Plot: What’s it about?
It’s no secret that Director Baz Lhurmann has really come into his own as of late. His first effort, Strictly Ballroom, came out some 9 years ago and is only now starting to garner some attention, due mainly to the fact that his latest effort has been nominated for Best Picture. For years, I passed by this movie in video stores, sure I had picked up the box (denoting a VHS cassette…for shame), but nothing had really pushed me over the edge to buy it. This was the same case with his second effort of a modern remake of Romeo and Juliet (starring a then “Pre-Titanic” Leonardo DiCaprio). I despised Romeo and Juliet and found the quick cuts and edits almost sickening. I haven’t given the movie another chance, and still probaby won’t until the Special Edition DVD is released later on this year. But I digress…this review is about his first effort and though the material may be a bit different, one thing remains constant in all of Lhurmann’s movies, the editing.
But as the subject matter tends to differ from all of Lhurmann’s movies, this one concentrates on (you guessed it) ballroom dancing. We meet Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio) who is next in line to become Australia’s ballroom-dancing champion. But his methods tend to veer outside of the realm of what is considered to be “normal and/or acceptable”. It’s because of his variation from the traditional “rules” that his career is jeapordized. His dance partner, Liz (Gia Carides) decides to leave him and just when all seems lost, he is approached by a very unassuming new partner by the name of Fran (Tara Morice). Now this is where the movie tends to wander into eye-rolling country.
While this movie is one of those that you’ll either love it or hate it. Well, actually all three of the “Red Curtain” Trilogy movies are like this. My favorite being his most recent, Moulin Rouge, I felt that this was a good place to start (we all have to start somewhere). Still, for my money, it’s nice to see older, less appreciated films getting a good treatment. Fans will certainly want to pick this up and for the rest of us who are just curious, a rental may suffice.
Video: How does it look?
Strictly Ballroom is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. As expected, the material has some signs of wear & tear, but looks solid and fans should be satisfied, as the film has never looked this good on home video. The print has some defects and the grain is thick at times, but never enough to lessen the visuals, I don’t think. I found colors and contrast to be a little faded, but good enough and no real problems surfaced. So no, this isn’t a pristine looking transfer, but all things considered, it is quite good and I think fans will be pleased.
Audio: How does it sound?
A new Dolby Digital 5.1 track is included here, but the age & nature of the film limit how much depth & range is present. The track is more expansive than expected and has a natural, never forced texture however, so I’d say the added effort has paid off here. The music has a richer feel and while sound effects aren’t explosive, they sound as good as possible. No issues with dialogue either, as vocals are crisp and clean throughout, with no volume errors to discuss. This disc also includes mono options in English & French, as well as English & Spanish subtitles.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The most feature of note is the commentary with director Baz Lhurmann, production designer/co-costumer Catherine Martin and choreographer John O’Connell. It’s a good, rather informative commentary just as their ones for Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge is (Lhurmann only). Looking back on the movie, they have a bit more to offer and it’s a track that is well worth listening to. Next up, we have a documentary “From Samba to Slow Mix” which showcases the dance movement in Australia. Though some might find it a bit dull, I personally liked it. It shows the roots of dance and I found it very interesting. A design gallery is also included which shows the costumes used and in some animated shots, does have some information from Lhurmann. While this isn’t the most loaded edition ever, it will more than satisfy fans of the genre and fans of the “Red Curtain Trilogy” will certainly want to pick this one up.