Previously on Trash or Treasure, we watched Mark L Lester’s ode-to-armed-vigilante-killings: Class of 1984. Well, 8 years later he had another school-violence based story up his sleeve so envisioned, produced, and directed a cyberpunk follow-up, so it would be unfair not to see how things had changed in his mind.
The biggest change is that this film is wildly speculative, and has very little political agenda to it. The theme of school violence continues, but with police free “Free Fire Zones” around educational facilities controlled by packs of gun-totting youths it has reached a farcical level. No longer are you sitting there going “how could that happen”, instead you will be chuckling about why that would all never be a thing in the first place. Similarly, the three teachers fighting back this time are armed cyborgs brought in by the wonderfully titled Department of Educational Defence. Not-A-Spoiler: that goes all kinds of foreseeably wrong.
The shift in problems also brings a shift in tone, as the focus is kids being prayed on by these Terminators with Bas and a hard drive full of lesson plans. This is a story about technology gone wild, along with a bit of corporate malfeasance, rather than a warning about the dangers of youths. This is exemplified by the lead character Cody (Bradley Gregg) turning his back on the juvenile world of crime and wanting to leave his ganger lifestyle following an eye-opening stint in jail. It’s also echoed by the Teacher-Bots manipulating the ganger lifestyle to their advantage, and their defeat coming from a unified front between tribes that hints at reconciliation and growing up.
Without the restraints of an overt agenda, except possibly a broad “don’t do drugs, especially ones with silly names that come in an asthma inhaler”, this film certainly has a lot more time to focus on character than 1984 did. Cody gets a “bad kid dating the headmaster’s daughter” plot with Christie (Traci Lind), and is in a touching and conflicting relationship with his brother Sonny (Darren E Burrows) who is joining the Blackhearts Gang. The gangers especially get a better deal than in the first film, with many of them having actual personalities and motivations beyond “be unrelentingly evil”. Although some do get to look like Mad Max extras who haven’t started shaving yet, and I really want to know where they got that many cars, guns, and bullets from.
Given how much has changed, the only true comparison you can have is how well the two movies do within their respective genres. Which for 1999 means it manages to come off second, as who the three teachers are is front-loaded and the steady escalation curve is utterly predictable. That a large chunk of its second act is Cody and Pals trying to work out the mystery we already know the answer to doesn’t really help matters. Similarly, 1984 had the prospect of some moral questioning at its ending, whilst 1999 just had you kind of asking which humans walk away in one piece.
Despite the lack of anything other than some special effects fun and a few very imaginative kills, Cyberpunk fans will find a huge amount to enjoy about this movie. There is some excellent world-building going on, with lots of fascinating background concepts thrown around, and you do get to see death machines doing what they do best: running amok and killing weak, fleshy humans. General sci-fi fans will also enjoy it if in the right mood, as it’s incredibly well made and realised cheesy fun that operates on some very firm internal logic.
But there is no getting away from Class of 1984 still being the better and more interesting film, even if it is technically far rougher than Class of 1999. This thematic sequel loses the intensity of the original by lacking the power dynamics, tells a far less personal and immediate story, and doesn’t’ have FEAR or Teenage Head on the soundtrack. It’s a B up against an A+, even if the A+ recipient is hugging an M4 and The Flag way more than you’d want. Not a bad result though, and certainly a Treasure for any urban dystopia film collection.
I’m also fairly sure that it’ll do much better than its kind of sequel, Class of 2001: The Substitute, but I’ve got to track down a copy of that…