Plot: What’s it about?
The New York City High School for the Performing Arts has produced countless world renowned talents. Some of the finest actors, singers, dancers, and musicians have been trained within the school’s walls. But even the most gifted performers are put through a trial of sheer will and endurance, as the school’s methods are quite extreme. The classes are taught by the best in their fields, which means the lessons provide immense learning experiences, but the students have work hard just to keep pace. The best of the best manage to make it through the classes, then onto fame and fortune in the entertainment world. But for every student that breaks into the business, numerous others never even complete the courses. Or worse yet, find themselves unable to find work after the school’s lessons, meaning their talent simply wasn’t sufficient. A new batch of potential students are about to undergo their auditions, as Coco (Irene Cara), Raul (Barry Miller), Doris (Maureen Teefy), Montgomery (Paul McCrane), and many others try to gain entrance. The audition process is intense, with only the cream of the crop allowed inside the school, but even then, those accepted have a lot of hardship in front of them. Do any of the new students have the talent, drive, and ambition needed to find that immortal fame?
I am by no means the target audience of a movie like Fame, as I have little interest in how a bunch of kids struggle to become stars. I never liked Star Search, never cared for American Idol, and believe it or not, those type of shows exist because of Fame. The whole inspirational theme of Fame is noble and for those interested, it offers a solid look into a number of lives, each with the same goal, but different fates. I also like the theme of getting fame, no matter what the cost, but in truth, I found Fame to be a flaccid take on that theme. I prefer a film like The King of Comedy, which has the same theme, but explores it with style and effective emotion. Yes, stories like the ones shown in Fame happen all the time, but the film simply failed to reel in this viewer. I suppose I just didn’t feel the passion and drive in these actors’ performances, whereas in The King of Comedy, the sheer desperation of Robert De Niro’s effort is stunning, without question. Fame has some good music however, even winning two Oscars for its tunes, and for fans of performance arts, some of the dance numbers should more than entertain. Warner’s disc is quite good also, which means if you’re a fan of Fame, you shouldn’t hesitate to purchase this disc.
The problem with Fame isn’t in any one specific area, its just that the parts never come together to form much of a whole. I didn’t find the performances to be bad, I just didn’t care about the characters and by turn, I wasn’t impressed by the cast’s work. Perhaps some of the blame should be pushed toward director Alan Parker, who could have pulled all the elements together a little better and made a more effective picture. After all, prior to Fame, Parker had proven he was a competent director and would cement that reputation in future projects. His best work was still to come, but I still think Parker was off his game with this picture. He is able to handle more complex storylines and emotional content, but in Fame, he cannot seem to make it work. Maybe the focus is too loose, which detracts from the depth of potential emotion, but even so, Parker should have stepped in and tightened up some of the material. But flashes of Parker’s talent are evident, even though he seems a tad behind in most respects here. Other films directed by Parker include Angel Heart, The Life of David Gale, Midnight Express, Angela’s Ashes, and Evita. The cast includes Irene Cara (D.C. Cab, Caged in Paradiso), Laura Dean (Cannibal Apocalypse, Almost You), and Boyd Gaines (The Grass Harp, The Sure Thing).
Video: How does it look?
Fame is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Fans have always suffered through poor visual treatments, as the best edition to date was the laserdisc presentation, which still didn’t look too impressive. But with this new version, Warner has given fans the treatment they’ve been waiting for, as Fame has never looked better. It all starts with a great source print, one which has minimal grain and defects. This means the visuals have a crisp, bold presence, instead of a drab, murky texture, as before. The colors still don’t look that vivid, but that’s part of the visual scheme, so no need to be worried there. I found the contrast to be much improved also, as black levels are more refined and detail is much higher. Some flaws remain, but all in all, fans have a lot to celebrate thanks to Warner’s great new presentation.
Audio: How does it sound?
The audio offers a nice improvement also, as a new Dolby Digital 5.1 option has been included on this release. This is by no means an open, dynamic presentation however, though this kind of material doesn’t demand such a treatment. Instead, most of the elements remain anchored in the front channels, such as dialogue and assorted sound effects. So surround presence isn’t frequent or overly impressive, but the material has a clean, natural sound. The mix gets to show off at times however, especially whenever the music kicks into high gear. In those scenes, the surrounds come to life and immerse the audience in the music. In other words, this soundtrack works just as it should and of course, fans will be most pleased. This disc also includes a French language track, as well as subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
Supplements: What are the extras?
A new audio commentary with director Alan Parker is first, in which he provides some solid insights into the production. I have always liked Parker’s tracks and this one is no exception, an informative and brisk session. If you enable a special branching version of the commentary track, a selection of video reels play at certain spots. In these vignettes, several cast members offer their own thoughts on Fame. Of course, a second commentary track would have been better, but I’d rather have it like this than not at all. This disc also includes two brief behind the scenes featurettes and some production notes, as well as the film’s theatrical trailer.