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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Shall We Dance? (1 Viewer)

Matt Hough

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Shall We Dance? (Blu-ray)
Directed by Peter Chelsom

Studio: Miramax
Year: 2004
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p VC-1 codec
Running Time: 102 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Audio: PCM 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 English, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Subtitles: English, French Spanish
MSRP: $ 29.99

Release Date: May 6, 2008
Review Date: May 7, 2008



The Film

3.5/5

If one is wondering why Disney would choose from its vaults Peter Chelsom’s Shall We Dance? for a Blu-ray release when dozens of higher grossing films await release in the new format, perhaps a quick check of the TV ratings will reveal what Disney/ABC’s highest rated show of the season is: Dancing With the Stars! That’s right; higher than Grey’s Anatomy, higher than Desperate Housewives, higher than Lost. A pity, then, that this old-fashioned, feel-good crowd pleaser was unlucky enough to be released theatrically before Dancing With the Stars hit it big in America. There’s nothing particularly new in the story (adapted from a hit 1996 Japanese film that found great art house success here as well), but a vivacious cast, a sweet and simple story, and some lyrical moments on and off the dance floor make for a first-rate date movie, particularly for the middle aged and older sets.

Estate lawyer John Clark (Richard Gere) has everything that should make a man happy: a beautiful, loving wife (Susan Sarandon), two winning children, a successful career, and a worry-free existence. But something is missing as he turns 50. Each night on his Chicago subway train, he passes Miss Mitzi’s Dancing School where he sees a sad, solitary girl (Jennifer Lopez) in the widow. One night, he hops off the train to investigate, and finds himself enrolling in ballroom dance classes. At first, he seems merely interested in checking out this enigmatic girl’s situation, but at the dance school, he meets some kindred spirits who are also there looking for something to enrich their lives and to possibly escape some secrets they all have buried inside. We have overweight Vern (Omar Miller), overly slick Chic (Bobby Cannavale), bossy Bobbie (Lisa Ann Walter), and even secret Latin dancer from his office Link (Stanley Tucci) who disguises himself in fake teeth and an outrageous lion’s mane of a wig. Soon, they’re all involved in learning pasa doubles and rumba steps and, more importantly, putting some enjoyment back into their rudimentary lives. But John’s wife Bev is suspicious of this change in his manner, and so she hires a private investigator (Richard Jenkins) fearful that her husband is having an affair.

Though Sarandon is a superb actress and makes the most of her few scenes, the picture belongs to the frequenters of Miss Mitzi’s dance studio. The growing camaraderie of the students as they learn the intricacies of ballroom dancing is tremendously affecting, and one begins to root for these klutzes as they miraculously begin to transform into graceful, elegant dancers. Richard Gere came to this film after scoring a career high point winning Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards for his work in the musical Chicago. Though he’s not required to sing here, his footwork is on a par with his show-stopping tap number in that film, and the emotional journey of his character is far more demanding that the sarcastic lout he played in that Rob Marshall musical.

Jennifer Lopez’s background as a dancer gave her a leg up (no pun intended) in learning the difficult maneuvers required of her in the picture, but ballroom dancing is a very different animal than the kind of dance she has performed in her music videos, and she does very well indeed making this one of her most likable roles. Bobby Cannavale, Omar Miller, Lisa Ann Walter, and Richard Jenkins do wonderful things with their characters in the movie making them adorable eccentrics in the best sense of the word. Needless to say, Stanley Tucci walks off with every scene he’s in as the love-for-glitz heterosexual who was born to dance and despises having to hide his passion.

Though director Peter Chelsom breaks away from the full figures of the dancers during their routines a little too often for filming unnecessary close-ups, for the most part he captures the intimacy and kinetic lilt that ballroom dance can have on an audience with striking economy. A late movie tango between Gere and Lopez is as sensuous a sequence as has been filmed recently (a film clip of Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse dancing in The Band Wagon shown to the dancers during the movie matches it in erotic fervor), and the climactic dance competition, even with its somewhat absurd melodramatic contrivances, invests the audience with its payoffs.

Shall We Dance? needn’t be a question. With first class talent and a joyful sense of spirit, it’s a movie that’s very easy to like.


Video Quality

4/5

The film’s original theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio is presented here in a 1080p transfer using the VC-1 codec. Overall, the transfer offers very strong color, rich black levels, and no encoding artifacts. Early scenes occasionally seem softer than they should, and flesh tones sometimes seem on the pink side. Still, it’s a very rich looking high definition image. The film is divided into 16 chapters.

Audio Quality

4/5

The uncompressed PCM 5.1 audio track (4.6 Mbps) offers a solid audio experience though sometimes the music doesn’t seem to be exploited fully for optimum surround effect. Certainly the rich variety of music styles that form the basis of the dances is beautifully recorded, but the spread of sound through the channels seems to vary from sequence to sequence.

Special Features

3.5/5

All of the bonus features have been ported over from the standard definition DVD release of this movie. They are all in 480i. (Incidentally, this film is another in the series of Disney Blu-rays with a $10 rebate coupon inside for those upgrading to Blu-ray from the regular DVD.)

Director Peter Chelsom offers an audio commentary that’s informative but measured in delivery. There are some silent patches in his conversation, but his pride in the film, his huge respect for the work ethic of his actors, and the story of his hesitancy of taking on the assignment after the success of the Japanese original just a few years before make for interesting listening.

There are 5 deleted and/or extended scenes which can be played with or without director commentary, and can be played individually or in one 17 ½ minute chunk. Most interesting are the complete competition dance routines by Bobby Cannavale and Omar Miller which were only excerpted in the final release print.

“Behind the Scenes of Shall We Dance?” offers a 24-minute EPK featurette on the making of the film featuring interviews with the director, producer, and stars of the film.

“Beginner’s Ballroom” is a very interesting look at the stars’ tremendous four month rehearsal routine learning how to make their moves appear effortless on film. Choreographer John O’Connell in particular speaks on the specifics of posture, arms, hand, and body positions in hitting the right stance for the dances. This featurette runs 6 ½ minutes.

"The Music of Shall We Dance?” is a too-brief 3 ¾ minute look at singers Mya and the Pussycat Dolls laying down vocal tracks to be used in the film.

“Pussycat Dolls “Sway” Music Video” is the 3 ½ minute music video made by the Pussycat Dolls (and whose audio track is used in the movie) of the old Dean Martin standard “Sway.”

The Blu-ray disc offers 1080p previews of the upcoming The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, and The Nightmare Before Christmas.


In Conclusion

3.5/5 (not an average)

A thoroughly entertaining, feel good story of meeting mid-life crises head-on and coming out on top, Shall We Dance? makes a nice addition to the growing list of above average Blu-ray catalog titles. Excellent video and audio highlight this Blu-ray release.


Matt Hough
Charlotte, NC

[PG]113732904[/PG]
 

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