For Judge Brendan Babish, watching Dirty Dancing was a pretty decent time of his life.
Our reviews of Dirty Dancing: 20th Anniversary Edition (published May 14th, 2007), Dirty Dancing Collection (Blu-ray) (published May 30th, 2012), Dirty Dancing: Limited Keepsake Edition (published May 4th, 2010), Dirty Dancing: Official Dance Workout (published January 2nd, 2009), and Dirty Dancing: Ultimate Edition (published March 10th, 2004) are also available.
"I carried a watermelon."
From very modest origins, Dirty Dancing not only became a box-office smash, but has enjoyed such continued success on home video that a 2007 British Sky Movies survey listed it as the number one "Women's most-watched films." This leads to two questions: Will the movie be relevant for modern audiences watching it for the first time? And, if you are one of the millions who have already bought Dirty Dancing in one of its many releases (most recently, a 2007 Blu-ray), is this "Limited Keepsake Edition" worth the upgrade?
Facts of the Case
The year is 1963 and seventeen-year-old Baby (Jennifer Grey, Ferris Bueller's Day Off) is traveling with her upper-middle-class family to a Catskills resort for the summer. Baby quickly develops a crush on the hunky dance instructor Johnny (Patrick Swayze, Point Break), who comes from a hardscrabble, working-class background. Their differences in social status keep them apart, until Johnny's platonic dance partner Penny (Cynthia Rhodes) is knocked up by a waiter at the resort and finds herself in desperate need of a "remedy." Baby seems to be the only person who can help. Not only does she have the means to assist Penny, but she can also fill in for her as Johnny's dance partner—assuming she can learn the routines in time. This close physical contact with him, as well intimate involvement in his personal life, brings them together, but will that be enough to overcome all the barriers—social and familial—to their romance?
Dirty Dancing shouldn't work as well as it does. The movie is awash in clichés (most prominent: rich girl falls for boy from the wrong side of the tracks); the plot almost never deviates from the standard romance/drama template; and—let's face it—Grey and Swayze are hardly two of the great actors of their generation. By all accounts, this should have been a movie that was released in a handful of theaters, then premiered on home video a few weeks later. In fact, that was the original marketing plan before the film became an almost inexplicable global sensation.
So what differentiates this from normal romance schlock? Though Dirty Dancing largely goes through the motions, it does so with such skill and vitality its almost impossible to resist its charms. For starters, Grey, Swayze, and Rhodes were all trained dancers; a decision that not only enlivens dance sequences, but adds verisimilitude to a genre that often lacks it. Then there is the film's soundtrack, which may be cheesey, but it takes a real sourpuss to not find anything redeemable in "The Time of My Life," "She's Like the Wind," or "Hungry Eyes." Lastly, there's Swayze. Though he became something of a critical punching bag over the last couple decades of his career, Dirty Dancing reminded me why he became a star in the first place. Though he was in his mid-thirties at the time of shooting (kind of long in the tooth for a character that romances a supposed seventeen-year-old), he has a sultriness and earnestness that is invaluable for light dramas.
All that said, for contemporary audiences Dirty Dancing is still—at best—little more than a surprisingly engaging romance. As a date movie, or for just light entertainment, you would be hard pressed to do better.
For Dirty Dancing fans, the question is not so much the quality of the film, but the value of yet another rerelease. As previously noted, the film's already been released on Blu-ray—in a fully loaded, two-disc, twentieth anniversary edition no less. Frustratingly, this release contains just enough new features to certainly be tempting for a double dip, but not enough to make it an easy decision.
For starters, the video and audio transfer are identical or very similar to the latest Blu-ray release (the package for the 2007 release stated that the audio was a 6.1 surround, but I've seen reviews stating it is actually 7.1). Though the soundtrack is heavily used with loads of sentimental pop songs, the rear channels don't get much use. That said, the music and dialogue are clear and have been mixed exceptionally well. The picture might be about as good as we're going to get from this low-budget, twenty-year-old movie, but it's still disappointing. There is a fair amount of film grain and the colors are muted, which might be appropriate for a 1960's period piece, but when you watch a movie on Blu-ray you really want it to pop off the screen—and Dirty Dancing certainly doesn't.
The 2007 Blu-ray release already came with a treasure trove of extras—most of which were purloined from previous editions—all of which are recycled here. One would think there simply wasn't anything left to tack on, but the features exclusive to this set include "Dancing to the Music," a fifteen-minute featurette on the popular songs on the soundtrack and how they were integrated into the film; Eleanor Bergstein's Shooting Script, which is not the complete script, but individual scenes with notes in the margins; "Patrick Swayze Tribute," which is one of many tributes in this set, but at fifteen minutes, one of the most informative and substantial; a digital copy of the movie; and—best of all—Dirty Dancing: Live in Concert. This is a feature-length concert film that had previously been a stand-alone release on VHS, and is clearly the crown jewel of the exclusive features on this Blu-ray. Dirty Dancing: Live in Concert features many of the artists on the original soundtrack performing their hits, along with dancers from the film performing around them. For Dirty Dancing fanatics this is a great bonus feature; for casual fans it might be fun to watch for a few minutes.
The final special feature is the packaging itself, which is a tri-fold digipack along with a forty-eight page hardback book that includes—among other ephemera—tributes to the stars and an essay by Berstein.
The film itself holds up surprisingly well more than twenty years after its initial release. For those who haven't seen it since then—or haven't seen it at all—it's definitely worth checking out. While there are some worthwhile exclusive bonus features here, I can't recommend double dipping unless you absolutely must. This is partially because I can't abide the movie studio baiting fans into purchasing the same film over and over and over again, and partially because there will probably be a new Final, Ultimate, No This Time We Really Mean It Edition coming out in early 2012.
Not guilty. But it sure does show up in court an awful lot, doesn't it?
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