Dirty Dancing is one of those films that I never wanted or intended to see. I mean, I'm usually pretty open minded when it comes to taking in whatever any given genre has to offer, but chick flicks are where I draw the line. There are certainly exceptions to the rule, but most of the chick flicks out there are prime examples of cookie-cutter Hollywood at its worst, playing it safe and rarely breaking its pre-defined mold. "Oh, we fell in love with each other under false pretenses, so we broke up. Now we're absolutely miserable because we finally realize how special our love was. That's OK though, because after drawing the drama out for half a movie, we're going to dramatically rush into each other's arms in slow motion and embrace until the end credits roll!" Give me a break. If I were a woman, I think I'd actually be a little insulted that Hollywood believes the female demographic is stupid enough to keep swallowing this regurgitated crap. However, Dirty Dancing just so happens to be my wife's favorite movie, which means after years of batting her beautiful eyes and begging me to watch it with her because she thought I'd like it, I really had no other choice but to sacrifice a couple of hours and get it over with... annnnnd two hours later I ended up admitting to her, "I was wrong. It was actually pretty good!"
What didn't leave a lasting impression on me was the video quality - We owned the 20th Anniversary Edition on Blu-ray, and it had poor contrast, unnatural skin tones and visible stair stepping. Lions Gate had released a remastered Limited Keepsake Edition, but it came in a bulky box (two inches thick and taller than your typical Blu-ray case) that came with a bunch of unnecessary crap we didn't want, so we decided to wait for a release that only came with the movie and nothing else. Now here we are a year later, and Lions Gate is releasing the Dirty Dancing Collection, which does include the remastered Swayze starring classic in a slimmer case, but there's a catch - It also comes with one of Hollywood's most unnecessary sequels of all time, Dirty Dancing - Havana Nights. Fortunately though, the list price for this release is a remarkable $19.99, meaning you're likely to find this on local shelves or with your favorite e-tailer for $14.99, if not less.
If you're as unfamiliar with the film as I was a year ago, Dirty Dancing is the very embodiment of the chick flick clichés I had previously mentioned, at least on paper - A girl that's forced to mingle with high society snobs is dragged to a luxury resort with her family for vacation. Listlessly, she goes through the motions and observes human nature at its worst, as people with an exuberant amount of money showcase how little they know about humanity through dishonesty, disloyalty, adultery, as well as snubbing the very staff that do their best to provide the guests with the time of their life. So, of course, this girl takes great interest in the only people on the resort who seem real and down to earth, and eventually develops a crush on the dance instructor. After attending an after-hours staff party and taking up an interest in 'dirty dancing' with her love interest, that crush eventually blossoms into love, but as with most chick flicks, that love comes along with a few complications. The staff members are strictly forbidden to have relationships with the guests, she has to hide the relationship from a father who has commanded her to stay away from the dance instructor, and the fact that these lovers are from two different worlds separated by financial class eventually comes between them. All hope is predictably lost when the man she loves decides to move on without her, but we can see his inevitable return from a mile away to make for a happy ending.
That's Dirty Dancing in a nutshell, and yes, it does sound like the typical, mindless genre cliché that I would loathe, ten times over in fact. Again though, I don't let my bias get in the way when I see a film that's truly special, so you can believe me when I say that nearly everything about this film is appreciable. Whereas most chick flicks feel hollow and empty because they bring nothing substantial to the table, Dirty Dancing feels like a story worth telling because throughout most of the picture, the love between Baby (Jennifer Grey) and Johnny (Patrick Swayze) is mostly tested by the intolerance of others, and not because one had deceived the other by pretending to be something they were not. No, these two individuals were attracted to each other because of their differences, and furthermore, they let nothing stand in the way of their love. It doesn't matter who frowned on their relationship or who said, "You can't see that person ever again." They would sneak nights alone together, hide their relationship from everyone and be happy the entire time to do so. All that mattered in the world were those moments that they were together, and when push came to shove, they revealed their ongoing relationship to everyone just to protect one another. It's this kind of a script that makes me believe the love I'm seeing on-screen is real, and not just a product of Hollywood forcing another garbage film on us. What also makes this film work so well are its numerous moralistic lessons about humanity vs. how society often perceives said humanity, as well as, let's be honest, a fantastic soundtrack that despite sounding dated, is still just as powerful today as I assume it ever was. I'm not a fan of 80's music by any means, but the songs and their placement throughout the story are flawlessly woven together.
