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Columbia/Tri-Star // PG-13 // January 15, 2002
List Price: $27.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted January 23, 2002 | E-mail the Author
It's probably a safe bet that anyone savvy enough to seek out DVD reviews online has stumbled upon his or her fair share of intensely negative rants inspired by Glitter, Mariah Carey's infamous and long-delayed vanity project. The movie was a dismal box office failure, and its accompanying soundtrack fell so short of expectations that Carey's label was supposedly mulling over whether or not to cut their losses and eat tens of millions of dollars by dropping her from their roster. Despite the paltry number of people willing to subject themselves to Glitter theatrically, this dud quickly found itself among the most hated movies in the public consciousness. It was the constant butt of jokes from every conceivable outlet, ranging from Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update's quip that Osama Bin Laden is likely in a barren, lifeless place, such as theaters screening Glitter, to the widespread rumors online that captured Taliban members were being tortured by incessant forced viewings of the film. Ignored by audiences and despised by critics, Glitter inspired such glowing comments as:
  • "A vehicle that tarnishes as you watch it, leaving this troubled chart-topper lost in a sea of drunken, maudlin cliches."
    » Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune
  • "About as fresh as rancid Chinese food that has been stuck in the back of the refrigerator for several months."
    » Dustin Putman, The Movie Boy
  • "Carey acts the way Jennifer Lopez sings -- meekly and badly."
    » Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel
  • "There is good. There is bad. There is worse and terrible and pathetic and painful. Then there is Glitter."
    » Chuck Schwartz, Cranky Critic
I'll be up-front: I don't like Mariah Carey, I don't like the songs of hers that I've heard, I don't like her style of singing, I don't like the way she comes across in the few interviews with her that I've been unfortunate enough to endure, and sacreligious though this may be, I don't find her particularly attractive. She looks far too simian for my tastes, like a chimpanzee savagely assaulted with gallon drums of silicone by Beverly Hills' most breast-tacular plastic surgeons. Still, I couldn't resist the urge to watch the movie that inspired oh so many gleefully venomous jabs.

Glitter is set in 1983 New York City, starring Mariah Carey in a Horatio Alger-style story of rags to riches. Well, maybe that'd be the case if Alger's novels were to exchange the less glamorous "pulling oneself up by the bootstraps" in favor of celebrity inevitably falling into someone's lap. Carey is Billie Frank, a plucky orphan who follows in the footsteps of her lounge club singin' mother after enduring the requisite droll childhood trauma. While "ghosting" in a club for a considerably less-talented songstress, Billie attracts the attention of a DJ curiously named Dice (Max Beesley) who sees past the charade and is interested in producing some music with her. The Dice-man buys out Billie's contract for a sinfully large sum of money, and the pair set off to merrily skip down the road to fame and fortune. The two become an item, though the tumultuous nature of the industry threatens to tear them apart. Meanwhile, Billie keeps an eye out for her long lost mother while becoming indescribably famous, and a minor crisis rears its head when it's revealed that Dice didn't actually cough up any of the cash for Billie's contract, incurring the wrath of some thug cum producer. Yeah.

There's so much wrong with Glitter that I'm nearly overwhelming trying to find a starting point, though I suppose I might as well begin with its leading lady. Mariah Carey's range as an actress is sorely limited, not helped much by a script that gives her so little to do. Billie Frank is presented as a character without any flaws or much personality at all. She's just a talented singer who, yes, can write her own tunes, and everyone who amounts to anything adores her. The self-congratulatory nature of Glitter, which is a thinly veiled Carey bio in many respects, is an embarrassment. The insubstantial, cliché-riddled dialogue consists almost entirely of characters telling Billie how wonderful she is or provide some meager amount of dramatic tension. There are obstacles Billie has to overcome, but they're all external and entirely lifted from the Big Book O' Stock Plot Points. As should be horrendously obvious from promotional stills and TV spots, Billie does triumph over adversity and becomes a world-famous pop star. Cinema is supposedly about the journey, not the destination, but neither inspire the faintest amount of interest here. My collection is almost entirely comprised of movies that aren't exactly critics' darlings, and I'm more aware than most that even a movie that's lacking in any technical merit can still manage to be wildly entertaining. Glitter, sadly, isn't so awful that it falls into any sort of "so bad, it's good" category. I'm tempted to make some half-witted comment like "all that glitters is not gold!", but I wouldn't want to resort to the same sort of lackluster, poorly conceived style of writing as the scribes who penned this movie. Glitter is just a complete and total bore in every respect, not even worth a peek as a curiosity.

