Friday, June 5, 2009

GREASE - Blu-Ray (Paramount 1978) Paramount Home Video

Randal Klieser’s Grease (1978) is the phenomenally successful filmic adaptation of the Broadway musical that transformed John Travolta from relative unknown into an international film icon, brought spandex back into style and put Olivia Newton-John on U.S. pop charts – a love affair that was brief at best. In retrospect, the film is a bizarre ‘70s slant on '50s pop culture; moving like gangbusters with songs that are ‘electrifying’ and an energy that is…well, ‘greased lightnin’.

Yet, in comparing the film to other musical entertainments of its vintage – or even musicals in general – one finds very little to recommend the movie as an exemplar of the genre. Bronte Woodard’s screenplay chops the romance between Sandy and Danny into vignettes that are clumsily strung together by the galvanic musical score. Patricia Birch’s choreography amounts to more chaotic flailing and jumping about that is less complimentary to the soundtrack than one would expect.

What remains infectious about the film then is the energetic – if naïve – way that Klieser and his cast sell their less than perfect claptrap to an audience with great quantities of sincerity, heart and a passion for the material.

Plot wise; the tale concerns Sandy Olsson (Newton-John) a goody-two-shoes bobbysoxer who is destined to be corrupted by greaser, Danny Zucco (Travolta). From the wrong side of the tracks, but with his heart in the right place, Danny is forced into an impossible confrontation with Sandy by his ex girlfriend, Rizzo (Stockard Channing). Currently the girlfriend of Danny’s best pal, Kenickie (Jeff Conway), Rizzo knows Danny is genuinely in love with Sandy. She also knows Sandy is ‘hopeless devoted’ to Danny. To save face with his slick buddies, Danny alienates Sandy. Humiliated, she goes off with Tom Chisum (Lorenzo Lamas), leaving Danny to do just about anything he can to get her back. Eventually, true love prevails. After all, this is a musical. But the road to happiness is not without its potholes.

The film excels at recapturing much of the powder puff lightheartedness of the 1950s. Kleiser wisely populates the backdrop of his movie with a stellar set of cameos from actual ‘50s pop icons. There’s Joan Blondell as the fast talking waitress, Vi; Eve Arden, recalling her ‘Our Miss Brooks’ fame as Principal McGee; Sid Caesar as the loveably obtuse Coach Calhoun, Frankie Avalon – a guardian angel in the fondly recalled Beauty School Drop Out dream sequence; and Ed ‘Kookie’ Burnes as oily Dick Clark-ish television host, Vince Fontaine.

Unfortunately for film lovers, Paramount Home Video’s Blu-Ray appears to be just another repackaging of the transfer elements we’ve already seen on their ‘Rockin’ Rydell’ standard DVD. True to Blu-Ray’s higher bit rate, Grease’s image looks more refined than ever before. Yet, there are more than a handful of scenes that continue to exhibit a residual softness, with less than vibrant colors.

Aside: the film was made at a time when Paramount and Coca-Cola shared some sort of affiliation. Since that association no longer exists, all the background ads in the diner relating to Coke and its various vintage advertising have been digitally altered or blurred to conceal their placement. This digital manipulation has not been very cleverly executed, with bizarre shimmering halos hovering around whoever happens to pass in front of these ads. Perhaps, copyright is something Paramount ought to have resolved before rushing its Blu-Ray into release.

The audio is also curiously out of whack. Aside: the theatrical reissue of Grease in 1999 sported a Dolby 5.1 remix. Because the album from 1978 had been recorded in stereo the insertion of stereo music tracks back into the film (released in mono) made perfect sense. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much else in the way of Foley integration.

Dialogue is strident, scratchy and thin with the musical numbers suddenly exploding from the 5.1 mix with too much bass and side channel noise that all but drowns out the center channel lyrics. Extras on the Blu-Ray include all of the short featurettes Paramount previously released on its standard DVD Rockin’ Rydell edition, including 11 deleted scenes, vintage and new interviews with cast and crew and a brief ‘making of’ featurette.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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