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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Dreamgirls: Director's Extended Edition (Blu-ray)
Dreamgirls: Director's Extended Edition (Blu-ray)
Paramount // PG-13 // October 10, 2017 // Region A
List Price: $16.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted October 16, 2017 | E-mail the Author

Flashy and rousing but ultimately shallow, Bill Condon's Dreamgirls (2006) rightly received Oscar nominations or wins for supporting performances and sound mixing, but not for Best Picture. It's a film with plenty of heart, a deep cast that aims for the back seats, and show-stopping musical performances that carry much of the narrative weight. But there's almost nothing else here that stands out: clocking in at 130 minutes, Dreamgirls hits a few wrong notes early and ends up overstaying its welcome during the second half. I'd compare it to just about any double album in music history: not without plenty of standout songs and a few interesting concepts, but saddled with lots of filler.

I'll skip a more detailed plot synopsis for this one, aside from the most basic overview: Dreamgirls, based on the hit 1981 Broadway play of the same name, follows fictional Motown trio "The Dreamettes" during their rise to fame and turbulence through the 1960s and 70s: from internal conflict between members Effie (Jennifer Hudson), Deena (Beyonce Knowles), and Lorrell (Anika Noni Rose) to business and personal relationships with James Brown-esque James "Thunder" Early (Eddie Murphy), slick record executive Curtis Taylor, Jr (Jamie Foxx) and more, there's no shortage of ups, downs, and big moments here. The main problem is that the ups and downs are largely predictable and the big moments don't feel earned: there's simply too much music and not enough dialogue and plot to support it.

Dreamgirls also changes tone sharply about 45 minutes in, awkwardly transitioning from a music-fueled drama to an actual musical; I realize it's simply a byproduct of the film's Broadway roots, but just feels out of place. This happens several more times as Dreamgirls chugs along, each time stopping the film's momentum dead in its tracks and threatening to derail the entire production. Luckily, the strength of the actual songs (not to mention the obvious talent of those performing them, as well as the non-singing performances by Jennifer Hudson, Eddie Murphy, and company) will likely be more than enough for those familiar with its source material, and the film's decades-spanning scope ensures that it hasn't aged much since 2006. But from a purely narrative standpoint, music biopics---fictional or otherwise---have been done much, much better than Dreamgirls, even though its heart is obviously in the right place.

Dreamgirls debuted on home video during the short window when DVD, HD DVD, and Blu-ray versions were simultaneous, with each one offering a respectable A/V presentation (aside from the lossy audio tracks) and loads of bonus features. 10 years later, we're given a combo pack that improves in some areas...but takes a giant step backwards in others. Its most noticeable differences are both the theatrical and a brand new extended cut (10 minutes longer - mostly a few short dialogue additions and extended performances, available via seamless branching), as well as a newly-mixed DTS:X track that gives the music a much stronger presence. But you don't get the bonus disc full of extras (unless you opt for Target's exclusive edition), as someone decided that including a DVD copy was more important.

Although Paramount's new Blu-ray of Dreamgirls appears to use the same 2006-era master as all three earlier editions, this 1080p transfer has at least been re-encoded and likely offers a marginal bump in quality. But either way, Dreamgirls is still a great-looking film loaded with color, texture, and fine detail, and there aren't any flagrant imperfections such as excessive DNR or compression artifacts. While it's likely that a brand new 4K master would've yielded even better results, what we get here is certainly pleasing overall and the modest bump in quality is at least appreciated.

DISCLAIMER: The images on this page are decorative and do not represent the title under review.

Not surprisingly, though, music is the star of Dreamgirls and, aside from the curiosity factor of its extended cut, the brand new DTS:X mix will likely be the biggest selling point for most fans. (At its core is a DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio track, if your receiver doesn't yet support the new technology.) By all accounts, this an outstanding presentation that's full of wonderful little details and an extremely wide sound stage at times: "live" performances obviously get the biggest bump in quality, and they're so dominant during the film that it's easy to spot the differences. Dialogue remains crystal clear with good fidelity, noticeable separation, and plenty of rear channel activity and LFE when the situation demands it. Also included is a DTS:X headphone mix, as well as lossy 5.1 dubs in French, Spanish, and Japanese. Optional subtitle tracks are offered in English, SDH, Spanish, French, and Japanese during the film and bonus features.

The standard menu interface is colorful and easy to use, with separate options for chapter selection, audio/subtitle setup, and bonus features. Though advertised as a Digibook, this is actually closer to a cheap fold-out digipack case (not hardbound with a spine, as suggested by the press release and Amazon's product photo). It's nicely designed with lots of colorful photos, cast summaries and the like, but somewhat deceptive from a marketing standpoint.

Bad news continues with the bonus features: this combo pack jettisons the impressive 2007 bonus disc for a boring old DVD Copy, which means that almost all of its original supplements are missing in action. The surviving ones include three Audition Scenes with Jennifer Hudson for "Can He Even Sing?", "What About Me?", and "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going", along with a Screen Test for the third song. I suppose that die-hard fans that can't find the Target edition could just swap out Disc 2 from the earlier Blu-ray, but this glaring oversight will disappoint just about everyone else.

Though armed with show-stopping musical performances and a committed cast, Bill Condon's Dreamgirls is ultimately disappointing from a narrative standpoint. There's just not enough meat here to justify a 130-minute musical drama that, during some of its most awkward moments, transitions into a full-blown ("sing what you're saying") musical. At best, Dreamgirls offers a tribute to outstanding Motown-style music with its heart in the right place, but there's so much filler and unearned drama that it's hard not to skip a few tracks. Paramount's Extended Director's Edition adds 10 minutes of minor moments into an already overloaded film, while its suitably improved A/V presentation is almost offset by lots of missing extras. Mildly Recommended for established fans, but everyone else should rent it first.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes, and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.
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