|Written by Noah Fleming|
|Saturday, 01 December 2007|
"Hairspray" has evolved over the years through a variety of media. It originally was a movie by John Walters in 1988. Then in 2003 it was adapted into the Broadway musical, which was modestly successful, but especially popular among teenagers.
"The Buddy Deane Show" is the basis for the story of "Hairspray". Much like the movie, the show was Baltimore's own version of Philadelphia's "American Bandstand". Buddy Deane introduced American youth to new, hip dances and songs each afternoon for two hours. The deeper story that inspired John Waters to make "Hairspray" was the segregation and racial profiling for dancing on American television. Buddy Deane was the first to allow blacks and whites to dance together on television.
After the success of the Broadway musical, producers Craig Zahan and Neil Meron decided to make it into their next musical movie. Their previous musical adaptation credits include Gypsy with Bette Midler (which aired on CBS), Cinderella with Whitney Houston and Brandy, Annie with Kathy Bates, and most famously, Chicago with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renée Zellweger.
Newcomer Nikki Blonsky follows in Ricki Lake's footsteps as Tracy Turnblad, struggling to become a dancer on the "Corny Collins Show". Being a heavy-set teenage girl was not exactly the image the network WJZ-TV wanted to portray on television. Many obstacles stood in her way, most notably a win-at-all-cost parent named Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her teenage daughter, Amber (Brittany Snow). In a society that remains rigid in its ways, Tracy also struggles to spread her openness about racial integration around the community.
"Hairspray" is full of veterans to musical performance and theater as well as a few newer stars. Michelle Pfeiffer, previously starring in "Grease 2", showed off her musical talents in a couple of song and dance numbers. She has only bettered with age, as her rendition of "(The Legend Of) Miss Baltimore Crabs" bests all her performances in "Grease 2".
Of course, John Travolta is no stranger to musicals, as he is well known for his performances in "Saturday Night Fever" and "Grease". Travolta plays, of all people, Tracy's mother, Edna Turnblad, in the film. I found it difficult to believe Travolta in that role. That is probably because his "woman" voice makes me laugh every time. Also, seeing a man dressed and acting like a hefty woman reminds me too much of "Too Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar".
Christopher Walken plays Tracy's Father, Wilbur Turnblad, and has previously starred in James Joyce's, "The Dead", for which he won a Tony Award in 2000. The role does not really show off his versatility, but he performs his role well. Queen Latifah, who belted out "If You're Good To Mama" in "Chicago", is cast as Motormouth Maybelle, a mother figure in the African American neighborhood of Baltimore. James Mardsen, most known for his role as Scott in the X-Men Trilogy, has some previous recordings on the soundtracks for "Ally McBeal" and the 2000 film "Gossip". He stars as the charismatic TV host, Corny Collins. Amanda Bynes and Brittany Snow have recurring roles in the film. It felt as though Amanda's character, Penny Pingleton, was not given enough attention, and was only half developed. Brittany Snow, the typical uptight, snobbish teenager, Amber Von Tussle delivers a solid but shadowed performance.
The star of the film, Nikki Blonsky delivers a powerful performance. Her voice, squeaky and slightly immature, matches perfectly with the character. We should expect to see a great deal more from this young, charismatic woman.
Basically, "Hairspray" is a pop singing and dancing movie, which also deals with racial segregation in the 1960s, on television and in the community. Tracy finds herself having to choose between her dream of dancing on television and bolstering an important cause in the racially divided community of Baltimore. In addition, she stereotypically falls in love with the hairspray-laden, popular teenage boy on the show and in her high-school History class. Tracy's best friend Penny is bound by an overly religious and strict single mother and longs to break free. She meets Seaweed (Elijah Kelley), an African American dancer, and the two of them prepare for a long journey ahead as an interracial couple in the 1960s.
As a side note, if the amount of hairspraying that is done in this film was not an exaggeration, it is easy to see why our ozone layer is in the shape it is. The amount of Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) that must have been released from the hairspray cans back in the 60s hair-do days is incredible.
