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Saturday Night Fever (1977)

Paramount Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/5/2009

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/11/2009

While we still have "event" movies, it's rare these days to see a movie become a true phenomenon. In the past, when audiences weren't inundated with hundreds of cable channels, the internet, video games, and home video, it was far easier for one movie to captivate a bulk of the populace. The 1970s saw this occur several times. Lines would form around the block and people would talk non-stop about movies like The Exorcist, Jaws, and Star Wars. But while those movies were fantasy, one movie captured the essence of a late 70s fad. That movie was Saturday Night Fever.

John Travolta stars in Saturday Night Fever as Tony Manero. Tony is 19 years old, lives in Brooklyn and works in a hardware store, where he sells paint. He lives with his family, who do not respect him -- especially his out of work father. Tony's one love in life is disco dancing. He lives for the weekend when he and his best friends -- Bobby (Barry Miller), Joey (Joseph Cali), Double J (Paul Pape) and Gus (Bruce Ornstein) -- can go to a club called 2001. Tony is treated like a king there and all of the lovely ladies can't wait to dance with him. Tony learns that the club is holding a dance contest and he agrees to partner with Annette (Donna Pescow). However, he finds himself drawn to Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney), a stand-offish woman who has appeared at the club. As Tony gets to know Stephanie, he begins to think that there may be more to life than just dancing.

There's no way around this fact -- there are two movies happening in Saturday Night Fever. The first one, and the one which got people into the theaters, is about disco dancing. This isn't a musical per se, but there are extended sequences which show Tony and his various partners dancing. The movie definitely reflects the nationwide craze which was disco, as the camera lovingly traces the dancing, acting almost like a "how-to" video. And there's no doubt about the fact that Travolta can dance. While I think that there's something unnatural about a man who can move like that, he burns up the floor and he was either very confident about his dancing or just a truly brave actor, as he goes for broke in each dance scene. While disco is long since dead, it's difficult to not admire the moves on display here. (The movie's reputation as a dance film proved to be so popular that an edited PG-rated version was released into theaters in 1977 so that a younger crowd could see the film.)

Outside of the dancing, a whole other movie is taking place. This one is about working class people in Brooklyn and their daily struggles. This movie isn't as good as the dancing one. Maybe it's because the film is dated, but everything which is supposed to be real and gritty comes off as stereotypical and silly. The scenes with Tony's family are meant to be emotional, but they are unintentionally funny. All of the characters in the film are cliches and there's too little character development here. The movie lives in the moment and we don't learn about anyone's past. Director John Badham has done a fine job shooting the dance scenes, but the rest of the film is choppily edited and poorly paced. (When Bobby talks to Frank in the club, watch how his mouth never matches the words in the over-the-shoulder shots.) The movie's "serious" scenes are heavy-handed and we can't wait for the dancing to begin again.

Travolta was nominated for an Oscar for Saturday Night Fever, which is odd, because I know that other movies were made that year. This only points to what a mega-hit this movie was. Today, this can only be enjoyed as a nostalgia piece. Again, Travolta's dancing is still impressive over 30 years later, but the rest of the movie has two left feet.

Saturday Night Fever perfects the Latin Hustle on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. This is probably the best that Saturday Night Fever has looked since it was originally projected, but it still only looks OK. The image is sharp and clear, showing some mild grain in some daytime shots and some very, very minor defects from the source material. The colors are good, but look a bit washed-out at times. The image is flat and doesn't show the level of depth or detail which we've come to expect from Blu-ray. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. The music sounds very good here, and it is well mixed throughout the speakers, with subtle noises emerging from the front and rear channels. The music also provides some solid bass. The street scenes show some good stereo effects as well.

The Saturday Night Fever Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director John Badham. The viewer can choose to watch the fiml with "70s Discopedia", a pop-up function which offers information on the film and about the disco era. "Catching the Fever" (53 minutes) is a five-part documentary which examines the making of the film and the disco phenomenon. Comments from Donna Pescow, Gorney, Badham and other cast members and producers pepper the retrospective which looks at the movie and its impact. The piece also explores the film's monumental soundtrack, the disco fashion and the discos themselves. The last part focuses on Travolta, but he's conspicuously absent. In "Back to Bay Bridge" (9 minutes), actor Jospeh Kali explores the neighborhood where the film was shot, and there are also comments from Lloyd Kaufman, who was location executive. Wait a minute? Lloyd Kaufman worked on a real movie? "Dance Like Travola with John Cassese" (10 minutes) brings us a brief dance lesson from "The Dance Doctor". "Fever Challenge!" (4 minutes) is a Simon-like game. Finally, we have three DELETED SCENES which run about 4 minutes.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long