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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Grease [Blu-ray]

 

(Randal Kleiser, 1978)

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Production:

Theatrical: Robert Stigwood/Allan Carr Productions

Video: Paramount Home Entertainment

 

Disc:

Region: ALL (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:50:29.080

Disc Size: 40,994,652,809 bytes

Feature Size: 36,868,540,416 bytes

Average Bitrate: 44.49 Mbps

Chapters: 18

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: May 5th, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Bitrate:

 

 

Audio:

Dolby TrueHD Audio English 3536 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3536 kbps / 24-bit (AC3 Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps)
Dolby Digital Audio French 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio English 224 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 224 kbps / Dolby Surround
Dolby Digital Audio Spanish 224 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 224 kbps

 

Subtitles:

English (SDH), English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, none

 

Extras

• Commentary by Director Randal Kleiser and Choreographer Patricia Birch

• Introduction by Randal Kleiser

• Rydell Sing-Along

• The Time, The Place, The Motion – in SD (22:27)

• 11 Deleted, Extended & Alternate Scenes – in SD

• 2002 DVD Launch Party – in SD (15:13)

• Grease Memories from John & Olivia – in SD (3:25)

• The Moves Behind the Music – in SD (8:14)

• Thunder Roadsters – in SD (5:23)

• John Travolta & Allan Carr "Grease Day" Interview – in SD (1:47)

• Olivia Newton-John & Robert Stigwood "Grease Day" Interview – in SD (2:07)

• 4 Photo Galleries

• Theatrical Trailer – in HD

 

 

Comment:

The Movie: 8

The producers of Grease must have been in shock and awe to find that their charming, giddy, campy movie would quickly become the biggest money making musical to that date.  (According to WikiAnswers.com, Grease still holds the U.S. record.)  Even though they were transposing a hot Broadway property for the screen they hired TV director Randal Kleiser for his first feature film (Kleiser went on to worry his career two years later with the execrable Blue Lagoon).  On the other hand, they spent their money wisely in the casting of three major stars: star of Saturday Night Fever: John Travolta (who went on the following year to make the execrable Moment By Moment with Lily Tomlin – what a waste of talent!); the lovely singing sensation from DownUnder, Olivia Newton-John (who went on in her very next film to make the execrable Xanadu with Gene Kelly – ditto my previous comment); and dynamite Stockard Channing as the permanently randy Betty Rizzo.  Stockard waited another 15 years before people would take proper note (Six Degrees of Separation and later as the First Lady in The West Wing.)

 

Grease was still playing out its run on Broadway since its opening in 1972 (first at the Eden, but for the longest while at the Royale – without cheese).  The original Danny Zuko was Barry Bostwick (nominated for a Tony), Carole Demas was Sandy and Adrienne Barbeau was Rizzo.  Several new songs were added for the movie and several were dropped (I miss only "Born to Hand Jive.")  It may come as a surprise that the title song itself – is that a disco beat I hear? - was written for the movie, as was the sparkling "You're the One That I Want."  Recovering from the Academy's disastrous oversight in their having not nominated any songs from Saturday Night Fever, they managed a nomination for "Hopelessly Devoted to You", another of the new numbers for the movie.  As I write this I am listening to the Original Broadway Cast album, and I am frankly a little surprised that the movie version is often funnier and more energized.  Despite my earlier catty remark about Kleiser, I suspect a good deal of the credit - the car race in the L.A. River notwithstanding - goes to him.  The film's success is a true group effort: Kleiser, the choreographer, Patricia Birch, Director of Photography Bill Butler and its remarkable cast.

 

 

 

The movie was faithful to the time the play celebrated: the fifties, which may be why Travolta was such an obvious choice, having made his mark on TV in the mid 1970s as 50s throwback, Vinnie Barbarino on Welcome Back Kotter - a "Fonzie" clone, to be sure, but Travolta made the role his own.  The movie afforded some iconic resurrections of its own: Sid Caesar as Coach Calhoun, Eve Arden as Principal McGee, Joan Blondell as the Waitress, Edd Byrnes as Vince Fontaine, and Frankie Avalon as the Teen Angel himself.

