Chicago. It's one hell of a town. It's also not that bad of a movie. The cinematic adaptation of the classic stage musical, Chicago took the world by storm in 2003, eventually going on to win Best Picture at the Oscars. It didn't really deserve it, but such was the zeitgeist that at the time, it wasn't even in doubt.
Chicago tells the story of Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger), a little ms. nobody who shoots her lover after a tiff. In jail, she encounters Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a cabaret singer who happens to the most infamous woman in Chicago, and by extension, the most famous woman in Chicago. Roxie seems destined to go straight to the noose when the jail's warden, "Mama" (Queen Latifah), suggests that Roxie hire the best attorney in the state, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere). Overnight, Billy turns Roxie into a star, fanning the flames of her ambition, and gaining her the ire of Velma.
Chicago has a lot going for it. Rob Marshall may not be Bob Fosse, but it's not for lack of trying. The opening number alone feels like it was taken straight from the original production. However, that's not necessarily a bad thing. All of the songs in the film are immaculately staged. Marshall really has an eye for composition and movement. It's a shame that, at times, the actual music doesn't hold up to the staging. Some of the songs, such as "All That Jazz" are undeniable classics, performed with verve and luster. Others, such as "Cell Block Tango," are downright embarrassing, with lines such as "Some men can't hold their arsenic." Not every song is so bad, though, and even the worst ones are performed sincerely and with commitment by the entire cast.
And that's rather surprising, because the cast assembled for the film were not known for singing or dancing. Aside from Queen Latifah, who started in the music business, I don't think we've ever heard the rest of the cast sing. Renee Zellweger, John C. Reilly, and especially Catherine Zeta-Jones do a tremendous job with their songs. Zeta-Jones in particular is the show-stealer, dancing and singing like her life depended on it, and oozing sexiness from every pore. Richard Gere can't really sing or dance, but he's good enough to fake it and that's what really counts.
Even aside from the musical numbers, the film is quite stylized. All the dialogue is meant to be a period pastiche, with over the top accents and set rhythms. Thus, on the acting side, things sometimes feel a little shallow. Zeta-Jones manages to avoid this fate, and proves why she won that Oscar. Gere, Reilly, and Latifah do well in their respective roles. The biggest problem is Renee Zellweger. She never seems to really get into the role of Roxie, try as hard as she might. She always feels a little apart from the rest, as if she didn't quite mesh with what Marshall was going for.
But, like Billy Flynn counsels Roxie in the film, if you give 'em the old razzle dazzle, and they'll make you a star. Chicago is full of old style razzle dazzle, with elaborate, glitzy numbers and enough razzmatazz to make your head spin. It's not perfect, but it's made with such conviction and chutzpah that you can overlook its flaws. Was it the best picture of 2003? No, but it's undeniable fun and definitely worth watching.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Buena Vista Home Entertainment presents Chicago in a 1.85:1 AVC 1080p transfer. The film looks as good as you might expect. Aside from a rather high amount of film grain (which could easily have been intentional), the picture looks excellent. There's quite a bit of detail in the "reality" scenes. The dance numbers pop with color, and blacks, which feature prominently in the color scheme, are solid and true. An overall pleasing image.
Holy guacamole! Buena Vista does us the great favor of providing an 48kHz/24-bit uncompressed 5.1 track. To put it bluntly, this is one of the absolute best audio mixes I've ever heard in any film, anywhere. Rob Marshall understood that this film would live and die on its audio, and boy does it ever live. Every sound effect is crisp. Every instrument is clear. The mix is full, and lively, and absolutely engrossing. This disc is worth owning for the sound alone. There's also a Dolby Digital 5.1 track that doesn't sound too bad, either, as well as a DD 5.1 French track and an uncompressed 2.0 Spanish track.
This Blu-ray doesn't port over every single extra from the latest DVD edition, it's still got a strong selection of supplements.
Feature commentary with director Rob Marshall and screenwriter Bill Condon: A very informative commentary, with Marshall and Condon really getting into the nuts and bolts of the construction of the film. The movie is smartly cut and there are a lot of parallels between characters within a scene. Hearing Marshall and Condon talk about what they intended for the movie shows just how well they succeeded.
Movie Showcase: Pretty much a fluff extra, this feature allows you to skip straight to scenes that BVHE feels especially shows off the capabilities of HD. As if you couldn't find those for yourself.
"Class": An alternate version of a scene from the film that includes a duet between Queen Latifah and Catherine Zeta-Jones. It doesn't have the momentum of the other songs in the film, so it was good they left it out. We also get a commentary with Marshall and Condon where they discuss the exact reasons for the cut.
Behind The Scenes Special: A half hour look at the film, the documentary is heavy on clips from the film and light on information.
From Stage To Screen: The History of Chicago: A look at the origins of the musical. Featuring interviews with the now-deceased Jerry Orbach of Law & Order fame, as well as Chita Rivera, this is a fascinating look at how we got to the version of Chicago that's on this disc.
Musical Performances: The centerpiece of the supplemental features, this is an alternate look at the songs in the film. There are extended versions of "All That Jazz," "When You're Good To Mama," "Cell Block Tango," "We Both Reached For The Gun," "Mister Cellophane," and "All I Care About." Then there's a section which features interviews with actors and shows the evolution of the song. These are "All I Care About," "Nowadays," and "All That Jazz." Finally, we get rehearsal versions of "We Can't Do It Alone," "Hot Honey Rag," "We Both Reached For The Gun," and "Cell Block Tango." Considering how integral the songs are to the success of the film, it only makes sense that they have so much attention lavished on them. Essential viewing.
An Intimate Look at Director Rob Marshall: A bit of an ego booster, this featurette is a collection of interviews where people are praising Rob Marshall to high heaven. Towards the end, we do find out how Marshall was brought on to the project.
When Liza Minnelli Became Roxie Hart: This extra details the story of how Liza Minnelli temporarily took the part of Roxie Hart on Broadway during its original run. Unfortunately, without interviews with Minnelli or footage of her performance, it's nothing more than a funny story.
Academy Award-Winning Production Designer John Myhre: A five minute blurb about the film's production designer, who ended up winning an Oscar for his trouble.
Academy Award-Winning Costume Designer Colleen Atwood: Ditto, but for the costume designer.
Aside from the movie showcase, none of the extras are in high definition.
Probably the most successful Broadway musical adaptation since Cabaret, Chicago feels like an event. Under Rob Marshall's assured direction, the whole project comes together in a very exciting way. And with excellent video and mind-blowing audio, this Blu-ray disc comes very Highly Recommended.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.