Case Number 23894: Small Claims Court


Dirty Dancing
Lionsgate // 1987 // 105 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights
Lionsgate // 2004 // 105 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // May 30th, 2012

The Charge

"Nobody puts Baby in a corner!"

The Case

One of the most cutting critiques, I've ever heard of test screenings for Hollywood movies is the idea that if they worked then every film Hollywood released would be a hit. Since that's not the case, test screenings aren't that great a system. Even if you like the idea of test screenings, you have to admit that sometimes nothing can predict what will be a hit. Take Dirty Dancing. It's a romantic drama with a pretty low budget aimed sort of at the teen crowd released during the height of the Reagan Eighties. Not only that, it was set in the Sixties and featured actors few people were paying attention to. Yet, it was one of the biggest sleeper hits in film history, grossing way outside expectations. More than that, Dirty Dancing became a touchstone for future generations as well. It became so popular that a "sequel," Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, was made in 2004. Though nowhere near as popular as its predecessor, Havana Nights provides the perfect excuse to release the two-disc Dirty Dancing Collection (Blu-ray), where fans can finally own the re-mastered Blu-ray of the original without having to buy the previous Limited Edition set.

It's the Sixties, and teenaged Frances (Jennifer Grey, Ferris Bueller's Day Off) is dragged to a remote mountain resort with her family. Though she's initially bored with the resort's offerings, eventually she settles on dance lessons with local heartthrob Johnny (Patrick Swayze, Road House). As she learns to dance, Baby is also forced to grow up.

Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights has pretty much the same premise, but transplanted to Cuba in 1958 (the eve of Castro's takeover).

I'm not going to argue about Dirty Dancing -- it's kind of a love-it-or-hate-it film. Something about the romance (just believable enough), the historical setting (in the recent past, but not trying too hard to "recreate" it), the music (which is part Eighties, part Fifties/Sixties) and the chemistry between the leads (which is nigh-perfect) makes Dirty Dancing better than the sum of its genre parts. Of course on the flip side, it's not a particularly authentic recreation of 1963, Jennifer Grey can be grating while Swayze can be stiff, and the romance is a bit too perfect. Still, maybe that's why Dirty Dancing works.

Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights isn't quite as bad as I had expected; more than anything, it comes off as unnecessary rather than simply bad. The actors all do their part, the dancing is fine, and the historical setting of Cuba in 1958 is a good idea. However, unlike the original, there's nothing about this "reimagining" that's unexpected. Part of what made Dirty Dancing work was the low expectations that took off; trying to capture lightning in a bottle by producing this "sequel" just doesn't work.

Chances are if you're reading this, though, you already have a firm opinion about Dirty Dancing. The question becomes: Should you buy this Blu-ray? The answer is pretty easy, unless you're a drop-dead fanatic of the first film, then yes, this is the set for you.

The problem is that Dirty Dancing was released in 2007 in a so-so transfer that did not impress anyone. When they went back to the vault to re-master the film in HD again, it was only available as part of a Limited Edition version that didn't come in a standard case and included a booklet. Obviously, big fans of the film probably bought that release and don't need this one.

This release is either for those who want the best possible version of Dirty Dancing who didn't want to shell out the cash for the Limited Edition version, or for those fans who want Havana Nights in hi-def who also want to see where the Dirty Dancing phenomena started.

So, what do we actually get with this set? Each film is on its own disc, and as far as I can tell these are the same discs available in the previously-released sets of each film (though this is Havana Night's Blu-ray debut). Taking into account its budget and age, Dirty Dancing looks great in this 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded high definition transfer. Colors -- especially skin tones -- are well-saturated and accurate, detail is pretty good, and no serious print problems or artefacts crop up. However, the source still looks like a soft, low-budget production from 1987, and those hoping for a magical restoration will be disappointed. The DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio track is similarly impressive. Dialogue is clear (though limited by the state of recording technology in the Eighties), and the re-mastered tunes sound good, with an appropriate amount of low end. Of course, the audio doesn't sound as good as a film made today would, but for a twenty-five-year-old film, it looks and sounds good.

The extras for Dirty Dancing appear to have been taken directly from the Limited Edition release. We get commentaries with the film's writer and a gang commentary with the choreographer, assistant choreographer, cinematographer, costumer, and production designer. All but the most diehard of fans should stick with writer Bergstein's track, since it's the most listenable and covers most of the info conveyed by the other track. Then, we get a ton of featurettes that cover the film's production and its afterlife in fandom, including the live concert version of the film. There are also a bunch of deleted and extended scenes, screen tests, a photo gallery, a trivia track, and a tribute to Patrick Swayze. It's an impressive and generally strong set of extras.

For a newer film, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights looks a bit soft on its Blu-ray disc. The 1.78:1 AVC-encoded transfer has strong colors and good black levels, but fans looking for fine detail will be disappointed. The DTS-HD 7.1 soundtrack is a bit better -- dialogue is clear and the soundstage is used to good effect. Extras include a commentary with the producer and choreographer, some multi-angle dance sequences, deleted scenes, a couple of featurettes, and a music video. It's not a stellar package, but it's good for fans.

Dirty Dancing Collection is a great way for fans to get the re-mastered HD version of the original film without buying the Limited Edition set as well as way for fans of Havana Nights to get an HD transfer. Though Havana Nights feels unnecessary and I get tired just thinking about the sheer number of Dirty Dancing home video releases, this is the release for fans of either film to invest in. The audiovisual presentation is unlikely to get significantly better, and there are more than enough extras here to keep most people happy.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2012 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice, Dirty Dancing
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile, Dirty Dancing
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)

* English
* Spanish

Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13

Distinguishing Marks, Dirty Dancing
* Commentaries
* Trivia Track
* Deleted/Extended Scenes
* Featurettes
* Interviews
* Outtakes
* Fan Reel
* Screen Tests
* Bonus Concert
* Music Videos
* Photo Gallery
* Shooting Script
* Theatrical Trailer

Scales of Justice, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)

* English
* Spanish

Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13

Distinguishing Marks, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights
* Commentary
* Deleted Scenes
* Featurettes
* Music Video

* IMDb: Dirty Dancing

* IMDb: Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights