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It’s 1962—the '50s are out and change is in the air. Baltimore's Tracy Turnblad, a big girl with big hair and an even bigger heart, has only one passion—to dance. She wins a spot on the local TV dance program, "The Corny Collins Show" and, overnight, is transformed from outsider to irrepressible teen celebrity. But can a trendsetter in dance and fashion vanquish the program's reigning princess, win the heart of heartthrob Link Larkin, and integrate a television show without denting her 'do? Welcome to the '60s!
For more about Hairspray and the Hairspray Blu-ray release, see Hairspray Blu-ray Review published by J.C. Ribera on December 17, 2007 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Director: Adam Shankman
Writer: Leslie Dixon
Starring: John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Amanda Bynes, James Marsden, Nikki Blonsky
» See full cast & crew
Hairspray Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by J.C. Ribera, December 17, 2007
New Line's Hairspray, a film directed by Adam Shankman and staring Nikki Blonsky, John Travolta and a cast of thousands, is a remake/cinematographic musical version of John Water's Hairspray made in 1988 and the 21st century Broadway musical based on it. The story itself, inspired from a real life teenage dancing television show that aired on Baltimore TV in the 60's, is actually about something else: being different, fighting for acceptance and change, and the way society was, is, and can be. Presented in a manner that's entertaining and a lot of fun, there is always a chance that a film remake could fall flat on it's face, compare poorly to the original, end up being so similar that it it becomes a worthless waste of time of no interest, or be so different that it might put off the audience that liked the original (and the original of a sequel is always well liked, as it's what generates the interest of re-making it again), and not gain any success with a new audience. In New Line's Hairspray's case, this could have been a double whammy, because it's not only a remake, it's a musical, and although the original Hairspray obviously had music elements already a part of it with it's dancing numbers, characters bursting into song on a familiar plot might have not worked well. But alas, in this movie the combined talents of the people involved, the story, the social issues, and the songs melted into a new synergistic incarnation, and the results are, in one word: Stupendous.
The story follows Tracy, a teenage girl that loves the TV dance show and at the beggininig only wants to participate in it, but not having the normal societal standards of "accepted beauty", whatever those are, at first is rejected but perseveres, and with her enthusiams and idealism manages to be a catalyst of change.
For anyone familiar with the original film, this version is less quirky and eccentric than the original, but at the same time being a big Hollywood production everything is polished and bigger than life, but it retains it's charm. While the race integration and acceptance issues of the story are thus given a slightly more serious tone, or at least that's the impact I felt through after experiencing it through the songs, the lyrics and dialogue still have an irreverent tone that's very modern and not totally innocent. The screen widened to CinemaScope proportions, the dance numbers expertly choreographed, and the power of songs presented in multichannel Stereophonic sound, the movie manages to achieve the almost non-stop tour de forces that the great Hollywood musicals of yore delivered.
As for specifics, you could say the movie has perfect casting. One of the possible fallibles of a remake is when the new cast can be so different that one might end up saying "no, the characters weren't done right", after being so used to the previous actors. But that's not the case here. The moment Michelle Pfeiffer goes "Oh, my God" in Miss Baltimore Crabs (one of my favorite numbers) it is as if a 50's/60's version of Debbie Harry's Blondie singing Rip It To Shreds had whispered into her ear morphed into a version of her, and that's part of the thrill. Protagonist Nikki Blonsky's Tracy Turnblad's sometimes too exuberant optimism to want to dance and make things right, her jittery but lovely lollypop-sucking best friend played by Amanda Bynes, Zac Efron's elvis teenage wannabe teen idol Link, James Mardsen's supra realistic dance show host with the blinding smile, the cool cat Elijah Kelly's Seaweed or his little sister, Queen Latifah being one big mutha, and of course there's John Travolta dancing his flesh away, with even a Pulp Fiction reference thrown in to boot. And a movie that has Christopher Walken dancing with John Travolta in the moonlight, well has to be seen.
Many of the dance numbers stand to repeated viewings, and all the songs integrate perfectly into the plot, actually enhancing it and bringing into a new level. As someone says on the supplements, the combination of movie making, song, and dance, translates into a way of communication that's unique. This movie is of course entertainment, and like the best musicals (and I think that in a few decades looking back people will consider this one to be part of the classic movie musicals) it achieves this amply. So a musical it is a total success, and hopefully this will continue paving the way for more quality musicals be made again. But at the same time the movie entertains you and makes you have a good time, almost in a subversive way it gives you its very positive and serious social message, that hopefully people take to heart. The world the movie creates is such an inviting one that one wishes to be there, and maybe, even in its own small measure, if that makes one want to bring part of it into the real world while being entertained, well that's part of the Dream Factory. And of the legacy of Cinema.
