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Continuing the trend of catalogue releases of pseudo-musical movies, Footloose follows a fine tradition of Saturday Night Fever, Grease, erm, Stayin’ Alive and, ahem, Flashdance onto the small screen DVD scene. Oh dear...

Ren McCormick (Kevin Bacon) is an outsider. Cast adrift from the hip Chicago scene after the sudden departure of his father from the family unit, high school student Ren is taken to the stultifying Midwestern town of Bomont by his mother who is keen to make a new life in a place of such rigid morality. An enforced visit to a Sunday service rapidly confirms that the townsfolk rely almost exclusively on the spiritual guidance of Rev. Shaw Moore (John Lithgow). With little rational thought of their own, the Bomont inhabitants are shepherded by the moral zealoutry of Rev. Moore who has banned dancing and modern music due to their supposedly inherent corruptive influences on the young.

In such company, Ren sticks out like a sore thumb and fails to endear himself to the older generation with his rebellious nature. While a hit at high school with the girls and new best friend Willard (Chris Penn), he soon falls foul of local lout Chuck whose on/off girlfriend Ariel (Lori Singer), the wild daughter of Rev. Moore, has decided to take a decidedly amorous interest in him. After a run-in with the local traffic police and victory over Chuck in a chicken contest involving lumbering farm machinery (yes, you read that right), Ren becomes blamed for leading the town’s youth astray.

With pressure from the narrow minded population increasing to include his mother being fired and an attack on his uncle’s home, Ren elects to tackle the community’s cloying conformity head on by enlisting adolescent support and approaching the town council, proposing to hold a graduation dance in a determined bid to prove that dancing will not cause young souls to be debased. Facing a hostile council led by the seemingly intractable pious authority of Rev. Moore and another battle with Chuck backed by his goon friends, Ren steels himself for a fierce battle of wills...

Footloose is a simple tale and, as such, makes no bones about being just that. A seemingly odd choice for talented director Herbert Ross, perhaps still best known for directing the Woody Allen vehicle Play It Again Sam, it’s an inoffensive little teen movie inescapably inspired by but unfortunately nowhere near as interesting as antecedents The Wild One or Rebel Without A Cause. Indeed, references to the latter are legion with the automotive duel and Ren’s adherence to wearing a white T-shirt perhaps the most eye-catching examples.

Although no definite date can made as the setting for the movie, it’s hard to imagine this it being made in anything other than a Reagan-like ‘moral majority’ era. Effortlessly recalling 1950’s suburbia in its’ sense of family values, close community and exclusively white inhabitants, Bomont is the culturally conformist town from hell. Although the burning of putrescent books at the local library hints at a darker undertone (you keep expecting one of the characters to remark “Where one burns books, one ultimately burns people"), this avenue is never explored. Instead, Ross prefers to fashion a frothy teen fable with elements of the musical and melodrama without ever comfortably reconciling these two to the plot at hand. With an incongruous choreographed dance sequence as the big finale, something that Dirty Dancing would appropriate wholesale three years later, it’s clear what Ross is striving for but it’s doubtful that this is actually what he achieves.

Kevin Bacon makes a decent stab at the central role and although he’s not called on to be iconic as was James Dean in similar circumstances, he is engaging as Ren with much of the film dependent on his easy going charm. As his elder nemesis, and surrogate father figure, John Lithgow steals the show for all the right reasons. Effortlessly side-stepping caricature in his portrayal of the grieving Rev. Moore, Lithgow avoids the over-acting which has sadly plagued his later roles (reaching its nadir in Third Rock From The Sun) to make a deeply flawed preacher not to be demonised but a man with which you can empathise.

Dianne Wiest makes the most of a wafer thin role as the preacher’s wife, despite looking frankly embarrassed at points, and it’s a tribute to the dramatic draw of director Herbert Ross that two performers of such prowess agreed to appear in such a load of good-natured old nonsense. There are notable early nods too from Chris Penn who’s amiably goofy as Willard, a short-fused sidekick with two left feet, and Sarah Jessica Parker as a high school harpy. In fact, the only misstep comes from Lori Singer who can’t quite make Ariel’s transition from the destructive to the dutiful come off.

To say the image, anamorphically enhanced at a ratio of 1.78:1, is patchy would be an enormous understatement. Key scenes are rendered very nicely indeed with strong colours, deep blacks and bold shadow detail. However, other scenes (taking the town council, school cafeteria and the Ren/Rev. Moore tête a tête as particular examples) demonstrate heavy grain, dust marks, scratches and even some print damage that severely detract from the viewing experience. Curiously, this is not even consistent within the scenes mentioned above; just watch the shot/reverse shot intercutting between Ren and Willard in the cafeteria and you could swear that two different prints have been used. Not unwatchable by any means but puzzling and distracting nonetheless.

Thankfully, the audio fares a little better. Credited as Dolby Digital 5.1, it’s difficult to make out much at all from the rear channels bar a few muted crowd cheers in the final dance sequence and this English track is little different from the additional language streams encoded in Dolby Surround. That said, channel separation from the front three speakers is very good indeed, particularly in the tractor duelling contest where you can really tell that the farm machines are crawling toward each other from different sides of the screen. Dialogue too is nice and clear from the centre, high enough in the mix not to be drowned out by the heavy boogie bass of those 1980’s pop tracks.

Absolutely nothing. While Footloose undoubtedly would never top a DVD sales chart, there is a relatively strong (not to mention vocal, believe me!) fan base for this movie and others of its ilk like Flashdance or, more obviously, Dirty Dancing and it’s disappointing that not even a trailer is included as the bare minimum. Considering that actors of the calibre and standing of Kevin Bacon, John Lithgow and Dianne Wiest (a two-time Oscar winner let’s not forget) were vital to the success of this movie in theatres and enduring cult status on video, it's a crying shame that none was approached to contribute to this DVD. A disc for which the term ‘bare bones’ was invented.

Fans of cheese-laden 1980’s music movies (you know, the people who would put Grease at the head of their DVD collection) can’t go wrong with Footloose. This conceded, it’s a desperately average disc from a studio such as Paramount with a frequently ropey image and, despite the welcome addition of a remixed 5.1 track, less than stellar sonics, Add the fact that almost every other studio will offer more on their discs for a price much less than the one at which you’ll be able to find this DVD and it becomes clear that this release is one for 1980’s nostalgia fans or Kevin Bacon completists only.