Saturday Night Fever: 30th Anniversary Special Collector's Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Paramount Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (4th August 2009).
The Film

I love nothing more than being completely surprised by a film that I have spent years writing off. I’ll admit that I have a tendency to dismiss some films based on a perceived concept of what they are about, usually something I have little to no interest in. Such was the case with “Saturday Night Fever” (1977), a film that I was sure had to be some uber-lame disco drivel full of bad dancing and worse acting.. Well, as you might be guessing, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Well, scratch that – it does feature some bad dancing and laughable fashions, but this is a well-acted and socially conscious plot that deals with much heavier issues than I would have ever guessed.

In 1970’s New York everyone has disco fever and Tony Manero (John Travolta) is the local king. He and his hooligan friends spend all week looking forward to Saturday nights at 'The 2001 Odyssey', a dancing hotspot filled with loose ladies. When the club announces their annual disco dance-off competition, Tony hooks up with Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney), a local girl with great moves and an attitude that gets him hooked on her. Tony sees this as his chance for a big break; to escape the mundane existence that he loathes and get out of his turbulent family home.

This film was John Travolta’s big break from minor television hunk, due to "Welcome Back, Kotter" (1975-1979), to International megastar. He helped to usher in a new wave of fashion and the film created a national obsession with disco again, giving the ailing genre some new life. He might be playing a greasy, disco douche with an IQ slightly below par, but Travolta plays the role with conviction and his heart shows through. In fact, it must have shown through since he earned an Academy Award nomination for the role. Manero might be a lughead, but he wants more out of life than what he’s getting. He’s constantly kept down by an unsupportive family, a dead-end job in a paint store and no hope for a brighter future aside from his one love: dancing. His commitment to dance, and the time and effort he puts in to be the best, demonstrates his incredible perseverance and determination to rise above his current state. Though he doesn’t exactly have a great range of emotion, Travolta imbues Tony with just enough charm and savvy that he manages to stand out in a sea of nobodies. Of course, his outlandish fashions also help a little too.

I think what surprised me most was how frank the film tackles major issues such as racism and misogyny. Though Manero chooses not to be quite so vocal about his prejudice, his friends have no qualm with calling out pejoratives at every opportunity, especially when it comes to Hispanics. There is a brutal gang fight about two thirds of the way through the film that is surprisingly violent for a film about disco dancing. It can be easy to forget about that "R" rating until scenes such as this rear up to remind you that Manero’s bliss only exists in the club; outside a very real, ugly world is still very much in place. Likewise, the group’s treatment of women is rough, to say the least. Though it isn’t hard to imagine a group of greasy disco douchebags going out looking to get laid, the manner in which they talk to women reminds you of how cruel some guys can be. These women fawn over Manero, he routinely gets offers to sleep with women without even having spoken a single word to them, yet he seems most interested in the one who won’t hop right into the sack with him: Stephanie. Meanwhile, his friends seem to have no issues with screwing in the back seat of a ragged Impala or, worse, resorting to rape when their party seems less than willing. This was all taking place within a strong Italian culture where men don’t do the dishes and women know their role, or they are supposed to, so it’s likely none would have even reported something so heinous. I can’t tell if Tony is too stupid to know he should get away from his friends, or if he gets off on the high from being seen as the alpha male within their group. He is, after all, the go-to guy when any of them has a problem.

They say that 50% of a film is its soundtrack, and this film is inexorably linked with the music of The Bee Gees who helped make it the highest-selling album of all-time until Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. To give you an idea of how intertwined the two are, I had never seen this film, nor was I a fan of The Bee Gees music, but I knew of the connection between the two and anytime I heard a Bee Gees track I thought of this film. I’m sure most of America makes the same connection as well. This album is responsible for the resurgence of disco in the late 70’s, with it ultimately going on to sell more than 15 million copies; it also took home the Grammy Award that year for "Album of the Year". Oddly enough, to this day Robin Gibb claims he has never seen the film.

This was director John Badham’s second feature-length film and he does a great job of keeping the action moving. Though the film is slightly too long at 118 minutes, Badham does a good job of keeping the action flowing smoothly; there is hardly any lag time. He makes an icon out of Manero, a veritable king of his own little castle, which in this case is 'The 2001 Odyssey' club. Many of the film’s most iconic shots, usually of Travolta posing or doing some cheeseball disco moves, have entered the cultural zeitgeist and become the stuff of parody in other films, such as 1980’s “Airplane!”. Though this is arguably Badham’s biggest film, he later would go on to direct such cult hits as “Blue Thunder” (1983), “WarGames” (1983) and “Short Circuit” (1986).

