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Grease
(Full Frame)

review by Zach B. and Anthony D.

 

 

Rated: PG

Running Time: 110 minutes

Starring: John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing

Screenplay by: Bronte Woodard
Adaptation by: Allan Carr
Based on the original musical by: Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey

Directed by: Randal Kleiser

 

Studio: Paramount

Retail Price: $24.99

Features: Retrospective Interviews, Theatrical Trailer, Songbook

Specs: 1.33:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (17 Scenes)

Released: September 17th, 2002

 

 

The music is the message. Truer words are rarely sung. If you take a look at most musical films, the messages sent out via the script are far, far different tales than the sum of their songs. Take "Gigi," for example. Now here's a story about an old man (Maurice Chevalier) who delights in watching very young ladies cavort in Parisian parks - at least that's what "Gigi's" opening number, the charming Lerner & Loewe collaboration, "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" tells you. But one song in, and you've got the titular character, winningly played by Leslie Caron, in training to be a courtesan - for those of you without a dictionary handy, I'll be blunt: a courtesan is a kept woman; a woman who basks in the monetary and physical pleasures of having a rich man around the bedroom, a bedroom which does not feature a connubial bed. But, the song score of "Gigi" is one of the finest original scores ever penned for a film. The music takes you away from what is a very sordid, very tawdry story of sexual escapades in fin-de-siecle Paris. Because it is a musical, we accept the stunning costumes, the elegant art design and forget that when it all is over, "Gigi" is the story of one man (Louis Jordan) who loves the little girlwho will grow up to be "Gigi."

Musicals are often full of these mixed messages: Take "The Music Man." In it you can learn that withholding incriminating evidence from figures of authority can lead to true love. Or, "My Fair Lady" wherein a charming guttersnipe learns that in order for her to bloom, she needs to be verbally abused on a daily basis, put out on display on state occasions and generally be a dress-up doll for two confirmed old bachelors to play with. Even "The Sound of Music" (one of my all time favorites) reaches its tear-inducing climax, thanks to the underhanded activities of a pair of nuns; I'm talking about those ones who sabotage the Nazi official's car. But above and beyond these little peccadilloes, are the songs and the dances that make musicals, well....MUSICALS.

"Grease" is one of those movie musicals that is best savored without paying attention to the sordidness of its dialogue and story. Well, at heart, it is a "boy meets girl - boy-loses-girl - boy and girl sing and dance - boy gets girl and all live happily ever after" kind of musical. Adapted for the screen from a long-running Broadway and London smash hit, "Grease" ranks highly on the most successful (dollar-wise) movie musical scale. Quite possibly settled in at the Number One position - though my money would still be on "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," or with an inflation clause - "The Sound of Music." The question would still be, what in the world makes "Grease" so damned popular? "Grease" stretches the MPAA's rating system with nearly each and every line of dialogue, oh, yes, this is NOT a children's feature. So, it can't be the family fare movie goers that put "Grease " at the top of the heap. No, it's the music and how it is used; the music being the message.

Australian Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) and All-American Danny (John Travolta) have a summer fling, thinking that they'll never see each other again. Well, with one of the deadliest film rationalizations ever, Sandy's parents decide to move to California, leaving the chance for Danny and Sandy to meet again one day as open as The Grand Canyon. Over at Rydell High, the typical All-American High School circa 1959 (well, except that all of the attendees look like they SHOULD have graduated twenty years ago) the school yard is run jointly by two gangs, and not the "West Side Story" type ones: The Pink Ladies (Stockard Channing, Didi Conn, Jamie Donnelly and Dinah Manoff) for the distaff, and the no-named boys gang (Travolta, Jeff Conaway, Barry Pearl and Michael Tucci). And what a bunch of jokers both sets of gangs are! Pity the poor faculty and staff of Rydell High - played to perfection by a team of seasoned veteran character actors such as Eve Arden (Principal Lynch), Dody Goodman, Sid Caesar as well as Joan Blondell's wisdom-spewing soda fountain clerk.

