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Paramount Studios presents
"Oh that's cool baby. You know how it is, rockin' an' rollin' an' what not."
DVD ReviewGrease is one of those movies that is more or less review-proof. It was a huge hit in 1978, propelled forward by a chart-topping soundtrack, John Travolta's famous dancing feet, Olivia Newton-John's winsome charms, and 1950s nostalgia. And its fan-base continues to grow even today, spanning the generations—the 1998 theatrical re-release was a huge deal for a large percentage of my high school class, none of whom could probably name more than one member of the cast of Happy Days, but who nevertheless could not get enough of the gang from Rydell High.
It's not hard to understand the lasting appeal. John Travolta is as iconic as Danny Zuko as he was as Saturday Night Fever's Tony Manero. On the surface, Danny's the typical tough guy, head of the T-Birds and an automotive expert. But underneath, he's sensitive—over the summer, he met, and fell for, Sandy (Newton-John), cute-as-a-button goody-goody who's moving back to Australia. When the two unexpectedly attend the same high school, though, Danny has trouble shedding his tough-guy veneer. Will the two reunite? Will they sing various love laments in the general direction of their object of affection? Has anyone not seen this movie before?
Grease is a good movie, not a great one. Danny and Sandy's story is pretty typical for a musical, and it's developed in fits and starts, particularly towards the end. The colorful supporting cast, including Rizzo (Channing), Kenickie (Conaway), and "beauty school drop-out" Frenchie (Conn), provides a lot of entertainment, but not a lot of depth. In fact, only Rizzo is given even cursory character development as she deals with facing life as a mother out-of-wedlock. That's not to slam the performances, as the actors are top-notch, particularly Channing, who steals every scene she's in. Even under-written characters can be marvelously entertaining.
So the plot isn't great. That's ok. Grease is so much more than that. There's the music, for one. The rock score is full of infectious tunes, with not a dud among them. Hey, if they weren't great songs, we wouldn't be forced to sing them at weddings, would we? The period setting is totally charming, even if it is utterly manufactured. It's the '50s remembered through the gauze of two intervening decades, like American Graffiti with singing and dancing. If you've seen the movie, undoubtedly you'll appreciate its charms (I've met very few who can say they hate it). If you haven't, "there are worse things I could do" than give it a hearty recommendation.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: Paramount originally planned to release Grease to DVD in 1998, but legal troubles put the kibosh on that, and now, it seems we've gotten the transfer that was mastered in '98 and released on VHS and laserdisc (albeit with anamorphic enhancement). It looks ok (better than it would've were it released on-time, I imagine, as compression technology has improved since), but there's obvious room for improvement. A digital restoration to remove some of the obvious print flaws, for starters.
But as to the transfer that's actually on the disc. Colors are generally quite nice, with no bleeding and nice, stable reds. Blacks are solid, and shadow delineation is generally very good, though the bonfire scene looks a bit muddy. The biggest problem is an overall lack of fine detail, with faces in many of the wider shots coming out rather indistinct. Edge enhancement is also a big problem—it's frequently obvious, especially in brighter scenes. Print flaws are plentiful as well. Aside from an overall graininess (which isn't always a negative, as grain is a part of film), there are quite a few scratches on the print, and some visible dirt as well. Also, scenes using superimpositions (particularly the end of Summer Nights) exhibit an odd pulsing effect, as the colors in the background seem to fade in and out.
Really, overall, it's not a terrible transfer. Undoubtedly, it's the best Grease has looked in years. But it's not up to the standards of most "classic" catalog titles being released these days.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: Grease includes both the original DD 2.0 mix and a remastered 5.1 track. Both sound fine, although the remix seems to be one of those that adds surround enhancement where it isn't really needed. Dynamic range on the remixed track is very good, handling the highs and lows of the music without ever sounding shrill. Dialogue is clear, anchored in the center channel (as are the vocals during songs), and the front soundstage provides good directionality for dialogue and effects. The music has a somewhat dated sound, and the unnatural qualities of the original mix (when the characters begin to sing, it sounds as if someone just turned on the radio or something) remain, though that can be blamed on the original elements. Fixing it would probably require that the songs be re-recorded (horror!). Surround use is limited, except perhaps for scant support for the score, and the LFE channel, though limited, adds a bit of kick to the songs.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: custom cardboard cover with sl
Also included is the theatrical trailer, looking rather dingy, and a nifty 16-page songbook with lyrics. Packaging is a bit odd for Paramount, a thin cardboard digipack with a slipcover. It looks nice, but the thin cardboard feels flimsy.
Extras Grade: C-
Final CommentsGrease is finally on DVD, and that's something to celebrate. Yes, the transfer could be better, and yes, I'd like more extras, but at least it's finally here, and in widescreen to boot. Until the re-release comes around, this is the one that I want. Oo-oo honey.
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