 

The movie has been a mainstay of home video, seeing early manifestations on tape, laserdisc, DVD and now on Blu-ray.  It even had a reappearance in a highly touted 20th anniversary revival in theatres, each time taking advantage of an undying nostalgia craze – and what better time to celebrate idealized malt shop rock n roll than the fifties – as well as the improving fortunes of its stars, not least, John Travolta.  Grease may not have been Travolta's best role – certainly Tony Manero is more electric and Vincent Vega more eccentric - but it is iconic, as are the songs and dance routines. It's no wonder that we are amused at his droll non-dance routine in Pulp Fiction, a parody of both Tony and Danny.

 

Image: 7/8  NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc.

The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale.  The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

 

Paramount's previous anamorphic DVD was a pretty good effort: sharp, bright with good color.  The high definition presentation tells us more about the film itself, not least that resolution is often on the soft side – smooth in the close-ups, and with practically no definition to speak of for hair, which comes off as matted.  My guess is that this is not a transfer issue, but the product of overprinting.  Grain is still present but never to the point of distraction.  Black levels and contrast might have been manipulated to give the image a bit more "pop."  I wasn't aware of other artifacts or edge enhancements.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music : 6/9

Nothing is more exasperating than a musical with a weak soundtrack.  For a movie such as Grease we expect the songs to have been recorded elsewhere and looped into the mix.  Not a problem as long as the dubbing is in sync.  Studio recording should offer plenty of opportunity to secure proper dynamics and balance.  Most interesting in the present case is the degree to which a different ambiance and EQ is arranged for each number.  Stockard Channing's tour-de-force rendition of "Look at me, I'm Sandre Dee" goes through several such changes as she parodies various real-life celebrities of the day.  While the songs get the royal treatment – at least as far as Robert Stigwood and the times would permit – I can't as much for the dialogue, which often sounds squeaky and rolled off (vide the intro to "Summer Nights." ) The surrounds are not used much: more for a vague immersive effect, as at the school dance than for directional cues.  The score of 6 reflects my feeling about the audio in absolute terms; I suspect it is faithful to the theatrical presentation, however.

 

Operations : 5

The menu design is sensible, if uninteresting, but there is no Play All function for eleven deleted scenes, nor is there a summary or runtimes for the extra features.

 

 

 

Extras : 6

Paramount's single-disc Blu-ray presentation is crammed with extra features – alas, none, save perhaps the theatrical trailer (in a 16x9 aspect ratio) upscaled, I should think, is in HD.  Grease was made long enough ago that we shouldn't expect a "making-of" documentary as such, which is kind of relief in this market.  In its place is "The Time, the Place, the Motion " – a collection of reminiscences by cast and crew - and the feature commentary, commanded by Kleiser, who is an encyclopedia of production bits of tid.  Ms. Birch seems to be having difficulty getting a word in.  You can also watch the movie in karaoke in the "Rydell Sing-Along" – Just the songs, hold the story. 

 

There are some 11 deleted scenes, all but one shown here in black & white.  Some of the characters are fleshed out a bit, but all the scenes deserved their ultimate fate.  Most of the other segments are served up like snapshots in a scrapbook, which I suppose fits with the overall tone of the movie, but aren't all that informative.  I had hopes for "The Moves Behind the Music" with choreographer Patricia Birch – her only moment in the sun, though shaded to be sure, since the accent here is on the team of Kleiser, Birch and DP Bill Butler. 

 

On the other hand, you don't want to miss the DVD Launch Party, which shows off the stars singing some of the tunes from the movie 25 years later.  There are no Blu-ray Exclusives – in fact, we've seen and heard all these before on the DVD.   Image quality is fair to good for the bonus features in general.

 

 

Recommendation : 7

Grease is one of those movies that I thoroughly enjoy despite its flaws – enough to have upgraded my score a notch.  The Blu-ray image is pretty good, but the audio, though peculiar at times and hardly benefited by the 5.1 mix, is clear and clean.  The Extras are the same as on the latest DVD.

Leonard Norwitz
May 23rd, 2009

 


 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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