Miramax // 1992 // 94 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // December 13th, 2010
A life lived in fear is a life half-lived.
1992's Strictly Ballroom remains Australian director Baz Luhrmann's signature masterwork, despite the notoriety of later projects such as Moulin Rouge and Australia. It has all the elements that informed his style -- larger than life costumes, desperately overplayed emotions, quick loopy editing, and a romance that works as a fairy tale. Though it has been previously released on DVD, here comes one more incarnation that holds up quite well in this Dancing With the Stars-obsessed era.
Scott (Paul Mercurio, Exit to Eden) is a competitive ballroom dancer hellbent on adding his own flair to the traditional steps required of all contenders. His rebelliousness ends up costing him a partner, but along comes Fran (Tara Morice, Candy) who seems to believe in him. Can they find their way to he top of the ballroom heap?
Strictly Ballroom is an absolute joy to watch. You can feel the love and passion for ballroom dancing jumping right off the screen. Any flaws the film has are obliterated and steamrolled by the enthusiasm and pure unfiltered joy of the story and dance. Everything that Luhrmann produces feels genuine, even when broadly pushing pure camp. The production design is a bedazzled frenzy of sequins and feathers, and the entire film follows Baz's strict adherence to "over the top." It has musicality and heart to spare, a film almost cartoonish in its characters depictions. And yet somehow it all works brilliantly, none of which has changed with this release.
The only new thing truly added to the package is a 25 minute making-of featurette which gives footage of the cast and crew talking about the production. It's amazing to hear the long journey Strictly Ballroom took to reach the screen. Ported over from previous DVD releases are a deleted scene, a design gallery with narration, "Samba to Slow Fox" dance documentary, and a commentary with Baz and his production team. The only participants sorely missing from all of these extras are acting leads Paul Mercurio and Tara Morice. Despite the cast participation, Luhrman provides a lively discussion which tells you tons about the film. There's certainly enough here to make an enjoyable film that much more fun.
My only gripe with this release is that merely adding a single featurette isn't enough to warrant a new DVD. The feature has been on Blu-ray in other regions, and another DVD for Region 1 (US/Canada) seems both repetitive and excessive. If you've never bought the title before, this edition is certainly the way to go. I imagine hardcore Baz fans will cry foul buying something simply for twenty some odd minutes of Luhrmann talking about how this all came about. Unfortunately, these tactics have become an industry standard, and it's hard to suss out exactly why.
The transfer does not seem to have been upgraded much from previous releases which were already well done. There are parts of the film that look soft, and occasionally the vibrant colors bleed a bit. Yet on the whole, it has a film quality that looks great when you consider the source material's age and independent roots. Colors are over-saturated which keeps them in line with Baz and his technique. Sound is a surprisingly well-executed five channel mix which adds dramatic tone, the music blaring appropriately and dialogue feeling crisp and natural. The directional effects are used quite well, especially for a film from the early '90s.
If you enjoy ballroom dancing and Baz Luhrmann films then you are in for a treat. Strictly Ballroom is a high style, glitzy, and romantic melodrama with all the signature theatrical elements Luhrmann has become known for. There are over the top costumes, wild editing, and emotions running wild over a traditional romantic comedy narrative. It's basically Rocky set to a cha-cha beat, or more aptly Dirty Dancing married to The Ugly Duckling. This release is just one more edition put out by the Miramax marketing department, but I'm all for any effort that keeps such a heartfelt love letter to the power of dancing and film in circulation.
Guilty of not adding any new steps to the routine, but still a perfect fruity
Review content copyright © 2010 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scene
* Design Gallery