and it ought to be required for high schoolers to see this. But then again, that goes against what the film and book are about.
Special Features List
- Director Commentary
- Interview Footage