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Blu-ray Review 54 Blu-ray review (1 Viewer)

MatthewA

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Shane O’Shea (Ryan Phillippe) is a rising star among the bartenders at Studio 54 in New York. Greg Randazzo (Breckin Meyer), his wife Anita (Salma Hayek) and soap ingénue Julie Black (Neve Campbell) are showing him how to get ahead. Steve Rubell (Mike Myers) is the club’s lecherous, avaricious owner. Harvey Weinstein, head of Miramax, is the man who turned 54 into a sluggish mish-mash of tangents in search of a story, despite a memorable performance by Myers, excellent period detail, and a great disco soundtrack. Lionsgate’s Blu-ray is 12 minutes longer than the theatrical version but is in no way a true “director’s cut,” and features an utterly horrible transfer.



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54 (1998)


Studio: Miramax (distributed by Lionsgate)


Year: 1998


Rated: R


Length: 104 Minutes


Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1


Resolution: 1080p


Languages: English 5.1 Surround DTS-HD MA


Subtitles: English, Spanish


MSRP: $19.99


Film Release Date: August 28, 1998


Disc Release Date: March 6, 2012


Review Date: March 16, 2012



The Movie:


2.5/5



Disco is perhaps the most polarizing genre in the history of music. What started as an outgrowth of the lush Philadelphia soul sound of the early 1970s turned into a full-fledged cultural phenomenon that burned as brightly as a comet and burned out almost as quickly; a widespread backlash fomented by rock musicians and fans helped hasten its demise. The music originated in discotheques patronized largely by blacks, Latinos and gays, and throughout its heyday it was in these discotheques and nightclubs where it was most popular, even more so than on the pop charts it dominated briefly. One particular New York City nightclub came to represent the best and worst of disco culture: Studio 54. A former opera house converted into a lavish nightclub by restaurant owner Steve Rubell, everyone wanted to get into this Dionysian boogie wonderland, but only the best of the best were allowed inside. Here, people from every race, class, sexual orientation and walk of life mingled with movie stars, artists and royalty, as long as Rubell thought they were worthy to enter. Eventually it gained a reputation as a hotbed of out-of-control recreational drug use and promiscuous sex, and when the party ended, it ended just as ostentatiously as it had begun. Rubell was convicted of tax evasion and served 11 months in jail from February 1980 to January 1981, after which a toned-down Studio 54 was re-opened by a corporation. He died of AIDS in 1989 at the age of 45. Today, the building is the site of a Broadway theater.



Outside of Saturday Night Fever, disco made little noticeable impact on cinema outside of a few poorly-received oddities, such as Thank God It’s Friday, Roller Boogie, Can’t Stop the Music and Xanadu. By the 1990s, however, when 1970s nostalgia was in full swing, Hollywood was ready to put on its boogie shoes and look at the era in hindsight, warts and all. One film that showed promise in recreating both the flashier and the shadier aspects of the era was 54, the feature film debut of its writer and director, Mark Christopher. Unfortunately, the film Christopher made is not the film that has been released.



At the tail end of the decade, young, handsome, blond New Jerseyite Shane O’Shea (Ryan Phillippe) casts off the shackles of his provincial suburban life and gets a job as a waiter at Studio 54 after he catches the eye of its lecherous owner, Steve Rubell (Mike Myers). There, he befriends fellow waiter Greg Randazzo (Breckin Meyer) and his wife Anita (Salma Hayek), an aspiring singer. As Shane learns the ropes, eventually he rises to the coveted position of bartender. Eventually, he gets caught up in the world of drug abuse and promiscuous sex, having an affair with Anita and many other women, and having only one true friend: an elderly woman named Mona (Ellen Albertini Dow) who calls herself “Disco Dottie.” Even Julie Black (Neve Campbell), a fellow Jerseyite who is languishing in a small role on All My Chlidren (coincidentally, Cameron Mathison, who has a small role as one of the waiters that was supposed to have been larger, joined the cast of the now-canceled ABC soap the same year this film was released) and dreams of bigger things, does not stick around long. Meanwhile, Rubell's questionable business ethics threaten the future of the club.



