Miramax Pictures presents
Chicago: The Razzle-Dazzle Edition (2002)
"This trial...the whole world...it's all...show business."- Billy Flynn (Richard Gere)
Stars: Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere
Other Stars: Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly, Lucy Liu, Christine Baranski, Taye Diggs, Colm Feore
Director: Rob Marshall
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content and dialogue, violence, and thematic elements
Run Time: 01h:53m:18s
Release Date: 2005-12-20
DVD ReviewWe knew it was coming. Ever since Miramax released the first DVD version of Chicago in 2003 with just a couple of paltry extras, fans knew it would only be a matter of time before the studio produced the lavish two-disc special edition this Best Picture winner deserved. Well, it took awhile, but that time has finally arrived, and though I usually abhor such calculated marketing schemes, somehow, in this instance, it seems fitting. Like Billy Flynn, Mama Morton, and almost every other character in Chicago, Miramax proves it, too, is on the take, out to filch as many bucks as it can from innocent, starry-eyed consumers who adore this film. Can't you just hear the DVD producer slyly crooning, "All I care about is love..."?
But enough sour grapes. DVD marketing is what it is, and Miramax finally gave me and thousands of kindred spirits what we've long coveted, so I'm happy. Make that thrilled. As a musical junkie, I crave the heady adrenaline rush Chicago supplies; that "jolt of pleasure," as Norman Maine so aptly describes it in A Star Is Born. Few films can raise the hairs on the back of your neck, inspire applause, or send you sailing home on air, but Chicago can and does. Not once, not twice, but every single time one sees this dazzling musical. I don't need cigarettes, cocaine, or chocolate. My drug of choice is Chicago.
Just about perfect is the only way to describe this dark, cynical tale of murder, corruption, and the shallow culture of celebrity. Director Rob Marshall's brilliant concept of taking the original Broadway show's vaudeville numbers and filming them as the fantasies of desperate showbiz wannabe Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger) makes this once impossible-to-film musical an instant classic of modern cinema. It also reinvents and reenergizes the musical genre by giving jaded audiences a plausible entrée into the songs and dances. Screenwriter Bill Condon deserves equal credit for opening up the show, enhancing its already potent plot, and supplying seamless transitions in and out of the numbers. As a result, the score not only fuels the narrative, but also shapes and molds characters and hammers home various themes —all while providing knock-your-socks-off entertainment.
And because those themes —celebrity worship, the media's fickle nature, and ruthless opportunism —are timeless, we can relate to Chicago on many levels, and view it as a contemporary piece despite its 1920s period setting. Roxie is a brainless ditz who, in a moment of rage, bumps off her sleazy lover (Dominic West) and goes to prison. But her tenacious, all-consuming ambition allows her to quickly embrace the corrupt system that surrounds her, and almost overnight become a savvy manipulator who proudly brandishes her notoriety and —like her slick lawyer, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) —controls those around her like a master puppeteer. Roxie meets her match, however, in fellow murderess Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who won't relinquish her title of Queen Bee of Cook County Jail and darling of the Windy City tabloids without a tooth-and-nail fight.
Many have criticized Marshall for using quick cuts and interpolating bits of drama into the musical numbers. The bold style, they say, chops up the songs, destroys the integrity of the performances, and transforms a pedigreed Broadway hit into an MTV musical. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. Marshall masterfully ramps up excitement by editing within the parameters of each song's rhythm and mood. Sure, he may cater a bit to our ADD society, but he keeps the film moving, the pulse pounding, and never cheats a single number. From the bandleader's kickoff of "five, six, seven, eight" (which segues into the mesmerizing opening routine, And All That Jazz), Chicago sprints out of the gate, and the pacing never lags for a moment. Even slow ballads like Funny Honey and Mister Cellophane (exquisitely performed by John C. Reilly as Roxie's naïve, doltish husband) are vital and visually interesting. Marshall's love for Chicago drips from the film's every frame, and it's impossible not to feel and be moved by it.
Chicago's incisive story supplies necessary substance, but without the dynamite John Kander-Fred Ebb score, the film would lack the panache that defines it. Each song possesses both a catchy melody and clever lyric, but Cell Block Tango is a tour de force, as five sexy convicts (Velma included) explain why they bumped off their respective mates. Bold and brassy, it grabs us by the throat and rivets our attention, reminding us of the sheer visceral power of a great musical number. Roxie, performed on a reflective floor and against a wall of mirrors, oozes old-time movie glamour, while the flashy Charleston of Hot Honey Rag (with machine guns as props, no less!) makes for an explosive, unforgettable finale.