This Blu-ray disc yields a beautiful picture. It is rich in colors and contrast. The colorful costumes of the 1960s are well displayed. Some of the CGI effects are a bit cheesy, especially when viewed on Blu-ray. The opening sequence, coming down through the clouds shows a CGI'd version of a 1960's Baltimore. The cars and buildings are a bit cartoony. It is then a jarring change when the film cuts to a newspaper on the ground, which was shot on film by the second unit. As what appears to be semi-inherent in Blu-ray format, the dot crawl on the screen is a little excessive in this transfer.
The only audio track for the main feature on this 50GB Blu-ray disc is a 7.1 DTS Master HD English track. I used my Onkyo receiver to decode the bitstream version of the soundtrack, instead of my Blu-ray player. I noticed a lot of breathing room in the audio. There were much more dynamics. It was apparent at times though that the recordings of the lyrics of the songs were overly bright. The spatial imaging of the audio was incredible. Dedicated sounds in the surround channels were a bit sparse. Most of the music in the surrounds was reverberated, stereo mixdowns of a song. Forget about the 7.1. The film was not mixed in 7.1. The extra two surround channels do not provide any discrete sounds, and only serve to blur the spatial imaging.
The music in the film is very good. "Good Morning Baltimore" and "Welcome To The 60s" are two extremely well produced and iconic songs. Michelle Pfeiffer's "(Legend Of The) Miss Baltimore Crabs" has great lyrics that are well sung.
"Hairspray" is presented on a 2-disc "Shake & Shimmy" set. Disc one contains the feature film and most of the bonus features. There are five deleted/alternate scenes. This includes the uncut, Michelle Pfeiffer seduction scene, and Nikki Blonsky's entirely deleted, "I Can't Wait" song performance. "Hairspray Extensions" show song and dance numbers filmed outside of the movie, mixed with actual film footage used in the movie. "Step by Step: The Dances Of Hairspray" is self-explanatory. There are two feature commentary audio tracks. The first is with Director Adam Shankman and actress Nikki Blonsky. This is an interesting commentary, full of inside information and funny bits. The second commentary track is with Producers Craig Zahan and Neil Meron. This track unfortunately, is not as engaging. The "Jump To A Song" feature allows you to jump, much like chapters, to a particular song in the film. It also has an on/off option for the sing-along track.
The final extra on disc one is exclusive to HD. It is called, "Behind The Beat". This disc is one of the first to include the picture-in-picture function on Blu-ray. Much like an audio commentary, the movie plays and simultaneously a small window in the bottom left or right corner displays associated video images. The video displayed in the miniature window ranges from video footage of dance rehearsals synced with the actual movie to behind the scenes video footage shot during filming. Every now and then, there is some commentary from the director and producers. It is really quite interesting. I highly recommend this feature, and I for one am not a big special features guy. My only criticism is that the miniature picture is a little too miniature. During wide shots, it is a little difficult to really see the image, and I am viewing 8 feet from a 56-inch HDTV. You practically need a 70 plus-inch TV for this feature. However, close-up shots are perfectly viewable.
Disc two contains three bonus features. "The Roots of Hairspray" is a documentary divided into three parts, "The Buddy Deane Show", "John Waters' Hairspray", and "Hairspray on Broadway". Each of these segments covers the history of each re-incarnation of "Hairspray". "You Can't Stop The Beat: The Long Journey of Hairspray" contains a bunch of segments that fall under "The Making Of…" category. These segments include information about casting, music, choreography, costumes, hairdos, and production design. There are also two segments called "Reflections on Hairspray" and "Hairspray Returns to the Screen" in this section. The final bonus feature is the ever-standard Theatrical Trailer.
In the era of rejuvenating the musical, "Hairspray" is a breath of fresh air (even despite the amount of hairspraying going on). This film is a well-done adaptation of the Broadway musical and should be loads of fun for everyone in the family. Pop sounds for the kids and more adult thematic elements for the parents.