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The month of January is often used as a dumping ground by the studios to release movies they have in the can that they aren't sure about. It's generally known as the in between period between the two major film releasing seasons. The lucrative November-December holiday season and the Summer season which seems to begin a week or two earlier every year.  In January 1999, Paramount Pictures and MTV Productions released their first collaboration in a film by the name of Varsity Blues a film that would go on to make over 50 million domestically. A surprisingly large take for a movie released in January. It was also this film that can be credited with the rebirth of my interest in movies. 2 years later they would once again strike box office gold with Save the Last Dance a film that would go on to earn 85 million dollars at the box office. Now Paramount brings Save the Last Dance to DVD.  

Save the Last Dance
The Movie
Save the Last Dance is the story of 17 year old Sara Johnson. A girl from the Midwest who had her heart set on being a ballerina and attending classes at the prestigious Julliard school of Music.. Through a set of tragic circumstances her life is turned upside down and she now finds herself living with her father. A man who was never really there for her during her youth. He lives on the South Side of Chicago in a predominately black neighbourhood. It is soon made clear that some changes to her lifestyle will be necessary . Her new school has metal detectors and security checks to pass through before entering and instead of being in the majority she is now in the minority. 

In her first class it's clear that most of the students don't take school seriously and are just passing time between other activities. When she enters into a debate with Derek (Sean Patrick Thomas) a young black student she begins to feel more at home. Suddenly the class ends and once again she's left on her own. She goes to her new locker and when she puts down her bag it quickly disappears. The girl at the locker next to her explains that leaving things on the floor leads to theft and that Sara should never leave things on the ground. Before Sara can thank her she is gone. Lunch time quickly finds Sara searching for a table in the cafeteria. Luckily the girl from the locker invites her over to her table. She introduces herself as Chenille (Kerry Washington) and when she notices that Sara is staring at Derek she explains that Derek is her brother. Meanwhile over at another table Derek is being reunited with his old friend Malakai (Fredro Starr) who has been recently released from prison.  Chenille extends a hand out to Sara and invites her to Stepps a local hip-hop club where one of her friends often deejays.   Once inside the club Sara challenges Derek to a dance off and though Derek wins the first time, he finds himself immediately smitten with Sara. From here the story takes a more dramatic turn as Sara and Derek begin to fall for one another.

Save the Last Dance is a different film then I was expecting. Having missed it in the theater, I was eager to see what everyone was raving about.  I was hoping it would be a light hearted entertaining little picture instead what I got was a picture that tackles an issue that affects some of today's youth.  Having lived a fairly sheltered existence and never been forced to move schools, I had problems identifying with the characters. The movie also slips into a predictable string of events that are the common stereotypes of poor youth living in urban areas. The teenage mother whose boyfriend has all but completely disappeared from her life. The troubled youth who has been to jail and is now trying to kick his old ways.

The performances in Save the Last Dance are top notch. I guess the absence of regular teen star Freddie Prinze Jr has something to do with that.   As Sara, Julia Stiles has given yet another excellent performance capturing the emotional highs and lows of having her dreams crushed and then falling in love. With this performance and her recent supporting role in David Mamet's State and Main it is clear that this performer has what it takes to do more serious fare then the typical teen comedy.  Look for bigger and better things from her in the future. Sean Patrick Thomas last seen in Wes Craven's Dracula 2000 and perhaps best known for his role in 1999's Cruel Intentions plays the multisided Derek quite well. The character of Derek is multi-layered as he tries to have a relationship with Sara as well as remain loyal to his friend Malakai. Supporting performances that are worth noting come from Kerry Washington who plays Chenille as more of a person then can be expected as a secondary character in this type of film and Fredro Starr who also contributes to the soundtrack as the criminal Malakai. Casting director Avy Kaufman whose body of work includes The 6th Sense, Blow, State and Main and the upcoming Steven Spielberg film AI has assembled an excellent group of unknown talent to weave this story of an outsider trying to fit into a world so different from her own.

Save the Last Dance is a cut above the usual teen movie and deals with a lot of real world issues. Issues that are facing teens this very minute somewhere. In an age where mindless teen movies such as Saving Silverman and She's All That and Freddy Got Fingered make up the majority of entertainment targeted at youth, Save is a refreshing diversion but is not without flaws.  

