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Hot on the heels of its first release on DVD just two years ago, The pop culture staple Footloose is back with a special edition! Is this feature-length 1984 MTV video worthy of another purchase?
Does anyone not know the story of Footloose? Well, in case you don't, here goes: a city boy moves to a small town where pop music and dancing have been outlawed for being harbingers of evil. While rebelliously taking on the whole town to change that law, city boy dances, gets into fights, and falls in love with the daughter of the town reverend…the biggest proponent of the banning law. There is even a Ray Bradbury-esque book burning scene!
I remember when this movie came out in 1984, I—along with my high school friends—couldn't wait to see it in the theater, and after the end credits rolled, we left the theater dancing and singing all the way home. (I know, that's so faggy…but I don't care. I embrace my fagginess).
And that's, I think, a big part of the draw of movies like Footloose. You had to be there, and you had to be a certain age to really understand how awesome they are. It's still a fun movie, and I get all nostalgic when I watch it. I'll admit it's not the masterpiece I once thought, yet it's one of those movies you could see over and over again. It's cute, it's got some charm, and it's a little over the top. And naturally, it is a huge part of 80s history, when every movie had a kick ass, ready for MTV soundtrack that sometimes outperformed box office numbers.
What makes this movie so consumable is its predictability. You watch, you enjoy the music, you wait for that moment in the end when you know Kevin Bacon (perfectly cast as the city boy) is going to save the day and free the small town from its oppression—and do it with a great big dance number!
John Lithgow is Kevin's archenemy, the reverend. His first appearance in the movie has him on the pulpit preaching, and my immediate thought was "Wow! He's totally Dick from 3rd Rock from the Sun!" But, that's John Lithgow. He has that 'on the verge of an A.D.D. attack' aura about him. Sure, his sin-hating reverend act seems extreme, but there really are people like that, and he never takes it so far that you think him inhuman. And Dianne Wiest as his wife is perfectly subtle as his often silent, but outspoken when she needs to be wife.
The remainder of the cast is a who's who of the early 80s. Lori Singer as the reverend's daughter probably left the TV series Fame after just one season to be in this movie, her star moment in the theaters. Sarah Jessica Parker looks like she ran directly from the set of Square Pegs to film her scenes in this movie. And Chris Penn was thin, cute, funny, and just about to come nowhere close to capturing the cult status of a burnout that his brother did in Fast Times, with a frighteningly similar role in the sort of unspoken sequel The Wild Life. The clothes, the hair, and the music, are all totally eighties. The movie opens with clips of feet, each dancing to the Kenny Loggins hit, and you can tell just by the footwear and leg warmers that it's the 80s! The soundtrack songs are just as infectious as they were 20 years ago. There's breakdancing, poppin' and lockin', and you can't help but wonder how these kids, who never listen to the radio and seem cut off from the real world, know how to do such moves. Overall, the 80s cultural elements aren't distracting enough to get you thinking "what were we thinking?"
And as far as "dance" movies of the eighties go, this was a standout film then, and it still holds its own as one of the best films of the genre of the era. Awesome songs, interesting characters, excellent performances, all wrapped up in a cliché of fun. Having to confess that I did indeed see the Broadway show, which, unfortunately, felt like a high school caliber presentation, this movie really does move along like a musical. Every time a melody began to play in the background while the characters were interacting, it felt as if they SHOULD break out into song. Not to mention guffaw-worthy moments—like at the hamburger joint—where everyone just breaks out into dance. If you go into it knowing that this is the flavor of cheese you'll be devouring, you're bound to savor it.
Don't expect to get any better picture quality out of this release of the DVD. I have the original, and I compared them. The print is the same, and it's not always good. With an aspect ratio of 1:85:1, the movie is enhanced for 16x9 televisions, just like the original release. The film is plagued with tears, specks, and dust. There's no continuity in the picture image. Sometimes, there are quick cuts, and the footage suddenly gets terribly grainy before cutting back to the better print. The edges are a bit too soft as a result of edge enhancement. Colors are a bit bland, particularly during indoor scenes. Outdoor scenes are better and brighter. The image of this DVD, just like the previous release, makes the film look old.
What this release has that the old one didn't is a Dolby 5.1 EX option. You also get standard Dolby 5.1. The bass response isn't so hot, and your subwoofer needs to be cranked up. I compared the old 5.1 track with the new 5.1 EX track, and I actually found the original mix to have better separation. The EX tends to muddle up the sounds and they get caught in the center of the room more often than surrounding you. On the other hand, the moments when hit songs like Let's Hear It for the Boy and Holding Out for a Hero are playing, they sound astounding in 5 channel sound.
This is pretty much where all the differences come in from the original release on DVD. First off, the menu is different. The original was a still shot, this one has a side clip of Kevin Bacon's big acrobatic dance number cycling while Footloose plays repeatedly (or should I say—Kevin Bacon's double).
COMMENTARIES—There are two options here. The first commentary is with Kevin Bacon, all by himself. As a result, this one tends to be very much all about Kevin, naturally, since it's from his perspective. He tends to get caught up in one story of one aspect of the process of making the movie, and that story carries on while other scenes continue to flash by. Then there are long pauses while Kevin catches up with what's now happening on screen before launching into a new story. The second commentary is with producer Craig Zadan and writer Dean Pitchford. Their conversation is very focused on the creative process, with a large stress on the music and soundtrack. They also rave on and on about having Kevin Bacon in the role.
INTERVIEWS—although it's not called that, and annoyingly, it's broken down into three separate menu options entitled "Footloose: A modern musical part 1," "Footloose: A modern musical part 2," and "Songs that Tell a Story." Each runs less than 15 minutes, and they really should have just been strung together with section titles in between, because it's all conversations with the cast and creators. As one unit, it works as a good retrospective documentary, and includes new interviews with Chris Penn, John Lithgow, Kevin Bacon, and the creators. The song section features interviews with soundtrack participants Kenny Loggins, Sammy Hagar, and Mike Reno as well. Wish they had talked to a few more of the recording artists.
TRAILER—the quality of the screener was really substandard, and you gain new respect for the not so hot print of the movie itself.
Footloose is one of those 80s movies that refuses to go away, partly because it's charming enough for us to want it to stick around, with a great cast, easy to swallow story about the joys of song and dance, and a great soundtrack. With this, its second release on DVD in a "special edition," you get some commentaries and interviews not on the first release, as well as an added 5.1 EX surround audio track. Unless you are a diehard fan of the movie though, the extras aren't must-haves, the 5.1 EX audio actually sounds less sharp than the original 5.1 audio, and the picture print is the same exact aging one used for the first transfer. Pass on the purchase if you already have it, but if you don't have it, then this is worth the purchase.