As David O. Selznick once said, “editing can make or break a movie.” Miramax has broken a number of films in this manner from Asian martial arts films (fans of Asian cinema often referred to them as “MiramAXE”) to Richard Williams’ animated labor of love The Thief and the Cobbler. 54 is another example of how Harvey Weinstein earned the derogatory nickname “Harvey Scissorhands.” The film was supposed to center around a bisexual love triangle between Shane, Greg and Anita, who were supposedly much less sympathetic. However, after a disastrous test screening at a Long Island multiplex, Miramax forced Christopher to make huge changes that amounted to roughly 40 minutes of cuts and 25 minutes of reshoots. This 104-minute version is 12 minutes longer than the theatrical version, but any resemblances between it and the original intent are purely coincidental. It is just a longer version of Harvey Weinstein’s futile attempt to homogenize—or heterogenize, if you will, as much of the gay content is toned down—the story into something commercially acceptable. It is a shapeless mess full of stereotyped characters rushing around in hopeless circles through a meandering, episodic and trite storyline with little point to it. Few of the central performances stand out; the cinematography is certainly flattering to Ryan Phillippe and his coworkers, but his performance has little going on beneath the surface. Worse, he provides narration that does nothing to improve the film’s narrative momentum. It’s right up there with the doggerel Harrison Ford was forced to record for the theatrical cut of Blade Runner. Only Mike Myers as Steve Rubell has anything left of his performance that leaves an impression. He captures his arrogance, greed and inhumanity with a skill that shows there is more to his abilities than just Wayne Campbell, Austin Powers and Shrek. The only other memorable performance comes from Ellen Albertini Dow as Disco Dottie, a breath of fresh air amidst all the dreariness that even its first-rate soundtrack and excellent period detail can’t lighten.



Critics did not take kindly to Harvey Weinstein’s vision of the film, and it grossed a disappointing $16,757,163 against a $13,000,000 budget. A glimmer of hope for the film’s redemption came 10 years later when Mark Christopher went back to his digital videotapes of the dailies and assembled his own director’s cut of the film. It played a surprise screening at OutFest in 2008 where it was extremely well-received. Unfortunately, he has not been invited to do a definitive cut, leaving us stuck with this Frankenstein monster of a film indefinitely.



The Video:


1.5/5



Presented at its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, this transfer does not live up to the standards of Lionsgate’s previous Miramax releases, and that’s being extremely magnanimous. This transfer is unbelievably soft with fine detail being virtually nonexistent. There is very little grain, and faces have an unnaturally waxy look to them, suggesting Lionsgate took an off-the-shelf master and slathered it with DNR. Colors feature strong saturation in the bar but look pale and washed out everywhere else. Some shots seem to be afflicted with color halos that look like chromatic aberration. I would expect this sort of thing from Echo Bridge, but Lionsgate can do better.



The Audio:


4/5



While the video is a disaster, the audio fares better. This 5.1 DTS-HD MA track features clear audio that is sometimes a bit soft, but it really comes alive where it counts: with the music. The soundtrack is packed with a mix of disco hits from Diana Ross, Grace Jones, The Miracles, Sylvester, Chic, Thelma Houston (who appears in the film singing a heartfelt “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”), Blondie and others, contributing to a vibrant soundscape with noticeable surround activity; sound effects are a bit subtler, but still noticeable. All in all, this is the one redeeming factor of this disc.



The Extras:


0.5/5



The only extra is a 3:34, 4x3, 480i music video for Stars on 54’s techno-dance cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s biggest hit, “If You Could Read My Mind.”



