Case Number 15739: Small Claims Court

FLASHDANCE

Paramount // 1983 // 94 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // February 19th, 2009

The Charge

"Dreaming. Dreaming is wonderful, but it won't get you closer to what you want..."

Hardly the sort of deep wisdom to truly live life by -- yet by the same token, a film like Flashdance is hardly the sort of production you'd expect would inspire any sort of life-changing epiphanies. A product of the then-emerging MTV culture, Flashdance is as trite, superficial, and downright vacuous as they come. And yet it has your toe tapping, despite your best efforts to resist its infectious synth-beat.

Now in its fourth DVD incarnation, this new Flashdance: I Love the 80s Edition proves the media format has topped out, with retreads of previously-released films now dominating each Tuesday's batch of "new" product. After a bare-bones bow in 2002, the picture was then paired up with Footloose in a 2007 double-feature disc, followed just a couple months later with a full-fledged special edition release. Now that the youth of the 1980s are into their thirtysomething decade, Paramount hopes they're waxing nostalgic enough to be lured by this mostly discardable release that offers nothing new save for a 4-song CD that contains none of the actual numbers from the film.

What a (lousy) feeling.

The Case

Alexandra "Alex" Owens (Jennifer Beals, The L Word) is a steel worker by day and exotic dancer by night. Plucky, passionate and free-spirited, 18-year-old Alex possesses all the energy and assertiveness she needs to get what she wants -- except when it comes to mustering up the confidence to audition at the Pittsburgh Conservatory of Dance. Though she dreams of furthering her dance studies there, she clearly recognizes she's not of the leotard and dance slipper elite that fills the Conservatory halls. Her only respite is her nighttime "flashdancing" at Mawby's Bar, leaning heavily on her support group of fellow not-ready-for-primetime dancers while equally encouraged by her aging mentor, Hanna (Lilia Skala, Testament). Things get a bit more complicated when she unwittingly falls into a love affair with her daytime boss, Nick Hurley (Michael Nouri, The O.C.), who tries to help Alex balance her need for stability while likewise encouraging her embrace the risk of putting her dancing talent on the line and going forward with the Conservatory audition. It all crescendos in a jaw-dropping performance in front of the Conservatory board as Alex unleashes an audition the likes of which these near-lifeless board members have never before seen.

Take your passion, and make it happen.

Flashdance could likely be labeled an "accidental success." Plot-wise, it's mundane and meaningless -- a sort of weak Pygmalion for that "Me" generation. Though undeniably stylish in its visual content, it's really nothing more than a series of vignettes pasted together with a techno backbeat serving as the glue. As much as critics of the day hated it, audiences flocked to it in droves, captivated by the notion of an extended music video that would dazzle their eyes while solidly entertaining their ears for a full 94 minutes -- and it worked. It worked so well that it served as the inspiration for other similar forays that would soon follow (such as Footloose and Dirty Dancing). In a flash, the picture unwittingly delivered an updated take on the old Hollywood song-and-dance picture (and where those involved are happy to suggest they planned it this way, the fact is this was a picture seen as disaster waiting to happen once it finally hit the big screens). Most notable to Flashdance, though, were the sequences in which many viewers got their first glimpse of the wildly entertaining "break dancing."

Jennifer Beals performs reasonably well in the picture though she's much easier to look at than she is to listen to (her lines coming off rather rehearsed much of the time). Still, with her winning smile, soulful saucer-eyes, and trim and tight body, she fit the role of Alex exceptionally well (though we won't talk about the then-controversial dance-double than performed the bulk of her difficult on-screen moves). Unfortunately, whether you blame it on her own inexperience or the lack of a well-defined character, she never succeeds in making Alex a fully fleshed-out person. In fact, though Alex is painted as the struggling soul in the film, her character spends more time reacting to the travails of the characters around her, those who uniformly fall flat on their faces as they attempt to realize their individual dreams. It's a curious method of storytelling (or simply amateurish) in that it practically rewards Alex as something of the "unaffected victim," afraid to reach for her goals yet never adversely impacted by her lack of commitment. In the end, it reads much like the old shtick, "If you think my life's bad, just look at these losers around me." Strange. Entertaining, but strange.

As mentioned, this "new" DVD from Paramount Home Entertainment is a retread of what has gone before, offering the same 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer found in the original bare bones release. The image quality looks reasonably decent (a bit soft, from production design, and exhibiting occasional source specks and flecks) and the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track performs well but suffers from an uneven balancing. Believe it or not, the preferred track is the original Dolby 2.0 Surround mix that's better managed, more aggressive, and will rattle the pictures on you walls when the recognizable thump of Michael Sembello's "Maniac" revs up. A new outer corrugate slipcover design attempts to establish the "I Love the 80's" branding for Paramount but it looks like a discarded design somewhere between Miami Vice and the Go-Go's Talk Show LP. Inside the Amary keep case, you'll find the 4-song CD that includes "Lips Like Sugar" (by Echo and the Bunnymen), "Chains of Love" (by Erasure), "Need You Tonight" (by INXS), and "Take On Me" (by a-ha). As noted, the songs here have no relevance to Flashdance and a better idea might have been to include alternate cuts of the film's songs and perhaps a booklet that outlines the film's inspiration to 80s culture. That said, understand there are no extras here, not even a trailer, despite the fact that 2007's special edition had plenty of stuff, some of which could have easily been ported over.

This disc is saved by the fact that Flashdance itself is an innocuous yet enjoyable artifact of the 80s. While many deride, others welcome it as a guilty pleasure of the big-hair era. Jennifer Beals is still pleasant to look at and the unchallenging narrative is good for an evening of brain-dead viewing.

The Verdict

The film is deemed innocent while Paramount is cited (again) for peddling recycled goods that takes a passion and makes a cash-in. Court adjourned.

Review content copyright © 2009 Dennis Prince; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 77

Perp Profile
Studio: Paramount
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)

Subtitles:
* English
* Spanish

Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 1983
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks
* Music CD

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0085549/combined