Cast: John Travolta, Karen Lynn Gorney, Barry Miller, Joseph Cali, Paul Pape, Donna Pescow
Director: John Badham
Release Date: May 10, 2009, 4:38 pm
Rating: R for Strong language, sexuality/nudity, drug use.
Run Time: 01h:58m:53s
"Look, tonight is the future, and I am planning for it. There's this shirt I gotta buy, a beautiful shirt." - Tony Manero (John Travolta)
Movie Grade: A+
DVD Grade: A-
ìFuck the future,î exclaims Tony Manero (John Travolta) at the beginning of Saturday Night Fever. And why not? The hot-tempered Brooklyn youth doesnít have much use for the long-term. Not when thereís another night to boogie away deep within the hazy confines of the hottest nightclub in Brooklyn, Club 2001. Tonyís more concerned with how heís going to pay for that polyester shirt in the store window than mapping out the rest of his life.
And itís not hard to see why: His arrival at club 2001 is kingly: Women throw themselves at him, his friends canít do anything without him leading the charge and everyone wants to see him dance. And when Tony steps onto the dance floor, we can see why. Heís damn good. When his friends talk about fueling themselves with uppers, downers and everything in between, Tony asks, ìCanít you just get off on dancing?î
But outside the once-a-week ritual of clubbing, things arenít so hot. His family life is tense, between an out of work father who takes his frustrations out on the rest of the family, and a mother that goes to church to pray for her older son (a priest) to call her. Tonyís weekly job at the paint store puts money in his pocket while keeping him running in place. His friends have no discernable aspirations other than to own cars more expensive than theyíll ever be able to afford.
His disposition slowly starts to change when he meets Stephanie Mongano (Karen Lynn Gorney). A fellow Brooklynite with one foot planted in a flashy Manhattan PR career. She reluctantly agrees to be Tonyís dance partner for an upcoming competition, while challenging him to arrange a more prosperous future. A lesser film would create an infallible character in Stephanie, but sheís just as flawed as everyone else in Tonyís life. Desperate to escape the drudgery of a Brooklyn existence (as presented by the film), her diatribes are often condescending, as if she befriends Tony to feel better about her own insecurities. We never fully learn whether or not Stephanie believes her lifestyle is truly beneficial, but itís moot. Tonyís partnership with her gets him thinking about a life beyond his familiar confines.
Iíd be remiss if I didnít address the dancing. Despite the fact that the music and clothing are obviously extremely dated, Travoltaís moves are pretty cool. Thereís a magnetism to the actor both on and off the dance floor, but thereís a very good reason why heís remained an icon of the movie musical for the past thirty years. Quentin Tarantino understood this full well when he utilized the actor in Pulp Fiction. When Travolta dances, no matter the moves, itís just damn cool.
John Travolta was never better. The role of Tony Manero earned him one of two Best Actor nominations (the other was for strung-out hitman, Vincent Vega in Tarantinoís film) in his career. Travolta captures all the characterís angst with ease while director Badham documents his impressive dynamic range by allowing the camera to linger on his face for extended periods of time. You can feel Tony seething with disgust for life and those around him during that climactic car ride, even before speaking a word.
Credit director John Badham and cinematographer Ralf D. Bode for crafting two very different looking films: Brooklyn reality is gritty and the visual palette reflects this in its documentary-like aesthetic. Meanwhile, the foggy interiors of Club 2001 are to convey the artificial and fantastical reality that Tony and his friends inhabit.
Itís a shame they donít make coming of age films of this caliber anymore. It may be easy to dismiss it as a relic from a bygone era, but thatíd be a mistake. Even if the styles seem a bit nonsensical by todayís standards, the filmís coarse center and memorable performances keep the story as relevant as ever.
Frankly, I was getting sick of purchasing Saturday Night Fever over and over again. Thankfully, Paramount's Blu-ray looks as though it could be the final word on this title. Presented in 1.85:1, this proper aspect ratio presentation is absolutely stellar. The Brooklyn exteriors are incredibly crisp and detailed. Street signs, billboards and storefronts help breathe life into this transfer. Blacks are deep and satisfying while retaining the detail of other colors within them. The disco scenes are a little softer, but that's in line with the way in which the film was shot. This film hasn't looked this good since it played in theaters (not that I was there).
Almost a home run. The music has never sounded better and this 5.1 True HD track will really get your toe tapping as you watch the film. The music is incredibly vibrant and textured, offering a satisfying dynamic range. The rear-channel speakers don't get much of a workout beyond the music, but as this was originally a two-channel mix, it's forgivable. The downside to the Blu-ray's audio mix is that dialogue often sounds a bit flat, or 'tinny'. It's always clear, but I found myself disappointed by the lack of 'heft'. That's not to infer any of the dialogue is inaudible or muddled. It's not. I just found myself wishing Paramount had been able to provide it with a bit more weight. As it stands, it's the only blemish on an otherwise outstanding release.
Paramount continues their bizarre trend of scrapping some supplementary material found on previous releases. In this case it was the excellent VH-1 documentary that was found on the original DVD release. It was a feature-length production including the participation of John Travolta. The fact that it's left off this release is a bummer as Travolta did not participate in any of the new stuff.
First up is director John Badham's audio commentary, also carried over from the original release. The new documentary is called Catching The Fever and clocks in around the 75 minute mark. It's presented in HD and is broken down into a series of featurettes. This material is fun to watch, and features the participation of everyone except Travolta, which sort of diminishes the impact.
Lastly, we get an interactive trivia featurette and a collection of deleted scenes with optional director commentary. These are not the infamous 'PG Cut' scenes and the inclusion of those would've been a nifty bonus to fans. I would've enjoyed seeing the theatrical trailer included here as a capper, but that seems to be an increasingly rare inclusion among modern releases, unfortunately.
Matt Serafini May 10, 2009, 4:38 pm