Hairspray Blu-ray, Video Quality
The disc starts with a new New Line logo announcing New Line Home Entertainment on High Def and then we're on Baltimore going from its slightly brownish palette town streets to the colorful TV studio candy bright sets and pastel dancer dresses. Color is one of the more satisfying aspects of this transfer, specially appealing. Look at those costumes, ranging from Baltimore crab blues, to Royal Latifah Golds, going through Seaweed's totally solid red and Travolta's shimmering one, encompassing all kinds of varieties of greens pinks magentas and pastels, all this this in an almost completely grainless transfer made from a Super-35 negative (For a fascinating exercise, compare to the deleted scenes in the supplements which are grainier but seem slightly more detailed). Having not seen this movie at theaters I don't know if it was or wasn't grainy there but the disc's polished look seems to suit the movie's high gloss musical story.
The lasting impression one gets from this transfer is spotless and shiny.
Now for the one negative. Please read the following completely carefully before reaching your own conclusions, as this might affect only those with the biggest screens. The transfer's approximately 15 Mbts/second VC-1 image is sharp and contrasty up to a point. For anyone watching the movie's Scope 2.35 ratio image letterboxed inside a 16:9 display from normal home or 2/3rds back of the theater viewing distances (2.5 PH/1 screen widths or farther away) the transfer will look perfectly sharp. But if you zoom the "Scope" letterboxed image filling a CinemasScope constant image height screen viewing it at middle of the theater viewing angles (2PH/ 0.85 screen widths or closer) it might make the image look a little less solid and lacking a small bit of detail, unlike some of the better high definition transfers around, and make for a slightly less satisfying experience. I think this is the result of the way this almost grainless 1080p master was transfered (see my comment about grain on the deleted scenes and trailer). It's not that the image looks blurry at those viewing angles, but sometimes it looks a little more 'video look'-like giving you the impression that there's not enough info (detail), unlike when you watch film, which is a thing you notice more while looking at some medium and long shots of faces and the like, As this wasn't totally satisfying to me (I like viewing my movies big, like on a theater), investigating further, I switched from 1080p one to one (1:1) viewing, to upscaling the image into a resolution higher than 1080, and nudged the sharpness/aperture correction setting a bit, and there the resulting image looked more solid and satisfying, finally achieving an acceptable compromise between film-like smoothness vs the clean and sharp-but less detailed video look. It's interesting to watch the trailer and the deleted scenes on the supplements and compare. The trailer, obviously made from a different transfer (for example some of the early Baltimore scenes on it have an almost b/w sepia look) but having a much higher bitrate (sometimes up to 100% more: double) does not seem to suffer from this lack of detail as much and I don't feel the need to upscale the 1080 image to find it pleasing. At large maginifications you could also see some grain clumpling/ splotching, probably from the grain smoothing, in some of the scenes. Mainly in wall backgrounds. (I think I saw it on Travolta's face on one case (Or maybe it was some CGI make-up smoothing? ).
Judging from the visibility of this and from the normal size/viewing angles where the image becomes excellent, I'd calculate maybe it's shy just a 1dB or 2 difference of extra detail/ smoothness away from optimum, basically between about 30% to 60% more detail encoded would've done the trick. I want to stress, again, that for most people's viewing angles and display sizes the image looks truly excellent, and unless you view your movies at big Cinema viewing angles or huge screens; you won't notice, say "Damn it looks good", and you'll be scratching your heads wondering what I'm talking about . The disc's image certainly looks better than the image quality I've seen in non-IMAX theaters that I've gone lately.
I discovered another quirk of the transfer when looking at Cinema viewing angles that made me go double check if my player was indeed sending a 1080p signal. I found that if I looked closely, I could see some combed frames sporadically, as if from interlaced content on some of these frames, which I confirmed by still stepping them one by one. Seemed to me that of the resulting frames are weaved from adjacent frames. If you want to check for yourself, one place is when Tracy goes to detention in chapter 5. Look closely at the shiny metal vertical tubes in the desk/chair behind cool dude in the middle of the image at 21:20-21:22. As the camera pans slightly to the side following Seaweed, you see the chair's tube comb. But if you're not looking closely on a big screen you'll probably not see it.
Now, do I think these minor anomalies are reason not to buy this movie? Hell no! They'd have to pry my spray can from my dead cold fingers . 8 or 9 out of 10 image parameters close to perfection, this movie looks great.