Video

Paramount has bestowed upon “Saturday Night Fever” a respectful 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded 1.85:1 widescreen transfer, though I wasn’t entirely impressed with the results. Films from this era are typically very grain-heavy and I found this one to be no exception. Sure, there looks to have been cleanup work done, but most of the picture takes place at night and there is some heavy grain present, though it never becomes a total eyesore. I’m sure this high-definition presentation exhibits far more detail than the previous DVD editions ever could, but I found the sharpness to be lacking somewhat. Colors, however, look fantastic, as they should for a film awash in rainbow hues. Just look at how vibrant and crisp Tony’s red shirt looks, or the multi-colored floor of 'The 2001 Odyssey'. Daytime scenes fare much better, as they are less heavy with grain and exhibit much greater texture. The picture was obviously shot with dimmed lighting in some scenes and there is an overall softness to much of the dance numbers, but I’m sure longtime fans will be very pleased with the results.

Audio

This film relies heavily on music, so it should come as no surprise that the audio mix sounds magnificent. The English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround sound track mixed at 48kHz/24-bit provides a theater-like experience with its rich, immersive sound. All of the hit disco songs come through loud and clear; it’s as though you’re a cheering Tony on from the sidelines inside the club. Surrounds get lots of use here, with everything from ambient street noise to musical cues filling the room. I detected no hisses or pops; everything comes through clear and audible, even dialogue during the music-heavy scenes is easily discernible.
There is also a French Dolby Digital 5.1 track and a Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track available. Subtitles are included for English, English for the hearing impaired, French, Portuguese and Spanish.

Extras

“Saturday Night Fever” boogies on to Blu-ray with a hefty plate of extras, all of which were included on the previous DVD editions, including an audio commentary, trivia track, a multi-part documentary, featurettes and deleted scenes.

The audio commentary with director John Badham is very insightful, as he provides a lot of interesting notes on the film’s production. He discusses how music was present during many of the scenes they were shooting in order to keep the actors in that “zone”, something that was a relatively new technique at the time.

“70’s Discopedia” is an interactive pop-up trivia track feature which overlays the bottom left corner of the screen with some blinking, multi-colored disco squares, inside of which is displayed text with production notes and behind-the-scenes anecdotes. There is a lot of worthwhile information on display here

“Catching the Fever” is a behind-the-scenes documentary that can be watched as a whole or in the following 5 separate segments:

- “A 30-Year Legacy” runs for 15 minutes and 24 seconds. The film’s cast and crew, though (oddly enough) not Travolta, discuss the enduring spirit of the film and its influence on that period’s music and fashion. The film featured many characters that people could relate to, as well as covering issues that are still relevant today, both of which aided greatly in maintaining its popularity to this day.
- “Making Soundtrack History” runs for 12 minutes and 37 seconds. This chapter takes a closer look at the genesis one of the best-selling soundtrack albums in history, as made world famous by The Bee Gees. They talk about the writing of the album, what songs they chose to include and the recording process inside a 16th century building.
- “Platforms & Polyester” runs for 10 minutes and 38 seconds. More a look at fashion of the times than the fashion in the film, this section talks about the disco look that was all the rage back in the 70’s.
- “Deejays & Discos” runs for 10 minutes and 18 seconds. The disco craze took off from the underground clubs in New York City and once this film came out it exploded like a supernova. Deejays took more liberties in experimenting with music however they could to keep the party going into the wee hours of the early morning.
- “Spotlight on Travolta” runs for 3 minutes and 36 seconds. Lots of glad-handing here, with everyone waxing poetic on Travolta’s superstar status and how everyone could tell he had such a magical quality. For such a star-making role you’d think the guy would have shown up here to add to the discussion.

“Back to Bay Ridge” is a featurette which runs for 9 minutes. Actor Joseph Cali (“Joey”) returns to some of the film’s shooting locations to see how things have changed more than 3 decades later.

“Dance Like Travolta with John Cassese” is a featurette which runs for 8 minutes and 50 seconds. “The Dance Doctor”, John Cassese, gives viewers a lesson on how to pull off some of Travolta’s incredibly corny dance maneuvers. Feel free to dance along in shame in the comfort of your own home.

Finally, three deleted scenes are available with optional audio commentary by director John Badham:

- “Tony & Stephanie in the Car” runs for 1 minute and 30 seconds.
- “Tony’s Dad Gets His Job Back” runs for 1 minute and 8 seconds.
- “Tony at Stephanie’s Apartment” runs for 1 minute.

Unfortunately, no trailers have been included here. As this is usually one of my favorite features, the exclusion of any promotional material is a bit jarring. I would love to have seen the trailer for the film after it was re-cut to obtain a "PG" rating in an effort to bring in a wider audience.

Overall

The Film: B- Video: B Audio: B+ Extras: B Overall: B

 


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