HTF REVIEW: "Strictly Ballroom"

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Ronald Epstein, Feb 12, 2002.

  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Administrator
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    Strictly Ballroom

    "A Pan Pacific champion becomes a hero...
    a guiding light to all dancers...someone who'll
    set the right example"

    I have taken quite an interest in Director
    Baz Luhrmann. His masterpiece, MOULIN ROUGE,
    had inspired me like no other film before it.
    It took the old bygone era of film musicals and
    made it seem new again. I even had the opportunity
    to meet Baz in person last year, and I was so
    very impressed with his flamboyant personality that
    clearly shows an individual constantly yearning to
    create something uniquely entertaining.
    Celebrating its 10th anniversary, Strictly
    Ballroom finally makes its way to DVD. What
    is interesting to note is that Luhrmann conceived,
    staged and directed this film, which started
    originally as a 30 minute play that continued to
    evolve over his career. When the film premiered
    at the Cannes Film Festival in 1992, it received
    a slew of recognition awards.
    While the film and story are not nearly as
    elaborate as MOULIN ROUGE, its simplicity makes
    this film fun and inspirational.
    As the red curtain rises above the first few
    bars of Strauss's Blue Danube, the competing
    ballroom dancers take the floor. The event is
    the Waratah Championship, and a crowd of
    spectators encircle the dancers cheering them
    on to victory. The dancing is slow, precise
    and elegant. The precision of the dancing is
    being scrutinized by a panel of Judges.
    Suddenly, Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio), the
    reigning champion Ballroom dancer, starts dancing
    irately, introducing his own unique steps that are
    forbidden by the strictly ballroom Federation rules.
    His Mother (Pat Thompson), is just as angered as
    a Mother who just learned her son is doing drugs.
    His partner is so embarrassed that she vows never
    to dance with him again. Suddenly, Scott is alone
    without a partner and his hopes of winning the
    upcoming Pan Pacific championship has suddenly dimmed.
    Enter Fran (Tara Morice), a shy ugly-duckling
    beginning dancer who builds the courage to ask
    Scott to make her a partner. Scott is inspired by
    her courage and the both of them work together to
    overcome the odds by entering the Pan Pacific
    championships.
    Filled with waltzes, Rhumbas and sambas,
    Strictly Ballroom is strictly Luhrmann.
    This film clearly shows the stylish photography,
    editing and choreography that became the formula
    of success for all his later works. Don't miss a
    very wonderful dance sequence below a Coca-Cola
    billboard.
    How is the transfer?
    Unfortunately, I wasn't very happy with the
    transfer. Generally, the quality of the transfer
    depends on what scene you are looking at, as it
    greatly varies throughout the film.
    From the very beginning, you notice that the
    color gain has been turned up rather high. What
    this does is bring out an abundant amount of grain
    in the picture, especially in the reds. Take a look
    at the red curtain or red swinging doors, and you can
    clearly see that the color level is running very hot.
    Since this movie is full of colors in both scenery
    and costume, I was disappointed as to how these colors
    came across in the transfer. Either the colors run
    very hot, or in some of the indoor scenes, are very
    pale and slightly unfocused. Flesh tone colors are
    generally red, and in one scene, Mr. Kendall's white
    hair suddenly becomes greenish. The film really only
    looks well balanced in two scenes: One with Fran and
    Scott dancing at his grandmother's Cafe on the back
    patio, and, the Pan Pacific dance contest.
    This isn't a bad transfer by any means, but I
    think that fans will be annoyed by the ever-presence
    of grain and video noise in the picture.
    The film is presented in anamorphic (1.85:1)
    widescreen.
    The 5.1 Digital audio is very good. The front
    speakers rose to the occasion by producing bright,
    thumping audio that brought out the ever-changing
    musical rhythms of the film. The sounds of the
    cheering crowd brought up the rears, which remained
    fairly constant throughout the film, mostly to add
    reverb to the music.
    Special Features
    The DVD starts out with a really nice animated
    menu. As the camera moves across the floor of
    dancers, it focuses towards the red curtain that
    opens up to menu selections.
    There is a full-length running audio commentary
    by director Baz Luhrmann, production designer
    Catherine Martin and choreographer John
    O'Connell. The documentary was produced
    especially for this DVD. It is rare I have the
    chance to rewatch and listen to a film's commentary,
    but being a fan of Luhrmann, I wanted to hear what
    he had to say. The commentary is actually pretty
    fun. Luhrmann takes command and with such enthusiasm,
    he gives us insight into what went into this film.
    It was interesting to learn that this entire film
    only had 3 professional dancers (Paul Mercurio,
    Antonio Vargas and Leonie Page). The rest of the
    cast consisted of inexperienced extras. Production
    designer Catherine Martin explains the difficulty of
    shooting indoor scenery in Australia due to the fact
    that the country was geared more towards "on location"
    filming.
    Anyone interested in what Ballroom dancing
    is all about will be inclined to watch Samba to
    slow fox, a look at the Australian Amateur
    Latin American. This is the personal story of
    grownups and children who were somehow inspired
    to enter the world of ballroom dancing. We even get
    to look at the art of putting together a costume that
    will hopefully stand out amongst the others. This
    29-minute documentary manages to draw us into the
    lives of these people and share their elation of
    their dance.
    A wonderfully produced 3D gallery is included
    on this DVD that presents us with the many production
    elements of this film. Baz Luhrmann and Catherine
    Martin take us behind-the-scenes using their
    commentary and still photography. We sadly learn
    that Pat Thompson died before the film opening,
    thus never getting to see the fruits of her labor.
    We take a look at the extensive advertising ideas
    that went into the poster design. Much consideration
    went into how the poster art would inspire American
    audiences. Did you know that Baz Luhrmann's Mother
    was a ballroom dancer? We learn this as we look at
    Baz's Family album which shows a few pictures
    of Baz in his youth. Finally, a look at how the
    actor to fill the shoes of Scott (Mercurio) was
    picked from a Sydney modern dance company.
    Just as interesting, we learn how difficult it
    was to convince the financiers that the role of
    Fran (Morice) could be filled with someone so
    totally inexperienced in dancing.
    There are 7 Theatrical trailers included
    for other Miramax titles including.
    An Easter Egg is also included that leads
    viewers to a deleted scene from the film, unseen
    by audiences until now.
    Final Thoughts
    Obviously there was much thought put into
    the overall production of this DVD. The animated
    menu designs are very impressive and the fact
    that Luhrmann got personally involved in its
    content makes this worthy of a watch. I just
    wish that more consideration was given to the
    film's transfer which is very weak. A film so
    full of colors deserved to be treated better.
    If you are just as of big a fan of MOULIN ROUGE
    as I am, then you certainly should take at this
    very first feature film from Baz Luhrmann. It
    proves that the Director always had the talent
    and creativity to bring us an awe-inspiring story
    about making personal dreams come true.
    Release Date: March 19, 2002
     
