New Line // 2007 // 117 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // November 20th, 2007
You can't stop the beat.
Of all the surprises of the 2007 summer movie season, the biggest one had to be the success of the musical Hairspray. Released in the middle of July, the film was effective counter-programming, earning almost $200 million worldwide and a ton of critical praise. Aside from its video release, this is also the first next-generation release from New Line. So is the first the most memorable?
The 1988 John Waters film was adapted into a Broadway musical in 2003, and re-adapted with a screenplay by Leslie Dixon (Pay It Forward) and directed by Adam Shankman (Cheaper By the Dozen 2). In this film, Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) and her friend Penny (Amanda Bynes, What a Girl Wants) come home every day to see the local dance music show, hosted by Corny Collins (James Marsden, Superman Returns), in 1962 Baltimore. She has an urge to be one of the people on the show and meet her crush Link (Zac Efron, High School Musical). She manages to land an appearance with the encouragement of her father, Wilbur (Christopher Walken, The Deer Hunter), and her mother, Edna (John Travolta, Wild Hogs). During her appearance, she takes an unpopular stand by saying that the show should include more African American kids on it, as she dances with them at school as it is. The show's attempts at integration are over the objections of its pr oducer Velma von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer, Batman Returns). The film shows Tracy's attempts to change her little corner of Charm City, set to some toe-tapping tunes.
When it comes to all things Baltimore, I like my Orioles Angelos free, my Natty Bo's chilled, my crabs steamed and covered in Old Bay, and my cop shows gritty and critically praised. I've never been one who's been a huge John Waters fan, and I thought that the whole concept of this film was shaky at best. You've got a movie that was turned into a Broadway musical, and said musical was converted into a film. Shouldn't that violate some sort of movie cannibalism rule that I don't know about? But hey, if Waters doesn't mind the additional money, I guess I shouldn't, either.
And yet even after receiving this title in the mail, I was still dreading reviewing it, but that was until I saw it. I'm a convert to this film. From the opening strains of "Good Morning Baltimore" to "You Can't Stop the Beat," the movie's upbeat theme is just contagious. It successfully manages to capture the feeling and optimism of musicals, combined with the occasionally fun subversive line or two that Waters likes to incorporate in his work. The face of the film is Blonsky, in her first movie role (she'd been toiling in an ice cream store before this), and she manages to take the role that made Ricki Lake famous and give it a charm that perhaps Lake didn't give it before. She inspires the dance show and the city to face their prejudices, and helps her Mom overcome a fear of being seen by people in a plus-size outfit. In the midst of some nice songs, Tracy's message is clear even if she doesn't know it; you CAN make a difference.
While they have stated they will be releasing their films in both HD-DVD and Blu-ray, New Line has decided to release Hairspray on Blu-ray first, citing apparent region coding concerns with the HD-DVD format. On a small tangent for a second, if I can get Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire eight months earlier than when it comes out, and maybe get an improved audio option out of it, I'm going to, so New Line simply needs to relax. Which, apparently, they have, because as of this writing, their next catalog title (Pan's Labyrinth) will be released on both formats simultaneously. But I digress. The 2.40:1 widescreen presentation looks great, with the wide color scheme looking sharp, and blacks are quite solid. If there's something the image might lack, it's a little bit of depth in some of the exterior shots, but I wasn't complaining. The DTS-MA soundtrack brings the crystal-clear musical goodness, with the songs coming across with low-end fidelity when needed. It's a clear soundtrack without being overly immersive, which is what the film needs. Considering that New Line has the Lord of the Rings films in its library, this should be good news if (and when) they're released in high definition.
