Judge Brett Cullum remembers your name...remember, remember, remember...
Our review of Fame (1980) (Blu-ray), published January 26th, 2010, is also available.
Baby look at me, and tell me what you see!
Fame has gone through many incarnations including: the original movie released in 1980, a television series that ran from 1982 until 1987, a musical that first debuted in 1988, a second Los Angeles based television series during 1997, a reality show competition in 2003, and now a "reimagining" almost thirty years later. It's hard to escape Fame, and now we get the '09 version in what they are calling the "Extended Dance Edition" for Blu-ray. It's yet another old franchise made shiny and new for the latest generation who now aspire to claim fame by going viral on YouTube.
Facts of the Case
A group of kids in New York City audition for and attend a high school for the Performing and Visual Arts, and we follow them from first day tryouts to graduation. Included among the students are:
• Denise Dupree—Classical Piano (Naturi Naughton, Notorious)
Several of the teachers are also introduced:
The age old story of "kids struggle to hit the big time" gets the update treatment, and it feels different. It's all far too safe this time around. This very loose retelling of Fame is directed by a man named Kevin Tancharoen who only has a Madonna video and Britney Spears tour under his belt. He's really more a choreographer than anything else, and that shows in the final product. Where the original was an R-rated, gritty drama about kids facing ugly problems, this new version glitzes things out and keeps the material to a PG rating. Any real angst that might spike through is replaced with jazz hands and a whirling dervish camera. It seems High School Musical has had as much of an influence as the seminal film of the title. The structure is similar with the years divided: familiar feeling characters show up, but we never get to know them quite as well. The whole project feels sanitized, because it ignores the darker sides the 1980 version dared to explore. Gone are the references to sex, homosexuality, emotional abuse, abortion, pornography, exploitation, drug use, and crime. They are replaced by squeaky clean images that culminate with one character even getting cast on Sesame Street. These kids sing, dance, and act, but they don't have souls or problems outside of performing. Nothing horrific happens to them, and reality never has to be faced.
One thing I found off-putting was that the adult actors get top billing including such well known names as Debbie Allen, Kelsey Grammer, and Megan Mullally. The teachers in the film are mainly there to prod the kids on, and they have no dramatic arc or importance beyond their tutelage. We are only given background on the vocal coach who spills out her story over coffee at a karaoke bar. The ballet teacher defends her verbal assault tactics, but in the film she does just seem to be there to criticize everybody without mercy. It seems the film wants to say that the ultimate failure is to become a teacher, and that seems like a slap in the face of the school it is celebrating. It's a shame to see so much acting talent wasted on just delivering insults to performing kids.
The Blu-ray allows you to choose between the original theatrical cut and a version that's longer by sixteen minutes, with some excised scenes put back in. The transfer is pristine both visually and aurally with great color depth and robust use of sound fields. The director of photography has used filters and tinting to change the overall look of scenes, and that is readily apparent. Extras are not all that insightful, but offer a few supplements. There are quite a few deleted scenes, which are mainly inconsequential character beats. A music video for the "Fame" theme shows an homage to an iconic moment from the original film where the kids dance in the street. There are character profiles which give us information on the main cast, and then a couple of featurettes, including a painful look at a talent search and a slick electronic presskit treatment of the dances. Finally, there is a digital copy which will allow you to transfer the theatrical version to an iPod until the code expires.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If you're a fan of performing arts then this newly scrubbed Fame at least goes down easy. It's certainly not the dramatic journey of the first film, but it does have nice performances and a lot of young talent on display. Ignore the lack of plot, and just sit back and watch the show for the songs and dances. I almost wish there was a feature on the disc where you could simply put the performances on a loop and miss the rest. Original songs are used, as well as covers of pop standards and familiar classical pieces. "Out Here On My Own" is reprised for the Denise character in the film, and the well known theme "Fame" song plays over the ending credits as nods to Irene Cara's work thirty years ago. Naturi Naughton's delivery of both songs is quite strong and they sound great with a new electronic polish and soul delivery. Dance sequences are mainly modern, which plays to the strength of lead dancer Kherington Payne who was a contestant on the Fox dance competition So You Think You Can Dance. The extended cut largely adds back in dance footage, so it is nice to see more of what the talent was capable of.
On Blu-ray, Fame delivers a knockout transfer with a smattering of extras that should make fans happy enough. Fame wasn't the runaway success the first movie was, partly because it never dealt with the emotional truth the original one wove in along with great performances. This new version is very much a product of its time—glossy and all about the surfaces. Not that the early '80s were a deeper era, but it was a time before sanitized teen entertainment such as Hannah Montana and High School Musical. It seems this new version of Fame is aimed at pre-teen girls who are not ready for cautionary parables about the harsh realities of the art world. So instead we are given what is safe for material that could be shown at a ballerina sleepover. What a pity that they never learn the truth behind Debbie Allen's opening line that "Fame costs, and here is where you start paying!" I guess when they get old enough they can watch the original.
Guilty of not remembering why the first one worked, the reimagining of Fame wouldn't get past a first audition in the real world.
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Scales of Justice
• Theatrical and Extended Versions
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