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Grease: Rockin' Rydell Edition
Grease is still the word, and it's better than ever
Likes: Musicals, John Travolta, Stockard Channing
Hates: Grease 2
The Story So Far...:
When it was released in 1978, the Hollywood adaptation of Grease was a musical love-letter to a not-to-distant decade of sock-hops and greasers, starring a pair of good-looking kids named John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. Today, this story of star-crossed high-school lovers is a cinematic slice of Americana, punctuated by one of the catchiest soundtracks ever. Paramount finally released the film on DVD back in 2002, but it was hardly the treatment fans waited for. DVDTalk has a review here.
It's always amazed me that people view Grease as a look-back at a more innocent time, a musical that high-school students can perform, when, at its heart, it's a sex-driven story of hellions, with a message that says to get the guy you want, you better be willing to put out (or at least look like you do.) You can't call a movie innocent with phrases like "we'll be getting lots of t*t" or "she's a real p***y wagon" strewn throughout. But that's exactly the feeling you get in watching these teens go through their high-school daze, with no greater ambition than to get laid.
In case you somehow haven't been exposed to the story of Grease, an Australian girl named Sandy (Newton-John) meets an American guy named Danny (Travolta) on vacation in the 1950s, and they have a summer romance that ends once school begins. But as only happens in film, Sandy ends up staying, and going to the same high school as Danny, but finds he's reverted to his school persona, a greaser with a major attitude, and he pretends he has no interest in the white-bread Sandy. Of course, his true feelings can't hide for long, and this bobby-sox-set Romeo and Juliet have to find a way to get together, despite the expectations people have for them.
The story, which meanders through several side subplots before an early climax at the big school dance and the repercussions that follow, is certainly not the film's main appeal, though the over-the-top dialogue, loaded with bad puns, double entendres and straight-out sexuality, does help. It's the undeniably catchy songs that score the musical numbers that have made the film an American classic. Numbers like "You're the One that I Want," "Beauty School Dropout," and "There are Worse Things I Could Do" jump all over the music-genre map, and manage to tell the film's tale with more energy and more '50s feel than any scene of dialogue ever could. While it's true that they aren't the kind of grand-scale song and dance scenes that impress in other musicals, they make perfect sense in this movie, and make it the fun time that it is.
Though he was already established as an actor, Grease went a long way toward making Travolta the superstar that he is, as he was able to make his punk-with-a-heart-of-gold into a character audiences could embrace, with a simple, yet charismatic grin. It also gave Newton-John enough exposure as an attractive singer, to give her a career she might have never enjoyed without it. Other than the two leads, the only actors that stand out for their acting ability are Stockard Channing, whose bad girl Rizzo has a depth that no other character in the film has, and Michael Tucci, whose comic timing made Sonny the stand-out among the very similar greasers.
There are few films I could watch as often as Grease, probably due to the lack of investment needed in the story. With Grease, you just sit down, empty your mind, and enjoy the ride. It's certainly a guilty pleasure, but one I enjoy without feeling a bit of guilt. It may not be a family film by any means, but it's one a family could watch and have everyone enjoyit.
The "Rockin' Rydell Edition" (many have noted the blown opportunity for a "The One That You Want" edition) is a one-disc release, packaged (without an insert) in a standard keepcase. What isn't standard is the awesome embroidered, faux-leather T-birds jacket that wraps around the keepcase (complete with a working zipper.) I don't normally go for packaging gimmicks, but this is a good one.
The disc has a nicely-designed animated, anamorphic widescreen main menu, with options to watch the film, select scenes, check out the special features and adjust languages. Language options include English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 and a French 2.0 track, with subtitles available in English, along with closed captioning.
The first DVD release of Grease is a grainy affair, with tons of dirt and damage throughout. Here, the anamorphic widescreen transfer was remastered, and the result is a brighter, cleaner image that's much more palatable than before. Though it's hard to see in the comparison shots, the difference on-screen is night and day. The level of detail is pretty high, though there's still some softness evident, and the color is very vivid (where it's supposed to be.)
The soundtracks seem to be the same tracks on the first DVD, and they do a fine job of delivering the many musical numbers, as well as presenting the dialogue well, though at a level lower than the songs. Don't expect any dynamic movement in the sound, and you won't be disappointed.
The first release of Grease on DVD was a disappointment mainly because of the extras, which consisted of the film's trailer and a 17-minute 20th Anniversary retrospective titled "The Grease Yearbook," as well as a lyrics booklet. The booklet didn't make a return, but the trailer is included, and parts of the featurette (seemingly the parts with people unavailable for comment) are used in some new pieces.
The first extra is a short (24 seconds) video intro by director Randal Kleiser, which is optional when you play the film. It's just a summary of what the movie is, and it ties together the disc, which Kleiser more of less "hosts." He returns, with choreographer Patricia Birch, for a feature-length audio commentary. The track can't be described as high-energy by any standard, but Kleiser provides plenty of background information, and Birch tosses in some notes on the dancing. I wouldn't call myself an expert on the film, but I certainly learned a few things about the references in the movie and how it all came together.
Taking the place of the lyrics booklet is the "Rydell Sing-Along" special feature, which lets you play 11 songs from the movie with a karaoke-style display that walks you through the pace of the lyrics. These can be viewed individually or all together, or you can watch the film with the feature activated, so it appears when the songs begin. If you have some goofy friends, this would be good for a few laughs, or it can help if you want to practice your Danny Zuko routine at home.
Replacing "The Grease Yearbook" is a longer, 22-minute featurette, "The Time, The Place, The Motion: Remembering Grease." Mixing in some old interview material (and noting it as such) with new sit-downs, this piece is a nice history of the film, drawing from the memories of the cast and crew. Unfortunately, the big names, like Travolta, Newton-John and Channing are heard from in older clips. It's followed by "The Moves Behind the Music," which spends eight minutes on the dancing in the film, while the five-minute "Thunder Roadsters" looks at car enthusiasts who specialize in the kinds of cars seen in the film.
More featurettes from the party that accompanied the first DVD's release are included here, with "Grease Memories from John and Olivia," a three-minute clip of a press interview with the pair, and the 15-minute "Grease on DVD Launch Party" The launch party is an entertaining compilation of footage from the shin-dig, including songs the cast sang live on stage at the party. If anything, it proves that time is not kind.
11 alternate takes are available to check out, with an introduction by Kleiser. These are mostly extension or variations on what's in the film, but oddly, they are in black and white. These can be viewedseparately or with a play-all option. The disc wraps up with four photo galleries, and a pair of clips from the "Grease Day, U.S.A." TV special from the time of the film's premiere, with Travolta, Newton-John and producers Robert Stigwood and Allan Carr. If they would have included the entire special, it would have been fantastic, but the rights might have been an issue.
A side note: Whoever put together the new featurettes needs to work on their chyron skills. The on-screen lettering is horribly bitmapped and blocky, making the pieces look very low-budget.
The Bottom Line
You have to try very hard to not like Grease, a movie that was made to put a smile on your face. The songs, the cartoonish dialogue and the cheeky sexuality all make for the kind of film experience that transcends the filmmaking and achieves pure entertainment. This new DVD improves greatly on the first release, with a cleaner transfer and a larger slate of extras, most of which will be of interest to fans of the film. If you wanted more Grease than you got in the first DVD, it's worth replacing your old platter with this new one, mainly for the better presentation. If you never bought in, this is the perfect opportunity. It's not going to get much better than this (until the next-generation of home video.)
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.Follow him on Twitter
*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.