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New Line Home Cinema presents
Hairspray (1988)

"Tracy, I have told you about that hair. All ratted up, like a teenage Jezebel."
- Edna Turnblad (Divine)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: December 04, 2002

Stars: Sonny Bono, Divine, Debbie Harry, Ricki Lake, Jerry Stiller
Other Stars: Ruth Brown, Colleen Fitzpatrick, Jo Ann Havrila, Leslie Ann Powers, Clayton Prince, Ric Ocasek, Pia Zadora, John Waters, Michael St. Gerard, Shawn Thompson, Alan Wendl
Director: John Waters

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: PG for (mild language, minor violence, major hairdos and hairdon'ts)
Run Time: 01h:31m:40s
Release Date: November 05, 2002
UPC: 794043609923
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+BA B+

DVD Review

While John Waters is best known for outrageous and disgusting film antics, with Hairspray he turned his camera to a nostalgic and affectionate look at a now-vanished phenomenon: the live dance television program. Although American Bandstand was the national version, local dance programs were all the rage in the early 1960s. Waters celebrates this odd little corner of early 1960s life and the coming racial tensions that were lurking just below the surface.

In 1962 Baltimore, Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake in her first starring role) and her friend Penny (Leslie Ann Powers) idolize the kids on the dance program run by Corny Collins (Shawn Thompson). Tracy's parents, Wilbur (Jerry Stiller) and Edna (Divine) don't approve of the colored dance music or the beehive hairdos that the kids find attractive. When Tracy manages to get onto the show and become a hit despite being plus-sized, reigning queen Amber Von Tussle (Colleen Fitzpatrick), with the aid of her devious parents Franklin (Sonny Bono) and Velma (Debbie Harry), conspire to get Tracy removed. Tracy's willingness to integrate the dance floor works against her and it looks like reform school is her destination.

Who would have thought that a John Waters movie would be a launching pad for a talk show host? But that's exactly what happened with Ricki Lake, who parlayed her role as the irrepressible Tracy into a daily talkshow gig. She's extremely appealing here, though, with an enthusiasm and attitude that's utterly winning. She dances up a storm, too, doing the Madison and the Mashed Potato with equal aplomb. She's given a terrific character supporting cast, including Divine, in his last screen role, as her diet-pill-popping mother Edna (and also the racist owner of the TV station, Arvin Hodgepile). Divine is hilarious and strikes an all-too genuine note, especially as she begins to see the benefits of Tracy's newfound stardom and starts to hungrily exploit her daughter. Jerry Stiller is quietly amusing in support as well. Bono and Harry take a much more broad approach to their characters, but they're the villains so a certain amount of slack can be granted here.

Although there are also small parts for Pia Zadora, Ric Ocasek and Waters himself (as a cattle-prod-wielding psychiatrist determined to cure Penny of her liking for colored music), the star is really the music, dancing and the hairdos. The Corny Collins Show is recreated with a faithfulness that is utterly convincing, and the dance music is all terrific. While the hair is sometimes naturalistic, most of the time there's one outrageous do after another. It's obvious that Waters has tremendous fondness for the music, the period and the programs.

The comedy is mostly character-driven, and while subtler than usual for Waters, it's still a bit nasty. The whole exercise is nonetheless a lot of fun from beginning to end. So get your dancing shoes on and do the Gravy! Just don't end up in Hairdo Detention....

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture generally looks quite good. Due to the low budget, the film stock is a bit on the grainy side, which leads to a sparkly appearance. Throughout there are some minor nicks in the source material, but there's no major frame damage. Color is excellent, and detail is average. Texture is a bit lacking, though. Overall, quite attractive.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Both 5.1 and Dolby Surround audio tracks are free of significant hiss or noise. The music comes through without distortion, and is given a surround treatment while the dialogue stays anchored in the front. The two audio tracks don't have a great deal of difference to them, beyond a slightly broader soundstage for the 5.l track. Both sound great, with nice depth and richness.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 19 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director John Waters and star Ricki Lake
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Although the disc doesn't carry a huge quantity of extras, there is a very good commentary from Waters and Lake. They're recorded separately and edited together, but they comment on the same topics from different approaches in a way that works quite seamlessly. Waters is a veteran of good commentaries, and this one is no exception. There is plenty of great background information on 1960s Baltimore and the dance programs. The only other extra is a theatrical trailer, which is in very nice condition. This appears to be the same disc that was previously offered in a double-disc set, paired with Waters' Pecker.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

John Waters at his most accessible and least disgusting, helped out with a great cast and a ton of terrific period music, can't help but be a winner here. An information-filled commentary makes this an attractive little package.


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