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Save The Last Dance

review by Zach B.

Rated PG-13

Studio: Paramount

Running Time: 112 minutes

Starring Julia Stiles, Sean Patrick Thomas, Terry Kinney, Kerry Washington, Fredro Starr

Screenplay by Duane Adler and Cheryl Edwards
Story by Duane Adler

Directed by Thomas Carter

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Audio Commentary with Director Thomas Carter, Deleted Scenes, Cast and Crew Interviews, The Making of "Save The Last Dance" featurette, "Crazy" by K-Ci & JoJo Music Video, Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital English 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, English Closed Captions, English Subtitles, Chapter Search (18 Chapters)

Released: June 19th, 2001

Teen movies have hit a slump lately. While "Scream" launched the genre for a whole new generation nearly five years ago, I have to say that movies aimed for the teenage audience complete with their favorite actors and great soundtracks are dying lately. So many horror films aimed for the audience have been bombing, not to mention the usual romantic comedies that once brought in millions and millions for many studios. However, there have been a few exceptions lately, and "Save The Last Dance" is one of them.

"Save The Last Dance" opened to some pretty strong reviews and was truly one of the sleeper hits of last winter. It went on to make around ninety million dollars and opened with a really impressive twenty-eight million to much shock. While I missed it in theaters, I must say I can see why this movie is so likeable and is definently one of the best films aimed at teens out there. The plot isn't stupid and is original, there's some good writing as well as directing plus some excellent acting. In a genre that's overcrowded with the same old characters and stories, it's refreshing to see something new and entertaining.

Julia Stiles plays Sara Johnson, an excellent dancer who seems to have a bright future ahead of her in the dance world. Sadly, however, as her dreams are about to become alive with an audition at Juliard in New York City, tragedy errupts. Sara's mother is killed in a fatal car accident on the way to her audition. Sara then must kill off her dream and moves in with her father (Terry Kinney) who she's not really close to (she even calls him by his first name) in Chicago. Sara begins school there and it's quite a change from what she is used to. Sara originated from a little town and now she's faced to adapt to the challanges of the big city. Getting detected for weapons before entering school, meeting new people and struggling to find her place in a new place among other things. While Sara is ridiculued a little at the start, she soon meets Chenille (Kerry Washington) who shows her the ropes of her new school. However, the real plot of the film finds Sara clashing heads with Derek (Sean Patrick Thomas), an African-American peer of hers (and also Chenille's brother). While the two don't exactly hit it off at first, it turns out they have a lot more in common than one may think. They both like to dance and from there, their friendship blooms into something more. From there, the plot also deepens beside the interracial romance... Sara used to love to dance and everything, and lost her interest in it, so it's up to Derek to help her rediscover her love and everything that comes with it. Yeah, you probably know what happens... I saw this trailer many times in the theater and I always said to myself "Oh wow I saw the movie in two minutes!". Still, besides how predictable the movie can be, it's still really enjoyable to watch with a lot of great situations and dialogue that further enhance the themes.

I was really surprised how much I enjoyed "Save The Last Dance" and as I mentioned earlier, the film does have a lot going for it. I really liked Thomas Carter's directing style. He sets a nice pace for the movie not to mention his unique way of dealing with things. I really liked how he opens the film with Sara on the train. As she rides the flashback sequences shift back and forth nicely. The movie also has good editing, especially during the dancing sequences so we can see a lot of the key moves and what's going on.

The acting here really makes this film believable. I like Julia Stiles as an actress as she has had a variety of choices in the past in plenty of really good movies. She takes the role of Sara and runs with it. There's a lot of raw emotion with the character and she does justice with it. Sean Patrick Thomas is excellent as Derek who brings a lot of life to the character. The supporting performances from Washington and Kinney just add more to the film.

What I liked most about the film was the story and script. Once again, this isn't your usual stereotypical sort of film. While I guess you can argue some of the characters are a little, the script rings a lot of great truths that I feel some films with these themes haven't gone deep enough into them. A lot of dramatic stuff is handled realistically and seriously. The romance between Sara and Derek is greatly played out and handled really well between them and other characters. It creates a nice conflict. The setting also says a lot, especially toward the start of the movie where Derek talks with a fellow peer about going back to school instead of being in juvenille hall. Derek also has a little shady past he tells Sara about about forty-five minutes into the film. I won't mention every "real" scene that happens, but there are quite a few and I was glad to see them. They really bring a lot more to the movie.