Hairspray Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Well, for a musical, the audio is very important. And I'm very happy to say that from the first strains of music, down to the little castanets, by the time that bicycle sound crosses the screen from left to right you can tell this is a soundtrack that sounds good. Having a very enveloping soundstage, where you can hear clearly every percussion instrument, guitar strum, footstep, clap, bell or ring, appreciating all the layers of sound, orchestra, dialogue, singing, and sound effects is effortless and fully satisfying. One thing in particular that struck me was how natural the singing voices of the actors, some of whom we have been listening talk in soundtracks for years, sounded. With great fidelity, sometimes I would have the feeling as if almost they might as well be recording right there. (which I enjoyed all the more by further experimenting later by playing the center channel isolated a couple of times). The film's mix blends the transitions from straight dialog to singing part perfectly. The general design has the main vocals in the center channel with musical instruments and background vocals spread all across the front stage naturally, sometimes with interesting effects being emphasized like when they say the word CinemaScope. I also found a couple of instances where the center singing moved slightly to the left or right following the actors on screen but that was very subtle. The surrounds were more enveloping than anything but it really worked on this film because it made the music and sounds feel natural and occurring in the space in front of you. Sometimes there would be very directional placement like the TV animators voice offstage to the right for effect on the dance contest, etc. Bass was appropriate and solid (hear the drums announcing Edna's entrance to the TV stage for example) or markings Tracy's hips. Even with the individual sounds sounding so detailed and the voices loud and clear at no point I thought anything sounded strident or harsh. All this coming from the basic 5.1 DTS 1.5 Mb/s core track, as my PS3 has not yet the ability to transmit the higher-quality lossless DTS HD Master Audio sound. I can only imagine it'll sound more detailed and with more ambiance and wetness on that track, but that will remain to be heard till the PS3 acquires that ability. I'll update this opinion when that happens.
Don't miss the songs on the end credits, as the fun continues there, and one of the songs has the 3 actresses that have played Tracy singing on it. Note: this song seems to be in 4.0 and not have a center channel so don't start worrying about your center speaker.
And besides, you got cooties.
Apart from listening to the soundtrack in 5.1 discrete, I also listened to it downmixed to plain stereo, where it's basic natural qualities remained but then the enveloping soundstage wasn't really panoramic and detailed. And just for kicks I listened to several of the musical numbers with only the left and right discrete channels playing (so they became basically instrumentals versions) which made me appreciate all the more the multiple layering of instruments, orchestra and background voices. One of the advantages of multichannel recording and delivery on a home video format.
Hairspray Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The movie and many of the supplements have English SDH and español subtitles. (Plus the sing- along only option for the songs) and the disc is region coded A (plays in America, Japan, Corea, and South East Asian countries).
Hairspray comes with a double sided transparent slipcover similar to an animation cel which then overlays over the disc case's cover background. You can chose to have the kids on the cover or the grown ups. The 2 discs inside have labels imitating a vinyl record, a nice touch. A leaflet promoting the Golden Compass is included.
The discs Menus have a nice floating "movie scenes bubbles" over multicolored backgrounds theme with brief instrumental multichannel loops of the songs in the movie.
The supplements on disc 1 include:
Deleted/Alternate scenes with optional commentary by the director and Nikki Blonsky, the highlight being a 4 minute Tracy song cut from the movie: "I Can Wait".
The other deleted/alternate scenes are:
Edna gets arrested, 1 minute
Welcome to the 60's, 1 minute with an extra hoopla-hoop action scene
You can't stop the beat, 2.5 minutes with extra police action and a different fate for the Von Tussles
Big, blonde and beautiful, 1 minute, with the full Velma performance
These are all in full 1080p and multichannel sound and as I mentioned above, they don't have the grain smoothed and look a little sharper and have a more film-like look as opposed to a digital clean smooth look. Just compare.
Then there's 37 minutes of "Hairspray Extensions" in 2 channel 255 kb/s 48 kHz DTS 1080i VC-1 with simultaneous multi screen/multi ratio behind the scenes/alternate views of the musical numbers. I really liked this supplement, and it shows one of the advantages of HD over SD, as before when this was done on a DVD, the multi screen images were too small to really be of use, and in HD you get at minimum the quality of having three or four full screen 16:9 SD monitors/ six 4:3 SD monitors in a video wall, up to the full 1080 16:9 view. The bigger your screen the better it is
The numbers included are:
Nicest kids in town
(The legend of) Miss Baltimore Crabs
Welcome to the 60's
Run and tell that
You can't stop the beat
Then there's the 12 minute "Step By Step: The Dances Of Hairspray" presented in fullscreen 1080i 2 channel DTS in which two of the movie's associate choreographers go into detail about the dance steps used in 2 of the musical numbers with the help of 2 of the cast's dancers.