Zellweger had no formal dance or vocal training before she joined the Chicago cast, but her fierce dedication to the part and fearless execution of the demanding routines erase any indication she's a novice. Like a luxurious sable coat, she wraps Roxie around her, embracing all the character's faults and strengths, and displaying them in number after number. We love her, we hate her, we admire her, we pity her, yet through it all we root for Roxie...and for Zellweger. The picture's success hinges on her portrayal, and she never disappoints.
If Zellweger is a surprise, though, Zeta-Jones is a revelation. No one can eclipse Chita Rivera (who originated Velma on stage and enjoys a wonderful cameo in the film), but Zeta-Jones comes close, attacking her role with an energy and ferocity that's a joy to behold. Like a panther, she deliciously slinks through And All That Jazz, flashing her big black eyes, exuding sexual attitude, and belting out the song with unbridled intensity. Who knew she possessed such a strong, full voice, or could so precisely realize Marshall's complex choreography? Zeta-Jones is a mesmerizing presence in Chicago —like a leadoff hitter, she sets the tone, and the rest of the lineup beautifully backs her up.
That includes Gere, who seems to relish his singing and dancing chores while bringing immeasurable flash and charm to ringmaster Flynn; Queen Latifah, who adds plenty of spice and sass as prison matron Mama Morton (and nails the hot vaudeville number, When You're Good to Mama); the amazingly versatile Reilly (again, who knew?); the always adorable Christine Baranski as newspaper sob sister Mary Sunshine; and Lucy Liu as high society murderess Kitty Baxter.
I could go on, of course (yes, I really could), but you get the point. In every respect, Chicago is a special motion picture, an exhilarating tonic that lifts the film musical to a new artistic level, and proves there's still an enormous amount of life left in the genre.
Thank you, Rob Marshall.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: This is the same transfer used in the previous Chicago DVD, but it's a good one, so no upgrade was necessary. Clarity is excellent, but slight grain gives the image a lush cinematic feel, as well as a period look. Marshall manipulates color like a master, washing out the "reality" scenes with a grayish tint to emphasize the story's grit and moral grime, then allowing the fantasy musical sequences to explode with vibrant hues. Reds are bright and beautifully saturated, whether it's the backdrop of the Cell Block Tango number or the blazing neon "Roxie" sign, while blacks remain powerfully dense and rich. Contrast and shadow detail also shine, and no grit or scratches mar the print.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
|DS 2.0||French, Spanish||yes|
Audio Transfer Review: Both DD 5.1 and DTS tracks are included, and both provide dynamic, enveloping surround sound. As per usual, though, the DTS track wins my vote, with its enhanced detail levels and crisper, more realistic accents. The songs burst forth with terrific fidelity, and subtleties such as the dripping faucet, footsteps, and drumming fingernails in the Cell Block Tango number dance across the speakers with marvelous precision. Bass frequencies are bold and strong, adding a kind of rhythmic emphasis to both dramatic and musical scenes, and the dialogue is always crystal clear. So go ahead and crank this jazz baby up…you won't be sorry.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Spanish with remote access
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Brothers Grimm
1 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Rob Marshall and screenwriter Bill Condon
Packaging: Amaray with slipcase
- Extended musical numbers
- Rehearsal footage
The other holdover from the previous disc is the bitingly cynical deleted song, Class, performed by Zeta-Jones and Latifah, in which they bemoan the decline of decorum in contemporary society. Marshall and Condon provide an optional commentary in which they justify the number's excision, but admit the decision was "painful." They discuss how Class was "dishonest to our concept," as it doesn't come from Roxie's imagination, and note test audiences indicated the number slowed the film down. This version of the song, however, resuscitates its original lyrics, which Fred Ebb was forced to revise in 1975 after they were deemed too raunchy…even for Broadway.
New to this release, From Stage to Screen: The History of Chicago examines the evolution of both the original Broadway musical and its film adaptation. Cast members Jerry Orbach (who played Billy Flynn on stage) and Chita Rivera, along with composers Kander and Ebb, producer Martin Richards, Bob Fosse biographer Martin Gottfried, and Fosse protégé Ann Reinking elaborate on the musical's vaudeville connection, the supreme talent of Fosse and Gwen Verdon (the original Roxie), and the "very mixed reviews" the production received. Screenwriter Bill Condon opines that, for Fosse, Chicago was "a poison dart aimed at the heart of show business," while the movie is "more like a love letter." We also learn about Chicago's long and arduous journey to the screen, the concept that sealed the deal, and how Orbach and Rivera feel about the finished film. The 27-minute documentary runs a little long, but contains some marvelous anecdotes and insights, as well as a rare clip of Orbach performing a dazzling rendition of Razzle Dazzle.
