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Your regular reviewer Josh here. Though I am a great lover of all sorts of movies regardless of subject matter, an understanding of the chick flick genre continues to elude me. Some movies were just not made for me. For those, I must defer to the greater wisdom of an expert on the topic, and so I turn the movie portion of this Dirty Dancing review over to my wife Elizabeth, who previously helped me to make some sense out of The Devil Wears Prada. I hope that readers find a proper female perspective more useful than anything I could write. The 3.5 star rating you see to the side of this article is a composite score of our respective opinions on the film (I'll let you figure out for yourself which of us rated it higher and which rated it lower). I'll return for the technical portions of the article below.
"This is my dance space. This is your dance space. I don't go into yours, you don't go into mine."
If you were a high school girl in 1987, it is very likely that you've seen Dirty Dancing more than once and, if you're being honest, probably more than twice. It's a slumber party staple and I can never resist when I run across it on cable. I'm pretty sure by now I've seen it somewhere around 387 times.
For those of you who don't have cable or haven't been to a slumber party in the past 20 years, Dirty Dancing follows spunky Baby Houseman on her last summer before college at Kellerman's resort. It's 1963 and Baby is prepared to dutifully spend her summer vacation with her parents and sister playing charades and learning the Bunny Hop. But one night Baby innocently carries a watermelon into an after hours party with the entertainment staff and suddenly the Catskills become a lot more interesting. She quickly discovers that dirty dancing with the resort's sexy dance instructor Johnny Castle is a totally different experience than awkwardly stumbling through the Foxtrot with Max Kellerman's nebbish nephew. Of course, life is not just a party for the dance kids and Baby must step in to help her newfound friends out of a jam. Johnny reluctantly agrees to teach Baby a complicated dance routine so she can fill in for his partner at their lucrative gig at the nearby Sheldrake Hotel. After long hours of rehearsal, the pair fall in love and complications ensue. In the end, Baby comes out of her corner and everyone dances.
Jennifer Grey (sporting her original nose) is perfectly relatable as she struggles through the difficult transition from daddy's girl into womanhood. She's charming and unassumingly beautiful as the tomboy who has never thought of herself as pretty. Patrick Swayze hits all his marks as the misunderstood dancer from the wrong side of the tracks. Did I mention that he's hot?! Oh, and the man can dance. It is the undeniable chemistry between these two actors that carries the film (It almost makes me want to rewatch Red Dawn... Almost). From their first awkward meeting to their final dance, Swayze and Grey perfectly capture the passion and heat of a summer romance. And, just to add an extra touch of awesome, the strong supporting cast is filled with TV veterans, so don't be surprised to see Law & Order's Lenny Briscoe, Gilmore Girls' Emily Gilmore, and Seinfeld's Neeeewman during your stay at Kellerman's.
It's hard for me to be objective when reviewing this film because it feels like an old friend. There's just something about it that makes me happy. It's like summer camp full of innocence with a hint of sexuality and the promise that maybe, just maybe, the tortured hunk might fall for the shy girl with the big nose. The story will touch a chord with anyone who has ever been young and in love. The period setting gives this '80s classic a timeless feel rather than looking dated. Baby's denim cutoffs and Johnny's tank top are summer staples and the sets have a cozy vintage feel that make you want to put your feet up and stay a while. While I recognize that this isn't exactly Citizen Kane, it just may be the Citizen Kane of teenage summer romance movies featuring suggestive dance moves, abortion subplots, and Patrick Swayze.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Dirty Dancing has been released on the Blu-ray format as a Twentieth Anniversary Edition by Lionsgate Entertainment. The disc opens with a slow "loading" icon in the shape of mechanical gears on screen, more like a video game than a Blu-ray movie. After this come two forced trailers for other Lionsgate Blu-rays that can fortunately be skipped but are a nuisance, followed by a screen that lets you choose to either go directly to the movie or to a main menu page.
When you finally get to them, the disc's menus are infuriatingly jerky and slow to navigate. An option is provided to turn menu sounds on or off, which is strange considering that there don't seem to be any menu sounds no matter which setting you select.
Blu-ray discs are only playable in a compatible Blu-ray player. They will not function in a standard DVD player or in an HD DVD player. Please note that the star rating scales for video and audio are relative to other High Definition disc content, not to traditional DVD.
The Dirty Dancing Blu-ray is encoded in High Definition 1080p format using MPEG4 AVC compression on a dual-layer 50 gb disc. The movie is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 with tiny letterbox bars at the top and bottom of the 16:9 frame.
What a mess this disc is. I suppose we should start with what it does right. Once you get past the deliberately stylized opening credits and the very next scene, which is particularly soft and grainy, the rest of the movie is quite surprisingly sharp and vivid, a very nice upgrade over Standard Definition. During the scene in the lake (yeah, you know which one I'm talking about), Jennifer Grey's nipples have never been more clearly visible through her wet shirt than they are here, even though the scene is photographed only in wide establishing shots. There's a tiny bit of age-related dirt on the source elements, but for the most part this is a very clean and clear transfer, with some striking colors and rich black levels. It's a bit too dark in quite a few scenes, however, and this has the effect of pushing some colors too far. Flesh tones look pinkish at the staff party where Baby is first introduced to the bump & grind, for example. Still, for a movie of this age and budget, the basic color transfer here is unexpectedly impressive.
