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Category:    Home > Reviews > Musical > Drama > Comedy > Dance > Disco > Music > Grease (1978/Blu-ray) + Saturday Night Fever (1977/Blu-ray/Paramount)

Grease (1978/Blu-ray) + Saturday Night Fever (1977/Blu-ray/Paramount)


Picture: B     Sound: B/B-     Extras: B     Films: B



In a double blast from the past, Paramount is issuing Blu-ray versions of what remain the biggest hits from the early part of John Travolta’s career: Saturday Night Fever and Grease.  They remain two of the hottest back catalog titles from any studio and these are complete versions of the best DVD editions the studio released to date.  You can read more about those editions, including all the same extras and the importance of the films at these links:


Grease – Rockin’ Rydell Edition DVD



Saturday Night Fever 30th Anniversary DVD



Grease Deluxe Edition Double CD Soundtrack




I include the Grease CD set because it is still out there and any serious fan should get a copy while supplies last.  I also covered it before the DVD was issued and dug into the workings of the film and why I think it continues to be an enduring success.  I like the film marginally better than Saturday Night Fever, but must admit I have more respect for Fever now than when it first came out.  Before I get to the performance of each Blu-ray, I want to add key thoughts on each film.


On Fever, I can say Travolta’s acting is even better than I gave him credit for and though those who trash The Bee Gees act like they only had hits from that film and they were just a disco act, that is not the case in real life.  Survivors from the 1960s British Invasion, they had already made a comeback before the film was even a vague idea, hitting big with Jive Talkin’, Nights On Broadway and Fanny (Be Tender With My Love) in 1975 in the hands of the great Arif Mardin.  A real gentleman family act, including a great run of solo hits from younger brother Andy Gibb, the inclusion of their newest music in the film would have been an event no mater what since they were already on a hits run that included two #1s.  You Should Be Dancing was even in the film, despite being a hit for a few years.  There is a sadness in hearing their music in the film now with Andy’s tragic loss and losing Maurice way too soon, but the music remains iconic, took the high road and will endure for decades to come.  And they are not the only act doing music in the film.  You can read more about their hits from our coverage of the upgraded double-CD version of Bee Gees Greatest that I actually included in my Fever DVD review, which you can reach at the above link.



As for Grease, it honest-enough portrayal of the raw side of the 1950s has endured in the face of 30 years of politically conservative Rollback myth-building and remained popular long into the MTV era and during that dry spell when no one wanted to even think of making a Musical.  After so many bad female singer have tried to have hits and those few “pop tarts” who have had one too many, Olivia Newton-John suddenly seems like Beverly Sills, handling the material with phrasing so clever, that she will never get the credit she deserves since people could not separate the stage persona from the talent.  People who have enjoyed the spoofy stage revival of Xanadu (both that soundtrack and original film are reviewed on this site) get it, but too many critics are just out with their knives.  She gives a great performance here and hey, she did all her own singing!


After the likes of Chicago, Dreamgirls and especially Hairspray, there is something about Grease that seems ahead of its time and it was enough on the MTV curve (think of the sudden dream sequences during some of the songs) that it can be considered the single transitional film in the genre between the Classical Hollywood Musical the That’s Entertainment documentaries celebrated and the comeback cycle we have been lucky enough to encounter, duds and all.  Travolta and Newton-John have great chemistry and the extras show it never went away.  However, this is one of the best-cast Musicals ever made and the joy and fun in making it comes throughout loud and clear.



Now to the performance of each Blu-ray, both in 1080p digital High Definition transfers.



The 1.85 X 1 image on Fever shows its age, with grain you’d expect from film stocks of the time, which you can compare to Blu-rays of The French Connection films and Walter Hill’s The Warriors.  Some shots are terrific and the color is consistent for most of the transfer, but one too many moments of softness get in the way, yet fans will be stunned.  Sometimes, the dance floor shots are not as clear as I remembered, but the dry ice reproduces without a hint of digital harshness.  Better than the DVD or any other footage anyone has seen outside of a 35mm print, it delivers well for its age.


As for Grease, this is the same master Paramount has been using since the first DVD, which is from the 1998 theatrical re-release.  Though it was shot by Bill Butler (A.S.C.) in real anamorphic Panavision and looked great in that re-release, the HD actually reveals more troubles with the master than the DVD, which at first looked like DVD downtrade errors.  Now we get colors that are slightly pale throughout, making one wonder if this is a 1080i master and does not give one the true idea of how good this looked in re-release or in the 70mm blow-ups that made it such a blockbuster to begin with.


The windowboxed animated credits seem too much so here, then there are odd moments of softness.  Why are Newton-John’s ankles & shoes blurry but the rest of her sharp after before the Shake Shack during You’re The One That I Want?  Why are the silver curlers in Beauty School Dropout now pale?  Why does Greased Lightning go from sharp to blurry to sharp to blurry on and on?  Someone was not paying attention when they did this work and with the somewhat advanced use of color in the film, Paramount ought to do a 6K transfer down the road to really do justice to the work here.  This is often sharper and clearer than the DVD, but color is an issue throughout, so it barely outdoes the DVD.



The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 in both cases also disappoints.  Fever was monophonic in theaters and the upgrades on the DVD made the music sound a bit weak and ambient, while the TrueHD sounds like bass was used to up the sound a bit, but that does not make it as vivid as it could sound by any means and the old sound on the rest of the film is only made more obvious by the better fidelity of the TrueHD.


As for Grease, the film was originally a 4.1 Dolby magnetic stereo mix and the 5.1 tries to make it sound a little better, but dialogue and some other sounds are too much towards the center channel, with music sometimes (as in the opening, when you can almost not hear Danny & Sandy talking on the beach before the titles) overwhelms the dialogue in non-singing sequences.  However, the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 seems a bit dull, is transferred at too low a volume and does not seem as clean, clear or as dynamic as the DTS 35mm presentation I enjoyed back in 1998.  I wo0udl even warn you of switching volume between the film and extras as you will be turning up the volume to compensate for the problem.  I again hope Paramount and Universal/Polydor go back to the original multi-channel music again and redo this for a future Blu-ray.  Otherwise, I still recommend the Blu-ray, but with some important reservations.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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