The Thirteenth Hour Podcast #171: Reflections on Rewatching Real Genius (1985) 

Episode #171: Reflections on Rewatching Real Genius (1985)

Today, we’re talking about the 1985 film, Real Genius, one of my personal favorites that I could probably watch over and over without getting tired of it. It’s the story of a group of college students at a thinly veiled version of Cal Tech who are working on creating a high powered laser for a sleazy professor (played to a t by William Atherton) who has a secret government contract to create a high altitude assassination laser gun for the Air Force (look for Ed Lauter from The Rocketeer and Louis Giambalvo from Weekend at Bernie’s as officers).  When the students discover his true intentions, they decide to get even in their own unique way.

I first saw the the film when I was a kid, years before I attended college myself. And for years after, it became my internalized representation of what college might be like – plenty of zany characters, dorm room hijinks, intense hours of study, self important professors, and the exhilaration of solving seemingly impossible problems. All those things ended up being true, in a way, though some things were more tolerable in a movie than they were in real life – especially the intense hours of study, the all nighters, the self important professors, the social class differences, the awkward interactions with possible significant others, rivalries with other student groups, stress over grades and struggles to understand classroom material despite putting in hours and hours of work with little to show for it … yeah … sometimes it’s easier to remember the fun parts of schooling minus all the headaches.

Luckily, that’s essentially what this movie is – on one hand an entirety fantastical, fun version of college, and on the other, a surprisingly believable version that, despite its outward appearance as a Revenge of the Nerds clone or just another teen movie, was clearly carefully researched (Valley Girl director Martha Coolidge was at the helm) and aligned with a specific demographic (college students, especially those that went to an academically intense and/or technical/engineering focused school, grad students, and now, 35 years later, folks that lived through the 80s or like aspects of that decade – the music, the zeitgeist of the times, video game arcades, lasers, etc.)

Check out this page for much more info on all the inside jokes and references people have come up with in the film to the real life Cal Tech.  Even if you have no desire to be or have been a student at an intense place like that, it’s interesting to read about all the little details they stuck in the movie (or appeared coincidentally) that could be appreciated by those in the know.  As for myself, though I was never a student at Caltech and was just a kid when this movie came out, I do recall a number of specific things that were definitely still true (some referenced above) when it was my turn to be a college student (e.g. the infamous little blue books used for written final exams, the forays into the steam tunnels, the coin op arcade machines in the dorms – in my case, Tekken 3).  There are a number of other fun facts about the film and its real life inspirations (like the Frito Lay contest) here and here.

Speaking of the Frito Lay contest, one of the more unusual characters in the film is Lazlo Hollyfeld, played by Jon Gries, the burned out former student now living in the steam tunnels (the entrance of which is the closet in Mitch (Gabe Jarret) and Chris’ (Val Kilmer) room.  He was so memorable in his quirky, shy weirdness that my brother and I took to calling the movie “The Guy Who Lives in the Closet” (as in “Do you want to watch The Guy Who Lives in the Closet tonight?”).  We were too young at appreciate the double entendre of a nickname like that, but what can I say, anyone who lives underground, spends his days entering a contest to win prizes and then succeeds instead of working a 9-5 job like the rest of humanity seems pretty good when you’re a kid.

In case you were wondering about the science behind the film – in other words, whether we have laser weapons as powerful as the one they made in the film, well, yes and no.  There are portable ones the US military has, but nowhere near as powerful as the 5 megaWatt cannon they make in the movie.  There are ones that are much more powerful now, though not nearly as portable as the one in the movie.  So, it’s still somewhat of a fantasy (as a frame of reference, the laser pointers you can commonly buy as pointers for lectures are often 5 milliWatts or less, a billionth of the power the one in the movie supposedly had.  And even those made by Wicked Lasers, supposedly the most powerful handheld ones you can buy are under 5 Watts – more than a millionth of the power of the Real Genius laser.  Still, check out the site above for ads for their products – still cool as hell, though I’m not entirely sure what you’d do with one, unless you want to pop some popcorn with one, like in the film).

Speaking of popcorn, it’d be hard to imagine the film’s ending credits, popcorn flying and all, without Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” a bittersweet anthem for a movie about making weapons and human domination (though for me, it was always bittersweet since it meant the movie was over).

Click on the poster below to find a copy of the film:


Enjoy a little collection of animated gifs from the film:


A cameo by Deborah Foreman, who was also in Martha Coolidge’s Valley Girl.  Below her is Michelle Meyrink (also in Valley Girl) as Jordan, who in her words, “never sleeps.”


The real geniuses (minus the guy in the closet, who’s just driven off with a significant portion of the winnings of the Frito-Lay contest): Jordan (Michelle Meyrink), Mitch (Gabe Jarret), Chris (Val Kilmer), and “Ick” (I think it kept calling him Ish on the show, played by Mark Kamiyama).


Did this ever happen to you in college?  I love how no one reacts to the meltdown except that some dude steals the guy’s chair.

The montage sequence where the gang gets ready to exact revenge with a great score piece done by Thomas Newman:

The podcast now has a page on Facebook, so head over there and to Instagram to check out some scenes from the film.