Final Score:


2/5



54 is yet another casualty in the endless war between filmmakers and the studios that hire them. A rambling, incoherent muddle with a beat you can dance to, Lionsgate has treated it no better in its Blu-ray debut than Miramax treated it during its production. What makes it worse is the fact that no official effort was made to right the wrongs done to this film after Mark Christopher assembled his bootleg cut. With Miramax now effectively a memory, it is uncertain whether or not the public will ever get a chance to see the film that could have been.
 
K

Kevin Collins

The Video:
1.5/5

Presented at its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, this transfer does not live up to the standards of Lionsgate’s previous Miramax releases, and that’s being extremely magnanimous. This transfer is unbelievably soft with fine detail being virtually nonexistent. There is very little grain, and faces have an unnaturally waxy look to them, suggesting Lionsgate took an off-the-shelf master and slathered it with DNR. Colors feature strong saturation in the bar but look pale and washed out everywhere else. Some shots seem to be afflicted with color halos that look like chromatic aberration. I would expect this sort of thing from Echo Bridge, but Lionsgate can do better.

Great, I already bought the title before your review came out!!! I was hoping for a great transfer. Guess it will just go on the shelf with shrink wrap left on...
 

MatthewA

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It all depends on whether the film negatives still exist. If they are gone forever, I will never see another film in which the Weinsteins had any involvement. Sure, Miramax didn't mind releasing Priest (and I remember the brouhaha from certain Disney stockholders over that), which was a British film they acquired, and of course, Touchstone produced Ellen, but this was too much for them.
 

Moe Dickstein

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I don't think it's a basic anti-gay thing, but it's a matter of trying to maximize potential.Something like Priest was never going to be a breakout hit, so they don't care what the content is, but 54 they could see being a fun party crossover hit with younger filmgoers and so they didn't want it to be challenging, dark or too gay to work in the flyover country.So it's cynical business calculation that gutted this film. If this film was done during the disney years I'd imagine everything was properly archived. Especially since there were new versions made since the theatrical (isnt the blu like 10 minutes longer?) I'd really love to have a version with both cuts so you can really see how much editing can change the whole character of a film. I remember seeing this opening day, and knowing about the re-edits and just being able to feel the darker, more interesting, better film that was hiding in there.
 

MatthewA

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Disney doesn't own anything of Miramax's anymore, but I don't know where they store the film material now. Probably because they made fewer films up until the mid-to-late-1980s "singles and doubles" era, Disney seemed to be better at saving cut footage than some studios, though.
 

Moe Dickstein

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yeah as long as it was made in the disney era, i feel like it would be properly preserved. the people that bought the library wouldn't trash their only assets
 
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After the dissapointing BD releases something new is in sight: director Mark Christopher is going to present his director's cut of "54" at the upcoming Berlin Film Festival in February 2015. The Film Festival programm announces it as a "world premiere":

http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/film-about-famed-studio-54-has-gay-footage-restored-17-years-after-original-release171214
http://www.nyinexile.com/2014/12/restored-gay-inclusive-cut-of-54-to.html
http://www.movie-censorship.com/news.php?ID=8374

Does anybody know about if this finally may lead to a BD release of Mark Christophers original uncensored version?
 

MatthewA

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ChristophNestel said:
Does anybody know about if this finally may lead to a BD release of Mark Christophers original uncensored version?
I should hope so. Anything would be a step up from this disc, whose picture wasn't even a good representation of what already existed. I'm just glad it's happening for real.
 

albert_m2

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I saw this in theaters at the time and remembered being very disappointed. I haven't seen it since though would interesting to see it in its original form.
 

Ethan Riley

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I think a studio release of this is futile. I think it's up to Criterion, if that can be worked out. Counting this one, there now seem to be FOUR versions floating around. 54 is the new Blade Runner, I guess. Bottom line: 54 was conceived and intended as a worthy follow up to Boogie Nights but was repurposed as a teen date movie. I will be first in line for a blu if they do it right.
 

