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Warner Bros. // R // June 3, 2003
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Don Houston | posted June 21, 2003 | E-mail the Author
Movie: High School is one of those experiences that most of us remember with a mixture of both pleasure and pain. Keeping in mind that this is the time in our lives when we are going through both physical and mental changes as well as challenges, I think it's easy to gloss over these experiences as time passes on. We tend to remember the highlights but not the drudgery that goes along with high school experience. The overly dramatic attempts most of us make to get something from our parents (typically a car) or simply to fit in with our peers in a system seemingly designed to bring out the worst in us. Magnify those problems several times over due to the nature of a school designed for the performing arts and you have a little movie known as Fame.

In New York City, there lies a special little high school that was created in an effort to provide a proper learning environment for talented students. The High School For Performing Arts draws people from great distances in order to hone their skills in music, drama and dance and a number of these students find their niche in the acting or other creative art fields due to the training they receive. The movie follows an ensemble cast of characters go from auditioning to enter the school to their graduation with lots of humor and drama over those four years. The main characters are archetypes of those most of us went to school with at some point yet some combination of acting ability on the part of the performers themselves, the screenplay, and the director, make it all work as a fresh look at people growing up under a spotlight.

The acting was top notch on all levels. Be it Irene Cara's driven singer Coco, Lee Curreri's meek musician Bruno, Barry Miller's tortured comedian in training Raul, or Paul McCrane's sexually confused wannabe actor Montgomery, the leads excelled in exploring various issues students in general (not to mention performing arts students in specific) have. On the audio commentary, the director mentioned how each one had to be dealt with individually and how each of them brought a different set of skills to their role.

While the story itself had a number of ups and downs, it also seemed to be written by someone who knows something about the school, as much as youth in transition. This, as much as the wonderful soundtrack and dance features, is where the movie shines brightest. The movie came out in 1980, nearly 25 years ago, and it's still a better look at high school life than the majority of films made even today. This is true not just in the major scenes but in the almost imperceptible small nuances that Director Alan Parker kept in the final cut.

Considering the mix of humor and drama, together with the performances, soundtrack and technical expertise that polished this release, it's difficult to suggest it's rating as anything other than Highly Recommended. Even the extras, from so long ago, show some care going into this release, it's just a shame that the dvd case was so flimsy. Well, the movie is the important thing so enjoy!

Picture: The picture was presented in 1.85:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen and looked very good for its age. There were some areas where the focus was a bit soft, as was the case when it was originally released, and there was a bit of minor grain at times but the fleshtones were accurate and the blacks typically "true". The dvd transfer of the digitally remastered print was solid as well.

Sound: The sound was presented in 5.1 English with a choice of stereo French and optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles as well. The vocals were clear and the music sounded better than ever on this world class release. I noticed some real separation on some of the channels, although admittedly not the original track and made long after the movie was released, although I'll stop short of saying it was superior in all ways.

Extras: The extras included a very insightful audio commentary with Director Alan Parker and a branching feature that allows you to see interviews (with Lee Curreri, Lauren Dean, Gene Anthony Ray and Maureen Teefy) as the movie progresses. Very well made track with plenty of historical and interesting, information. There was also a making of documentary, a short documentary on the school itself, Behind the Scenes notes, and the trailer.

Final Thoughts: I saw this movie in the theatre when it was released, owned the soundtrack album, and have always thought it was a great movie, for all its minor faults. It seemed real with street credibility (a fact that kept the movie from being allowed to be shot on school grounds back years ago) and a career highpoint for almost everyone involved here. On all levels, this is the best treatment it has received to date and a sign of hope for all those popular films of yesteryear. Get it!

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Highly Recommended

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