The year was 1984. In America and all around the world people feared an Orwellian reality (little did we know that Orwell was 17 years off) and needed some form of escape. But possibly worse than the specter of ubiquitous surveillance was the form of escape many chose: watching a feature-length music-video starring Kevin Bacon and Lori Singer, a little box-office bonanza known as Footloose.
Now that you all have the Kenny Loggins-penned theme song stuck in your craws, we can recall what Footloose is all about - dancing with wild abandon in a repressive town. Assaying a universally appealing fish-out-of-water character (I mean, aren't we all constantly feeling that way?) Bacon stars as Ren, a Chicago high schooler shuttled off to the sticks when his mom finds herself single. Not only do the hicks consider Slaughterhouse Five to be evil literature, but also their community leader Reverend Moore (John Lithgow) has outlawed dancing This is problematic for Ren for two reasons; one) he understands the value of personal freedom, and two) whenever he gets upset he needs to perform an aggressively gymnastic dance-routine to a horrible '80s rock-ballad. As Ren fends off the local toughs he finds himself targeted by another, Ariel - a convincingly unhinged Lori Singer as the half-crazy girlfriend of the school's lead delinquent. At the risk of sounding lazy, I must ask: can Ren survive at school, get the girl, and teach this town to dance? Can he? More importantly can he teach his lunk-headed friend Willard (the late Chris Penn) to dance and not look like a huge psycho cowboy?
The answer to that last question, sadly, is no, but in that particular delirious journey we have the key to success for Footloose; silly, energetic dance scenes every ten minutes. The plot is fairly standard boilerplate, while in feel and essence Footloose is a '50s movie. Aside from lots of dancing, nuanced performances are an additional bonus to a movie that would otherwise have been met with indifference if not contempt. Lithgow in particular brings layers of fire, brimstone and inner conflict to the Reverend, and his onscreen wife (played by Dianne Wiest) logs the best line reading of the film during a pivotal church scene. Bacon's hapless cool, confidence and aloofness sets perfect tone - he doesn't care if you think he's a dork as he swings his hips in rage, and neither does the movie. Penn's Willard is a delightful subplot. As the goodhearted hunk of ham you'd love to have in your corner during a fight, Penn exudes sincerity. When he's performing a bizarre karate chop dance on a flatbed truck - during the film's exuberant centerpiece - like Deniece Williams you want to say 'let's hear it for the boy,' even if you're a might bit embarrassed about it.
What's interesting now - and what eluded me as an impressionable teen wanting to be just like Bacon - is how much of an old-fashioned movie/ musical Footloose is. Clothes, hairstyles and dated music aside, the first few song and/ or dance numbers are terrifically jolting, mostly for being unbelievably broad and incongruous. We doubt Ariel would really volunteer as a fly on a semi's windshield, but our jaws really drop when Ren loses his cool by dancing on faux parallel bars to the tune of that horrific ballad ('Never' by Moving Pictures). This creates a weird dichotomy for most modern viewers, as totally disruptive and indeed laughable dance scenes ('Dancing In The Sheets' at a drive-in is a real stunner) are not only the movie's raison d'etre but also ultimately its saving grace. We don't really care whether Ren gets the girl, we're bored with it after a while, but if we don't get to see cowpokes dancing to The Pointer Sisters really soon, we're going to be angry. A scene when the gang crosses county lines to kick up their heels at a honky-tonk embodies the movie's spirit perfectly. Ariel's friend Rusty (played by Sarah Jessica Parker) is Willard's date, and, bless his heart, the lunk can't dance yet. Rusty becomes more and more impatient, vibrating to joyful terminal velocity before ditching the boy, launching on to the dance floor and shaking those hips like there's no tomorrow. It makes you remember how much fun it is to dance.
Presented in 1.78:1 widescreen ratio enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs this transfer appears to be the same as from the 2004 Special Edition. The picture is decent, though soft, with some film-damage and dirt/ specks making regular, semi-obtrusive appearances. Film-grain is evident, especially during night scenes. Compression artifacts aren't a big problem, with only a bit of edge enhancement here and there, (and some scenes where almost amber waves of grain look a bit sketchy) but there's not much else wrong, other than the somewhat worn look of the movie. Colors seem fairly natural if slightly less vibrant than we'd like from a new DVD edition (following on the footsteps of two others from the current decade).
English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Audio, English 2.0 Surround and French Mono Audio are your listening choices. My stereo speakers and faux-surround setting treated me to a nice mix, with dialog perfectly audible and front and center. Otherwise, no degradation of the source audio is apparent. Soundtrack songs come on strong but not too loud, and in general the mix seems lively. Again, audio is probably unchanged from the 2004 edition.
Sometimes advertised as a 2-disc edition, the I Love The '80s edition of Footloose is in many ways just a lame advertisement for Rhino's '80s music CDs. The second disc is a Four Track '80s Music CD with 'Need You Tonight' by INXS, 'Lips Like Sugar' by Echo and the Bunnymen, 'Chains Of Love' by Erasure and 'Take On Me' by a-ha. Footloose predates all of these tunes, so we'll chalk their inclusion in this package to guilt-by-'80s-association. Anyway, that's the only extra other than Scene Selections, a French Mono Audio Track and English Subtitles.
While media conglomerates tell us the '80s are coming back (in an effort to make more money without creating anything new) some people are trying to make something 'new.' I mean, Footloose is in production for a 2010 release. Oh well, in 1984 the movie was somewhat of a modern anachronism, albeit a giddily enjoyable one with performances better than the material and exhilaratingly silly dance numbers. It's even more of an anachronism now, but still goofy fun. But this 'I Love The '80s' edition isn't much fun, with no improvements over the last edition, (and minus the extras) and only a throwaway four-song CD to fool you into buying it again. I'd recommend you seek out that 2004 edition for kicks and commentary tracks, but even if you really love the '80s this bereft Footloose outing merits a Skip It.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com