Well, the crux of "Grease" lies in The Pink Ladies' leader Rizzo, tough-talking bed-hopping Riz (Channing - who brings more nuance and emotion to this role than is called for - as if this character walked in out of a Douglas Sirk movie) who cruelly re-introduces Sandy to Danny, as Riz would say, "What a coinkidink" that these two summer lovers should be sharing the same high school hallways! And this is where we get to the "boy-loses-girl" part: for the Danny that Sandy got to know on the beach, is not the Danny who hangs around with these adolescent, jive-talking high school hijinkers. And when Danny tries to be the real Danny (he was putting on a show at the beach) at the drive-in movies, (actually, a very funny scene, well played by both Travolta and Newton-John) he finds that he's left alone at the drive in movies. "Hey! You just can't walk out of a drive-in!" he proclaims.

Now we reach that "boy-gets-girl" phase, and this time it's with a borrowed O. Henry twist. To make herself more attractive to Danny, Sandy says "Goodbye" to her Sandra Dee/Doris Day daydreams, and turns herself into a virginal dominatrix, complete with dangling cigarette and black spandex. Danny, on the other hand, humorously goes Varsity, winning letters in Track and Field. Seeing each other by surprise at the school's spring fling carnival, both decide that (cue music): "You're the One that I Want" because "We Go Together" (like rama lama ding dong).

Yep, it is on that very slighest of threads that the story of "Grease" is woven. To win your guy girls, you gotta get trashy with the best of them. Guys, stay the way you are, but pretend that sports really interests you more than sex and cars. But, the music that "Grease" brings forth is its raison d'etre. For you see, in the live theater, one could easily accept these thirty-something high schoolers because the musical play was told in flashback, starting with a class reunion of that graduating class of 1959, and why this plot device wasn't retained is beyond me! In the Broadway theater, you had Barry ("The Rocky Horror Picture Show") Bostwick as Danny and Adrienne ("Maude," "The Fog") Barbeau as Rizzo; while London got to have as their Danny Z., the multi-talented Richard Gere (looking forward to this year's Christmas release of the musical film "Chicago," aren't we?). The framing device of the high school reunion, at least gave us a reason to believe in the childish activities of the too long in the tooth players, something that we're not willing to suspend our belief for the otherwise talented Travolta, Newton-John et al.

But thanks to choreographer Patricia Birch, for the most part the musical numbers in "Grease" work very well. "Summer Lovin'" briskly whisks around outdoor cafeteria tables up to the top row of the football field bleachers even as Travolta and Newton-John's voices rise harmoniously to the top of their registers. Stockard Channing bats a 1:2 with her two solos, her comedic "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" suffers (as does ninety per cent of the film) from Randall Kleiser's unremarkable direction, while her big, bluesy ballad "That's the Worst Thing I Could Do" captures the heart, and seamlessly catches the eye in an almost perfect one-take tracking shot. Simplicity dominates a gorgeously sung "Hopelessly Devoted to You" (written for the film by long-time Newton-John composer John Farrar) which Sandy delivers cleverly to a wading pool reflection of Danny. "Greased Lightning" despite its plethora of rating-bending lyrics amply demonstrates that tough guys DO dance in one of the film's major production numbers set in an all-white limbo land; the other being guest star Frankie (how many "Beach" movies' titles can we all remember?) Avalon's devilishly wicked turn as a Teen Angel giving coaching lessons to a "Beauty School Drop-Out." Don't however expect any of this music to sound like real 1950s rock-n-roll, oh, no. This is disco-ized, tecnho-ized highly embellished 1970s bubble gum pop, little wonder that this soundtrack is so very popular. Only Travolta suffers embarrassment through music, and it's not quite his own fault. He has a pleasant enough voice, but his solo number "Sandy" (written for the film) is a trite, bland mess of a song, a very weak replacement for the stage show's humorous AND tender "Alone at the Drive-In Movie" (which was replaced evidently because Travolta couldn't handle the song's vast vocal range). At the center of the film is a lengthy dance at the gym, which allows Patricia Birch's dancers their true moment of glory. Even Newton-John gets in some mighty fine duet dancing with Travolta before turning the floor over to the leggy Cha-Cha DiGregorio (Annette Charles - and whatever happened to HER?) The big finish, consisting of one original song and one stage hold-over, will definitely have you tapping your feet or dancing along, as well as picking your jaw up off the floor when you see and hear what Olivia Newton-John can do with the words, "Tell me about it, stud" before careening off into the heavily disco-ized "You're the One that I Want" and taking magically to the skies in "We Go Together." Though both of these numbers are a visual mess (and that's putting it mildly), once again, the music wins out. The guest appearance status of retro band Sha-Na-Na gives and added zip to the already energetic gymnasium dance.