The extras are the same here as on the standard-definition disc, meaning two discs of fun and frolic abound. I sound glib by saying that, but this title is loaded. Disc One starts with five deleted and alternate scenes that include optional commentary by Shankman. They are all complete scenes which are all in DTS-MA to boot, perhaps for the additional music sequence, a solo song where Tracy is locked in the bomb shelter. "Hairspray Extensions" looks at the rehearsals and preparation for the larger musical numbers, which is broken down by song, along with a "Play All" function lasting about 40 minutes. You can also watch the finished song if you'd like. A similar function covers two of the dances in the film, although that piece is more of a tutorial showing the viewer how to do the steps, then you can view the dances in the films. You can even jump to a song in the film and play it, including the deleted song I mentioned earlier. The big piece which is exclusive to the disc is a picture-in-picture commentary on the film, with early set pictures and concept photos, and video of the cast and crew providing commentary on the feature. It's more of a montage of how scenes come to realization rather than the Warner "In Movie Experience" that appears on the HD-DVDs that are out now, and because the DTS audio still plays from time to time, it tends to be bit of a distraction, and the footage is somewhat redundant from the behind-the-scenes stuff, but if it's a choice between having this piece and not having it, I'd choose to keep it. The two commentaries from the standard-definition disc are held over as well. The first one with Shankman and Blonsky is lighthearted as Blonsky jokes and observes while Shankman recalls some information about the production. It's a lively track. The second one is a little bit staler, as producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (Chicago) discuss how they came to the film and discuss film musicals versus stage ones and take a more serious tone to the film. It's got its own fair share of information, just not as entertaining as the other track, in large part because Blonsky is missing.
Moving on to Disc Two, "The Roots of Hairspray" covers the origins and inspiration for the film, with ample participation by Waters. "The Buddy Deane Show" is a small look at the Corny Collins equivalent in real-life 1960s Baltimore, along with a look at the show and the City in general, with the integration attempts discussed as well. "John Waters' Hairspray" covers Waters films and the one that inspired this one, with interviews from the cast from the original film too. There was also a look at Waters' life in a hundred words or less, along with his longtime friend and cast member, Divine. "Hairspray on Broadway" talks about how it came to the Great White Way, with discussion on the film by composer Marc Shaiman and Waters shares his thoughts on the songs, and there's even the occasional interview with the original cast, and the success of the show is talked about as well. All in all this trio of featurettes runs about 40 minutes and is rather nice. "You Can't Stop the Beat: The Long Journey of Hairspray" is a near feature-length extra at about an hour and 20 minutes; it covers everything about the musical, the cast, the songs, the wardrobe, hair, you name it. The casting call for Tracy is discussed -- showing Blonsky getting the role, replete in the Coldstone Creamery garb from her previous job. Travolta and the fat suit are given a few minutes; the songs, rehearsing and other elements are covered from pre-production to the premiere party. It's comprehensive and worth the time. The trailer is the other extra on the disc.
The weakest part of this film I think is the one that was marketed the most, and that was the appearance of Travolta. Hooray, he's trying to do justice to the role of Edna Turnblad in a way that would make Divine proud. But his Baltimore County accent (or Balmer Cawnee, for the locals) makes him sound like Dr. Evil, the songs he does in the film are the weakest of the bunch -- not counting those by Queen Latifah (who plays Motormouth Maybelle, Marsden's black equivalent) -- and his inclusion in the film seems to want to answer the numerous requests he's had to appear in another musical for the last couple of decades, at the risk of people getting annoyed by his hamminess.
Watching Hairspray made me want to smile and tap my foot. Whether you've seen the movie or not is irrelevant to your enjoyment, though if you've not seen any of the John Waters films, there might be a slight culture shock in it for you. The technical benefits combined with the abundant extras make it a welcome addition to anyone's library, especially this cranky cynical Judge.
A warm and happy not guilty, but after watching the film, the court asks who's going to do something about the ozone layer?
Review content copyright © 2007 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Top 100 Discs: #65
Studio: New Line
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* DTS HD 6.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* "Behind the Beat" Picture-in-Picture Experience
* Commentary by Adam Shankman and Nikki Blonsky
* Commentary by Producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron
* Subtitled Lyrics Track
* "Hairspray Extensions"
* "Step by Step: The Dances of Hairspray"
* "Jump to a Song"
* "The Roots of Hairspray"
* "The Buddy Deane Show" (8:30)
* "John Waters' Hairspray" (15:30)
* "Hairspray on Broadway" (15:30)
* "You Can't Stop the Beat: The Long Journey of Hairspray" (78:00)
* Deleted Scenes
* DVD Verdict Review of Hairspray
* Official Site
* John Waters' auto-biography