Judge Paul Pritchard has had a foot loose ever since he suffered a nasty skiing accident.
"Backup sweetheart, 'cos I don't know how big it's gonna get!"
Another day, another remake. If one were to conduct a poll of '80s movies worthy of the remake treatment, few would opt for Herb Ross' Footloose. Then again, seeing as just about everything else has already been remade or "rebooted," Hollywood is left with the final few scrapings from the barrel.
However, with director Craig Brewer (Black Snake Moan) on board, and some canny decisions by the production team, Footloose (2011) is that rare case of a remake justifying its existence.
Facts of the Case
Following the death of his mother, Ren (Kenny Wormald, Center Stage: Turn it Up) relocates from Boston to the town of Bomont, Georgia, to live with his aunt and uncle. Being the new kid in town poses enough problems, but Ren has a rude awakening when he's hauled in front of the local judge for playing his music too loud. As his uncle explains to him, parties, loud music, and even dancing are banned in the town of Bomont, following a series of draconian laws being brought into force, following a fatal car crash three years earlier, one which claimed the lives of five teenagers on their way back from a party.
Ren fails to understand this ridiculous set of laws and sets about bringing change to the town. But Ren's actions put him on a collision course with Reverend Moore (Dennis Quaid, Innerspace), the town preacher, and father of local wild child Ariel (Julianne Hough, Burlesque) whom Ren finds himself attracted to.
In nearly every respect, Footloose (2011) outclasses the original. This is less a remake and more a case of Footloose refined. It's sometimes a subtle change: a minor tweak of dialogue here or a reconfigured scene there, but so often the class of 2011 just works better.
The fatal car crash only referred to in the original opens the film; its consequences far more impactful now that you can actually see it. This one change has major repercussions on how we perceive these characters, personified by the alterations to Reverend Moore. When we first meet him, Moore is addressing the town council shortly after the crash, clearly acting on his most base instincts. He has just buried a son and has no intention of losing his daughter. In Dennis Quaid's hands, Moore is less a zealot, and more a frightened father. The fear of loss haunts and informs his every decision, to such an extent that he cuts out all risk, at the expense of the very things that make us feel alive.
Another notable improvement is Ren's uncle, who this time is very much in his nephew's corner. The changes to Ren also prove vital. Here Ren has lost his mother to leukemia; a loss which isn't milked for emotional effect, but serves to explain the drive his character is noted for. Ren's intervention in the town's affairs feels more like his way of helping them come to terms with their own losses; a way for everyone to collectively heal their wounds, rather than any kind of personal triumph. Even Ariel, who frankly was hard to sympathize with in the original, is far more appealing. Her hedonistic ways are addressed right from the beginning—especially the contrast in character pre and post crash—which makes the finale far more rewarding.
As fun as the original Footloose remains, the film has always lacked substance. Under Brewer's direction, the remake carries far more weight, making Ren and Ariel's romance feel far more genuine. This version also does a much better job crafting a story around the rather weak concept of a kid rebelling against a town where dancing is banned, providing a more evenhanded view of the adults who are rarely guilty of being overbearing killjoys. Brewster's Footloose is smart enough to know that what may have worked in 1984 would simply be laughable now. With this in mind, he significantly retools the scene where Ren teaches Willard how to dance, purposely playing on the comedic potential it presents. Not only is it funnier—using Ren's young nieces singing "Let's Hear it for the Boy" on their Barbie karaoke machine—it makes for an unexpectedly sweet moment.
While it may be sacrilege to say, the cast—all of whom benefit from tweaks to their characters—are universally excellent, improving upon the performances of their predecessors. Andie MacDowell (Four Weddings and a Funeral), in the role of Vi Moore (previously played by Diane Wiest), best exemplifies how the improved writing helps elevate a previously slim role into something with more substance. Special praise goes out to Miles Teller (Project X), whose comedic touch allows Willard to steal every scene he's in.
The most enduring element of the original Footloose is unquestionably its soundtrack, but even this is subject to change. Though Blake Shelton's cover of Kenny Loggins' title track doesn't veer too far from its source (simply adding a milt country twang), Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out for a Hero" is given a major facelift courtesy of Ella Mae Bowen. Stripped down and noticeably slower, the song now accompanies an early montage soon after Ren's arrival Bomont. In its new form, the song feels far more like an extension of the film's narrative, the town itself calling out for a savior. Other than that, the soundtrack sports a more contemporary flair, with hip-hop as the predominant tone. The dance choreography is also brought up-to-date, with one or two large scale set pieces truly impressing.
It would be foolish of me to suggest that Footloose has become a classic—it never was, and never will be—but, thanks to some smart decisions, this film has been turned into solid, frequently uplifting, and downright fun entertainment.
Paramount's Footloose (2011) (Blu-ray) delivers a near flawless 2.35:1/1080p high definition transfer, with solid black levels and vibrant colors that burst forth from the screen. The image remains razor sharp throughout, with extremely high levels of detail; every blade of grass is distinct, as are the patterns on clothing and beads of sweat on leading man Kenny Wormald's brow. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio matches the video presentation stride for stride, with dialogue that is crisp and asoundtrack that really comes to life during the dance scenes, the bass leading the way.
The release also offers us a healthy selection of bonus features. "Jump Back: Re-Imagining Footloose" (14 min) has members of the cast and crew, including original screenwriter Dean Pitchford, discussing the motivation for remaking Footloose. "Everybody Cut: The Stars of Footloose" (13 min) focuses on the leads and the process of casting them. "Dancing with the Footloose Stars" (12 min) looks at the choreography behind the numerous dance scenes, and touches on how the film's soundtrack was given an update. There are several deleted scenes which come with optional director's commentary. Three music videos for "Footloose," by Blake Shelton; "Fake ID," by Big & Rich; and "Holding out for a Hero," by Ella Mae Bowen. The "Footloose Rap" is a fun addition, recapping the entire plot in two cheese-filled minutes. And last, but certainly not least, is a director's commentary from Craig Brewer who rarely lets up, offering plenty of insights into his take on Footloose, including how changes were made while still aiming to remain respectful of the original. The set also includes DVD and digital copies of the film, as well as Hollywood's latest initiative, Ultraviolet, allowing the viewer to instantly stream the film to a media player of choice.
Judged as a teen drama or a remake, Footloose (2011) is a resounding success. Most surprising of all is how well the film plays to people outside its obvious target demographic…myself included.
Not guilty. Now please excuse me while I cut loose.
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