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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Dirty Dancing: SE (1987)

"I guess we surprised everybody."
- Frances 'Baby' Houseman (Jennifer Grey)

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: April 25, 2000

Stars: Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey
Other Stars: Jerry Orbach, Cynthia Rhodes
Director: Emile Ardolino

Manufacturer: Warner Advanced Media Operations
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language, sexual situations
Run Time: 01h:47m:00s
Release Date: December 21, 1999
UPC: 012236100027
Genre: romance


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ BBA B

DVD Review

Dirty Dancing was a hugely successful 1987 release from Vestron Pictures, the movie division of the now-defunct Vestron Video. Artisan released this collector's edition DVD in 1999—it's a great package for fans of the film, and the film itself holds up fairly well.

Jennifer Grey stars as "Baby", a young girl vacationing in the Catskills with her wealthy parents, who discovers her own sexuality and personality through "dirty dancing" in the summer of 1963. Patrick Swayze co-stars as Johnny, her dance instructor, partner and eventual lover. Cynthia Rhodes (as friend to Johnny and Baby) and Jerry Orbach (as Baby's father) round out the cast, lending maturity and balance to what's basically a girl-meets-boy, coming-of-age story. The late Emile Ardolino directed from co-producer Eleanor Bergstein's semi-autobiographical script.

I never saw Dirty Dancing when it was in theatres—all I remember was the success of the film's TWO heavily-marketed soundtrack albums. Several songs written for the film became major hits, receiving heavy airplay in the late 1980s. To be honest, I had always assumed the film wasn't much good—one of those cases where something seemed TOO popular to be truly worthwhile.

Watching the film post-hype, I found myself enjoying it, though at a loss to explain its massive popularity. It's gently paced, with well-developed characters and some drama; Grey and Swayze certainly make an attractive couple, and the film's title is justified by the strong dancing. Ardolino's storytelling style is generally competent and straightforward, but it really comes to life when the dancing begins—he's not afraid to let the dancers work, filling the frame with human action rather than MTV-style cuts among flying feet and whirling bodies.

My only real complaint is that the film's 1963 "period" feel is disrupted by the final dance sequence—impressive as it is, the music just doesn't fit. I didn't mind the filmmakers' use of contemporary pop music for background and mood in certain scenes, but this "big finish" depicts 1963 dancers choreographed to music that could only have been produced in the synth-happy 80s. The sense of time and place established by the set and costume design is totally shattered in this scene—we realize instantly that we're watching a movie, and the effect is only heightened as 1987 becomes more distant.

Still, I liked this film. It has something to say about American class structure of the time, and there's a bittersweet, honest "pre-ending" that resonates through the upbeat finale. Dirty Dancing impressed me as a sincere little film that became a hit, rather than the calculated commercial project I was expecting—the movie is about Baby's growth as a person and a woman, and it does more things right than not.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The DVD presents the film in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio with a letterboxed, non-anamorphic presentation, transferred from an excellent print. The digital image has some flaws and might have benefited from an anamorphic transfer—I spotted some "ripples" on thin horizontal lines (such as Jerry Orbach's horizontally-striped shirt early in the film). The film looks a little soft, likely due to the source material, but its muted color palette is well-represented, black level is solid, and subtle detail is visible on floors and clothing.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The film's soundtrack has been remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1. Dialogue is clear, and the music that was so essential to the film's popularity sounds great, with solid bass (the LFE channel isn't really used otherwise). Surround use is almost exclusively devoted to enveloping music and atmospherics, but this isn't a movie that calls for fancy effects. I can't imagine the 1987 film sounding any better than it does on this release.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 44 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
3 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Eleanor Bergstein
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Dirty Dancing: Live in Concert
Extras Review: As befits a collector's edition, Dirty Dancing includes a bevy of supplements. Some are more valuable than others, but as a group I'm giving them high marks for their sheer quantity and appeal to fans of the movie:

Music Videos:

The original music videos from three big soundtrack hits are included here: Hungry Eyes, She's Like the Wind, and (I've Had) The Time of My Life. These were originally produced on film but appear to have been mastered from videotape, and they don't have the clarity or color of the main attraction; the black-and-white She's Like the Wind (performed by Patrick Swayze) is the best-looking of the three, but fuzziness and edge enhancement abound. The songs do sound good in Dolby Surround, though.

Featurettes:

There are three brief documentaries here—a standard promotional featurette, a Reliving the Sixties short about the music used in the film, and a behind-the-scenes collection of raw on-set video footage from the final dance sequence (with no intro or narration). These shorts look and sound fine on DVD, but they're mostly "fluff", with no significant revelations.

Audio Commentary:

Writer and co-producer Eleanor Bergstein handles the commentary duties for this DVD (director Emile Ardolino passed away in 1993). Dirty Dancing was a very personal project for Bergstein—she wrote the script based on her own youthful experiences, and her intimate involvement with the project from script through release results in a comprehensive, interesting commentary track. She has few amusing anecdotes, and she sometimes gets distracted from a thought-in-progress when a favorite scene comes up in the film, but she's certainly qualified—it's not a commentary I'd listen to again for entertainment, but it's informative and affectionate.

Trailer:

Conventional theatrical promo, nicely transferred in 1.85:1.

Cast and Crew Bios:

These are nicely presented and fairly comprehensive, with brief "Q&A" interview clips for Grey and Swayze (shot at the time of the original featurette, with some duplicated material). In a nice touch, the production crew is given almost as much attention as the cast.

Production Notes:

This is just a series of text screens about the film's initial release—no news here.

Dirty Dancing: Live In Concert:

Now THIS is what I call cold, calculating commercialism. This substantial bonus presents the entire 90-minute live concert tie-in video released by Vestron prior to the movie's video release. It's well-transferred to DVD with clear audio and sound, but it's clearly an artifact of the movie's marketing machine in full swing. The concert promoters bring out Merry Clayton, Eric Carmen, Bill Medley and the Contours, all of whom contributed to the film's soundtrack but are also called on to perform other artists' songs. The concert also features "The Original Dirty Dancing Dancers" (who the end credits reveal to be a number of the "originals" and quite a few "more" dancers). They're asked to recreate "classic moments" from the film, but the effect doesn't work—these segments feel like Sesame Street Live for grown-ups, pale imitations of whatever qualities the original scenes possessed. It IS cool to see the Contours "live," as they're a lot of fun onstage—but I couldn't help scanning the audience shots for disappointed faces.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

I wasn't expecting a lot from this film, and I was pleasantly surprised by its naturalistic story and vibrant dancing. Dirty Dancing fans will appreciate the extensive supplements, which provide several hours of additional entertainment on top of the film itself.

 


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