So, "Grease" is not a great movie. Hell, it's hardly a great musical (in any medium); but if you take off your thinking caps, and let the music carry you away, you might just find that time has been kind to "Grease."

 

For you mainstream film fans who love full screen, Paramount has given you what you wanted. Presented in 1.33:1, you can go nuts just as you have watching the flick on VHS and television. A lot of the film is definently cropped and some nicely done shots do lose their impact, so go with widescreen if you can. Despite the chops though, the transfer looks it age and doesn't seem to have gone through any major restorations. It's quite grainy which I found distracting, and the print is downright dirty: scratches, nicks, blemishes, pieces of dirt... it's all here, and all throughout the film.

Also quite annoying is the mucho amount of noise and halo edges... it really got to me. Detail, while good, I thought could have been better. Still, fleshtones are decent, and the colors are saturated in a pretty good manner. It's not the greatest, but it's certainly not bad or anything and could have been worse. All in all, the transfer has some bright spots, but could have been better, especially the work Paramount has given to some older, classic titles. It's above average at best, and as fans can agree, it probably did deserve better.

 

Ah, nothing like a full blown Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. Thankfully, the results for "Grease" around the channels are quite satisfying and well done. Yes, this is a musical, so much of the audio must be judged on that. And it does succed quite admirably. All the songs and scoring sound quite full through the channels with a great ambiance, superb "old is new again" mixing that feels spruced up and a strong sense of goodness through the speakers that is done with creative flair. The use of the subwoofer is well integrated too. Lovers of the movie will definently feel right at home and emrbace this new mix, just as I had. Dynamic range is surprisingly quite strong, as is fidelity. It's really, really well done.

Sound effects such as students in the halls of Rydell High talking and the crisp dialogue also hold their own. It's very well done and suits the film in fine regard. Also included are Dolby Surround tracks in French and English, plus English subtitles and English closed captioning.

 

Man, what a disappointment. I know fans of the movie and music are singing the blues, as one of Paramount's most requested titles of all time is shafted in this department. This is simply more or less a rehash of the successful June 1998 video release (which was released after the successful theatrical re-release in March 1998), right down from the interviews to the nicely done and decent Songbook included with the cumbersome cardboard casing (while supplies last, kids!).

Besides a decent non-anamorphic widescreen Theatrical Trailer, the main goodie here are the Retrospective Interviews. This lasts a near-seventeen minutes and is solid, even if you might have seen this before. Besides your usual film clips in non-anamorphic wid escreen, you get a bunch of full frame interviews with much of the major talent: Olivia Newton-John, the later producer Allan Carr, director Randal Kleiser, Stockard Channing, Jeff Conaway, Didi Conn and John Travolta himself. These interviews are rather sincere as they talk about their fond memories of the film, what it means to them, the success of it and how the work is what it is today. Even if it's not "new," it's still a very good watch and very well done.

This deserved the "Special Collector's Edition" banner, especially since the film's 25th anniversary is only next year as of writing this. Too bad... but rumor has it Paramount is prepping a special edition of the title after all. It's pretty doubtful it will see release in 2003 since I bet they're going to milk this edition, but maybe in 2004 if it's all true. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe there was a "Behind The Music" episode of the musical on VH-1... couldn't Paramount have taken that and put it here? It's not like there should be rights issues involved.

 

There's no denying why "Grease" has such a popular appeal among people of all ages and of all groups, and after all these years, the film version certainly has stood the test of time. Be it the songs, the 1950's nostalgia or the charming actors themselves, "Grease" is still the word. Unfortunantly, many fans are going to be disappointed with this release. While I admit it's nice to have the film on our beloved format, I truly wish Paramount went above and beyond than what's given here. A special edition is still a strong rumor, so if you're a fan and need the film and rehashed supplements right now, it's yours.