Released theatrically in 1979 and based on the long running Broadway musical of the same name, Milos Forman's big screen version of Gerome Ragni and James Rado's Hair, which he made after his critically acclaimed adaptation of Ken Kesey's One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, might have hit screens eleven years after the play hit stages, but it's message was no less pertinent.
The movie tells the story of a Midwestern man named Claude (John Savage) who leaves his family to take the bus to New York City as he's been drafted and is going to be sent to Vietnam. During his stopover he heads to Central Park where he meets a group of hippies lead by George Berger (Treat Williams) and made up of a long haired blonde guy named Woof (Don Dacus), a black dude named Hud (Dorsey Wright), and a young pregnant girl named Jeannie (Annie Golden). When they spot some wealthy socialites riding their horses through the park, they tease them a bit and Claude can't help but notice that one of them is a pretty blonde woman, Sheila (Beverly D'Angelo). By chance, they find out her name and figure out where she lives and decide to go crash a party at her place where they're promptly kicked out by her family. Eventually she and Claude hit it off, and as he gets closer and closer to running out of time before having to report for duty, Berger comes up with a plan to spring him from having to go overseas and fight in a war none of them believe in.
Watching Hair again for the first time in at least a decade it's surprising to this writer how much they got away with while still managing to maintain a PG rating. Not only does Beverly D'Angelo get naked in two scenes but we're treated to songs about sodomy, masturbation and cunnilingus as well as the joys of interracial love (quite a taboo years back). There isn't any graphic sex or violence and the film's message of pacifism and acceptance is still an important one but it's stronger than most PG films being made these days, that's for sure.
While Forman's film omits some songs, changes up a few others and takes some of the emphasis on LSD use that was prominent in the stage version out of the film version (some, not all - there's plenty of drug use in the movie). In the stage version Claude is already a hippie when we meet him and he comes from Queens, whereas in the film he's a straight laced farm boy from Oklahoma before he's converted to the hippy lifestyle after falling in with Berger and company. Also differing between the two versions is Sheila's affections, which in the Broadway version lean towards Berger more than towards Claude. Regardless, even with these changes made, the spirit remains the same and the music, which is so important to the production, is still instantly recognizable.
In the end, the movie should be judged on its own merits and on its own merits it succeeds. The song and dance numbers are performed with a ridiculous amount of enthusiasm and the film has a good sense of humor to it (much of which stems back to the songwriting more than anything else). The camerawork is stylish and the film's anti-war message still rings true. It's performed with enthusiasm and spirit and, if nothing else, should be noted for featuring Charlotte Rae and Nell Carter, future eighties sit com queens, in small roles.
MGM presents Hair in an AVC encoded 1.85.1 widescreen 1080p high definition presentation that generally looks okay and frequently looks pretty good. The first few minutes, where Claude gets on the bus to New York, are pretty dirty and show a fair bit of print damage, a trend that loosens up as the film goes on but which never quite disappears completely, so expect specks and small scratches throughout the film. Detail isn't as strong as other catalogue titles have been, though it does improve over what standard definition can provide in some fairly obvious ways, texture too. It looks like there's been some slight noise reduction applied here and there and the film has a fair bit of minor dirt and debris noticeable throughout playback. Black levels and color reproduction are pretty strong and overall the picture isn't horrible, but it obviously hasn't been given much of a restoration for this release and you can't help but think as you watch it that more could have been done. Hair's DVD release had a pretty lousy non-anamorphic transfer, and this definitely trumps that, however.
The only lossless audio option is an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix that spreads the music out through the surround channels but which stays primarily up in the front for most of the movie's running time. It sounds fairly faithful to how the movie has always sounded, which is a good thing, and the countless musical numbers that make up most of the movie sound very good here. Range is a bit limited, which probably stems back to whatever elements were available, but overall there's nothing to complain about in terms of audio quality here. Optional French and Spanish tracks are provided in Dolby Digital Mono while English SDH closed captioning is also provided as are subtitles in a bunch of different languages.
Extras? You get a menu, some chapter selection, and the film's theatrical trailer (in high definition) - that's it, and it's pretty disappointing, as there could have been a really interesting retrospective featurette done on this to dig into the details behind Gerome Ragni and James Rado's displeasure with the film.
Could Hair have looked better? Probably. Could it have sounded better? Yep. Could it have used more extras? Absolutely - and the film deserves it. With that said, given the way it's been treated on home video over the years, the likelihood of that happening is slim to none and as this Blu-ray release does offer a significant upgrade over the previous DVD release in both the audio and the video departments, consider it recommended and keep your fingers crossed for the small chance that some day it will get a proper special edition release. Until then, this disc comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.