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Much of the 70’s lifestyle is today associated with disco. Yet in the early years disco was considered an underground, seedy form of entertainment becoming the focus of a protest group calling their selves “Disco Sucks!”  At the same time a magazine article called “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night” based on the disco subculture, was circulating, surely there was no one mad enough to create a movie based on disco?

Saturday Night Fever (25th Anniversary Edition)
Movie
Tony Manero (John Travolta) is a working class racist, homophobic, punk kid from Brooklyn who’s found himself on the wrong side of the tracks.  He spends much of the day working in a small hardware store selling paint to locals.  Essentially he’s working in a job with nothing to look up to and with little short-term reward.  He has overbearing parents always looking down on him and a brother of the cloth whose persona he can never match.

Tony’s only highlight is his weekends, or more specifically - Saturday nights.  Along with a bunch of similar minded hangers-on, he heads off down to the Odyssey 2001 in the centre of Brooklyn.  It is there he can escape from the harsh realities of life, and become the pivot of attention on the amazing multicoloured dance floor.  As soon as he steps onto the dance floor, his presence is so strongly felt that everyone around him either joins in – following his actions exactly - or move away to give him space to perform.

The escapism that he exhibits whilst dancing is quite possibly what most viewers will remember from watching this movie, all those amazing moves to the music, and the charisma he encompasses; however it is the reality he is trying to escape from that dominates much of the onscreen time.  Saturday Night Fever was specifically written so that we - the viewer - only ever see the story from Tony Manero’s viewpoint, anything that happens away from him is never shown on camera.

It is at the disco where Tony discovers the mysterious Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney) and is determined to partner up and jointly enter a dance competition he has been practicing for.  She is on her way up in her career and considers Tony to be on a lower level to her - somewhere she was a few years prior.  In essence, Tony needs to persuade Stephanie that he can help, rather than hinder her future in order to succeed.

I had previously seen the first half of the film before, I say first half because it is often put on the telly so late at night that by the time I get halfway through I’m totally knackered and give up.  After viewing this special edition DVD I have to say I am now glad I have seen the full thing.  To be honest the first twenty or thirty minutes were a bit off-putting, I was sort of bothered by the atmosphere, however within about thirty minutes I was hooked into the actual story and all the subplots.

Saturday Night Fever (25th Anniversary Edition)
Saturday Night Fever features some very complex characters, the kind you would rarely see in a modern-day Hollywood movie.  For example, Stephanie tells stories of her career and how she is progressing up the rungs on the cultural ladder, yet at times makes the odd idiotic error that may indicate she is not what she says she is.  Tony too is actually quite intelligent but has a persona that he maintains to all but his closest friends and relatives; we start to see this develop as the movie progresses.

The Saturday Night Fever cast is both strong and skilled, John Travolta being particularly intense in his portrayal of Tony; I’m sure much of his character’s qualities came from the suffering he endured from the tragic death of his girlfriend during shooting.  Karen Lynn Gorney was a latecomer to the film, being cast only a week or so before shooting began, nonetheless her portrayal of Stephanie gleams that of an actor that perfected the part from months of practice.

Director John Badham has done an excellent job bringing Norman Wexler’s script to life, I am grateful John G. Avildsen didn’t end up directing the movie as it would have lacked the strong impact that it did.  John Badham had fundamentally redefined the idea of a musical.  Prior to Saturday Night Fever, a movie driven by music would have actors spontaneously bursting out into song every few minutes.  What Saturday Night Fever did was to say that it is alright for a movie to be driven by a strong themed soundtrack yet not be shoved into the traditional musical category.  Many films of this “new” style followed in the years after and I am sure if it were not for Saturday Night Fever many movies would not have been made – never mind become successes.

Video
Ah the 70’s, still discovering the miracle that is colour, only another ten years and everything will start to almost look black and white again.  As well as the intense, vibrant colours common to these sorts of movies, they also suffer from a phenomena common to most movies of this era, that of soft focus.  Unfortunately little can be done about this, well except for edge enhancement but then you’ll have the entire anti-edge enhancement brigade down your back cursing and swearing at the transfer, so, little could realistically be done about that.

This is definitely an excellent transfer, stunning in fact – considering the age.  We get a nice 1.85:1 Anamophic presentation with very little in the way of scratches, blemishes, grain, and compression artefacts – practically nothing to fault this transfer.  A mark of a good transfer is one that you don’t notice, that is, it isn’t covered in scratches but at the same time doesn’t look weirdly artificial.

