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Anchor Bay Entertainment presents
The Jazz Singer: 25th Anniversary (1980)

"Hello, again, hello. Just called to say hello."
- Yussel Rabinowitz (Neil Diamond)

Review By: Chuck Aliaga   
Published: October 17, 2005

Stars: Neil Diamond, Lawrence Olivier
Other Stars: Lucie Arnaz, Catlin Adams, Franklyn Ajaye
Director: Richard Fleischer

MPAA Rating: PG for (adult situations)
Run Time: 01h:55m:49s
Release Date: October 18, 2005
UPC: 013131377392
Genre: musical

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
D C-C-B- C

DVD Review

Wow, Neil Diamond, huh? If such a name is mentioned today among my circle of friends, it is instantly greeted with snickers and jeers. However, I have a theory that behind those general reactions is an appreciation and affection that has existed since their childhood. See, these initial reactions aren't the same as these same friends have for bad country, gospel, or rap music. No, it's easy for them to ridicule those musical genres automatically. But I believe these same people are just banging on the doors, wanting to get out of the Neil Diamond closet.

I grew up watching The Jazz Singer. Not only was it constantly on cable TV during the '80s, but my mom loved it so much that the soundtrack was drilled into my head on a regular basis. Today, when I hear songs like America and Love on the Rocks I can't help but enjoy them, even though I realize that they just aren't very good.

Regardless of my childhood affection for the movie, it still pretty much stinks. Roger Ebert gave it one of the worst print reviews he's ever delivered upon its theatrical release, and his words still ring true today. The critic pretty much nailed everything that's wrong here, citing the film as the vainest of vanity projects, and pointing out how such a rags-to-riches rise to success is nearly impossible for someone Diamond's age. While I agree with almost everything Ebert says, I still can't help but get chills every time the main drum beat kicks in for America.

The Jazz Singer is a remake of the 1927 Al Jolson film of the same name, this time telling the story of Yussel Rabinowitz (Diamond), who takes care of his devoutly Jewish father (Laurence Olivier) in New York City. Yussel is a successful cantor, and when someone in the music industry sees him perform, he is offered a recording deal. This deal requires that Yussel moves to Los Angeles, leaving him torn between possible superstardom and his father, who doesn't want him to leave.

It isn't much of a surprise that Yussel does, indeed, move to LA (if he didn't there wouldn't be much of a movie), where he meets his manager (Lucie Arnaz) and there's instant sexual tension between the two. He has a loyal, mousy girlfriend back in New York, and deciding between her and a possible new love makes the transition to LA even more difficult.

This is all about Neil Diamond's music, though, and the concert scenes are really the only reason to watch The Jazz Singer. His songs are well-written and catchy enough, and there has always been something about Diamond's distinct voice that has made at least that aspect of the tunes appealing. The acting, however, is atrocious, with Diamond's line delivery being cringe-inducing, and Arnaz just simply ineffective in her clichéd role. Even the great Olivier is a disappointment, but watching a legend stumble through this poorly written screenplay becomes just sad after a few scenes.

There are enough die-hard Neil Diamond fans out there that are going to love having their beloved film on a special edition DVD. These fans simply don't care about the quality of the film, as it's all about the music. Plus, with this new DVD, I already know of something to buy my mom for Christmas.

Rating for Style: D
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This new 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is a slight improvement over previous home video versions, but it's still painfully obvious that this is from 1980. As soon as the film begins, we are pelted with a massive amount of grain, and specks of dirt show up on a consistent basis. The overall look of the film is washed-out, and there's a shimmer effect that renders the images soft. I guess there's an upgrade as far as image detail goes during the concert sequences, but overall, the film can be difficult to look at.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: There are brand spanking' new Dolby Digital EX and DTS tracks for The Jazz Singer, and both mixes do improve the sound of the musical numbers. There really isn't a noticeable difference between the two, as both make for fuller musical experiences, thanks to wider dynamic range and an actual bass presence. The lyrics sound great, as well, blending in nicely with the music, remaining crisp and easy to understand at all times.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Producer Jerry Leider
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Poster & Still Gallery
Extras Review: A few decent extras accompany the film, beginning with an audio commentary track with producer Jerry Leider. This is a pretty basic track, with Leider basically covering the making of The Jazz Singer, and how integral Neil Diamond was to the project.

There's also the original theatrical trailer for the film, as well as a TV spot, while a poster and still gallery and text-based talent bios are thrown in for good measure.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

If you can get past bad acting, a boring, overly long story, and Neil Diamond's hair, not to mention the "down-and-out" scenes where he resembles Hank Williams Jr., then The Jazz Singer is for you. Now, you can revel in all of the '80s schtick and horrid fashions, with a new anamorphic widescreen transfer and new Dolby Digital and DTS audio mixes, along with a few decent extras as well.


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