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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Best of Riverdance
The Best of Riverdance
Kultur // Unrated // May 31, 2005
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted July 25, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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In 10 Words or Less
A tribute to the legendary Irish dance show

Reviewer's Bias*
Likes: Irish music, step dancing
Dislikes: Michael Flatley's ego

The Story So Far...
"The Best of Riverdance" is the fifth DVD incarnation of the step-dancing sensation. A 1995 disc of the original show is currently unavailable, but two versions of a live New York City performance are available, in standard and Superbit editions, along with a disc of a live show from Geneva. DVDTalk has a review of the Superbit NYC DVD here.

The Show
"The Best of 'Riverdance'" is just that: the best the show has offered over the past 10 years, including a variety of casts. From the show's biggest star, "Lord of the Dance" Michael Flatley, to popular dancers like Colin Dunne, this disc covers it all, with 18 segments included to represent all facets of the show. Most people think that all there is to the show is the signature hands-at-the-sides dance that most would recognize as Riverdancing.

Instead, there are several beautiful songs and a number of instrumentals that help set the tone of the show. This disc does a good job of balancing the different types of entertainment, while still recognizing that it's called "Riverdance," not "Riversing." The disc doesn't present the show as a whole, but through some slick editing, various casts are represented. Inside a single segment, the dance cuts back and forth between a number of different dancers. It can be a bit confusing at times, as costumes can be similar, but it's probably the best way to represent the show's lengthy run.

Among the 18 parts of the DVD are memorably bits like "Riverdance's" beginnings on the Eurovision TV competition, the show's opening number, "Reel Around the Sun," and crowd pleasers like "Thunderstorm," the face-off style "Trading Taps" and the show-stopping "Heartland." If you've heard part of the show, you'll recognize it here.

Because the segments don't run together or in order, a host was needed to tie everything together. That host is one of the show's original superstars, lead dancer Jean Butler. As a dancer, she was reminiscent of an Irish Nicole Kidman, and now, years later, she's still very good looking, and does well at explaining what's happening in each dance or song.

While the linking segments with Butler are appreciated for the context they provide to the disconnected segments, on their own, they just underline how pretentious the show's themes could be. Listening to her describe arcane Irish mythology while waiting for another dance is like having to put up with the poetry that goth girl in your English class wrote, only because you want to make out with her. Get with the dancing, woman! Often, her explanations could have come straight out of This is Spinal Tap.

Because the big hits are all included, and all the big names are represented, this collection is a perfect way to get a taste of the show or to have an excellent trip down memory road. The ending is a bit stretched out, with several curtain calls compiled into a lengthy finale, but before that, the DVD captures the energy, talent and beauty of the show. Unfortunately, that kind of effort should have probably been made back a while, sometime between the show's skyrocketing popularity and it's eventual status as a comic whipping boy. Sure, the 10th anniversary is good timing, but the show doesn't come close to the popularity it once enjoyed. Then again, maybe the DVD can spark some sort of renaissance. Heck, it worked for "Family Guy."

On one DVD, Kultur has packaged two hours of the best of "Riverdance's" 10 years, and housed them in a standard keepcase, with an insert that lists the chapter stops. The anamorphic widescreen main menu is animated, with options to watch the show, select scenes, view special features and adjust the audio options. The scene selection menus are a text list of chapters, with a short description of each, while audio options include Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 tracks. There are no subtitles and no closed captioning, though there's not a lot of dialogue really.

The Quality
The video quality of this anamorphic widescreen presentation is far from the most consistent ever produced. Because several video sources were used to cull together this "best of" presentation, the quality can drop or rise from cut to cut. In general, the age of the performance is a good indicator of how it will look, with some of the older performances looking more like VHS than DVD. A big problem with some of the footage is the aspect ratio, as some full-frame video has been zoomed in on and cropped. A presentation similar to some HDTV channels, with borders on the left and right, would have been better, but viewers with standard 4:3 monitors would likely be frustrated watching an image bordered on four sides.

The audio, presented in a decent 2.0 track or a more dynamic 5.1 track. The surround mix is somewhat artificial, with the rear speakers mimicking the front speakers, and no real power from what should be a bass-heavy soundtrack. The sound is strong and clear, but not what one would expect from a show like this.

The Extras
The big bonus here is a 63-minute look back at the first 10 years of "Riverdance," appropriately titled "'Riverdance' - The Ten Years." Actor and Irishman Gabriel Byrne welcomes viewers as the show's history, from its big debut during the Eurovision competition (which launched, among others, Abba and Bananarama), to the current worldwide success and subsequent place as a pop-culture punching bag. It's a glossy and overwhelmingly positive piece, but this wasn't the time or place for an in-depth expose on "Riverdance" and the controversies that surround it. This is simply for the fans.

"'Riverdance': The Crew: In-Show-Out," is, in concept, pretty cool. It's a time-lapse look at how the stage-show is physically put together and then taken apart, as shot in Japan in 2003, and scored with a pretty energetic set of instrumental rock tracks. Unfortunately, this effort takes so long, 16 minutes in all, that it loses its novelty well before it finishes.

Also included on this disc is an eight-minute performance of "Riverdance (Cloudsong)," from the opening ceremonies of the 2003 Summer World Special Olympics, featuring the longest Irish step-dancing line in history. As a special bonus, the performers are introduced by Irishman extraordinaire Pierce Brosnan and Butler. The footage is oddly cut on top and bottom, likely because it was blown-up from a standard TV transfer, but the song and dance are so good, its not that distracting in the end.

The Bottom Line
This is going to be a love-it/hate-it affair for most people, as Irish step dancing isn't exactly a consensus builder. Depending on how many Michael Flatley jokes you've made in your life, you will tend to know where on the spectrum you fall. Kultur has done a nice job of delivering a wide-ranging retrospective of the show and providing a couple of fan-friendly extras. For those well-acquainted with the show, it's a nice keepsake, while the curious will definitely be able to sate their thirst for the show with this disc.

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

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*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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