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Grease (40th Anniversary Edition)
There's not much I could honestly say about Grease that hasn't been said before. John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John solidified their success in the entertainment biz because of it, and the film has made more than Scrooge McDuck. For those of you who still haven't experienced Grease yet, it's really a pretty basic story. Danny and Sandy have a fling over summer vacation. They were smitten from the moment they met, and spent the entire summer hanging all over each other and enjoying romantic nights. They didn't really know much about each other, except for the fact that when the summer was over they'd most likely never see each other again. On the first day of school however, greaser Danny finds his summer love is now attending the same school he is. Sandy reaches out to Danny, but her social status in school as a goody two shoes has Danny acting like a jerk whenever he's around his greaser friends. Fed up with the hot and cold routine from someone who supposedly loves her, Sandy begins slipping away from Danny, and he has to decide what's more important: social cliques or his undying affection for the girl he fell in love with over the summer.
Grease isn't as plain as the love story premise would have you initially believe. There are plenty of characters the film follows, and the worlds they all live in are drastically different from one another. In its 110 minute runtime, Grease explores a very effective and stereotypical 1950's scene. Everything is here from the leather jacket territorial gang brawls, hanging out at the local diner, dance competitions in the school gymnasium, street racing and more. It's not all about the fun times though, and that's where Grease really gains an incredible level of depth to its story. The most prominent examples in the film deal with dropping out of high school and teen pregnancy. Not only do such issues effectively add a bit of weight to the film, it also helps to bring it closer to reality with the audience. High school has always been about dealing with peer pressure to some extent, as well as coming into your own and making some pretty serious decisions about life. That side of high school is portrayed in Grease very well.
In the end though, it is a musical, and it's a fun one with terrific pacing at that. There are plenty of fun and laughable moments along the way to make you feel like you're a part of the very cliques you're watching, and the music that drives the song and dance routines are undeniably timeless. Even if you're not a fan of musicals in general, Grease deserves to be seen at least once. It's not just for those who enjoy the singing and dancing. There's a great story with numerous characters to follow, and the context in which much of it is displayed isn't nearly as squeaky clean as newcomers to the film might think. All in all, this is a highly entertaining flick, and that's coming from someone who isn't exactly a musical connoisseur. Take my word for it and give Grease Lightnin' a spin!
This edition of Grease on Blu-ray, encoded with AVC at an aspect ratio of 2.40:1, was, according to the studio, scanned from the original negative and received lots of TLC in the form of clean-up and color correction. There's some pros and cons to their approach, although I'd say it's better than the previous release overall.
At times, it seems like there's better sharpness and detail, but at others, it seems like their ‘clean-up' was really just applying an algorithm that removed some of the grain (and yes, some of the detail along with it). That's not to say that we're dealing with Predator: Ultimate Hunter's Edition levels of waxiness by any stretch of the imagination, but it's sad to see that Paramount, a studio which tends to have a decent track record on home video, would resort to this. In this respect, the difference between the previous release and this one isn't exactly night and day, but I do think this release edges out the old one. This scan does bring a bit more clarity to details and there IS grain present, but things can vary from shot to shot. Some people would have you believe that this whole thing was waxed over like Danny's car, but that's just not the case.
It's worth noting that the cinematography in this film has inherent softness at times anyway, so not every inconsistency we see can be blamed on the usage of DNR.
The major difference is in regards to color and contrast. Grease has been given a makeover which pops quite a bit more than the 2009 disc, and how that fares is going to come down to personal taste. The 2009 disc is dimmer by comparison, but things look natural. On the new disc, highlights are brighter, colors are much more saturated, skies are bluer… and skin a bit pinker. That disappointed me above all else. I have a feeling some of the highlights would be better resolved on the 4K UHD presentation, and that the saturation of colors wouldn't be quite as garish either, but the studio hasn't provided us with that disc to find out. I actually don't mind the ‘pop' as much since it seems to suit the film quite well… sometimes it really, really works, but other times it's an objective step too far. I'd wager the original negative, untampered, was probably somewhere between the 2009 disc and what we're seeing here..
But is it worth a purchase? If you don't already own Grease on Blu-ray and have no intention of upgrading to 4K (for whatever reason), then sure, this is a fine, albeit flawed presentation. If you already own the previous Blu-ray, just hold on to it to do some A/B comparisons, as you may actually prefer it.
It's also worth noting that there appears to be a minor error that seemingly stemmed from the color correction process. There's a moment where a flash of color appears on Danny's head during a main musical number. I'm kind of baffled as to how that escaped quality control.
If there's one reason to tout this release above any other (excluding the 4K disc), it's the audio. According to the studio, they've went back to the original 70mm print's six-track mix for this release. What we've ended up with is a 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track which is full of life without sounding artificial. It's a front heavy presentation during moments with dialog and sound effects, but things do open up a bit during the musical numbers. That's not to say the surrounds are kicked into high gear or anything, but they add a certain enveloping presence that isn't there throughout the rest of the feature. Dialog is always prioritized, although they, and even the sound effects at times, can sound thin at times. That's more the recording than any fault of the encode or any tinkering Paramount have done, though. Still, this is quite the improvement over the previous Blu-ray, and is worth the price of admission alone.
-Introduction by Randal Kleiser
-The Time, The Place, The Motion: Remembering Grease
-Grease: A Chicago Story
-Alternate Animated Main Titles
-Deleted/Extended Alternate Scenes
-Grease Reunion 2012 �" DVD Launch Party
-Grease Memories from John and Olivia
-The Moves Behind the Music
-John Travolta and Allan Carr ‘Grease Day' Interview
-Oliva Newton-John and Robert Stigwood ‘Great Day' Interview
Grease is a staple in cinematic and musical history. Its timeless music and dance is wildly infectious. I don't care who you are, you're going to catch yourself singing a few of these songs the very next day after watching it! The film isn't impressive in just musical styling alone though. It does an impressive job of getting you to care about all of the characters, and it does so without ever slowing the pace of the film. That's a fairly impressive feat for such a large cast, and the effectiveness in bringing their little worlds to life effectively brings the universe of Grease to reality.
If you've never seen the movie before, now is a good time to jump on board. However, if you're looking to upgrade, this release is proving to be divisive. Some people prefer the new contrast and image pop while others lament the use of digital scrubbing. But for my money, this film has never looked, and especially hasn't sounded better than it does on this release. Couple the nice A/V presentation with a smattering of supplements both new and old, and it's a solid choice for the money. Highly Recommended, unless of course you have a 4K setup, in which case I'd wager the UHD disc is even better.
-About the Author- Michael Zupan is primarily a film guy, but has a variety of places where you can enjoy his work otherwise. Check Bytesizeimpressions.com for video game op-ed pieces and podcasts, and be sure to check out the sister site, Byte-Size Cinema, linked up top. This writer also contributes significantly to in-print magazines such as Minecraft Explorer and Fortnite Explorer!