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Grease: Rockin’ Rydell Edition DVD Review

Grease: Rockin’ Rydell Edition

October 5, 2006

Director: Randal Kleiser,
Starring: John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing, Jeff Conway, Barry Pearl, Michael Tucci, Kelly Ward, Didi Conn, Jamie Donnelly, Susan Buckner, Dennis C. Stewart,

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DVD Review

In the late 1970s and early 1980s (culminating with the box office flop of Streets of Fire in 1984), 1950s culture was all the rage and leading this revival was the movie adaptation of the popular Broadway musical Grease (1978). John Travolta’s career was breaking big – Saturday Night Fever (1977) had been a phenomenonal hit the year before. Olivia Newton-John was also enjoying a very successful pop music career. They must’ve seemed like ideal choices for the leads at the time. Now, they are inseparable from these iconic roles.

Grease is a classic boy meets girl story with Danny (Travolta) as the bad boy leader of the T-Birds gang and Sandy (Newton-John), the good girl from Australia. As school begins, she is one of the new kids and is quickly adopted by the Pink Ladies, the female counterparts of the T-Birds while also becoming a cheerleader. Danny and Sandy are initially unaware that they attend the same school but when they do, the proverbial sparks fly as he acts all cool and aloof around her when he’s with his boys while she wants nothing to do with him – much to his dismay. In an attempt to appeal to what they think the other wants, Danny transforms himself into a normal-looking nice guy and athlete while Sandy becomes a black leather jacket-wearing bad girl. The role reversal and how they react to one another’s transformation is a lot of fun to watch.

There is a great reaction shot of Danny early on in the movie during the first day of school. The camera zooms in on him, his back to the camera, and he turns his head, a lit cigarette hanging from his mouth and an expression that epitomizes cool. Remember when Travolta was considered cool? Was it really that long ago? At this point in his life, he was on an incredible roll with Fever, then Grease and to be followed by Brian De Palma’s Blow-Out (1981).

It is also wild to see Stockard Channing so young and vibrant, singing and giving the film a good dose of sass as tough girl Rizzo (Angelina Jolie ripped off her swagger in movies like Girl, Interrupted). She shows an excellent capacity for comedy that hasn’t been exploited as well since and now she’s primarily known as a serious dramatic actress in films like Six Degrees of Separation (1993) and on television with The West Wing.

The film is filled with numerous classic, musical numbers, from the wistful, almost dreamy “Summer Nights” (where Danny and Sandy tell their friends what they did during the summer), to the rowdy “Greased Lightning” in all of its strutting glory and suggestive innuendo. Everyone looks like they are having so much fun in this movie, whether it is performing the song and dance numbers or the playful banter between their characters. And this translates into fun for the audience as well.

Grease evokes a more innocent time of pep rallies, slumber parties and summers spent at the beach. It’s a wonderful, nostalgic fantasy with an insanely catchy soundtrack of memorable songs and quotable dialogue that its fans know by heart. The film came out at just the right time. Audiences had grown tired of the nihilism and pessimism that marked a lot of American cinema in the ‘70s and were disillusioned by the Watergate scandal. People wanted escapist entertainment and along with Rocky (1976) and Star Wars (1977), Grease helped people forget those dark times. We are currently in the midst of very dark and troubling times as well which makes this DVD’s release very timely indeed as we need escapist fare like Grease now more than ever.

Special Features:

There is an audio commentary by director Randal Kleiser and choreographer Patricia Birch. He points out that the opening credit sequence originally had a different song but one of the producers managed the Bee Gees and got Barry Gibb to write a song but Kleiser felt that the lyrics were too dark. Many of the cast members were also involved in various incarnations of the stage production, including Travolta and Conway who had originally played Danny. Birch had worked on the Broadway incarnation and talks about the differences between it and the movie while Kleiser tells a lot of filming anecdotes.

“Rydell Sing-Along” is a cute extra that allows you to sing along, karaoke-style, to all of the songs in the movie (as if you didn’t know the worlds already).

“The Time, the Place, the Motion: Remembering Grease” is a retrospective featurette. Originally, all the studios turned down Grease but once Travolta became attached the filmmakers were able to get Paramount Pictures interested. The challenge they faced was to break out of the stagy look for a more cinematic one. Key cast and crew members (including Travolta, Newton-John, Channing and Conway) offer their memories of making the movie in this entertaining and engaging extra that draws the bulk of its material from 1998 and 2002 reunions.

Also included are 11 deleted, extended and alternate scenes. This is black and white footage that was cut out of the movie and includes more footage of Danny and the T-Birds goofing around school and more playful banter between characters, amongst other things. While these bits are fun to watch, it is pretty obvious why they were cut.

“Grease on DVD Launch Party” features highlights from the 2002 launch party that Paramount held with much of the cast attending. Travolta and Newton-John even sing a couple of songs from the movie.

“Grease Memories from John and Olivia” basically features red carpet footage from the 2002 launch party some of which is repeated from the previous extra. They reminisce about the movie and talk briefly about how it has aged over the years.

“The Moves Behind the Music” examines Patricia Birch’s top notch choreography for the film’s many musical numbers. The cast did extensive rehearsals and each sequence was storyboarded with specific camera movements in mind.

“Thunder Roadsters” takes a look at the classic cars used in the movie, including the famous “Greased Lightning” automobile. This extra also takes a brief look at the custom and vintage car culture – an expensive hobby to be sure.

“John Travolta and Allan Carr ‘Grease Day’ Interview” was done back in the day when Paramount held their own premiere for the movie. Travolta still sports the look of his character and speaks eloquently about how he became an actor and his history with Grease.

“Olivia Newtown-John and Robert Stigwood ‘Grease Day’ Interview” features the singer sporting a big hair-do as she talks about her character and a few of her own high school memories.

Also included is a theatrical trailer.

Finally, there are photo galleries for productions stills, photographs from the world premiere and from the “Grease Day” premiere as well.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 98%

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