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New Line // PG // November 20, 2007
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Don Houston | posted December 4, 2007 | E-mail the Author
Background: Race relations have never been particularly good in this world, people across the world killing each other over the stupidest of reasons since the dawn of time, and despite tremendous advances we have collectively made in the last 50 years, there is still a long way to go as evidenced by a quick look in any metropolitan newspaper. Still, as much as some moan about the faults of the day, back in the late 1950's to 1960's, the civil rights movement was in full swing with all sorts of societal upheavals including the wildly unpopular topic of Segregation making waves. Out of the spirit of advancing such change came the subject of today's review of Hairspray: Shake & Shimmy Edition (Blu-Ray); a musical based in large part on the John Waters version as updated by the Broadway musical.

Movie: Hairspray: Shake & Shimmy Edition (Blu-Ray) is the story of a chunky teenager named Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) who has big dreams about dancing on a local television show in Baltimore and getting her heartthrob Link Larkin (Zac Efron) to notice her. Needless to say, the TV station is run by a tyrannical witch named Velma von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer) who has other plans for Zac as her daughter's (Amber as played by hotty Brittany Snow) fiancé and nothing will stand in her way to protect her plans. Along the way, Tracy finds the rules about racial segregation to be silly, stirring up the local community as she attempts to open up the station's monthly Negro Day to "everyday" as she meets some of the best black dancers in detention having caused some trouble in class.

The thematic elements aside, this is a lightweight piece of fluff in terms of the stereotypes it sets up, from Penny's mother "Prudy" (Allison Janney) who seemed to be channeling the SNL Church Lady character, to the overprotective Edna Turnblad (John Travolta in a homage to Divine's better job in the 1988 version of the movie), to horribly creepy Christopher Walken as Tracy's father, and all the authority figures made out to be evil by virtue of their desire to keep things from changing. As a result of the societal breakdown of walls, the characters showcase the 60's in musical fashion and the entire thing comes across as a very appealing commentary with catchy tunes and visual pizzazz punctuating the points made.

Of interest to fans of the original movie, many of the cast from Water's version had smaller roles here and while most of the stabs at humor were forced, it struck me that the entire project had a lot of replay value thanks to the musical numbers that comprised the majority of the movie. Few people really expect a lot of depth from a musical and while there were some themes better left to serious movies; it was more fun than I thought it would be when I saw who the director was (previous movies of his such as The Pacifier and Cheaper By The Dozen 2 reminding me of his sordid directing past). The acting was varied in many ways too but Nikki Blonsky in her first leading role was great, Michelle Pfeiffer perfect, and most of the teenagers (especially Elijah Kelley as "Seaweed") fit in nicely with the musical numbers. The dancing and music was largely first rate too, perhaps reminding me that the director's roots were as a choreographer; his field of expertise by far.

So factoring in the catchy tunes and dance numbers as the lead reasons to pick this double disc set up, rating it is as much a subjective matter that relies on a reviewer's personal tastes. In the case of this version of Hairspray, there were enough elements holding it back for me that I didn't feel a rating higher than Highly Recommended made sense, nor were the stated limitations such that I felt anything less than a Recommended was in order so I rounded up as my biases toward musicals shouldn't keep any of you from picking the set up if you're even remotely interested in this type of show (certainly enough to merit reading this far into it). The cute cameos such as John Waters flashing his goodies during the opening number and wealth of extras were enough to convince me when it all came down to the wire but check it out and I think most of you will see what I mean when I say that it was better than the genre usually offers up; New Line's entry into the high definition market secured if they are going to raise the bar like this so early in the game.

Picture: Hairspray: Shake & Shimmy Edition (Blu-Ray) was presented in the original 2.35:1 ratio widescreen color as shot by director Adam Shankman using the VC-1 codec in 1080p resolution. Originally shot on 35mm film, the show was exceptionally bright and cheerful looking in most scenes with much of the movie looking like a comic book (two dimensional but in a good way). The fleshtones are realistic to a fault and the neon colors I tend to associate with the later 1960's in abundance; the blacks appearing to be very true compared to re-releases I have seen of late. The detail afforded by the 1080p resolution was very nice too and the bitrate hovered around other high end productions, something I expected for the first high definition release by New Line.

