Real Genius

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Real Genius
Real genius.jpg
Film poster
Directed by Martha Coolidge
Produced by Brian Grazer
Screenplay by Neal Israel
Pat Proft
Peter Torokvei
Story by Neal Israel
Pat Proft
Starring Val Kilmer
Gabriel Jarret
Michelle Meyrink
William Atherton
Music by Thomas Newman
Cinematography Vilmos Zsigmond
Editing by Richard Chew
Studio Delphi III Productions
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release dates
  • August 7, 1985 (1985-08-07)
Running time 108 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $12,952,019 (North America)

Real Genius is a 1985 satirical comedy film directed by Martha Coolidge. The film's screenplay was written by Neal Israel, Pat Proft, and Peter Torokvei. It stars Val Kilmer and Gabriel Jarret.

The film is set on the campus of Pacific Tech, a technical university similar to Caltech. Chris Knight (Kilmer) is a genius in his senior year working on a chemical laser. Mitch Taylor (Jarret) is a new student on campus who is paired up with Knight to work on the laser.

The film received positive reviews from critics. It grossed $12,952,019 at the United States and Canadian box office.

Plot[edit]

A group of CIA officers watch a video presentation of a top-secret project called "Crossbow": a space shuttle mounted with a computer-guided laser weapon that is shown to incinerate a man on the ground with pinpoint accuracy. The officers discuss the project, noting that it is designed solely for illegal assassinations, but that the researchers developing the laser have not yet been able to generate the power needed.

Professor Jerry Hathaway (Atherton) meets fifteen year-old genius Mitch Taylor (Jarret), informing him that he has been admitted to Pacific Tech and will be rooming with physics "legend" Chris Knight. It is revealed that Hathaway is the researcher contracted by the CIA to develop the laser weapon; instead of doing the work himself, he has subcontracted the job to his students and used his funding to remodel his house. Arriving on campus, Mitch meets Chris and is disappointed to learn that Chris, while brilliant, is an irreverent slacker who spends his time pulling elaborate pranks. Mitch also meets Jordan (Meyrink), a hyperkinetic female student, and the mysterious Lazlo Hollyfeld (Gries). Hathaway's graduate assistant Kent (Prescott) becomes hostile when Hathaway puts Mitch in charge of the project.

Under pressure to get results, Hathaway gives Chris an unrealistic timetable, which Chris dismisses. Hathaway scolds Mitch for attending Chris's pool party. Kent records Mitch's tearful telephone call to his mother and plays it over the cafeteria PA system at lunchtime. Humiliated, Mitch is ready to quit. Chris convinces him to stay by telling him how Lazlo was the top genius at Pacific Tech in the 1970s, but suffered a breakdown when he learned that his theories were being used to build weapons. Chris tells Mitch that if he does not want to "crack" like Hollyfeld, he must learn to have fun, and the first order of business is to get even with Kent. Hathaway berates Chris and tells him that no matter what he does he cannot graduate. Chris decides not only to solve the laser's power problem but to ace Hathaway's exam. His efforts appear to be ruined when Kent sabotages the laser, but in a fit of anger at the laser's destruction, he has an epiphany that solves the power problem. The beam of the redesigned laser has an unlimited range and produces an estimated six megawatts of power, exceeding the original requirement.

When the team celebrates its success, Lazlo points out that the high-energy laser can only be used as a weapon, and in fact that it must have been conceptualized for this purpose. Chris is devastated. Hathaway has removed from the lab both the laser and a tracking system designed to target it. Chris, Mitch, and Jordan trick Kent into revealing when the laser is going to be tested. The group tails Hathaway to a nearby Air Force base. While Chris and Mitch talk their way onto the base, Lazlo remotely cracks the laser's computer and changes its target coordinates to Hathaway's house, where the team has placed a huge tin of popcorn. When the laser hits the house, it shines through a stained-glass window and the popcorn heats and expands; the house bursts at the seams as popcorn pours out onto the lawn. Meanwhile, the laser overheats and destroys itself. The group watch as kids play in the popcorn. Hathaway returns home and witnesses the damage up close.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