Between Two Worlds, the synth EP follow up to Long Ago Not So Far Away is now out for streaming on Bandcamp.  

The bonus track, called “Flight of the Cloudrider” has a 80s movie mashup music video (see if you can identify all the movies!) which is available on youtube.   This app was largely created with the iphone app Auxy.

between 2 worlds EP cover 2

Stay tuned.  Follow along on Spotify!  There is also a growing extended Thirteenth Hourplaylist on Spotify with a growing number of retro 80s songs.

Check it out!

As always, thanks for listening!


The Thirteenth Hour Podcast #129: Reading from Chip Mitchell: The Case of the Stolen Computer Brains

Episode #129: Reading from Chip Mitchell: The Case of the Stolen Computer Brains

This week, we are reading from a little blast from the past that I first encountered as a kid.  It’s a little slice of the early 80s called Chip Mitchell: The Case of the Stolen Computer Brains, about a middle school age boy named Chip who uses a personal computer in his bedroom (big deal in 1982) to solve crimes and various other problems in his neighborhood.

It was written by computer educator pioneer Fred D’Ignazio (more here) and illustrated by Larry Pearson.  Although quite difficult to find today (eBay and Amazon have a few used copies sometimes), this book and its sequels (which are even harder to find) are a treat for folks nostalgic for an era of dimly lit arcades when games only cost a quarter, dark skating rinks with flashing multicolored lights and pulsing music, the promise and hope as we looked ahead into what computers would do for us amid the secrecy of the Cold war, and the pixelated graphics of early video games like Pac-Man and Space Invaders.  (Click on the images below for more nostalgia.)

80s arcadeImage result for 80s skating rinkSo tune in this week as Chip, his pals, and his personal computer, Hermes (who can talk, has a robot arm, and a modem – remember, this was 1982) try to out outwit a university supercomputer (that probably took up a whole room at the time) in a test of speed and programming skill akin to something out of War Games or Real Genius

Some images from the book:

This is the computer problem that is referenced in the book – some Cold war era cloak and dagger stuff.

Chip and Legs are on the right, Kate and her gang on the left (these are the characters referenced in this story).

Included this part (from a different part of the book) since I couldn’t resist sticking in the part about the synthesizer (way before the sound card era).

Lastly, speaking of synths and pixels, this podcast now has a new logo for 2018.  I figured that since fantasy, scifi, and electronic music collide so frequently here, why not showcase these things with background art for Long Ago Not So Far Away and the pixelart dragon I made for that vaporware Thirteenth Hour game I worked on when I probably should have been studying for math tests or something 🙂

podcast new logo_edited

Title image courtesy of


Between Two Worlds, the synth EP follow up to Long Ago Not So Far Away is now out for streaming on Bandcamp.  

The bonus track, called “Flight of the Cloudrider” has a 80s movie mashup music video (see if you can identify all the movies!) which is available on youtube.   This app was largely created with the iphone app Auxy.

between 2 worlds EP cover 2

Stay tuned.  Follow along on Spotify!  There is also a growing extended Thirteenth Hour playlist on Spotify with a growing number of retro 80s songs.

Check it out!

As always, thanks for listening!


The Thirteenth Hour Podcast #28: 80s Movies Part 2 – Teen Movies

Episode #28: 80s Teen Movies, Author Coreena McBurnie Reading

Man, this was a super long episode.  I guess I got carried away talking about the 80s teen movies 🙂  Anyway, these were all influences, one way or another, for The Thirteenth Hour and the themes running through the book (i.e. figuring yourself out while straddling the line between childhood and adulthood, then trying to find your way in a seemingly inhospitable world).

-More on the writer of many of these films, the late, great John Hughes, as remembered by a teenage penpal he kept correspondence with for a number of years.

-Movies discussed (that link to Youtube clips):

Sixteen Candles 

-always loved the song at the end (done by The Thompson Twins)

The Breakfast Club

great scene – Bender falls through the ceiling – cracks me up every time!

Some Kind of Wonderful

-Ahh, first kisses.  Something special about them, especially when it’s with a longtime friend.

-As an aside, the John Hughes film Pretty in Pink was similar in some ways, but the genders were switched and had a great ending song by OMD.

Real Genius

-The great ending song by Tears for Fears

-Speaking of ending songs, The Thirteenth Hour is getting its own 80s-style ending song soon!  Details to come.  Watch for it on the soundtrack page on bandcamp!

-Ever want to learn to throw playing cards?  Now you can learn to throw like Logan from The Thirteenth Hour with, well, a handmade Thirteenth Hour throwing card kit.  Available on eBay.

Kelly St. Clare, who recently wrote a post here about her experiences with the social media crowd blasting site Thunderclap, has been kind enough to host a raffle for free copies of The Thirteenth Hour on her site starting 2/22 (today)!

-Guest reading by historical fantasy author Coreena McBurnie from Prophecy, a novel about Antigone, from the Greek myth Oedipus Rex.  Welcome to the podcast and thank you for sharing a segment of your work!


-Starving Artist section: make some passive $$ by watching videos on your phone (yo udon’t have to watch ’em!) – Checkpoints

As always, thanks for listening!