DVD Review HTF Review: Camp

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Jason Perez, Feb 19, 2004.

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  1. Jason Perez

    Jason Perez Second Unit

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    [​IMG]

    Camp






    Studio: MGM
    Year: 2003
    Rated: PG-13
    Film Length: 114 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
    Subtitles: English and Spanish
    Audio: English – Dolby Digital 5.1






    Camp, billed as a “comedy about drama”, is an ambitious low-budget musical/romantic comedy written and directed by first-time filmmaker Todd Graff, who based the film on his personal experiences at the famous Stagedoor Manor theater camp. In addition to being helmed by a first-time director, Camp also stars a cast of talented, but virtually unknown, performers. This being the case, one might assume that the inexperience of Camp’s cast and filmmaking team would be a detriment, ultimately dooming the film to inferiority.

    On the contrary, although it is somewhat uneven, Todd Graff’s work is a fairly enjoyable film that manages to ascend above the chasm of mediocrity a bit (although it never quite achieves excellence). How does it do so, you ask? Well, specifically, the characters are pretty well-realized for a teen-oriented musical, the actors turn in energetic and inspired performances (for the most part), especially during the musical numbers, and the witty script even manages to breathe a little life into the many genre clichés in the film.

    In terms of its storyline, Camp chronicles the relationships and interactions between a group of aspiring young dancers/musicians/actors who are away at Camp Ovation, a retreat designed to immerse them in the experience of performing in front of an audience. This year, the hottest “camper” at Camp Ovation is a newcomer named Vlad (Daniel Letterle), a good-looking singer/songwriter who is hoping to become a better actor. As his character is introduced, we see that he is a stereotypical “all-American” guy, but at Camp Ovation Vlad stands out like a sore thumb because he is quite different from of its typical male attendees. To be more blunt, he is not gay, as many of the other fellows at the camp are, so more than a few of the girls seem interested in finding their way into Vlad’s heart.

    Initially, Vlad develops a relationship with Ellen (Joanna Chilcoat), a nice, average-looking young lady who has taken a liking to him. Unfortunately, this does not sit too well with Camp Ovation’s resident princess, Jill (Alana Allen), who quickly decides she wants a little Vlad for herself. As you might expect, plenty of devious behavior and backstabbing ensues. And as if that was not enough, Vlad’s gay roommate Michael (Robin De Jesus) also develops a fondness for him.

    In the midst of all these hormone-induced shenanigans, the teens are supposed to be getting enough serious work in to put on a new performance every two weeks. To that end, additional stress is placed on them by the somewhat overbearing staff, which includes new counselor Bert Hanley (Don Dixon). You see, Mr. Hanley, who had a hit play once upon a time, is now an angry drunk who serves up bitterness to those who would learn from him. As it turns out, nothing is as simple at Camp Ovation as it seems, but no one ever said making it in show business was easy!!!

    Now I have already tipped my hand and said I enjoyed the film, so let me tell you why. A large part of what I found so appealing about Camp was the realism infused in Todd Graff’s script. Specifically, the adolescents’ relationships develop very organically, with some campers forming friendships and others interacting in a more hostile manner. I also liked the way some of the more weighty issues concerning adolescent sexuality were dealt with. To its credit, this script is not written as a cheesy, family-friendly take on musical theater (not entirely at least), but rather as a somewhat bolder form of comedy, which also happens to tackle some of the more sordid aspects of theater camp. Granted, these ideas are not terribly original, but Graff handles them skillfully than is typical of this type of fare, and the execution by the cast is generally satisfying.

    On another note, the musical talents possessed by these newbie actors are also quite impressive; especially the vocal chops of Sasha Allen. Perhaps it would be unfair to say that they are as polished as those in, say, Chicago, but the musical numbers in Camp are still boast high production values and surprisingly professional execution. Better still, Todd Graff decided to have the songs vary considerably, in terms of style, which helps the audience from becoming bored by musical numbers that are too similar.

    Now you probably remember that I stated my opinion about the film’s unevenness a while back. Well, the comedic portions of the film seems to work best because the actors have an energy that makes their antics stand out over their less-than-memorable lines. Moreover, these characters themselves lend themselves to comedy more so than drama because of their flamboyance, ego-centrism, or just plain silliness. Unfortunately, however, the actors’ energy during the comedic sequences does not seem to carry over into all of the more “dramatic” portions of the film, especially those involving elements of romance. Indeed, although these rookies are game, their inexperience shows in their lack of focus while delivering some lines that are supposed to pack a wallop, but ultimately end up missing the mark.

    Pacing is also a bit of an issue, as there are a couple of musical numbers that probably should have been omitted, especially during the latter stages of the film. Since Camp is a film about kids learning to perform, it goes without saying that we should be shown snippets of whatever show the kids happen to be rehearsing. Unfortunately, there are a few too many long solo numbers by characters not central to the story that make the film drag a little bit. To be fair, these individuals are talented, and dance or sing very well, but these sequences keep the film from heading towards its conclusion in a more cohesive fashion.

