Plot: What’s it about?
The days of the brash, lavish musical have long since passed by, but every so often a few come around that are quite good. “Chicago” was one and took home a Best Picture Oscar a few years back and I simply can’t get enough of “Moulin Rouge” (or maybe it’s just Nicole Kidman). That’s why I was so stunned when I saw that “Hairspray” was being re-made, though it’s not surprising considering that it has a stint on Broadway. If you can get past the fact that John Travolta plays the lead as a 300 pound woman, I might add then you’re in for a real treat because “Hairspray” had me grinning from ear to ear from opening credits to closing. The cast is top notch with Travolta and Christopher Walken, Michelle Pfeiffer, Queen Latifah and James Mardsen rounding out one heck of a cast. I found it ironic (or fitting) that Travolta, a veteran of “Grease” and Pfeiffer, a veteran of “Grease 2” starred together in the movie. Maybe some casting director is chuckling somewhere, who knows. Musicals are hit and miss and it’s fairly tough to make a good one. For every “Singin’ in the Rain” and “The Wizard of Oz” there’s “Rent” and “Newsies”. It’s sad but true, folks.
Musicals are often hard to summarize because, well, they’re all about the songs. “Hairspray” is set against the backdrop of 1962 Baltimore where hair is big and the Corny Collins show is the place to be seen. Racial integration is still a big issue and the Corny Collins show has their “Negro Day” to showcase the black talent though it’s only once a month. Idealistic, young dreamer Tracy (Nikki Blonsky) is enthralled with the show and, through an unlikely series of events, makes it on as a replacement. She’s color blind and finds it outrageous that black and whites can’t dance on the show together. With the help of her friend, Penny (Amanda Bynes) the two concoct a scheme to fight the powers that be. The trouble is that station manager Velma von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer) is happy with the ratings and doesn’t want to lose any of her corporate sponsors. To add fuel to the fire, Link Larkin (Zac Efron), the most popular dancer on the show, has the influence to make things happen but doesn’t want to risk his career as a dancer to help Tracy. Will Tracy succeed or have the door shut in her face while trying to do what’s morally right?
As a resident of the Baltimore area for the last few years, I got a kick out of seeing (and hearing) the sights and sounds of the locale on screen. True, they’re 45 years old and don’t reflect the way the city still looks, but little things like the Domino sugar plant and Patterson Park make for a much more interesting viewing experience. To say that “Hairspray” is tongue in cheek is certainly an understatement, but that’s what makes the movie work it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The message is there and is clear, but the movie never gets too preachy about the issue. The cast is great, Travolta actually makes a decent woman and he and Walken get to have a good dancing scene together. I must also say how nice it is to see Michelle Pfeiffer in films again, it’s been far too long and I hope to see her on screen again soon. “Hairspray” is pretty much hard to dislike, it’s a feel-good movie and audiences evidently agreed as it’s one of 2007’s top performers. Take your shoes, kick your socks off and enjoy the ride.
Video: How does it look?
New Line’s initial entry into the HD DVD/Blu-ray market is with “Hairspray” and I’m pleased to say that they long-standing precedent that they established with their standard DVD titles continues here as the movie is nothing short of spectacular. The 2.40:1 VC-1 HD transfer is so lifelike that you feel like you can reach out and touch the characters on screen. The movie, so glitzy and over the top, is doused in warm and natural hues and colors that really pop. I saw no evidence of any errors in the least and I’d have to say that this is one of the best, if not the best, live-action HD titles that I’ve had the pleasure to watch. The movie is new to the format and being a new movie, we can expect that it would look outstanding on Blu-ray and it does. Quite frankly I can find nothing wrong with the way this looks and I’m pleased to say that New Line has really hit it out of the park with their initial offering.
Audio: How does it sound?
As if the video transfer wasn’t enough, New Line has given us a 7.1 DTS Master audio track that, quite simply, rocks. I would have imagined that the movie would sound good, but for it to sound as rich and robust as it does was sheer euphoria to me. The movie is all about the music and the ambiance almost literally fills the air. The songs sound great and what really makes them pop is the surround and back surround speakers (this is a 7.1 track, remember). The LFE really came into play and it seemed that every speaker I had played a significant part in the songs. Dialogue is very warm and natural and I’m stumped as to what I can find that isn’t great about the way this sounds. Another perfect score for “Hairspray” in this department.
Supplements: What are the extras?
New Line set the bar high nearly ten years ago when they came out with their “Platinum Series” of standard DVD’s and that’s a trend that looks likely to continue with their HD DVD and Blu-ray releases. The movie is available on standard DVD in two different versions, a special edition and the two-disc “Shake and Shimmy” edition. The benefit of having the HD DVD or Blu-ray copy is that we get the “Shake and Shimmy” edition plus a few bonuses exclusive to high definition. That said, the first disc packs some pretty interesting bonus materials led off by not one, but two audio commentaries. The first is with director Adam Shankman and breakout star Nikki Blonsky as they dish on the shoot and some of Blonsky’s more personal stories. The second track is with producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron who offer more of a straight-forward take on the movie. Five deleted scenes are also shown as is an unused musical number entitled “I Can Wait” which was most likely cut due to time constraints. A more interesting feature are “Hairspray Extensions” which give us multiple angles of the song and dance numbers. We see rehearsals all the way to the finished product. Ever think being an actor is hard – take a look at what they have to go through sometimes. Lastly, we have some dance instructions for a few of the film’s songs and the original theatrical trailer.
Disc two has more of the traditional features and the centerpiece is the documentary “You Can’t Stop the Beat.” This is mainly four smaller featurettes that combine to form one very interesting and all-encompassing documentary. We get interviews with the cast and crew, but with the cast being so large and diverse it’s actually a treat to get everyone’s point of view on the movie, the shoot and the pre-production. But wait, there’s still more! We get a featurette entitled “The Buddy Deane Show” which served as the inspiration for John Waters (writer and director of the original “Hairspray”) and even some interviews with the cast of that show. Speak of the devil, we then get an interview in “John Waters on Hairspray” as he dishes on the original movie and we even get a new interview with Ricki Lake (star of the original movie). Lastly “Hairspray on Broadway” shows the path the movie took to get to Broadway and then to become a movie…again. Lastly, this Blu-ray release has an exclusive feature entitled “Behind the Beat” which is a picture-in-picture commentary track that can be watched along with the movie. It’s interesting and informative, but after digesting so much of the readily available supplemental material, some of it does tend to get repetitive. At worst, you can show this to those without HD DVD or Blu-ray. All in all, New Line’s initial offering is perhaps one of the truly “must own” titles of the year and a benchmark as to how to do things right.