With the surprising and somewhat baffling continuing popularity of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, it’s perhaps fitting that Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom has finally been released on Blu-ray. This was the director’s first feature film, but watching it, one can certainly see the seeds of ideas that would be incorporated into his subsequent movies, particularly Moulin Rouge! His interests in combining melodramatic excess with sentimental, simplistic romance are rougher and cruder in Strictly Ballroom, and he’s working with a much lower budget while developing his own unique technique which here is less refined but curiously appealing in its starkness and artful posturing. While his later films have shown his tendency toward excessive flair and dramatic license taken to the nth degree, Strictly Ballroom shows us those were facets of his directorial style from the beginning and are among the things that make a film which he’s directed uniquely Luhrmann.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Run Time: 1 Hr. 34 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case
Disc Type: BD25 (single layer)
Release Date: 04/30/2013
Talented ballroom dancer Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio) has all the gifts to make a champion dancer, but he struggles with and fails to abide by the strict, unyielding regulations set forth by the Australian Dance Federation. He continually improvises his own steps during competitions and is always disappointed when his extemporaneous movements lead him and partner to lose competition after competition. Fed up with always losing, Scott’s partner Liz Holt (Gia Carides) ditches him for another dancer who abides by the rules, and though his hard-driving, overly competitive mother (Pat Thompson) tries to push him toward the best female dancer on the floor Tina Sparkles (Sonia Kruger), Scott has other ideas taking on as his partner inexperienced Latin dancer Fran (Tara Morice) whose flamenco dancing father also can show Scott a step or two that might lead them to the victor’s trophy.Baz Luhrmann’s fondness for extreme close-ups makes itself known in his very first movie, sometimes not for the better as we tend to concentrate on crooked teeth and facial scars and over elaborate make-up instead of the inward characteristics of the person being focused on. The ballroom scenes can be thrilling with the camera swirling among the couples, but again, Luhrmann keeps his camera often too busy sometimes making quick cuts to close-ups or medium shots and lessening the effect of seeing the exquisite dancing with the entire bodies in the frame. The script by the director and Craig Pearce is a mass of clichés and campy excess whenever the older adults are in the spotlight. The basic story is an undisguised and unapologetic Cinderella saga right down to the ugly duckling new dance partner taking off her glasses (which she never dons again for the entire film) and becoming a ravishing creature with a gorgeous body and shapely legs who picks up intricate dance moves in the blink of an eye. The romantic subplot is by-the-numbers, too: what starts out as a strictly business relationship turns into love quicker than one can bat an eye, and when the lovers dance on a terrace several floors above street level, you’ll immediately think of scenes from Moulin Rouge! with the dancing duo high above Paris. Little wonder that Luhrmann dubbed these two films part of his “Red Curtain Trilogy.” In many ways, they are eerily similar.The real find of the movie is Paul Mercurio who’s the real deal, able to combine an astonishing grace and fluidity in his dancing with a real screen presence and the ability to handle the sometimes corny situations and dialogue as though it were all fresh and new. Tara Morice’s Fran is an acceptable dance partner and romantic interest for Mercurio though the speed in which she transforms into a great beauty and an expert dancer requires some major amounts of belief suspension. Pat Thompson’s shrewish, overly flamboyant take on Mrs. Hastings grates continually during the movie, but Barry Otto playing her put-upon husband has some touching moments both solo and with his screen son. Bill Hunter makes the blustering, scheming dance judge an amusing if predictable caricature while Peter Whitford as the owner of the dance studio is fine dramatically even though he doesn’t really convince as much of a dancer.
The Production Rating: 3.5/5
The film is framed at its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. (The liner notes claim 1.78:1.) This is one of those Blu-ray transfers that does not seem a major step up from the previous DVD release. Color can be very bold but is sometimes noisy in its brightest moments, and yet flesh tones are sometimes on the overly pale side but inconsistently so. Contrast seems to vary from too milky to spot-on sometimes within the same scene. Sharpness is never what it could be giving the image a sometimes dated appearance especially in some of the dimly lit ballroom and backstage sequences. The white subtitles used during the Spanish language sequences are easy to read. The film has been divided into 14 chapters.
Video Rating: 3.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio track makes fine use of the surround channels for all of the musical interludes featuring both music and audience reactions and applause, but the rest of the film makes scant use of the available rear channels, and there is a lack of deep bass in the sound design. The dialogue has been well recorded and resides snugly in the center channel.
Audio Rating: 3.5/5
Audio Commentary: Baz Luhrmann, production designer Catherine Martin, and choreographer John O’Connell have an engaging conversation. The trio talks quite continuously about the production, all good natured and proud of their accomplishments. This was recorded for the first DVD release after the success of Moulin Rouge! as it’s referenced several times.Strictly Ballroom: From Stage to Screen (23:22, SD): recounts the journey of the story from a thirty-minute stage piece to the finished film which won great acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival. Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Tristam Miall, and others give information about the struggle to raise money and get the film produced against unenthusiastic participation from the Australian Film Finance Corporation.Samba to Slow Fox Dance (30:17, SD): a featurette featuring interviews with real-life ballroom dancers varying in age from pre-teens to senior citizens and showing some of their moves on the dance floor.Deleted Scene (1:57, SD)Behind the Red Curtain (2:20, SD): some behind-the-scenes shots with commentary from the director.That’s Looking Good (0:18, SD): a quick montage of costumes in the film.Dance to Win (1:36, SD): shows the choreographer John O’Connell at work.Yesterday’s Hero (0:46, SD): shows some snapshots of Luhrmann during his youthful days as a ballroom dancer.Love Is in the Air (1:11, SD): recounts how the two stars of the film landed their roles.Promo Trailers: Chicago, Shakespeare in Love, Velvet Goldmine.
Special Features Rating: 3.5/5
Strictly Ballroom shows the glimmers of creativity and promise from director Baz Luhrmann in embryonic form. The film is, despite its predictable script, an entertaining show biz success story. Unfortunately, the Blu-ray transfer here is only slightly better than the last DVD release, and the bonus features, all in standard definition and merely ported over from the last DVD release, aren’t a major cause for upgrading. The price is right, however, for fans of the movie.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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