Sadly undercutting this, the Blu-ray is riddled with noise and blocky compression artifacts during just about any grainy scene, likely a consequence of having so many bonus features crammed onto the same disc. Worse, the disc appears to have been authored from a 1080i master that was deinterlaced (very badly deinterlaced) to 1080p at the studio. There are jaggies on pretty much any diagonal line in the image; if you look closely you'll even see them on shirt lapels and the like. And when there are geometric patterns on screen like a pinstriped shirt or the horizontal slats of a building's siding, the image is overwhelmed by atrocious aliasing artifacts the likes of which I've never seen on a High Definition source. It's somewhat akin to the issues presented by early Warner Bros. releases such as The Fugitive or Full Metal Jacket, but significantly worse in appearance. The problem is so severe that it frequently destroys the illusion of film and reminds you that you're watching lousy video. Shameful.
The Dirty Dancing Blu-ray disc is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over a Blu-ray player's analog Component Video outputs.
The movie's soundtrack is provided in uncompressed PCM 6.1 format or in standard Dolby Digital-EX 5.1. Originally mixed for just basic Dolby Surround back in 1987, Lionsgate has attempted to beef up the audio for the multi-channel remixes. The period songs often do sound very warm and full, but other front soundstage elements such as dialogue and sound effects are hollow and boomy. For some reason a decision was made to shift Baby's voiceover narration to the rear speakers, which is really distracting and creepy. Overall, the soundtrack is acceptable and even has some pleasing musical moments, but non-musical scenes sound too "tweaked" and unnatural, like the mixer was a little too fond of the digital manipulation tools at his disposal.
Subs & Dubs:
Optional subtitles - English or Spanish.
Alternate language tracks - N/A.
The bonus features on this Blu-ray title are duplicated from previous DVD editions, though some are here presented in High Definition video. All of the supplements from the Twentieth Anniversary Edition DVD have carried over, plus the multi-voice commentary from the previous Ultimate Edition DVD as well.
- Audio Commentary with Eleanor Bergstein - The writer, co-producer, and primary creative force behind Dirty Dancing discusses her unusual method of pitching the screenplay with a mix tape, the film's story, development process, and its autobiographical elements. Unfortunately, my wife Elizabeth found Bergstein annoying and I don't entirely disagree with her.
- Multi-Voice Audio Commentary - Here we have choreographer Kenny Ortega, assistant choreographer/co-star Miranda Garrison, cinematographer Jeff Jur, costume designer Hilary Rosenfeld, and production designer David Chapman mostly edited together from separate interviews. There's a lot of love from all for the late director Emile Ardolino. The track has a good mix of technical discussion and analysis of what works in the story, though someone steps over the line when comparing Patrick Swayze to Gene Kelly.
- Dirty Dancing 20th Anniversary Pop-Up Trivia Track - These trivia tracks can be fun so long as they keep up a fairly steady pace of information, which this one does reasonably well. Factoids abound about the various dances in the movie, the cast, locations, songs, watermelons, pregnancy, and abortion. The trivia track can be run in tandem with one of the audio commentaries for the most effective use of your time.
- Dirty Dancing with Patrick Swayze (13 min., SD) - Not looking nearly so hot anymore, the one-time stud gives us his thoughts on the movie and his career.
- Tribute to Jerry Orbach (7 min., SD) - Co-star Kelly Bishop narrates this superficial overview of the actor's career from Broadway to movies to Law & Order.
- Deleted Scenes (12 min., SD) - 11 very brief scenes are provided, with no play-all option. Disappointingly, the footage all appears in Standard Definition, even though the following Alternate and Extended scenes were remastered into High Definition. Most of these are pretty superfluous, but check out the one titled "Dirty Dancing" to see an incredibly raunchy dance number between Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey that would be classified as porn if Swayze hadn't kept his pants zipped.
- Alternate Scenes (3 min., HD) - 3 scenes reveal to us the original actress cast as Baby's mother before she had to leave the film due to illness.
- Extended Scenes (8 min., HD) - 6 scene extensions plus one alternate (with the original actress as Baby's mother) don't offer much of interest besides a glimpse of Grey's side-boob. The longer ending is especially lame.
- Outtakes (1 min., HD) - Flubs and the like.
- Original Screen Tests (3 min., SD/HD) - Swayze and Grey audition together, Grey alone, and a montage of others.
- Multi-Angle Dance Sequences (3 min., SD) - 2 dance scenes are presented with the ability to toggle between 4 different camera angles on each. The feature sounds more interesting than it is. In application, the interface is extremely frustrating and slow, basically nullifying its interactive appeal.
- The Classic Story on Stage (13 min., HD) - A ridiculously long-winded promo for the stage play adaptation of the movie, which even Elizabeth admits looks horrendous.
- Interviews (21 min., HD) - Jennifer Grey with her new nose, Eleanor Bergstein, and Kenny Ortega look back on the highlight of their careers.
- Music Videos (12 min., SD) - "Hungry Eyes", "She's Like the Wind", and "(I've Had) The Time of My Life". Classics all.
- Emile Ardolino Tribute (14 min., HD) - Exactly what it sounds like.
- Photo Gallery
- Disc Production Credits
Thank you to my wife Elizabeth for explaining why the dry-humping classic Dirty Dancing is one of her favorite movies. The Blu-ray transfer has some merits, undercut by shockingly poor disc authoring. The release is certainly loaded with bonus features, but to be honest most of them were of limited interest. Admittedly, I would probably not choose to own a copy of Dirty Dancing if it were only up to me, but with marriage comes compromise, and to that end the disc gets a recommendation.