To prepare for Real Genius, Martha Coolidge spent months researching laser technology and the policies of the CIA, and interviewed dozens of students at Caltech.[1] The screenplay was extensively rewritten, first by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, later by Coolidge and Peter Torokvei.[2]

Producer Brian Grazer remembers that when Val Kilmer came in to audition for the role of Chris Knight, he brought candy bars and performed tricks. Kilmer remembered it differently. "The character wasn't polite, so when I shook Grazer's hand and he said, 'Hi, I'm the producer,' I said, 'I'm sorry. You look like you're 12 years old. I like to work with men.'"[3]

To achieve the house filled with popcorn for the film's climax, the production team popped popcorn continuously for three months. The popcorn was treated with fire retardant so it would not combust and covered so that it would not be eaten by birds and possibly poison them. The popcorn was then shipped to a subdivision under construction in Canyon Country, northwest of Los Angeles, and placed in the house.[4]

To promote the film, the studio held what it billed as "the world's first computer press conference" with Coolidge and Grazer answering journalists' questions via computer terminals and relayed over the CompuServe computer network.[5]

The dorm in the film is based on Dabney House at Caltech, and Caltech students played extras in the film.[6]

Soundtrack[edit]

  1. "You Took Advantage of Me" performed by Carmen McRae
  2. "The Tuff Do What?" performed by Tonio K
  3. "Summertime Girls" performed by Y&T
  4. "The Pleasure Seekers" performed by The System
  5. "The Walls Came Down" performed by The Call
  6. "I'm Falling" performed by The Comsat Angels
  7. "One Night Love Affair" performed by Bryan Adams
  8. "All She Wants to Do Is Dance", performed by Don Henley
  9. "Number One" performed by Chaz Jankel
  10. "You're the Only Love" performed by Paul Hyde and the Payolas
  11. "Standing in Line" performed by The Textones
  12. "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" performed by Tears for Fears

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

Real Genius was released on August 9, 1985 in 990 theaters grossing $2.5 million in its first weekend. It went on to make $12,952,019 in North America.[7]

Critical response[edit]

Real Genius received mixed to positive reviews and has a 74% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 23 reviews.[8] In her review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, "the film is best when it takes [the students] seriously, though it does so only intermittently".[9] David Ansen wrote in his review for Newsweek magazine, "When it's good, the dormitory high jinks feel like the genuine release of teen-age tensions and cruelty. Too bad the story isn't as smart as the kids in it".[10] In her review for the Washington Post, Rita Kempley wrote, "Many of the scenes, already badly written, fail to fulfill their screwball potential... But despite its enthusiastic young cast and its many good intentions, it doesn't quite succeed. I guess there's a leak in the think tank".[11] Chicago Sun Times film critic Roger Ebert awarded the film three and a half stars out of four, saying that it "contains many pleasures, but one of the best is its conviction that the American campus contains life as we know it".[12] In his review for the Globe and Mail, Salem Alaton wrote, "Producer Brian Grazer craved a feel-good picture, and she [Martha Coolidge] turned in the summer's best, and she didn't cheat to do it. There's heart in the kookiness. Real Genius has real people, real comedy and real fun".[13] Time magazine's Richard Schickel praised the film for being "a smart, no-nonsense movie that may actually teach its prime audience a valuable lesson: the best retort to an intolerable situation is not necessarily a food fight. Better results, and more fun, come from rubbing a few brains briskly together".[14]

Scientific accuracy[edit]