Ejanss

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Still, I would put Mike Myers into that company of Dan Aykroyd, Kevin Nealon and Chris Kattan, who didn't have much funny future as SNL comics, but showed a brief flash of pretty darn good dramatic potential as character actors.
I'd rather see the ex-Love Guru do another straightforward role than that Austin Powers 4 he wants to do.

Miramax editing aside, I suspect the original review was a bit, er....biased in "They didn't keep the gay plot! :( "--which is only going to marginalize and niche-ghetto any festival-circuit "restored uncut director's edits" further--but as it is, it's a noble disappointment that will probably have its subject remade with a tighter focus.
It seemed like most of the pre-release hype WANTED a "Story of Studio 54" movie to be good, and this wasn't it, largely due to all the fictional-bartender nonsense that everyone else wants restored, and wanted more accent on how Rubell was a decade-symbolic Greek-tragedy story of 70's indulgence.
Truth was stranger than fiction, and seemed like the movie couldn't afford the truth, and kept it offstage as a supporting character.
MatthewA said:
Outside of Saturday Night Fever, disco made little noticeable impact on cinema outside of a few poorly-received oddities, such as Thank God It’s Friday, Roller Boogie, Can’t Stop the Music and Xanadu.
(D'oh! How many times will we have to tell them?--Xanadu had a disco in it but was not a disco movie!!)
 

MatthewA

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They needed the gay plot for the film to make sense. There wasn't a single editing decision that was motivated by the greater good of the film itself.As for being biased, don't forget this same reviewer ripped Disney a new one when they minimized the heterosexual love story in that movie on my avatar after they put it back in again.
 

Ethan Riley

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I don't know why the studio wanted this movie in the first place, then. Did they not read the script? That club was ground zero for the decadent disco era, with drugs and gays running hot, with abandon. Why would there even be a movie about 54 if it's not focusing on those lifestyles? There's no point. Because if you repurpose it into a hetero relationship, one half of which is a shirtless go-go boy, it can't make any sense. Who's that naive, to think the Ryan Philippe character would be 100% into chicks? Everyone pretty much knows what went on in the club. It was loaded with gays, rent boys and drugs. Why pretend otherwise?

Again, as I always say, it should have been seen as a follow-up to Boogie Nights, which focused on similar subject matter of that same era, and was a film very highly acclaimed in its day. If moviegoers accepted Boogie Nights, they would have at least been prompted for something like a serious examination of 54 and its level of decadence. It wouldn't have been too shocking. I don't know why the studio got scared. "54" in its original release was really little different than a dozen other Nightlife romcoms that came out in the 90s. It should have been allowed to deal with its own subject matter, and should have been taken seriously. I have not seen this newest cut, but I really do want to. Hope Criterion is listening and can make something happen. I would like to see the newest version and at least the original release, or the last blu-ray release, with lots of deleted scenes and commentary.
 

Ejanss

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Ethan Riley said:
I don't know why the studio wanted this movie in the first place, then. Did they not read the script? That club was ground zero for the decadent disco era, with drugs and gays running hot, with abandon. Why would there even be a movie about 54 if it's not focusing on those lifestyles?
Again, as I always say, it should have been seen as a follow-up to Boogie Nights, which focused on similar subject matter of that same era, and was a film very highly acclaimed in its day. If moviegoers accepted Boogie Nights, they would have at least been prompted for something like a serious examination of 54 and its level of decadence.
Drugs, yes, disco, swinger indulgence, yes, everything else....we weren't really paying attention, since it "never happened" back in the 70's.
And as such, anything else was seen a needless "distraction" from what we "remembered" the story as being about, and the only ones who did want to see it in the story were...those who ALWAYS want to see it in the story. No surprise there. :rolleyes:

Basically, we did see it, or wanted to see it, as Boogie Nights II, except that where Boogie was just a fictional story of a decade-iconic industry, 54 played up the "Oscar buzz" (this being a Miramax picture, you see) of Myers playing real-life Steve Rubell.
Oh, so, it's a controversial biopic of him? Uh, no. It's about....this guy. Whoever he is. Rubell just sort of shows up, in the background, and we see how our hero eventually gets to find out that Rubell was busted for drugs and then a decade comes crashing down, before our hero can get all his dalliances sorted out--Don'tcha hate when that happens, right when you're in the middle of a new job and a problematic relationship?