Saturday Night Fever (25th Anniversary Edition)
Audio
This being the 25th anniversary edition, Paramount wanted to make the disc far better than all the previous releases; as such the new version has been treated to a remixed and re-mastered Dolby 5.1 audio track.  Older region one releases were dogged with very poor tracks full of hissing and distortion.  The resulting track is tremendous; dialogue is crisp and concentrated on the front to centre.  Music is enveloping if somewhat lacking in base.  The rears particularly come to life in the outdoor Brooklyn and Manhattan scenes with aggressive surround effects from the traffic and passing crowds.  Extraordinarily impressive when you consider this release marks the movie’s 25th year.

Extras
Let’s start with the menus.  It’s a region 2 disc so the menus are available in fourteen different languages including English (of course).  They are nice and colourful, incorporating some rather groovy music from the movie.  Lots of subtitles supported too, look to the right to see if your preferred language is covered.

The VH1 Behind the Music programme was a pleasant surprise.  Presumably everyone reading this has seen one of these, but just in case I’ll explain the style.  If you’ve ever been channel surfing and happened to beech yourself on VH1 whilst a Behind the Music is on, failure to commence changing the channel will result in you being stuck watching a series of cliff-hangers.  It’s essentially an entertainment show that focuses in on the problems that had to be overcome whilst doing something that ended up being a success.  With the help of some retrospective interview clips every other second, it manages to have you hooked until the very end.

In the case of this edition, the narrative informs of how difficult the Saturday Night Fever shoot was, with John Travolta’s girlfriend dieing from cancer, the originally intended director trying to soften the tone of Travolta’s character, and how the whole “Disco Sucks!” backlash of the 80’s scared the movie execs.  In fact it turned out that John G. Avildsen’s (director of Rocky) opinions got himself fired two weeks before the shooting began and they all had a mad rush to find a new director.  Those interviewed include: John Travolta, Karen Lynn Gorney, Paul Pape, Roger Ebert and many more.

Saturday Night Fever (25th Anniversary Edition)
There’s a commentary soundtrack from Saturday Night Fever’s director John Badham.  It was surprisingly interesting and definitely not technical, covering much of what was mentioned in the VH1 programme but in more depth.  For example, highlighting Trovolta’s “nonsense” adlibbing that somehow made sense, the way they recorded scenes twice so that the bad language wouldn’t hindered the movie’s chance of appearing on the telly, stories of the local mafia attempting to get money out of them for protection and how the disco was jazzed up for the film.  The main thread from the commentary was that they had very little cash and most of it went into the brightly coloured flashing disco floor and the two - out of place - cars.  All the costumes were store bought or scrounged from somewhere.  I guess it’s worth mentioning that the track is reproduced for the DVD in Dolby Surround and can even be read with subtitles if desired.

As well as the commentary there’s also a few deleted scenes – this surprised me given the age of the film.  There are three in total, each Anamorphic and in the same aspect ratio as the movie.  The visual quality is surprisingly good, but it is easy to tell that less time was spent restoring them.  No commentary or description is provided as to why the clips were deleted from the movie, but it did occur to me that they didn’t have the right sort of feel and was possibly why they were removed – maybe I’m wrong, but we’ll never know.

We don’t normally cover packaging because much of our review material arrives as check discs, however I was lucky enough to get a copy with packaging and it’s very nice indeed.  I know many of you don’t like these digipack designs, but thanks to this method they’ve been able to put a hologram-type effect all over the case, making it feel that little bit extra special.

If I had the power to suggest a feature and have it magically appear on the DVD then I would say that there are two things I missed.  It would have been nice to see those cheesy 70’s trailers for Saturday Night Fever and considering this sort of thing is produced by or for the distributors, they normally aren’t as affected by contractual agreements.  I guess they may have been space limitations.  The other extra I would really like to have seen, or more appropriately heard, is an isolated score.  If there’s ever a movie that would benefit from an isolated soundtrack then this has got to be it!

Saturday Night Fever (25th Anniversary Edition)
Overall
What we have here is a movie that is stuck in its own time bubble.  Quite possibly the majority of the purchases will be from those that saw it in the cinema all those years ago.  This is a shame, as even I was able to appreciate how good this movie actually is, after all, it defined a new genre of movie!  It took me a while to get settled into the whole style, but after about 30 minutes I just couldn’t turn away.  It has got to be one of Travolta’s strongest performances to date and he was backed by such an excellent cast.

Paramount should be proud of this release and I hope those involved were suitably rewarded.  It sounds brilliant and quite possibly looks better than it did at the cinema.  Special features were of a good quality and didn’t feel like they were added to increase the extras count.  For these reasons and more I cannot recommend this disc enough and as such, highly recommend a purchase!


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