Disc 2 kicks off with a slew of extended musical sequences presented in an innovative and fascinating fashion. To begin with, the numbers—which include And All That Jazz, When You're Good to Mama, Cell Block Tango, We Both Reached for the Gun, Mister Cellophane, and All I Care About—run without any narrative cutaways, allowing us to view the performances in their entirety, and better appreciate the effort that went into them. As an added bonus, the screen often splits or divides into thirds, offering multiple synchronized camera angles, corresponding rehearsal footage, or commentary by creative personnel, so we can examine the numbers from various perspectives. Three songs—All I Care About, Nowadays, and And All That Jazz—also receive "start-to-finish" treatment, which focuses on pre-recording sessions intermingled with dance rehearsals and interviews. Rounding out this section is extended rehearsal footage from I Can't Do It Alone, Hot Honey Rag, We Both Reached for the Gun, and Cell Block Tango.
A series of featurettes follow, beginning with Chita Rivera's Encore, which runs five minutes and chronicles the Broadway diva's brief cameo in the film through on-set clips and lively reminiscences, while An Intimate Look at Director Rob Marshall employs the same format to celebrate the man responsible for putting the movie musical back in the public spotlight. We learn about Marshall's previous projects (both theatrical and cinematic), how he makes his cast feel safe, and the collaborative spirit he brings to the set. "I'm not the smartest one in the room," Marshall modestly opines. "I'm the one who listens to the smartest one in the room." At times, the 20-minute piece overflows with gushy praise, but Marshall seems to deserves every bit of it.
Producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron tell us about When Liza Minnelli Became Roxie Hart for one magical month during Chicago's original Broadway run. Not long after the show's 1975 premiere, lead actress Gwen Verdon became seriously ill and was forced to take a leave of absence—an unfortunate twist of fate that threatened to close the then-struggling production. Minnelli, fresh from her success in the film version of Kander & Ebb's Cabaret (directed by Fosse), got wind of the troubling situation and offered to fill in for Verdon. With only five days rehearsal and the stipulation of no publicity, Minnelli stepped into Verdon's shoes and literally saved the show. It's a terrific showbiz tale, and climaxes with a rare clip of Minnelli singing Nowadays on Dinah Shore's daytime talk show.
Two more featurettes, running six and seven minutes respectively, profile a couple of the film's technical talents. Academy Award-Winning Production Designer John Myhre introduces us to the man who gave Chicago its distinctive period flavor, while Academy Award-Winning Costume Designer Colleen Atwood (don't you just love these catchy titles?) focuses on the sexy garb that's responsible for much of the film's razzle-dazzle. Marshall calls Atwood "an extraordinary visionary" who "understood the freedom and sexuality of that era," and a beautiful closing montage of the Chicago costumes supports his comments, while giving us an opportunity to savor Atwood's artistry.
VH1 Behind the Movie: Chicago adds a few fresh tidbits to the film's oft-told production history, but remains pretty much a standard making-of documentary. Zellweger expresses her initial reluctance to portray Roxie, Marshall talks about succumbing to exhaustion after months of 18-hour work days, and Zeta-Jones recalls the physically punishing dance routines that left her battered and bruised. Some rare early clips of Zeta-Jones and Gere performing in musicals prove the two possessed the talent to tackle their roles, and all involved beautifully articulate their reverence for both the film and the experience of making it. Lots of behind-the-scenes footage (almost all of which appears elsewhere on the disc) augments this 35-minute backstage pass.
Finally, a lavishly illustrated booklet provides a text-based telling of the history of Chicago, including a brief profile of Maurine Dallas Watkins (who penned the original play upon which the musical is based) and a photo gallery linking the movie actors with their Broadway counterparts. Testimonials to Bob Fosse and Rob Marshall, an awards listing, and review clips also grace this attractive and informative insert.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsAmid the old razzle-dazzle, Miramax at last gives us some new, with a double-disc special edition that finally befits this beloved Oscar winner. A comprehensive set of supplements will keep fans of this searing, exhilarating musical occupied for hours, but it's Chicago itself that continues to seduce and astound us no matter how many times we experience its kinetic energy, classic tunes, and breathtaking style. Highly recommended.
David Krauss 2006-01-25