    It is kind of strange, but Camp being an amalgamation of drama, romance, the arts, and comedy both hurts and helps the film. Still, while Todd Graff and company don’t shine in every one of these areas, I would hope that, at the very least, people appreciate Graff’s effort to marry several different genres and give us a taste of what drama camp is really about. Unfortunately, he does not seem to be accomplished enough yet, as a writer or director, to be able to pull it all off effectively. Still, however, the film is both lightly entertaining and quite funny at times, and I saw enough of Todd Graff’s potential in Camp to leave me looking forward to his next effort.






    SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
    Despite MGM presenting Camp in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), the film still looks like a low-budget affair due to the inconsistency of its image quality. In fact, even when taking the low production budget into account, a couple of scenes look horrific for such a recently made film. On the other hand, other sequences look outstanding, with bold, vibrant colors almost bursting off the screen. In any case, let’s kick the tires and examine Camp’s image quality a little more closely.

    For the most part, colors are rendered splendidly, although the deepest blues and brightest reds exhibit a noticeable amount of dot crawl. Flesh tones look very natural as well, with the slight gradations amongst the ethnically diverse cast being readily apparent, but the flesh tones of more fair skinned characters veer towards orange on occasion. There is also a moderate amount of video noise evident in the background of several interior shots, and even a handful of the sequences that occur out-of-doors.

    In general blacks are deep, although shadow detail does get swallowed up in a couple of sequences. This is a real problem in Chapter 27, which looked absolutely atrocious when compared with the rest of the film. Lastly, edge enhancement is noticeable in a couple of areas, although the resultant halos are not a major distraction, and the problem is not persistent throughout.

    All things considered, in my mind Camp simply does not measure up to the standard of image quality that most newer productions manage to achieve. To be fair, the majority of the film is more than watchable, and most sequences look quite good considering the film’s budget. However, I just could not get past the serious issues I had with the lakeside scene in Chapter 27, and the combination of other visual anomalies that pop up throughout (albeit occasionally). As such, I would have to say that this is a somewhat disappointing effort.




    WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
    In terms of audio information, Camp is all about the music, and MGM’s Dolby Digital 5.1 channel mix really shines when it comes to music reproduction. What about the remaining aspects of the track though? Do they measure up as well?

    To begin with, dialogue is generally reproduced in a warm, full, and distraction-free manner, and the female voices in the film sound particularly good thanks to a smooth, even frequency response. There are a couple of times where the characters’ speech was slightly difficult to discern though, but fortunately this occurred only in a few isolated instances, so it did not detract too much from the film.

    Moving on to music reproduction, the varied and creative musical numbers reap the benefits of a spacious soundstage, which makes these sequences’ production values evident and also allows for tangible instrument separation. Even more importantly, the sense of space prevents the characters’ voices from getting muddled together during the ensemble performances. Further, the subwoofer reinforces the musical numbers nicely, with clean and punchy bass.

    The rear channels, however, are used sparingly, and generally come into play only when background noise is required, or to fill in the listening space during the many musical performances in the film. Although I would have preferred just a bit more aggressiveness, in terms of surround channel activity, there is a lot to like about this track, especially its fluid midrange, controlled highs, and punchy low end. Well done!




    EXTRAS, EXTRAS!!!


    The Making of Camp
    This entertaining featurette, which runs for about 24 minutes, affords the viewer a fly-on-the-wall look at how Camp was put together by Todd Graff. Essentially, this means we get to see everything from audition footage, to rehearsals and choreography, to footage of the film’s premiere. Mr. Graff also provides some insight into the real-life Stagedoor Manor theater camp, which was kind enough to allow Camp to be filmed there, and discusses the unique talents of some of the principal cast-members. Although this featurette probably could have been trimmed by a few minutes, it is quite an interesting look at how this project came together, and I found it to be more than worth a look.


    Live Cast Performance
    The cast of Camp performs “How Shall I See You Through My Tears” live, during the final evening of the 2003 Los Angeles Film Festival.


