Saturday Night Fever: 30th Anniversery Edition (US - BD)
You can tell by the way Gabe uses his walk, he's a ladies man, no time to talk
Tony Manero (John Travolta) is just another troubled New York youth with a dead end job every day of the week, but when Saturday rolls around he transforms into a dancing god at the local dance club, 2001 Odyssey. Not known for his polite gumption, Tony quickly dumps his usual dance partner when he sees Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney), and quickly takes to urging the cold and conceited girl to take him on. While practicing for an upcoming competition the duo and their friends undergo massive emotional hardships which will change them permanently.
The dance movie subgenre is fairly maligned in my mind, thanks to the pitiful efforts of popular entries like Flashdance and Step Up, but this overarching approach to genre is critically detrimental. The case of Saturday Night Fever is an important one for me to remember, because it is still a genuinely great film. The plot’s been recycled enough times that few new viewers will likely find themselves unimpressed with the predictability, but outside of maybe Rocky, the film was pretty original for its Italian American underdog tale. It isn’t a powerful character study, and its lasting legacy is mostly due to its defining of an era, but it isn’t a puff piece either.
Saturday Night Fever has the story, the characters, and the dialogue to overcome the flatness of the subgenre’s worst, but it still fulfils all the shallow image requirements. Its subtext is timeless, but the surface level stuff is specifically about the image of the disco era, which is why people my age dismissed the film during out formative years. It’s been long enough that most of us can accept watching these images as lessons in anachronism. These images are so indelible largely because they’re so immaculately crafted. The P.O.V shots also prove real artistic vision on the part of director John Badham, while the hero shots are perfect works of graphic design.
Usually the ‘70s aren’t the best era for the hi-def format. They lacked the digital technology of the current era, and for the most part the classic colour of the bygone era. This is part of their charm. That said, Saturday Night Fever looks pretty spectacular on Blu-ray. The details are incredibly sharp (you can practically count the hairs on Travolta’s chest) without any over-modulation or major edge-enhancement. The club scenes are the stars of the show, revelling in the bright neons that bounce off each other, the floor, the ceiling, and the actors. Outdoor night life is swimming with Taxi Driver like diffusion, but the bold colours still pop against the soft light and dark streets. The ‘weakest’ scenes are the darker indoor scenes, which display the most film grain, but things are still surprisingly detailed and clear. I’m surprised to admit that this is probably worth the upgrade.
Right off the bat this Dolby TrueHD track impresses beyond what should be expected for a movie this old. The elevated trains run from front channel to back channel, and vice versa, and then the entire track blows up with the Bee Gee’s classic ‘Staying Alive’. I don’t care who you are, if you don’t want to get up and strut the second that song breaks out you are an animal as far as I’m concerned. The bulk of the dialogue and incidental sound effects are centred and a bit flat compared to new releases, but there are plenty of stereo and surround elements that have been cleanly inserted into the mix. Most of the remix stuff is easy enough to miss, but in this case it’s a compliment to its cleanliness and subtly. The music is the central element, and thus the most important element on the track. The increase in punchy bass is the biggest plus, but the fully bodied nature of all the soundtrack pieces is impressive through and through.
The 30th Anniversary extras start with a commentary from director John Badham. Badham loses his way a couple times, and allows a lot of blank space to unspool, but is pretty solid overall. The director has great anecdotes about the making of the film, much of it cutting back way behind the scenes. The most interesting aspects of the track are all the alternate scenes that were dropped for problems with little things like costumes or rights issues with the music. This is augmented by a trivia track entitled ‘’70s Discopedia’, which is informative enough, but takes up a little more of the screen than it really needs to.
Under the ‘Catching the Fever’ menu are five featurettes with a ‘play all’ option (60:00). Things start with ‘A 30-Year Legacy’, a general retrospective look at the film’s lasting impact, including its effects on Travolta’s career, and the more controversial elements of the script (language, racism, etc). Pretty much every major player, minus Travolta, is interviewed, and though there isn’t any behind the scenes footage, the interviews are cut well against footage and photos, making for a decent documentary narrative. ‘Making Soundtrack History’ covers the inception and effect of the massively popular soundtrack album, including information about the writing and recording process straight from the mouths of the living Bee Gees. ‘Platforms and Polyester’ covers the film’s costumes, which were born of the era, but ended up having an effect on it as well. ‘Deejays and Discos’ covers the phenomenon of disco dancing and Studio 54, which does go a bit beyond the scope of the film. ‘Spotlight on John Travolta’ is a kind of unneeded and brief ego felation.
Separated from the other featurettes (for some reason) is ‘Back to the Bay Bridge’ (09:00), a look at the locations of the film, then and now, and ‘Dance Like Travolta’ (10:00). The staged nature of ‘Bay Bridge’ is pretty silly, but it is interesting to see the comparison, and it is pretty funny to see a brief interview with Troma Films front man Lloyd Kaufman, who was a location manager for the film before breaking out with ‘classics’ like The Toxic Avenger. ‘Dance Like Travolta’ is, unsurprisingly, a brief dance lesson. I admit I didn’t really try.
The extras are wrapped up with ‘Fever Challenge’ (04:00), a sort of valiant attempt at creating a Dance Dance Revolution-like dance lesson on the screen using coloured squares, and three deleted scenes (03:30).
I’ve got two possible double features for you with this one. The first is Saturday Night Fever with Taxi Driver. Both films take place in New York around the same time, and look at the place and time through different eyes, though all four eyes end up seeing a similarly complicated and violent melting pot. The second option is Saturday Night Fever with Billy Elliot, for more obvious reasons, like young men dancing. And because I just think more people should see Billy Elliot. This Blu-ray disc looks and sounds much better than expected, and the extra features are a breezy and relatively informative viewing.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 5th May 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Mono Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish
Extras: Director Commentary, Catching the Fever, Back to Bay Ridge, Dance Like Travolta, Fever Challenge, '70s Discopedia, Deleted Scenes
Easter Egg: No
Director: John Badham
Cast: John Travolta, Karen Lynn Gorney, Barry Miller, Joseph Cali, Paul Pape
Genre: Drama and Musical
Length: 118 minutes
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