Video: I set myself up to expect a glossy, stylized picture. To my utter amazement, Glitter, which is presented at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and enhanced for 16x9 televisions, actually looks like a motion picture and not merely an extended music video. Not a total shocker for a movie so recently trotting out of theaters, the print doesn't show any signs of wear (:coughs:). The very light grain present throughout is presumably a conscious decision, not some wacky error at the transfer stage, and infrequent softness scattered about a few scenes is likely the remnant of what is shamefully a comparatively low budget effort in Hollywood. Colors appear as vivid and hypersaturated as one would expect from a flick set in the decadence and bright lights of '80s-era New York City, and black levels are deeper than any element of Glitter itself. Though the level of detail is nothing extraordinary, the image is reasonably crisp and clear for 99% of the duration. Glitter looks fine, and there are no complaints so extreme that would have me recommending that the three or four people interested should set their sights elsewhere. The flip side contains a 4x3 version, though to maintain what few ragged threads of sanity remain, avoided a comparison.

Audio: An individual of Mariah Carey's stature can command the best mixing talent in the industry, and their skill and talent shines in this Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The engaging, enveloping audio sucked me squarely into the center of the expansive soundspace. Though a shut-in like myself wouldn't have first hand experience, the club scenes felt as if I were shaking it to Frankie Goes To Hollywood at the wee hours of the morning in New York City fifteen years ago. The surround channels are used often and effectively, offering much more in the way of discrete effects than I'd expect for this sort of movie, which on the surface would seem to be focused on dialogue and a few showcased songs. The range of the audio is about as varied as Mariah Carey herself. The LFE roars with activity, adding a phenomenal low frequence presence to the songs used throughout, and upper octave vocals are reproduced beautifully. The Dolby Digital audio is probably Glitter's only redeeming quality. There are also subtitles in English and French, as well as a French audio track.

Supplements: Director Vondie Curtis-Hall contributes a feature-length commentary track. I was hesitant about popping Glitter into my DVD player a second time, but his discussion is actually quite bearable, at least as background noise. Curtis-Hall touches on nearly every facet of production, including the development of the screenplay, Mariah's years of preparation for her feature film debut, casting the right people to complement the lead actress, the studio's displeasure with Mariah's accent, and various other hurdles encountered throughout. Though the director isn't brimming with enthusiasm, there aren't too many pauses between comments (within, now that's an entirely different matter), and he manages to incorporate just about everything into the chat. The notable exception to that would seem to be critical reaction and its poor take at the box office, but I admittedly wasn't giving the commentary my full, undivided attention the whole time.

There are also two music videos. The first is "Never Too Far", which looks like it was ripped directly from the pan-and-scan version of the movie. The racetrack-themed "Loverboy" looks like a low-res Avid export. Rounding out the supplements are three trailers (Glitter, Center Stage, and Dance With me) and cast/crew bios.

Conclusion: Maybe Mariah Carey's fanbase skipped Glitter's theatrical run in favor of its inevitable video/DVD release. I find Mariah grating in general, and my attitude wasn't swayed by her horrifying feature film debut. It might possible be of some interest to the same people who felt compelled to give Battlefield Earth a spin or stop to look at car accidents on the interstate. Perhaps this'll be the last time I intentionally select such an awful movie from the screener pool, but I guess the arrival of Mariah's followup, Wise Girls, will be the first true test of that. Though it's against my poorly-defined review policy to advise my readers to skip a movie, it's unavoidable in the case of Glitter.
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