Plot: What’s it about?
It is a place where the very best in their field go to perfect their art, but out of dozens of incredible performers, a scant handful will make it in the end. This is The American Ballet Company and while making into the school means everything, the dancers must work harder than they ever imagined to make it here. No matter how good the kids were before they arrived, they must elevate their skills to a whole new level to advance into the world of professional ballet. The school’s director, Jonathan Reeves (Peter Gallagher) is a strict leader and his instructors will push these students harder than they’ve ever been pushed before. Some of the dancers like Cooper (Ethan Stiefel) and Maureen (Susan May Pratt) have it made with their skills, but others like Jody (Amanda Schull) and Eva (Zoe Saldana) will have to go above and beyond their limits to keep up with the others. With time running short before the huge audition, which of these students will rise to their potential, both as dancers and as people?
I managed to catch this movie during its brief theatrical run and while I am usually not that taken with dance movies, Center Stage turned out to be a fresh and fun motion picture. The focus is on the dancers and their training, but there is also a few side stories we explore when the kids leave the floor. I do think there’s too much dancing in this movie, but I suppose it is more realistic this way and I wasn’t bored in the least. I found the interaction scenes to be humorous and entertaining, thanks to some terrific writing and a young, gifted cast. But the character interactions take second place to the dancing and training scenes, which dominate the movie. The dance sequences are very well planned and executed, which means graceful movements and striking visuals. So even if you’re not a dance fan (and I am not), Center Stage never becomes too dull and often flips back & forth between dance and life to keep things moving. A nice blend of dance, comedy, and drama, Center Stage is a good movie that warrants a look from those interested.
This movie takes place in two realms, one in normal life and the other in the dance world. As such, each realm takes on a different tone and the characters do as well (at least most of them anyway). In the dance world, the characters are careful, practiced, and refined, while they remain relaxed and comfortable inside the normal life realm. This conflict between the realms carries over to the filmmaking also, which adds a lot of impact and depth to this movie. The camera seems to move a little lighter and looser in the normal scenes, while it moves along a strict path in the dance oriented sequences. At the helm of Center Stage is Nicholas Hytner, who deliver a terrific movie and conjures up some good atmosphere and tone. Also under Hytner’s belt are such films as The Madness Of King George, The Object Of My Affection, and The Crucible. The cast is a mixture of actors & dance performers and includes Donna Murphy (The Astronaut’s Wife), Eion Bailey (Fight Club, Almost Famous), Zoe Saldana (Getting Over Allison), Amanda Schull, Shakiem Evans, Ethan Stiefel, Peter Gallagher (American Beauty), and Susan May Pratt (Drive Me Crazy).
Video: How does it look?
Center Stage is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. As is typical with Columbia/Tristar, this is a razor sharp transfer that handles all the visual tricks thrown at it. The film uses some rich color schemes, but the hues look excellent here and I found no smears or bleeds in the least. Even the richest hues come off in fine form and flesh tones are warm & natural, no distortion is present at all. No contrast issues either, as black levels look sharp and detail level is always high. I also saw no compression problems, another knock out transfer from Columbia/Tristar.
Audio: How does it sound?
The included Dolby Digital 5.1 track is excellent, though the bulk of the surround is found in the soundtrack. But this is a music driven movie and as such, there is plenty of surround punch to be found from the music. So it might not be as powerful as an action movie, but it will give your system a workout to be sure. The sound effects can heard at times within the rear channels, but for the most part this one is music and dialogue driven. The vocals sound very good here, no real complaints in terms of volume or clarity at all. This disc also includes a French 5.1 track and an English 2.0 option, as well as subtitles in English & French.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This is a special edition release and with good reason, as it is stuffed with goodies. Two alternate audio tracks can be found and both make terrific additions to this disc. The first is an isolated musical track, which is a lot of fun and the second is a director’s commentary track, also worth a listen if you liked the movie. You can also view three extended dance sequences and a pair of deleted scenes, which are fun to browse through. A six minute behind the scenes featurette is also found here, which mixes interviews, clips from the film, and a few shots of behind the scenes footage. Also included are some talent files, a music video by Mandy Moore, and the film’s theatrical trailer.