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Directed by Herbert Ross in 1984 and soon to be the subject of a big budget remake, Footloose stars Kevin Bacon as Ren McCormack who has just moved from the big city to a small mid-western town smack dab in the middle of the 'Bible Belt.' Unprepared for the culture shock that this ultimately entails, he soon learns that what would fly in his last place of residence won't fly here. This is a small community of very conservative citizens who have, for religious reasons, banned dancing and pop music - some even feel that these elements have lead to a few recent and unfortunate teenagers getting killed before their time. At the forefront of this conservative movement in town is Reverend Shaw Moore (John Lithgow), a fire and brimstone preacher who espouses the ways of the world and who looks none too kindly on Ren and what Moore sees as his loose morals.
Ren finds himself in a couple of hot spots soon after he arrives and as such the Reverend is none too happy when his own daughter, Ariel Moore (Lori Singer), takes a liking to the new arrival despite the fact that she's got a jealous boyfriend. She's more or less been repressed her entire life and she sees Ren as an outlet to have some fun and maybe get back at her overbearing father a little bit at the same time. As the pressure mounts on Ren to do as the townsfolk want him to do, he finally decides that he's had enough and decides to show anyone and everyone he can that there's nothing inherently wrong with having some fun on the dance floor - especially since the prom is fast approaching.
Footloose isn't an overly complicated story rich with deeper meaning or complex symbolism and in fact, it's pretty darn simple when you get right down to it. You know where it's going pretty early on in the movie and in reality it's a pretty predictable film offering up very little in the way of suspense or mystery. The signals are there, the story more or less telegraphs where it's going well before it bothers to actually go there and much of the film seems somewhat heavy handed and pedestrian in hindsight. With that said, it's still a pretty enjoyable movie - a fun slice of eighties pop culture and a time capsule of sorts for that decade. Hitting theaters a few years before Dirty Dancing would start a landslide of dance movies, Footloose isn't concerned with sex appeal like that later movie and its many imitators are so much as it is with character development and this turns out to be what saves the movie.
While the Ren McCormack character may not go down in history as one of the deepest and most through provoking silver screen characters to ever strut in front of a camera, the script at least makes sure we get to like him enough to want to see how he's going to handle this. We know he's going to win everyone over, that much is simple enough to understand, but we want to know how. We want to know if his relationship with the equally likable Ariel is going to work out or if her father is going to make sure it doesn't happen. It might be corny and it might be hamfisted but we want them to be able to make it work. As far as her father goes, he's not really a villain even if he is the primary source of conflict in the film. His intentions are good, even if they are misguided, and Lithgow really steals the show here. Bacon is charismatic enough as the fleetfooted lead and Lori Singer is fun to look at but Lithgow is the actor here who makes the biggest impression particularly once his sermons start to intensify and things heat up in the pulpit.
Featuring a few instantly identifiable hits like Kenny Loggins' title track, Deniece Williams' 'Let's Hear It For The Boy,' Quiet Riot's 'Bang Your Head' and John Mellencamp's 'Hurt So Good' the movie goes along at a good pace and it makes for a fun and fairly family friendly watch even now, more than twenty-five years after it was made.The Blu-ray:
While Paramount presents Footloose in a 1.78.1 widescreen aspect ratio in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer, this disc doesn't improve on the DVD nearly as much as it should have primarily because the new transfer is a smeary, DNR'd mess. Noise reduction runs rampant here, rendering natural skin tones and textures into wax and sucking out a lot of the detail. While the colors generally look pretty good and object detail is usually fine, the waxy skin is way too obvious and it really hurts the presentation. On top of that, what should be a natural layer of film grain instead turns clumpy and looks to stand still at times, hovering around in the background and looking very unnatural. There are moments in darker scenes where compression artifacts and very noticeable crush are a big problem as well, and shadow detail is weak. Edge enhancement isn't super obvious, but it's there too and overall, this transfer is a very big disappointment.Sound:
On the other side of the coin, the English language DTS-HD 6.1 Master Audio track on this disc is pretty impressive. From the opening bits of the now semi-iconic theme song through to the dance numbers towards the end of the film this track offers a noticeably fuller and more dynamic sound than what the previous DVD offered. Dialogue is nice and clear, from the fire and brimstone sermon to the more dramatic moments that take place between characters. Everyone is always easy to understand and the levels are properly balanced. There aren't any issues with hiss or distortion to complain about, and overall, things sound very good here. This isn't as aggressive as a newer action film might be, but Footloose has never sounded better on home video, not by a long shot. Alternate language options include a French Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track and Dolby Digital Mono tracks in Spanish and Portuguese with subtitles available in English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese.Extras:
The first of the two commentary tracks on this release features producer Craig Zadan and writer Dean Pitchford who speak about bringing this project together, the popularity that the film experienced when it played theaters and how that popularity has lasted over the years. The discuss the use of and importance of the music in the film and talk about putting the script together, certain changes that were made from the initial draft, and what it was like working with the various cast and crew members on the project. The second commentary puts Kevin Bacon behind the microphone to give us some insight into what it was like to play the lead on this one. He is quite open about some of the tensions that existed on set and talks about where the stemmed from in the first place and expresses his admiration for director Herbert Ross and for many of his fellow cast and crew members. Of course, he talks about the dancing in the film as well, and other standards like the score, the soundtrack, the location shooting and more. Both tracks are well paced and quite informative and well worth listening to if you're hungry for more information on the history of this film.
From there we move on to a pretty decent collection of featurettes starting with Let's Dance!, a twelve minute interview with star Kevin Bacon in which he looks back on this role, a pivotal one in his career, and discusses his work on the film how he feels about his character and how he feels about the movie years later. From Bomont To The Big Apple is a seven minute interview with co-star Sarah Jessica Parker who talks about how she was initially going to say no to the part, what it was like doing location shooting in Utah and her thoughts on the film and on the cast and crew she worked with on it. Remembering Willard is a six minute look back at Chris Penn's role in the film with some input from those who worked on it with him while Footloose: A Modern Musical is a two part half hour long featurette that lets the cast and crew talk about what was involved with getting this picture made, some of the obstacles that they ran into while making the picture, putting the musical and dance scenes together and more. Complimenting this nicely is the fourteen minute Footloose: Songs That Tell A Story which lends some insight into the songs that are featured in the movie, why they were chosen and what they're all about.
Rounding out the extras are the film's original theatrical trailer, a four minute screen test for Kevin Bacon, a three minute collection of archival footage of Kevin Bacon showing off his different costumes from the movie, animated menus and chapter stops. All of the extras are in HD except for the two-part Footloose: A Modern Musical and Footloose: Songs That Tell A Story segments. All in all, this is a pretty great assortment of extra features here and Paramount have done a good job in this department.Final Thoughts:
If you're a big time fan of Footloose and can look past the fact that this transfer is pretty bad, then by all means, jump right in. Otherwise, the video quality is bad enough that it's hard to recommend this disc even though the audio is pretty solid and the extras are very good. The movie itself holds up, it's a fun time capsule and good entertainment, but that transfer.... Ug. Rent it and decide for yourself before buying this one blind.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.