    Deleted Scenes
    There are a total of five deleted scenes, which can be played either individually or as one continuous reel. A couple of these scenes are very brief, and were probably cut for time. The softball scene, however, starts off being pretty funny, but it gets rather ugly towards the end. Still, it was interesting to see, and at least as funny as anything in the film itself. The deleted scenes are entitled as follows:

    --- Equus
    --- Softball
    --- “I Sing For You” – Full Version
    --- Petie Gets the Tap Number
    --- Petie’s Tap Number


    Theatrical Trailer
    The theatrical trailer and a soundtrack spot for Camp are included, as well as:

    --- An “MGM Means Great Movies” Trailer

    --- The Touching the Void Trailer

    --- The It Runs in the Family Trailer

    --- The Girls Will Be Girls Trailer

    --- The Safety Objects Trailer

    --- The Manic Trailer

    --- The cover art for six more MGM DVD releases



    SCORE CARD

    (on a five-point scale)
    Movie: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Video: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Audio: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Extras: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Overall: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]



    THE LAST WORD
    Writer/Director Todd Graff’s first feature, Camp, is a flawed musical/comedy, but it still contains enough passion and energy to make it a worthwhile
    rental. This goes double for those with a real fondness for musical theater, because you will probably identify with some of these characters’ experiences, and because the musical numbers are more polished than one might expect from a band of “amateurs”.

    Unfortunately, as far as the presentation of the film goes, it proves to be a bit more uneven than the film itself. Specifically, a commendable Dolby Digital track and decent platter of extras are undermined by inconsistent video quality that speaks to Camp’s low budget. I cannot be sure that all of the visual idiosyncrasies can be attributed to the transfer, but a couple of sequences looked downright awful.

    To sum things up, I liked Camp as a film in spite of its weaknesses, and thought that its ambition, sense of humor, solid musical numbers, and fairly realistic characters make it worth a viewing. Indeed, most of these actors, knowing this could be their shot at stardom, put forth a great deal of enthusiasm, which really shows in the final product. In all honesty, Camp is not a movie that most people (myself included) will be likely to revisit, but if you like musical theater, check it out… you might be pleasantly surprised!


    Stay tuned…



    Release Date:
    February 24th, 2004
     
  2. RafaelB

    RafaelB Second Unit

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    Great review, Jason! [​IMG]

    CAMP was actually one of the highlights of my theatergoing last year, so much so that I saw it a few times. It was clearly such a fun movie that played with the 'summer camp' and musical theatre genres and that coupled with the young actors' strong performances really made my summer.

    I can't wait for this DVD!

    On another topic, I saw Joanna Chilcoat (Ellen) 6 years ago in a production of "A Little Night Music" and she clearly shines when her rendition of
    "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" from "Dreamgirls"
    is shown. It's good to see that she's still singing and acting.

    Rafael.
     
  3. Mikel_Cooperman

    Mikel_Cooperman Producer

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    I saw the previews and it looks really good. I am looking forward to this.
     
  4. Leo Kerr

    Leo Kerr Screenwriter

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    Joanna Chilcoat isn't an unknown!

    I've worked with her, on and off, over the last four or five years...

    A couple of points on picture quality. Due to its amazingly low budget, it was shot in HD.

    It was shot in a rediculously short period of time.

    I've heard rumors that there was a different ending that they didn't even have a chance to shoot, so it ended the way it did. (actually, I've never thought to *ask* Joanna about the ending rumors.)

    Leo Kerr
    [email protected]
     
  5. StacyV

    StacyV Second Unit

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    Can anyone who has this tell me if the making-of featurette is included in "special features" or as an easter egg? I just received a dts version of this disc I ordered through an amazon.com seller. The Camp trailer, making-of featurette and live cast performance are all listed on the back but I don't see any of these on the disc. [​IMG]
     
  6. RafaelB

    RafaelB Second Unit

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    Hi Stacy,

    It sounds like you've gotten a bootleg, unless it's from another region. The MGM R1 CAMP DVD doesn't have a DTS track and the featurette is easily accessible via the 'extras' area.

    Rafael.
     
  7. Jon Martin

    Jon Martin Cinematographer

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    Have to say I loved this DVD. I rented it last week and went out and bought it over the weekend.

    Unfortunately, there isn't an audio commentary on it. Of the hundreds of DVDs I've watched in the past few months, this is the first that made me want to listen to one, to see how he did different musical numbers and such.

    Loved the film.
     
  8. StacyV

    StacyV Second Unit

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    [​IMG] I was afraid of that. Now as I look at the disc itself, the MGM logo is nowhere to be found. The cover looked just grainy enough that I thought it was a bootleg, but assumed it was okay when I popped in the disc, sampling scene selections, extras and such, like I always do. The a/v quality was fine, but only the deleted scenes and “MGM Means Great Movies” Trailer are listed under "special features." RafaelB, thanks for the info, hopefully amazon will replace this with an authentic version.
     
  9. RafaelB

    RafaelB Second Unit

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    Stacy,

    Sorry to hear that you got burned via an Amazon seller (I did too last Christmas looking for an original ANNIE DVD), but I hope that you can get it resolved soon (and that Amazon participates- they're not very helpful when it comes to 3rd party sellers- believe me, I know). [​IMG]

    And yes, this film truly deserved a commentary, but I was much more than happy with the extras we got.

    Rafael.
     

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