Though I liked the pace of the movie, sometimes I felt things moved too quickly and could have been expanded more. Overall however, I must say I was surprised how much I enjoyed the movie. There's some great issues in here that are dealt with maturely. Top it off with great acting, great dialogue and great direction and you have yourself a pretty fantastic movie that won't only appeal to the teens. Check out "Save The Last Dance", it may be aimed at one demographic but certainly works for a lot of others as well.

Once again, Paramount delivers a transfer that everyone will be pleased with. "Save The Last Dance" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the result is simply astounding. This is one of the best transfers from Paramount I've ever seen. While I did see some slight shimmering and some slight edge enhancment during the film, everything else is picture perfect. Black levels are dead on while hues and colors are incredibly accurate with bold colors. The streets of Chicago truly come to life while the interiors of the school look really realistic. Detail is also excellent and there was no noticeable grain to speak of. But what really impressed me is that I didn't notice many blemishes on the print. They appeared sometimes (mostly about twenty-two minutes into the film) but were so small they didn't distract and I doubt anybody will notice them. Another fine effort from Paramount that is simply mesmerizing.

"Save The Last Dance" features an English 5.1 Dolby Digital mix as well as English and French Dolby Surround tracks. The 5.1 Dolby Digital suits the material here really well and was a lot better than I expected it to be. Surrounds are not constantly used and places I expected to hear them I didn't get them, but overall I found myself feeling like I existed in the atmosphere and hearing it all unroll before me. The sound here has a nice, sharp edge that will bring you in. The background noises sound particuarly good and when the music starts, it lights up the channels with some great mixing (that also includes the great Mark Isham score). Dialogue is crisp and clear and does not overlap with the music and other sounds. The .1 LFE is pretty active which I was glad to hear. English subtitles are included as well as English closed captions.

It's nice to see Paramount packing their films with a lot more extras lately, and in this department "Save The Last Dance" does not disappoint. A Audio Commentary with Director Thomas Carter is included, and overall this is a pretty great session. Though he is a little quiet at times, Carter is soft-spoken and reflects on his experiences and ideas of the movie. He talks about the themes of the film and how people responded to them. Some of the things he says are obvious but I was always happy to hear the choices he made and their effects. Overall, he has some interesting things to say on this track and fans of the movie should listen to it.

Four Deleted Scenes are included on the disc, even in anamorphic widescreen (yes!) and two channel sound. Though there's no optional commentary from Carter, you can see why these were cuts. But they are enjoyable to watch and even have English subtitles with them. The scenes total up to a little more than ten minutes. One of these scenes is actually more of an alternative one, but I feel the one used in the film is more effective.

The Making Of "Save The Last Dance" is in full frame and lasts for nearly twenty minutes. It has clips from the movie in addition to interviews with Thomas, Stiles, Washingtona nd others. This featurette is a bit promotional, and features behind the scenes footage. I was glad to see that Paramount is continuting their trend of subtitles on supplement materials. I hope studios in the future follow suit with this.

Cast and Crew Interviews lasts about twelve and a half minutes and also features clips from the film. Subtitles are here too (yay!) as well as behind the scenes footage. The interviews here were less fluffy and more informative then the featurette, though sometimes I felt it was more of the same. Oh well, still quite enjoyable.

Rounding the disc out is the "Crazy" Music Video, which is by K-Ci and JoJo. It features the actors from the movie as well as clips from the film. The video is in non-anamorphic widescreen and two channel sound. Rounding the disc out is the spoiler-filled Theatrical Trailer in non-anamorphic widescreen and two channel sound. See the movie first then watch this. Finally, Paramount has also included some really nice animated menus that reflect the film perfectly and nicely. Sweetness.

Paramount delivers quite a good release for "Save The Last Dance". An incredible transfer with a well suited 5.1 mix all topped with some very nice extras, this is a really good package. Fans of the film are going to love this, but if you haven't seen the movie and just labeled it as yet another teen film, check it out... you'll be surprised how much you'll enjoy it.

(4/5 - NOT included in final score)




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