Judge Brett Cullum's personal home remedy for Boogie Fever is not something we can share in mixed company. Email him directly for the receipe.
Tony Manero: Would ya just watch the hair. Ya know, I work on my hair a long time and you hit it. He hits my hair.
Saturday Night Fever (30th Anniversary Special Collector's Edition) marks a return to a film that has been on DVD several times over already. It is a '70s classic, a shimmering dramatic musical that defined a generation and a movement. This wasn't a movie, it was a pop culture phenomenon that reshaped music, the cinema, and dancing. The soundtrack album surpassed all sales records, the film was an R-rated big profit hit without special effects, and it ushered in a new respect for dance to deliver a gritty story in a modern way. The film certainly deserves as much attention as Paramount is willing to give it, but is yet another release of Saturday Night Fever what we need on DVD? There was a 25th anniversary DVD that already provided a solid look at the film as well as a satisfying transfer. For this new release new segments are included, and only the commentary is ported over from the previous disc. Will it continue the boogie fever or leave us stranded on disco mountain?
Facts of the Case
Tony Manero (John Travolta, Wild Hogs) is a lovable loser living in Brooklyn in quiet desperation. He is a paint store employee, but at night he is a hero on a dance floor. Saturday Night Fever is simply a character study of a man who lives for the weekend, and a glimpse at how horrible he is except for when he is moving in a swirl of lights and smoke. The life around the musical segments is gritty, hard, and foul. The plot follows Tony as he prepares for a dance contest at a local disco named 2001, and his romance with a snooty dance partner (Karen Gorney). We see him hang out with crowd of friends, fight with his family, and spend his entire paycheck on clothes and alcohol. He seems to be going nowhere fast and becoming a nobody. The world is cold, cruel, and full of bad things, but the dancing is what makes life sublime.
The production was troubled when it started filming in the '70s. The original director John G. Avildsen (Attica) walked off the project and at the last minute John Badham (WarGames) stepped in to take over. Star John Travolta lost the love of his life girlfriend Diana Hyland to cancer during the filming, and it was questionable whether he would return to the set and complete filming. When he did return, fans of the actor made location shooting problematic as they often swarmed the streets making location filming problematic. Saturday Night Fever was finally released in 1977, and surprisingly the film and the soundtrack were instant smashes. It's reach became long, and the film was even released in two versions (R rated and PG) so that everyone could experience it.
Saturday Night Fever made Travolta a star, sold more albums than any other soundtrack, and inspired a trend that took disco into the mainstream. It's a movie that has lived on in pop culture with iconic imagery and easily identifiable music. Certainly the film belongs in any serious movie buff's library, and it's something everyone should watch at least once to understand how a musical can be gritty and compelling. It is often cited as the favorite film of legendary critic Gene Siskel, who even purchased the white suit seen in the climactic dance sequence. Travolta would return again and again to the screen in various dance roles including an ill-advised sequel called Staying Alive, but Saturday Night Fever remains his shining moment when his charisma was perfectly married to a character.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Their isn't much difference from the technical side of things for this new release. The transfer looks to be about the same as what was seen five years ago, a solid effort that looked good but revealed limitations. Saturday Night Fever was filmed on typical '70s film stock, and it makes for a problematic digital transfer. Grain and black levels make the picture inky at times, and the colors can look washed out by the intense disco lighting and the age of the source material. Much of the film has been cleaned up for DVD, and it looks better than it did even on release. I did detect some minor edge enhancement, but nothing problematic. Amazingly even though the bright disco lights are intense, there is no detectable color bleeding. Even with the clean up effort you will notice a distinct '70s look which might not be a bad thing given the subject material. The five channel sound mix reveals some '70s limitations as well. You'll notice poorly looped dialogue out of sequence with the film's action, and sometimes directional effects seem thin. The music sometimes sounds more tinny than it should, but for the most part it is amped up nicely for DVD. It looks like perhaps a little work has been done to the images five years later, but nothing that suggests a major overhaul. Maybe they are saving that for a next generation release on one of the high definition formats.
Extras are plentiful, but they don't penetrate the veil of the film as effectively as previous editions released such as the 25th Anniversary version. All new featurettes are assembled under one section called "Catching the Fever" which includes recent interviews from the cast and director John Badham. These are interesting segments, but one key player is missing. Essential to the film is lead John Travolta, and he does not make an appearance in the newly produced segments for this thirty year anniversary edition. Without his voice you can't have a truly insightful look at the film. Music supervisors and soundtrack artists the Bee Gees are interviewed for the first time on DVD during the soundtrack segment, and this is the best addition to the interviews on the disc. It's nice to finally hear their side of the story about working on the music for the film. The other aging supporting players, producer, and director are all neat to see, but nobody's breathlessly waiting for their memories which have been collected five years ago as well. We even get a guided tour of the locations as they look today which proves to be uninteresting except for the fact only half of them have changed. Ported over from a previous edition is a solid commentary by director John Badham which is well constructed and entertaining. Falling into the useless feature category, we also get dance lessons both in a studio with a choreographer not affiliated with the movie and in the form of a Dance Dance Revolution lighted square guide. One feature is provides pop culture trivia about disco in bubbles on the screen while the movie plays called the "discopedia." These non-interview features don't mean much, and they are only there for the bored and gullible.
If I were going to assemble the ultimate Saturday Night Fever disc there are many things that could end up on the final product. The film was released in two versions, and somehow both the R rated and PG versions were released on VHS. Yet to date the trimmed down less raunchy PG cut has not been included on any DVD release. While it is not an improvement of the film, it is a historical event that has gotten short shrift in retrospect. It was a marketing feat that has yet to be replicated. Missing in action from a previous edition is a VH-1 Behind the Music look at the film which chronicled the production in a more cohesive way with the input of Travolta. Why this isn't included is a mystery, and the disc suffers for the lack of it. I don't understand why Paramount decided to not include the deleted scenes found on their previous release, and even more puzzling the insightful Behind the Music episode. Had they married the new extras with these features their could be a definitive release of the film complete with John Travolta, John Badham, and the Bee Gees.
Saturday Night Fever (30th Anniversary Special Collector's Edition) doesn't add much to the film, but it does deliver a previously seen solid transfer with a lot of new extras of dubious value. Without John Travolta, the VH-1 Behind the Music segment, and the deleted scenes it feels less complete than the 25th anniversary edition (which is easily found on both Amazon and eBay). The only significant addition is a good discussion with the Bee Gees about the iconic soundtrack which might make the disc attractive for completists though not good for a first definitive purchase. This thirty year anniversary release is a good deal only if you don't own previous editions, and just want a good transfer and some fun extras. True fans will already own the earlier disc, and they have little reason to double dip at this point.
Guilty of being the coolest thing John Travolta ever has done, Saturday Night Fever is a classic and a seminal musical event. Too bad this latest DVD is guilty of not living up to a previous edition. For this judge it comes in second in the dance contest.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director John Badham
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