The movie has two Feature Commentaries, one with the film's director and choreographer, Adam Shankman, and star Nikki Blonsky in which they go into detail about the interactions with the actors and the choreography/singing and various bits of the daily shooting process and takes and a few other technical aspects. The other commentary is by the film's producers, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron and it's more focused into the story of bringing the movie to fruition, and the process of adapting the show to the screen, how songs were chosen or discarded, the choices of actors, and how fortunate they all were into assembling such a talented group to make the movie. In all, both commentaries sum to make a rounded overview of how Hairspray The Film Musical came to be, and it's very obvious that all involved are very proud of their creation and accomplishment (As they well should be I might add ) and their enthusiasm is contagious.
"Jump To A Song" is a menu where you can select to go directly to a song of the movie (including the ones in the end credits and the one cut from the movie) or play them all (skipping the non-song segments of the movie), with or without sing-along subtitles. If you press on "Soundtrack" it shows you the list of the songs included on the Soundtrack CD, listing who performs it.
The next supplement is "Behind the Beat", a viewing of the movie with a Picture in Picture experience. This was the first time I've watched one (though not the first disc I have that included one) which, as I was reviewing the disc I had to. The added PiP content consisted of having a small 16:9 shaped window on a bottom corner while the full size Scope movie plays on. The screen shows a mixture of snippets of video taken while the director/actress/producers made their audio commentary tracks (so in this segments you can not only hear them but see them), various behind the scene shots/alternate angles, and some in-the-studio-booth video of the cast recording their songs, most if not all which is included in full screen size in the other supplements. You could consider this Pip as a condensed cliff notes version of the supplements, and sometimes the juxtaposition of it with the full screen movie playing along is interesting, but for most of the time I found myself being distracted back to viewing the movie and forgetting I was supposed to be watching the Pip, or trying to do both, so in my personal opinion I didn't find much use for it. I actually preferred to see the same stuff on it's own on the full screen supplements or just listening the full audio commentary on its own while watching the movie.
(Note: For those with constant image height Scope set ups you'll have to scale back to 16:9 viewing if you want to see the whole Pip, as the window falls partly outside the letterboxed Scope movie image.)
So are we done with supplements? We're done for Disc 1. Now for Disc 2!
The first supplement on the second disc is the 40 minute "The Roots of Hairspray" documentary, presented in fullscreen 1080i 2 channel DTS, which consists of 3 parts:
The Buddy Deane Show about the Baltimore teenage dance TV show which is the basis of the movie. You have modern interviews with John Waters and the TV show dancers and fans talking about the show and about the segregation issues back then, and photographs and documentary clips of the era and even of the hairdos. The images vary in quality but as vintage records of the era they serve their purpose
John Water's Hairspray is of course about the story of the original 1988 movie, has more interviews with people associated with the movie, some video shot at the tim, lots of photos and several upscaled clips from it, plus a couple of brief clips of Water's other movies which look interesting to see on HD.
And finally Hairspray on Broadway focusing on the story of the Broadway musical version and how it was transformed from film to musical show, with interviews with the producers, songwriters, and star. As an interesting thing to video quality buffs I noted that some shots of the interview with the songwriters looked smooth and grainless but then a couple other looked much much sharper and contrasty.
Then there's the 78 minute "You Can't Stop The Beat: The Long Journey of Hairspray", also presented in fullscreen 1080i (except for the movie clips which of course are in Scope) which consists of the following sections:
The Production Design
and finally, Reflections of Hairspray
all with lots of behind the scenes shots, loads of interviews and clips with the director, producers, songwriters, actors-singers, them recording their songs in the studio, the cast and dancers rehearsing and performing the dances,the way the cast was chosen and what each brings to their characters, the issues the film brings forward, and creative technical personal talking about the different aspects of making the film a reality and bringing it to the screen, among other things.
Both documentaries are great and make what a good film documentary does: increase your knowledge about the film, make you appreciate the effort involved, and ultimately, make you want to watch immediately the subject of the documentary, in this case by loading the first disc again and hitting play, or even wish for a Blu-ray release of the original Hairspray or an HDTV recording of the Broadway musical!
Finally there's the theatrical trailer, done in 1080p VC-1 at up to 30 Mb/s, which as I mentioned earlier, has a slightly different color scheme and sharper look even though it looks almost as grainless as the movie itself.
Hairspray Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Well as you can plainly tell from my review I recommend the movie greatly. Full of various supplements, great characters, excellent songs and sound, the only thing I found as a minus was the lack of ultimate detail in the image when viewed at great magnifications, but other image parameters (color, contrast, photography, lack of grain and blemishes) are simply superb. If you love musicals you can't do without it, and if you don't, the movie might make you a fan of musicals too. As I said the film is not without substance and actually brings a very positive message in these days of dark troubles and action, horror, and war films. A ray of music and light to lighten your load and make you do a little song and dance, 'cause, you can't stop the Beat.
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