Judge Ryan Keefer might not be black or a woman, but he gives mad props to this long-awaited and much beloved Broadway musical that finally sees the cinematic light.
Our reviews of Dreamgirls: Two-Disc Showstopper Edition (published April 23rd, 2007) and Dreamgirls: Two-Disc Showstopper Edition (Blu-Ray) (published May 3rd, 2007) are also available.
All you have to do is dream.
Like Judge Daniel MacDonald, I feel that Moulin Rouge reintroduced the musical to the cinematic public, Chicago perfected it, and the long, painfully slow process to bring Broadway to Hollywood (or back to Hollywood, as with Hairspray) began in earnest. Dreamgirls first generated positive buzz with what could be described as a scintillating 20-minute preview at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival. Eleven months, two Oscars, and $100 million later, what's all the hubbub about?
Facts of the Case
From a play by Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger, Dreamgirls begins when Effie (American Idol castoff Jennifer Hudson), Deena (Beyonce Knowles, Austin Powers In Goldmember), and Lorrell (Anika Noni Rose, Surviving Christmas) catch a break during a talent competition when a car salesman/aspiring music manager, Curtis Taylor (Jaime Foxx, Ray), brings the group in to sing backup for soul singer Jimmy "Thunder" Early (Eddie Murphy, Shrek). Soon, though, Curtis changes the dynamic of the group inside and out; quietly muscling out Jimmy's longtime manager, and unraveling Jimmy's desire to give the people soul with a slightly flirtatious touch. So Curtis and the girls (the "Dreams" as he calls them) are put on separate shows, with Deena taking the lead vocal duties, even with Effie's long communicated dream to be a lead singer. As tensions rise, a breaking point is reached, and Effie tries to make it without Curtis' business support, while Deena rises to superstardom.
Let's first address the two actors who received the most praise for their roles—Murphy and Hudson. Murphy's performance was daring, but compared to Alan Arkin's Oscar-winning turn in Little Miss Sunshine, he was more or less channeling his well known James Brown and Stevie Wonder impressions, while Arkin's performance was more engrossing. I'd love to see him take on more roles with a harder, darker edge. As for Hudson, assuming she does more acting work, she's got some life ahead of her. Her dramatic chops are more than solid, painting an effective portrait of a woman who refuses to compromise her dream, even if it undermines the rest of her life.
Then there's the song. Anyone who's seen Dreamgirls knows what I'm talking about. For those who haven't, Hudson's version of "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" is, for my money, the most amazing performance of a song on film—exhibiting defiance, fear, tension, rebelliousness, and a host of other emotions. In this young girl's lungs is wisdom beyond her 26 years. Hudson gives another mesmerizing performance 15 minutes later with "I Am Changing," set years later, when Effie realizes she loves what she does and that asking for help isn't a bad thing.
There are other interesting things to examine. The breakdown between Deena and Effie is frequently compared to the Diana Ross and Mary Wilson conflicts The Supremes suffered in the '60s. Knowles need only look within her own career to see this as well, as her band Destiny's Child had interchanged band members, some of whom claimed that management's interest was a little "misguided.". Jimmy's attempt at a comeback is eerily similar to the genesis of the Marvin Gaye classic "What's Going On.". And the payola scandals of the time, along with the full scale lifting of songs from black artists to safer white artists, is shown without a lot of commentary, because we all know it happened. On a larger scale, Curtis' actions are a larger metaphor for the music industry. At some point he shifts from looking at the merits of music from a fan's perspective to one of an executive; and in an era where any song over four and a half minutes gets no airplay, to say that music has declined is a safe statement to make.
Make sure you have a checklist on hand, because there's your single disc release, your two-disc "Show Stopper Edition," and two next-generation releases that include extras from both standard DVD editions. Anyone who loved this movie will become victim of the dreaded studio two-tier extras and pricing strategy. On Disc One of this HD release, there are 12 deleted and extended sequences that total a little over 30 minutes in footage, as well as a preview for the soundtrack. Disc Two has the bulk of the material, starting with a look at the making of the picture, titled "Building a Dream.". It's a feature-length (almost two hours) behind the scenes documentary with ample participation by all major cast and crew who discuss their thoughts on the stage musical before taking on the film. The play's history is covered in extensive detail, along with the story of how they persuaded David Geffen to allow director Bill Condon and his crew to adapt it. The challenge of adapting the play is next, followed by casting and the actors' desire to appear in the picture. The piece then moves onto pre-production, wardrobe, set design, choreography, and rehearsals. Then the production kicks into full swing, with clips from all nine weeks of principal photography. The feature concludes with the film's New York premiere. It's as comprehensive a look as you're going to see, and worth the price of the extra disc. Just when you'd think there wasn't much left to cover, we explore editing and costuming (running for five and eight minutes, respectively), along with an interesting nine minute examination of the lighting design. The bonus materials wrap up with a series of screen test and audition footage, and seven previsualization sequences.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Technically the 1080p VC-1 transfer looks amazing, with every bit of color looking as vivid and clear as they're going to get without any sort of bleeding. Black levels are great and provide an excellent contrast, and the image frequently pops on the screen. It's the audio that disappoints. The Dolby Digital Plus trackk does help the music sound great (during "One Night Only," there's a nice breakdown of channels, with the vocals coming through the center channel and the music coming through the rest of the speakers), but it's the lack of a lossless track that's a bummer. DreamWorks and Paramount would be better served by calling a Warner Bros. rep to learn a little of their sonic magic.
The "making of" documentary not only solves the emptiness of a filmmaker's commentary, but is vital to the disc, and the other extras should have been eschewed for it. As one who normally runs away from musicals, the film is surprisingly good, the disc looks and sounds good, and anyone who loved the film should enjoy this HD release.
And I'm telling you, the court recommends you not leave without seeing this one.
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• Building the Dream
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