That being said, Dirty Dancing isn't a flawless film by any means. I know I'm probably going to draw some hate for saying this, but I felt Patrick Swayze's performance wasn't really anything special. When it came to the dance routines, I really did feel like he was passionate and falling head over heels for Baby girl, but his acting otherwise just seemed a little weak, like a stage actor that was playing his part just a tad over the top. Without his passionate dancing however, the film really wouldn't have worked so Swayze was likely the best choice in the end. I really couldn't see anyone other than him filling those shoes at the time. Although Travolta was well known for his dancing skill in Saturday Night Fever and Grease for example, he probably would have felt out of place in the dance routines. His expertise seemed to be more on technical dance precision rather than emoting through dancing. No, the one that really makes this movie work is Jennifer Grey. She displays nearly every emotion there is throughout the film's entirety and she showcases them all naturally. It doesn't matter if she's playing the rich kid that's bored with life, a teenager in love, a woman with a broken heart, or stepping out of her comfort zone with determination to get what she wants... Jennifer Grey is where most of the real heart and soul of this film comes from. Well, outside of the heartstring pull dancing of course. Overall, this film truly deserves its ranks amongst the 'classics', and I assume that will never falter as time goes on.
But Dirty Dancing - Havana Nights? I didn't really expect much going into it. What I anticipated was a film that more or less was going to be just like the first film, but with a different 'backdrop' for the story. Well, that's exactly what it was. Basically a rich girl is dragged to Cuba with her family and falls in love with a dancer there. Taking place during the Cuban Revolution, both the rich American girl and the Cuban dancer face opposition from those they know and love, and well, the rest of the story pretty much runs exactly the way the original does. Using the Cuban Revolution and the issues that could stem from an American girl and a Cuban boy falling in love is an intriguing angle, but instead of making Havana Nights its own story, the studio instead opted for what's essentially a remake of a popular classic. Needless to say, this was a big mistake. Watching the same story retold without anything to really separate it from its predecessor was boring, and although the male and female leads, Diego Luna and Romola Garai, were decent enough for their parts, I didn't feel the same kind of sizzle between them as I did with Grey and Swayze. The entire movie just felt forced and without wasting too much of your time, this movie is entirely skip worthy. It's unoriginal, and lacks creativity and passion.
So, why bother picking up the Dirty Dancing Collection if one of the two included films is absolute garbage? Well, it's as I said in the opening of the review - The price point really makes this release hard to resist. If you've been waiting for the original, remastered Dirty Dancing that doesn't come with extra crap or a bulky box, the wait is over. Furthermore, buying two movies at an MSRP of $19.99 is a steal considering the previous Limited Keepsake Edition had a higher price point for a bunch of useless junk that nobody really wanted. If you're a fan of the original classic, this really should be a no brainer for you - If you can find this for less than the MSRP, which I'm sure most of you will, is $15 or so really too much to spend on a movie you really enjoy? I'm sure the answer is 'no', and this is why I believe this will probably make its way in any Blu-ray collection that hasn't yet included Dirty Dancing.
As far as the first Dirty Dancing goes, the included remastered disc, encoded at 1080p via the AVC codec (1.78:1) is as good as this movie is likely to ever look. Some might be disappointed with the source elements that appear to be naturally soft, but I can't really fault the source for looking as it does. What I can say is that the contrast has been fixed - Meaning the daytime scenes no longer look washed out and lifeless, and the night scenes no longer exhibiting black crush. Also, colors all around look more natural, and that's including the skin tones as well. There's an ever so slight bump in detail, but clarity still suffers due to the source. Most important of all, gone are the macroblocks and stairstepping that looked ugly even on my 32" 720p HDTV from a distance of 8 feet. On my 46" screen at about 6 feet away, this looks very much like film, and for that I am glad and will now unload our previous 20th Anniversary Edition on to someone who could use it.
