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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"I'm not dancing for them anymore. I'm dancing for me."
DVD ReviewDancing has always amazed me. People say boy bands aren't talented? Well, maybe they don't have musical talent, but they can flip around folding chairs and move their feet real fast, and that impresses me. Of course, ballet dancing makes music-video dancing look like the white man's overbite, and Center Stage does a good job of showing how much work it takes to perfect.
Jodie (Amanda Schull) has just been accepted at America's most exclusive ballet school, the American Ballet Academy. From the beginning she has trouble, whether it is dealing with the company's director, Jonathan (Peter Gallagher), her instructor Juliet (Donna Murphy), or the star of the school, Maureen (Susan May Pratt). If Jodie wants to achieve her dream of joining the school's ballet company, she must try to overcome her shortcomings and use what she has. Along the way she'll deal with any number of stereotypical characters, but what would a teen film be without pigeonholing people into a familiar niche?
OK, so maybe the characters are a bit familiar, from the hard-as-nails city girl; to the unhappy teen being pushed by her mother; to the oversexed gay male. I don't think the stereotyping is a problem, believe it or not, because these characters aren't the stars of the film, the dancing is, and it is amazing. I still have trouble believing that people actually are able to stand up on their tip-toes like that, and that is probably the simplest thing they do in this film. Most of the actors were professional dancers first, and the dance numbers really show it. There is a dance-off midway through the film that made me think that the actors must have wandered into the Matrix, since they obviously weren't being governed by the laws of physics. The final number will make even the most hardened cynic smile; it features some of the coolest choreography I have ever seen.
Of course, as I said, the actors were dancers first, and most had never done any professional acting work before. As a result, the performances vary wildly. Amanda Schull actually is surprisingly good in the lead, and she gives Jodie an irresistible sweetness. Zoe Saldana probably gives the best performance of any of the dancers, and is very likeable as the one-note tough girl. Eion Bailey, unfortunately, is simply horrible as Schull's love interest. I suppose he fit the part in terms of dancing talent, but he delivers dialogue like an understudy in a middle school play. Scary! Donna Murphy (from Star Trek: Insurrection) does a very good job as the dance instructor, but surprisingly the biggest name in the film, Peter Gallagher, gives one of the worst performances in the film. This movie made me realize what a shockingly bad actor he is.
The reason the film succeeds, despite cliche and some bad acting, is the respect it shows for the art of ballet. The movie fits the mold for a sports film, and why not? Ballet requires as much (or more) athleticism as any sport. None of the characters in the film are working towards personal gain, they are working because they love what they do. The actor's clearly felt the same way, and it shows in the dance numbers in the film. Watch Center Stage, and try to be forgiving of its faults and respect the job that the dancers do. Oh, and the movie is fun, too!
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: This is an OK transfer, but it does have a few problems. Black level and color contrast are pretty good, but colors seem muted. There is not a lot of definition on fine detail, and quite a bit of motion blur on objects in the background. I noticed some edge enhancement, but not enough to annoy me. Generally OK, but not near reference.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: The sound mix here fits the romantic comedy mold. Most everything is presented in the front stage, with surrounds only activated during applause scenes and crowd scenes. Dialogue is always clear and the score never overpowers. With this type of movie, that is all that really matters.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Dance With Me
2 Deleted Scenes
Isolated Music Score with remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Nicholas Hynter
Layers Switch: 01h:09m:12s
The meatiest extra is the commentary track with director Nicholas Hynter. Hynter previously directed some decent films (The Madness of King George, The Crucible), none of which are available on DVD. Let me tell you: when they are finally released, don't let the inclusion of a commentary be the deciding factor in your purchase, because hands down, Center Stage has one of the worst commentary tracks I've ever heard. I'm not suggesting anything illicit, but Hynter has so much trouble finishing a sentence in this thing that I question his "mental state," if you get my drift. He doesn't convey more than a handful of stories that are interesting or anecdotal, and speaks so sloooowly that I was itching to fast-forward. He also does that lip-smacking speech thing, which really gets on my nerves. Recommended only for the patient or die-hard fans.
Next up is the featurette. Don't get your hopes up, it runs all of five minutes and consists of shots from the trailer intercut with "I play a character who - " type quotes. The deleted scenes and extended dance sequences will be a treat for fans of the film, because the dancing is invariably the reason people seem to enjoy it. One deleted scene is a character building section that was redundant, the other is a cut dance. The three extended sequences are basically the uncut performances from the ballets in the film. Video quality for these is widescreen, but pretty washed out.
Extras rounding out the disc include an isolated score, filmographies, and trailers. The theatrical trailer is included, as well as a bonus trailer for another dance-centric film, Dance With Me. I saw this preview in the theater, and I am still amazed that they expected it to sell the movie. All it says to me is, "Hi, I'm Vanessa L. Williams. My skull is trying to escape my skin." Finally, there is the music video from the film, I Wanna Be With You, performed by bubbly jail-bait starlet Mandy Moore. The song is decent enough for disposable pop, but gets demerits for using the word "baby," which is just uncalled for.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsDespite the fact that my illustrious editor called the film, "no Fame," I found Center Stage to be an enjoyable experience. The acting wasn't great, but the dancing was amazing and well worth the price of admission. It was refreshing to see a teen film that featured characters striving to improve themselves and create art, not trying to get laid and put their sex organs into pastry.
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