In the MythBusters episode, "Car vs. Rain", first broadcast on June 17, 2009, the MythBusters team tried to determine whether the final scene in the film, the destruction of Dr. Hathaway's house with laser-popped popcorn, is actually possible. First they used a ten-watt laser to pop a single kernel wrapped in aluminum foil, showing that popping corn is possible with a laser, then they tested a scaled-down model of a house. The popcorn was popped through induction heating because a sufficiently large laser was not available. The result was that the popcorn was unable to expand sufficiently to break glass, much less break open a door or move the house off its foundation. Instead, it ceased to expand and then simply charred.[15]

It was also specifically stated in the program that a five-megawatt laser still did not exist, even in military applications, and that the largest military laser they knew of was 100 kilowatts.[15]

In January, 2011, it was further demonstrated on video[16] in a home setting that a kernel of corn directly exposed to laser light from accessible consumer level lasers could be popped as reported by TechCrunch.[17]

The solid xenon-halogen laser proposed and built by Chris in the latter half of the film, though in the realm of science fiction, was based on theory of the time. Real Genius through consultant Martin A. Gundersen (who played the Math Professor) was later given a citation in an academic publication which detailed the scientific basis behind the laser.[18]

Influences[edit]

The character of "Jordan" was the basis for the animated character Gadget Hackwrench in Disney's "Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers".[19]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Attanasio, Paul (August 7, 1985). "The Road to Hollywood: Director Martha Coolidge's Long Trek to Real Genius". Washington Post. 
  2. ^ Attanasio, Paul (August 7, 1985). "Fun With the Whiz Kids". Washington Post. 
  3. ^ Ascher-Walsh, Rebecca (June 30, 1995). "Cool Hero: Val Kilmer". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved September 2, 2009. 
  4. ^ Ryan, Kyle (April 21, 2010). "Random Roles: William Atherton". The Onion A.V. Club. Retrieved April 21, 2010. 
  5. ^ Deans, Laurie (August 2, 1985). "Howard, Keaton hope to make a splash". Globe and Mail. 
  6. ^ "References to Caltech in _Real Genius". Alumnus.caltech.edu. 2013-03-26. Retrieved 2013-04-04. 
  7. ^ "Real Genius". Box Office Mojo (Internet Movie Database). Retrieved March 30, 2009. 
  8. ^ "Real Genius (1985)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved December 24, 2010. 
  9. ^ Maslin, Janet (August 7, 1985). "Real Genius". The New York Times. Retrieved March 30, 2009. 
  10. ^ Ansen, David (August 26, 1985). "Hollywood's Silly Season". Newsweek. 
  11. ^ Kempley, Rita (August 9, 1985). "Real Genius Reels, Falls". Washington Post. 
  12. ^ Ebert, Roger (August 7, 1985). "Real Genius". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved March 30, 2009. 
  13. ^ Alaton, Salem (August 12, 1985). "This time the teen antics are funny Real Genius is a real gem". Globe and Mail. 
  14. ^ Schickel, Richard (August 12, 1985). "Guess Who Flunked the IQ Test?". Time. Retrieved April 23, 2009. 
  15. ^ a b "Car vs. Rain". MythBusters. Season 2009. Episode 11. June 17, 2009. Discovery Channel. http://dsc.discovery.com/fansites/mythbusters/episode/episode-tab-02.html. Retrieved December 24, 2010.
  16. ^ Stevenson, Scott, Arctic Lasers Pop Popcorn - Pocket Blue Lasers Popping Popcorn 
  17. ^ Burns, Matt (Jan 14, 2011), Popping Popcorn With Lasers Is Awesome And Healthy 
  18. ^ Fajardo, Mario E.; Apkarian, V. A. (1987-02-13), "Simulated Radiative Dissociation and Gain Measurements of Xe2Cl in Solid Xenon" (PDF), Chemical Physics Letters (chem.ps.uci.edu) 134: 51  — Citation number 7 on p. 54 in the paper (on p. 4 in PDF).
  19. ^ 1989 Tad Stones Interview published in "Furtherance", Issue 3, Winter 1991

External links[edit]