Our review of Grease: Rockin' Rydell Edition, published September 19th, 2006, is also available.
Grease IS the word.
Women unite, for your time (or, more aptly, movie) has come…to DVD, that is! Yes, the musical which I have been forced to watch with over 65 separate girlfriends is finally on DVD. It's got singing! It's got dancing! It's got a thin John Travolta telling everyone to "be cool!" Of course, it can only be the smash 1978 mega-hit Grease! After a long wait, fans of the nostalgic '50s homage from the '70s (catch all that?) is here in glorious widescreen! Grab your girl, hop in your '57 Chevy, and get ready for good times with the gang from Rydell High, care of Paramount Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
It's the fabulous 1950s all over again at Rydell High School, home of the Pink Ladies and the T-Birds, the geeks and the jocks, and everyone else in-between! Grease tells the sweet love story between gang member Danny Zuko (Travolta) and innocent Australian exchange student Sandy Olsen (Olivia-Newton John). One incredible summer the two meet and fall in love, but circumstances beyond their control tear them from each other's arms (i.e., Sandy's leaving to go back down under). As the school year at Rydell begins, Danny finds out that Sandi really didn't take off for home—instead her plans have changed, leaving Sandy to attend Rydell for the school year. But Danny isn't the same Danny she remembers from the beach. He's cool. He's collected. He's a T-Bird, which means he's got enough attitude to sink even Russell Crowe's ship. Through song and dance, Danny and Sandy will learn that in the end each other really is "The one that I want."
Okay, so I was exaggerating a just a little. Technically speaking, I haven't watched Grease with 65 girlfriends. Heck, I haven't even had 65 girlfriends (and I think that's painfully obvious since I am a big fat geek writer who works on the Internet). However, I did have to sit through Grease about seven years ago with an ex (Nicole, wherever you are, come back!) and I remember thinking, "Hey, this isn't as bad as I anticipated." You see, up until this point I had never seen Grease. However, the film had left an indelible impression in my youthful conscious. I knew the music well from my childhood, and my sister seemed to own all kinds of Grease paraphernalia (puzzles, books, records, etcetera). Heck, I even saw the stage version—where the film originated—when I was in college. While Grease doesn't rank as an all time favorite in the musical genre, it is a hoot.
The real standout isn't the characters, plot, or the sets (though they're all well and good). No, the real charmer is the music. Oh, that infectious, upbeat music! Tinged with '50s charm and embedded in '70s schmaltz, the songs of Grease are what memories are made of. Almost every tempo-laced tune induces a foot stomping sing-a-long. "The One That I Want" is a song I could listen to over and over again (please, don't tell the other Judges this or I'll be beat to smithereens). [Editor's Note: Metallica rules!] Other songs, like "Hoplessly Devoted To You" and "Greased Lightning," make this a movie full off songs that have become near classics in both the pop and theatrical circles. For a brief moment, it's tangible to think that Phil Spector would have been proud (if he wasn't such a reclusive loon…).
As for the script, well, it's just a goofy little love story about a naïve girl in love with a too-cool-for-words-yet-lion-hearted gang member working through a lil' puppy dog mushy stuff. Is it especially memorable? Not really. But Grease wasn't made to be an intricate story probing deeply into the heart of teenage love. At its core Grease just wants to entertain, and it passes that test with flying colors. The performances here are all winning, especially Travolta and Newton-John as the leads. Personally, I've never been much of a Travolta fan—didn't really like Pulp Fiction, nor most of his films that followed (and don't even get me started on Battlefield Earth…). However, he does a fine job as Danny Zuko—he's cool, he's funny, and a heckuva lot thinner. Newton-John is so darn cute that I challenge any male viewer not to instantly fall in love with her smile. Supporting these two are some great character actors, including Stockard Channing as the requisite "bad girl" and Jeff Conaway as Danny's right hand buddy. Even the smaller roles are memorable. Who can forget Eddie Deezen (in his first big screen role) as the ultra nerdy Eugene? Or Didi Conn as everyone's favorite "beauty school dropout" Frenchy? From big to small, the characters in Grease are almost as adorable as the music.
I can see why so many love this movie. It captures the spirit of the 1950s and, much like myself, probably reminds many folks of their youth. Okay, so it's not the greatest film ever made. But it's a good one. It's a fun one. It's got the best song Andy Gibb ever wrote. And that's worth more than you'll ever know.
Grease is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. I wasn't half as happy with this transfer as expected. Yes, it's a passable widescreen version that is happily anamorphic. However, this is the same print used for the 1998 VHS release, and it sure looks like it—many of the scenes were excessively dirty with a lack of detail that's almost depressing. You'd think that with all the DVD technologies around Paramount would have done a better job at making sure this beloved classic looks as good as new. Alas, fans are treated to a somewhat lackluster image. While the black levels are generally sharp throughout, overall this isn't a grade-A transfer. (For those that care, a separate pan and scan version is available, but not recommended.)
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (along with the original Dolby Digital 2.0 track, both in English). Fans of the film will be delighted to hear their favorite tunes finally in the magical realm that is 5.1! Actually, while this is a nice mix it does display a few inconstancies in the way of dynamic range and channel separation. When the music kicks in, it's a nice treat, though other effects seem to be oddly forced. Otherwise, this is a fine track that's clear of almost all excessive hiss and distortion. Also included on this disc are English and Spanish subtitles.
Fans, it's time to take Paramount by storm. A movie like Grease practically demands a full-blown special edition. But what do the fine folks over at Paramount dish out? Two lousy extra features! And one of them is a theatrical trailer! Actually, the second feature—a retrospective full of interviews—isn't half bad. The participants include director Randall Kleiser, producer Allan Carr, and stars John Travolta (in a leather jacket, looking just like his character), Olivia Newton-John, Jeff Conaway, Stockard Channing, and Didi Conn. Fans will delight in hearing stories about the production (the most titillating—we had a blast during the production!) and rare production photos are scattered throughout. While this was a nice little feature, it was all too brief and only an appetizer to a meal that never arrived.
Also included on this disc is that theatrical trailer I was complaining about, and a 16-page companion songbook insert for the film.
While it's not going to crack my top ten favorite movies anytime soon, Grease is still an enjoyable musical with some of the catchiest songs this side of Little Shop Of Horrors. Paramount's work on this disc is passable, though they really missed the boat by way of supplemental materials. As an extra-added collective slap to the consumers, Paramount passed on the opportunity to release 1982's Grease 2 on DVD! What, no Adrian Zmed?!? I want my money back!
If you haven't seen it yet, Grease is worth at least a rental for the wonderful musical numbers.
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