Sound: The audio was presented in a 7.1 DTS-HD using the standard 48 KHz offering but in a 1.5 Mbps bitrate that helped make it one of the best sounding titles I've heard in the newer formats. I'm not set up to hear 7.1 sound but the 5.1 was very crisp and clear, the separation between the channels and dynamic range really something special. It wasn't totally immersive like you would expect an action flick to be but the separation was very distinctive, the rear speakers providing some headspace, and the bass cranked at regular intervals in appropriate spots. The audio was not as consistent during the extras but as a musical, this one worked really well with rich, full vocals meshed nicely with the musical elements. The music pieces combined songs from the Broadway musical, original 1988 classic, and some newly commissioned songs; the strength of the singers ranging a bit more than it should have (Queen Latifah should have had a much better piece and Travolta should have stuck with the novelty act here).

Extras: Unlike so many re-releases on blue ray, Hairspray provided a lot of extras, even going to a second disc to cover them all. The first disc had a series of deleted scenes with an optional commentary by the director and lead Nikki Blonsky such as: Edna Gets Arrested, an alternate version of Welcome to the 60's, a deleted song "I Can't Wait", an alternative version of You Can't Stop the Beat, and a special version of Big Blonde and Beautiful by Michelle Pfeiffer. In all, those alone were pretty fun to watch and had streaming been allowed, I might replaced a few of the scenes and/or added in the song; the package of them lasting just under 8 minutes total. There was then over 37 minutes of extended scenes (you could revert back as you liked too) that were interesting, a section where you could learn the main dance steps of the movie; two feature commentaries (one by director Adam Shankman with Nikki Blonski and the other with producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron). I listened to more of the director version which was lighter and less focused on technical matters but I may have to go back and hear the rest of what the producers were saying since they put the show in better historical context by comparison. There was also a feature to jump to the songs and another to allow you to get Behind the Scenes tips during the movie in a picture in picture window (pretty cool feature).

The second disc was comprised of three main extras. There was the theatrical trailer, a 78+ minute documentary called You Can't Stop The Beat: The Long Journey of Hairspray, and a feature called The Roots of Hairspray from Buddy Deane to Broadway. In YCSTB, John Waters was brought in to give his stamp of approval but much of the initial footage had a few of the producers dragged as they spent too much time thumbing their noses at the powers that be who didn't see the viability of musicals when they entered the business (my take: genre recognition wasn't the problem so much as a bunch of really LAME musicals having lost money at the time). They did a better job explaining, as they did in their commentary track(s), the decisions to make the movie stand on its own compared to the original and the Broadway musical with the clips of the movie interspersed keeping it all involving. The casting portions and how the songs came about added some fun too; the documentary broken into a number of specific segments for easier access. The "Roots" special brought forth the original dance show from Baltimore (The Buddy Deane Show) and the issues of segregation/integration as well as the city of the time.

Final Thoughts: Hairspray: Shake & Shimmy Edition (Blu-Ray) is, in the words of Tracy Turnblad, "Afrotastic" for anyone into musicals and the idea of breaking down walls to go past societal expectations. How effective the movie was at addressing the themes is an arguable point but as mindless fun resulting from the dancing and music; there was no doubt that it earned the accolades bestowed upon it by critics and consumers alike. The blue ray treatment of the movie was one of those rare cases when the high definition upgrade was especially positive at adding value and the inclusion of the extras gave it the extra push to merit the higher rating in my book. Far too often, releases on the new formats drop the ball at providing extras so Hairspray gets the nod as particularly pleasing compared to the majority of titles on the market so far. Give this one a look and see if the heady subject matter, as dumbed down for a musical, strikes you as well done but buy it for the quality of the music & dancing since that was what it excelled at.

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Highly Recommended

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