Save the Last Dance
The Video
Paramount has been turning out some nice transfers in recent months especially on their day and date product. Continuing this trend Save the Last Dance is presented in an excellent anamorphic transfer in the films original aspect ratio of 1.85:1

Visually, Save the Last Dance is not the most exciting film to look at. It takes place in Inner city Chicago and therefore the atmosphere is not picturesque. Colors are mostly muted to give the film a very drab look visually. Flesh tones are dead on and standout from the rest of the washed out look of the film.  The outside world is presented in sort of a soft focus in attempts to seem more real to the viewer. I think this technique worked well for the film.  

However there are a few minor instances of edge enhancement and speckles of dirt on the film print that don't really distract the viewer as much as they hurt an otherwise excellent transfer. 

Aside from the minor problems this is one of the better transfers I've seen in recent months from Paramount who are getting better all the time. If they continue to put forth a good effort on their transfers we should expect to see some beautiful transfers from them in the future.

The Audio
Save the Last Dance contains a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track.  Having not seen this film theatrically I wasn't sure what to expect from the audio track. I had heard the movie was a drama and therefore I expected a fairly subdued audio mix. For the most part this is what I heard on the disc.  

Being an MTV Production the movie contains a fair bit of music and it comes through really well on the track. A few standout scenes in the audio department take place during the club scenes where the audio opens up and the bass thumps. In fact the bass was so low that I was expecting to be told to turn it down by the other people in the house. I try and review discs that I think will have less bass when others are home and I thought this one would be a safe bet. Well I was wrong.  Dialogue came through crystal clear and was perfectly mixed even during scenes taking place in the noisy club. The score by Marc Isham fills the room nicely during the more dramatic scenes. 

While it's nothing to write home about in terms of creativity in sound mixing, it's an excellent mix free of any real problems. 

Also available are Dolby Digital 2.0 mixes in English and French for those without 5.1 receivers.

Save the Last Dance
The Extras
Paramount has never been one to toss the name special edition around lightly.  While some studios seem to label just about anything a Special Edition or a Collectors Edition, Paramount has remained true to their goal of not labelling their releases as being special when they contain just a handful of extras. With the upcoming release of Forrest Gump on DVD, Paramount is making a couple of firsts. It will be their first double disc set and it will be their first release to be deemed an CE.  While not officially marked as an CE, Paramount has bestowed a fair number of special features on this box office hit.

Kicking off the disc we have the standard issue commentary track this time featuring director Thomas Carter. A random sampling of the track found it to be a mixed bag of interesting factoids and narration of the onscreen action.  Fans of the film will find some interesting information regarding the production but overall the parts I sampled I found were a bit boring for my liking.

Next we have a fairly promotional making of featurette that contains some short interview clips with the primary talent involved. Running about 20 minutes the early portion is a tad light on the information side but the last 10 minutes contain some interesting tidbits not mentioned in the commentary. 

Continuing on we have a collection of 4 deleted scenes which are provided as separate menu items . These scenes were somewhat interesting but ultimately I can see them being cut due to pacing reasons. I felt the movie dragged a little too much in the early on and the inclusion of these scenes would have made it drag that much more. It should also be noted that there is no explanation present (audio or text wise) for why these scenes was cut. 

Cast and Crew interviews are also present on the disc and unlike earlier Paramount efforts where the interviews were fairly promotional in nature. Here the actors give some interesting insight into their characters and motivation. 

Finishing out the disc we have the theatrical trailer and K-Ci and Jojo music video Crazy which are both presented in 1.85:1 widescreen and Dolby Digital 2.0

Paramount has provided a set of extras that will make fans of the film very happy. While not a special edition it contains a healthy number of special features that puts some other so called special editions to shame. 

Save the Last Dance was a box office hit when it was released in January garnering quite a loyal fan base of teens and spawning two top selling soundtrack albums.  For fans of the film, this DVD will not disappoint. For those who haven't seen Save, there's a lot about it to like. However this reviewer found the story to falter in the last 45 minutes and become a little too heavy handed for his liking. Overall it's a cut above the usual teenage fare but don't go in expecting light entertainment. Moderately Recommend.


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