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Paramount Studios presents
Save the Last Dance (2001)

"We have an audience... work with me."
- Sara (Julia Stiles)

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: June 18, 2001

Stars: Julia Stiles, Sean Patrick Thomas
Other Stars: Kerry Washington, Terry Kinney, Fredro Starr, Elisabeth Oas
Director: Thomas Carter

Manufacturer: IFPI
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, sexual content, language and brief drug references
Run Time: 01h:52m:47s
Release Date: June 19, 2001
UPC: 097363345541
Genre: romance

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B-A-A- B

DVD Review

Save the Last Dance stars Julia Stiles as Sara, a young dancer who abandons her dreams after her mother is killed in an auto accident rushing to watch her audition for Julliard. Sara moves to Chicago to live with her jazz musician father, Roy (Terry Kinney), attending an inner-city high school with a predominantly African-American student body. Befriended by Chenille (Kerry Washington), a fellow student, Sara begins to fit into her new surroundings. When she meets Chenille's med-school-bound brother Derek (Sean Patrick Thomas) and learns the rudiments of hip-hop, she begins to feel like a dancer again.

Save the Last Dance is the sort of movie that gets made every few years, marketed to the current crop of teenagers with a presumably irresistible blend of popular music, dance and budding romance. But director Thomas Carter (Swing Kids, the Fame TV series) manages to transcend the genre to some degree, bringing a level of honesty to the material unseen in efforts like Center Stage. The film was shot on location in Chicago, with El trains running constantly in the background, and a pervasive (if somewhat contrived) sense of urban grittiness grounds the story - everyone has problems, and Sara's revival is more dramatic in a world where hope is a rare bird indeed.

The film's credibility is enhanced by a talented cast, turning what might have been two-dimensional characters into real human beings. Julia Stiles continues to display sensitivity, intelligence and emotional depth as Sara, making choices that mute the script's "lean on your guy" subtext without destroying the romantic chemistry. Sean Patrick Thomas is appealing and witty, portraying Derek as a young man with a future who's brave enough to make the right choices. Kerry Washington is very impressive as Chenille, a single mother finishing high school, frustrated by her circumstances but not beaten down as she works to keep her infant son's father Kenny (Garland Whitt) involved and engaged. Fredro Starr brings "street cred" to the role of Malakai, Derek's former criminal associate and friend who threatens to drag him back down. And minor characters are well-cast, often from the local Chicago talent pool - Terry Kinney (of the Steppenwolf theatre company) brings Sara's semi-estranged father Roy to life with tentative warmth and concern for his daughter, and Elisabeth Oas makes emotional and cultural sense of "Diggy," the blackest white girl in school.

Music is a major component of Save the Last Dance - composer Mark Isham contributes numerous variations on a melancholy romantic theme, but the soundtrack is dominated by rap, hip-hop and a few reggae cuts. Director Carter avoids the violent "gangsta rap" subgenre, opting instead to showcase some lyrically interesting rappers and eclectic mixers closer to the urban pop mainstream (no doubt a boost for CD soundtrack sales).

All of this serves as background for some striking dancing, courtesy of choreographers Fatima and Randy Duncan (of the Joffrey Ballet). Neither Stiles nor Thomas are trained dancers, and their limitations are occasionally apparent - the film relies on rapid-fire editing and occasional doubling to pull off Sara's climactic contemporary dance audition. But the dancing on display here is consistently energetic and watchable, with a sense of joy too often missing from "dance movies." The end credits roll over a huge hip-hop party at a local club, where friends cut loose in an orgy of optimism and youthful exuberance. And this, in the end, is what Save the Last Dance is all about.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Paramount presents Save the Last Dance in its original 1.85:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio, with a nice anamorphic transfer drawn from a fresh source print. Detail and color is generally solid, though there's a hint of edge enhancement in a few scenes and reds tend to be oversaturated. The source print exhibits dust flecks in quite a few scenes (one in particular, which may indicate a problem with the original negative) but is generally clean and sharp, and the DVD transfer is up to contemporary standards.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Save the Last Dance features Dolby Digital 5.1 English audio, as well as English and French Dolby 2.0 Surround tracks. The film is generally centered and front-oriented, with little dramatic surround activity, but frequency and dynamic range are solid and smooth LFE bass is devoted to the hip-hop soundtrack. The 2.0 tracks don't suffer much for the downmixing (given the usual dubbing issues on the French track), and the DVD transfer is clean and clear, sounding like a "new movie" should.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Thomas Carter
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:47m:57s

Extra Extras:
  1. Crazy Music Video
Extras Review: Paramount loads the Save the Last Dance DVD with conventional supplements, including:

Director's Commentary:

Director Thomas Carter contributes a running commentary, in which he discusses casting, marketing, the film's intended audience and his own interest in the material. He goes silent on occasion, but his comments (particularly on music and American culture) are generally intelligent, thoughtful and interesting.

Deleted Scenes:

Four deleted scenes are presented in full-blown 1.85:1 anamorphic film-sourced format. All are strong, well-acted scenes, presumably cut for the sake of running time. Two scenes flesh out the relationship between Chenille and Kenny, one is a nice moment between Sara and her father, and the fourth is a throwaway Sara-Derek scene at a record shop (an important line from this scene is used in another scene while the characters have their backs to the camera).

The Making of Save the Last Dance:

This nineteen-minute documentary was presumably created for MTV promotional purposes; it's on the "fluffy" side, but it manages to provide some insight into the film's production. The program consists of film clips, behind-the-scenes footage, and brief interviews with Julia Stiles, Sean Patrick Thomas, Fredro Starr, Bianca Lawson, Kerry Washington, director Thomas Carter, co-producer David Madden, and choreographers Fatima and Randy Duncan. The film clips are presented in slightly panned-and-scanned 1.66:1 letterboxed format, with the program proper in 1.33:1 full-frame and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio.

Save the Last Dance: A Retrospective:

This twelve-and-a-half-minute featurette is more substantial than the longer "documentary," with longer interview clips (from the same sessions, apparently) and more discussion of the film's production, including the leads' lack of formal dance training and Carter's extended shooting schedule. It's presented in the same format as the documentary; for some reason, it's billed as "Cast and Crew Interviews" on the Special Features menu, rather than under its official title.

Crazy Music Video:

Thomas Carter directs this four-minute music video, starring K-Ci and JoJo performing a cut featured as part of the movie's soundtrack. It's presented in 2.35:1 letterboxed nonanamorphic format, drawn from a videotape master with noticeable red/blue aliasing and other defects. The production relies heavily on film clips run in reverse slow-motion, with some new footage involving Sean Patrick Thomas. The Dolby 2.0 Surround presentation is competent, and a few unusual audio effects make it worth a listen. It's a standard music video, but at least it's tied into the film to some degree.

Theatrical Trailer:

The film's theatrical trailer is presented in 1.85:1 letterboxed nonanamorphic format, with Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. It looks soft compared to the feature presentation, but is generally clean and solid; it gives away some key moments, so it's best to watch it after the movie.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Save the Last Dance is an urban dance drama that overcomes the genre's usual limitations with honesty and strong performances. Paramount's DVD features an excellent transfer and substantial supplements. Definitely worth a spin.


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