  2. RafaelB

    RafaelB Second Unit

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    Great News, Ron!
    This is one of my favorite movies from the 90s. I remember being in Europe and seeing posters for this film all over the place and, knowing nothing else, it really piqued my interest when it was finally released here.[​IMG]
    It truly is a colorful, fun, joy-ride and I can't wait to see it on DVD.
    Rafael
     
  3. Joel C

    Joel C Screenwriter

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    Sounds liek an excellent release. Along with the R+J special edition on March 12th, I'm happy! Unfortunately, there's no word on the extras disc from the "where's the announcement?" Red Curtain Box Set. I hope they do a mail away deal like Universal and don't rip off the millions who already bought Moulin Rouge and will, by then, have purchased one or both of the others.
     
  4. Lisel

    Lisel Stunt Coordinator

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    Vivir con miedo es como vivir a medidas. Thanks for the review, Ron, though I'm disappointed to hear about the transfer. Still, the extras and the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack sound good.
    Lisel
     
  5. Larry Bevil

    Larry Bevil Second Unit

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    Thanks for the review Ron. I have had Strictly Ballroom on laserdisc for quite a while and enjoy pulling it out to watch every once in a while. I was hoping it would have a better video transfer. But will probably go ahead and get the dvd for comparison to my laserdisc. Very enjoyable movie.
     
  6. Jim Stegbauer

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    Ron,

    Thanks for the review, I have this disc on preorder and have been looking forward to it's release.

    I am interested in seeing if we have any differences in video quality and color balance.(I am aware that you have had your set ISF calibrated) I am using a Faroudja DVP-2200 Digital Video Processor, and I have found that the video results with the Faroudja can be very different.
     
  7. Paul Wu

    Paul Wu Stunt Coordinator

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    Ron, thanks for the review. I'm a bit dismayed that the trasfer is not top notch, I'll have to compare it to my LD when it comes out. I'll still be eagerly awaiting it's release.
     
  8. Sutjahjo Ngaserin

    Sutjahjo Ngaserin Stunt Coordinator

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    Unlike Moulin rouge , Strictly Ballroom was bold, fresh and makes not pretention to be a great movie.
    Baz was a young man full of talents and new ideas in the early nineties, he chose a topic (Ballroom dancing) with little popular appeals but one that works extremely well, a plot twist that is unexpected and deeply satisfying.
    While it lacked the big stars like Nicole Kidman, the safe commercial choice of a simplistic love story, and long series of music videos of medleys to appeal to the MTV generations with no patience for plot developments. Strictly Ballroom's raw energy and rough edges makes it a MUCH BETTER movie than a commercially safe and highly polished Moulin Rouge.
    Even if the transfer is bad or without supplementary, this is a must buy for the movie itself. At last, my LD copy can Rest in Peace.
     
  9. Joseph J.D

    Joseph J.D Cinematographer

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    Definately getting this one. It is one of my favourite films and in my opinion - Baz's best effort to date. Saw this for the first time on an international flight back in '93. I loved it so much, I went to the movie theatre a couple days after just to enjoy the experience on the big screen. So yeah....this is a no-brainer for me.[​IMG] Thanks for the review Ron.
     
  10. Mark Rodrigues

    Mark Rodrigues Auditioning

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    Thanks for the review Ron.
    I am really glad that Strictly Ballroom and R+J:SE are finally coming to DVD.
    Unfortunately, here in Region 4 land it doesn't seem to be officially announced yet[​IMG]
    I am also happy to hear you liked Moulin Rouge.
    We keep getting told in OZ that americans just don't get 'it'.
    Sounds like this is at least not universal [​IMG]
    Mark
     
  11. WesleyF

    WesleyF Auditioning

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    Thanks for the review Ron!
    I've never seen the movie but when I heard about it coming out on DVD I placed a pre-order with amazon.com! I'll be anxiously awaiting it because it sounds like an awesome film! Thanks for letting me know what to expect!
    [​IMG]
     
  12. PaulN

    PaulN Auditioning

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    I think Strictly Ballroom is Baz Luhrmann's best movie. I have watched this movie about 15 times throughout the past 4 years and still highly enjoy it every time! It is definitely one of my top 5 movies of all time!

    I have been eagerly waiting for this DVD release and did get a chance to see it in high definition on HBO about a year ago. It looked ok compared to the best high definition transfers. I am guessing they probably used the same tranfer and did not want to spend alot of money to do a new one.

    Paul
     
  13. Andrew 'Ange Hamm' Hamm

    Andrew 'Ange Hamm' Hamm Supporting Actor

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