Now, although Dirty Dancing - Havana Nights (also 1080p via AVC at 1.78:1) is a (relatively) newer film, one would expected a video presentation that pops with detail and clarity. This is not the case though, as what is likely a low budget film still seems a little softer than I or anyone else would have expected it to. Colors are decent but don't really pop as much as they should, contrast ranges from decent to murky, and skin tones can vary a little. I'm not sure if this is because of an inexperienced hand directing the film or if it all comes down to the budget, but I expected more from the video presentation here. The good thing about this release however is that digital anomalies aren't a concern and there doesn't appear to be any tampering in the way of DNR or EE.
Overall I'm not floored by either presentation here, but I know that the original looks as good as it can get. That being said, it's still not a looker and Havana Nights should have been able to fare much better.
Both films have been given DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 tracks. The first Dirty Dancing wasn't as much of an upgrade as I would have hoped. The musical numbers still disappointingly lack the punch or soundstage they deserve, and the dialogue still has a slightly smoky vibe to it that isn't as crisp or concise as what we're used to hearing in lossless tracks on home video. The entire presentation, at least for the most part, is front heavy and that's a real bummer. Does it sound better than the original Blu-ray release by Lions Gate? Yes, but not substantially so.
Havana Nights on the other hand sounds quite good. The sound mixing has been given more care than the original, and the dialogue here is crisp and clear. Even more surprising, especially considering the disappointing cinematography, is that this film isn't entirely based on the front channels and actually provides some ambience with the rears.
Not surprisingly, the original Dirty Dancing is where the goods are at. Included on the disc is everything the 20th Anniversary Edition had as well as a slew of additional extras. The supplements include:
-Commentary with Writer/Co-Producer Eleanor Bergstein
-Commentary with Kenny Ortega, Miranda Goldstein, Jeff Jur, Hilary Rosenfeld and David Chapman
-Kellerman's: Reliving the Locations of the Film
-Dirty Dancing - The Phenomenon
-Dancing to the Music
-Tributes: In Memoriam - A Tribute to Patrick Swayze, Emile Ardolino Tribute, Tribute to Jerry Orbach
-The Rhythm of the Dancing
-Theatrical Trailer in HD
-Eleanor Bergstein Script
-Dirty Dancing Live in Concert
-Dirty Dancing with Patrick Swayze
-Music Videos - Hungry Eyes, She's Like the Wind, (I've Had) The Time of My Life
-Multi-Angle Dance Sequences
-Cast Interviews with Jennifer Grey, Eleanor Bergstein, Miranda Garrison and Kenny Ortega
-Original Screen Tests
-Deleted, Alternate and Extended Scenes
Havana Nights really gets the shaft though, which a bland, minimal amount of offerings, which I suppose is just as well because the movie isn't really anything special:
-Producer and Choreographer Commentary
-Multi-Angle Dance Sequence
-Baila! A Dance Piece
-Inside Dirty Dancing - Havana Nights
-Yerba Buena Music Video
Yes, the Dirty Dancing Collection may include a film you don't really want, but this release comes with two discs in a standard size Blu-ray case that's housed in a beautiful slipcover, at an easy to swallow MSRP of $19.99. For that, you get the first film remastered with an explosive amount of extras that are sure to keep you busy for hours on end. The original Swayze starring flick is a classic and still making hearts melt with around the world day in, and day out. As a chick flick cliché hating reviewer, I think my love for the original should say it all, especially considering I only saw this for the first time a year or so ago. A slim package at a great price, this comes highly recommended.
Additional Note - The 'movie' rating is 3.5 as a result of the inclusion of Havana Nights. I'd give Dirty Dancing on its own a 4.5.