For the equivalent, consider audiences fifteen years from now getting a story about the real-estate meltdown, as told through...the janitor at Merrill Lynch, and his affairs at the time. I dunno, maybe he didn't have his shirt on, either.
 

MatthewA

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Ejanss said:
Drugs, yes, disco, swinger indulgence, yes, everything else....we weren't really paying attention, since it "never happened" back in the 70's.
And as such, anything else was seen a needless "distraction" from what we "remembered" the story as being about, and the only ones who did want to see it in the story were...those who ALWAYS want to see it in the story. No surprise there. :rolleyes:
And it's the likes of you that are keeping them out. And this is why your complaints about "misogyny" on other threads ring hollow. Homophobia is rooted in sexism.

Mark Christopher wanted nothing to do with the changes, but he had no choice at the time. The theatrical cut and this so-called "director's cut" have no coherence whatsoever as works of storytelling, and in this case the blame can be laid 100% at Harvey Weinstein's feet. Did he even try showing this to a gay audience before the cuts and reshoots began? Or even an urban audience instead of that New Jersey mini-mall? In any case, the final cut will probably be better by default. It's just a question of actually getting it to the public. Criterion might do it, as they also did The Last Days of Disco which came out the same year. Keep in mind the year in question was 1998. The year Will & Grace, a show I have never, ever, ever liked, premiered (some bias, huh?). The year Matthew Shepard was murdered for being gay by two gay bashers who should have been executed for it. It also happened to be the year I came out of the closet. It is now 2014. In less than 48 hours, it will be 2015. Marriage equality is a reality in more than half the country. The North Carolina town I grew up in has a gay mayor. Gay characters are so commonplace on TV, even I can't keep up with all of them, and I'm not even interested in watching them all because I just don't have time.On a quasi-related note, one of my friends, a man with long blond hair, met Mike Myers when he was staying in Monterey, CA. He was awful to the friend, saying "get this f----t out of here." That's yet another reason why this final cut needs to happen. His shitty 2000s "comedies" were karma for this and other behavior. Too bad Telma Hopkins and Mariska Hargitay got dragged into that Love Guru thing along with him, but I'm still holding Cat in the Hat against everybody in it except Amy Hill. And frankly, Garth Algar is much funnier in hindsight than Wayne Campbell; even then he was too busy looking at the camera and laughing at his own jokes. I can't even watch Shrek anymore and not just because of the "Dreamworks are a bunch of hypocrites for bashing Disney after that if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em stage musical and the progressively worse sequels and the merchandise and it's as far removed from William Steig's original book as anything Walt ever did" aspect.But this would never happen if Disney still owned Miramax. Ever since the Beauty and the Beast (a heterosexual love story told by a gay lyricist drawing heavily from the also-gay Jean Cocteau) and Lion King Blu-rays, they've been jettisoning alternate cuts even when they were done on film. Why? They won't say. Maybe Rob Marshall, whom I use to say: "see, I don't reflexively praise ALL gay directors!" lucked out and got final cut on Into the Woods, but I'm not counting on it.
 

Will Krupp

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Ejanss said:
the only ones who did want to see it in the story were...those who ALWAYS want to see it in the story. No surprise there. :rolleyes:
I feel ya, Eric. Those uppity, pesky gays refuse to sit quietly by while they're whitewashed out of history. What the hell do they want, anyway? They should be happy we aren't putting them in jail any more. To quote Tom Robinson, "the buggers are legal now, what more are they after?"

They should just shutup and know their place and just STOP making life uncomfortable for grown heterosexual men obsessed with keeping Disney princesses barefoot and pregnant (the way God intended.)
 

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