Dreamgirls [HD DVD]
R0 - America - DreamWorks Home Entertainment/Paramount Home Entertainment - Showstopper Edition
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (2nd May 2007).
The Film

About as far from his 'Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh' days as he can possibly get, writer/director Bill Condon brings the celebrated Broadway musical to the big screen in a graceful and elegant manner. At the risk of sounding harsh, I'll say right now that the movie is fluff, but it's Hollywood fluff and it's incredibly well made. Compared to, say, 'Moulin Rouge' or even 'Chicago', though, it's just not as full, poignant or emotional. It's based on the life of the Supremes, but because I honestly don't know about their rise or careers in any kind of detail, I'll skip this aspect of the movie and move on to its biggest discovery.
Jennifer Hudson can act and she can sing. Boy can she sing. She belts out some incredible melodies with her powerful voice (proving once and for all that Simon Cowell has no idea of what he's talking about). She handles herself very well in this role, being very confident and controlled. The only problems with her character come with the writing and not her performance. Her character is such a selfish little self-centered priss, I couldn't have cared less about her. Granted, the manager doesn't really help pacify her, but she doesn't handle it in the nicest way. Her character is self-destructive and it's no surprise when whe falls. Beyoncé has a nice role and once again gives an assured performance. You can see she wanted this role and is very comfortable in it. Her character, though, is a bit naïve, which makes her look stupid at times. However, she's idealistic and she only wants to sing. She unwillingly gets manipulated, and because of this you do feel for her. Jamie Foxx has a great role and does a great job with what his character. His arc is subtle but very nice and is, in my mind, the best written of the movie. To be sure, he's not the nicest guy and eventually proves it, but Mr. Foxx is a great actor and his smooth-talking agent only proves it further. Eddie Murphy is great, as well, and his character is loud and bombastic and is fun to watch.
The plot and emotions are kind of thin. This, however, is not necessarily a bad thing. This is a musical and it definitely looks and feels that way. There's a musical number every 5 or 10 minutes, but these are important because they're a part of the story. They express feelings, desires and advance the plot. They're a nice substitute for dialogue.
The musical numbers are simple but very nice. This is not 'Fiddler on the Roof', and consists mostly of three girls on a stage, singing (with, of course, the audience). The simplicity works for the movie because you concentrate on the performers and on the song. The lyrics and the music are what are important so having very intricate, Busby-Berkeley-like productions would focus your attention elsewhere, taking away from the core of the song.
For me, the technical side of the movie is great. The sets, costumes are great and the movie looks very much of the time it's supposed to be in. The emotions, however are a bit lacking, with the characters being a bit flat and not really evolving too much, which is a shame because this is essentially a character study. I'm a big fan of Bill Condon's and I was expecting something great. If I were a bigger fan of musicals, I would be more lenient with certain aspects of the movie, I'm sure. I did, however, find myself tapping my foot with to the music many times. It's a visual and aural treat and nobody can say otherwise.

Video

Presented in the film's original 2:35:1 widescreen ratio this high-definition transfer is presented in 1080p at 24/fps and has been encoded with VC-1 compression. The image is incredibly sharp as expected and detail is beautifully rendered you can clearly see everything from the intricate patterns on the costumes of the girls to minor background details. Production design is given a whole new platform to show off within this transfer. Colors are also vivid and contrast is spot on, blacks are deep and bold with no noise that I could spot, in fact there was little grain or other artefacts present throughout. Skin tones appear natural and finally shadow detail remains consistent. The HD format is a terrific way to view this film which is rich in visuals.

Audio

Three audio tracks are included in English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1, French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 and Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its English sound track. The dialogue was clear and distortion free, the Dolby Plus track is a rich and textured experience that immerses the viewer totally into this film. It's not aggressive but it packs a punch during the musical numbers as well as incorporating an effective sound effects mix that includes ambient natural surrounds that add depth to the overall sound mix. The bass occasionally gets a workout and the sound space is maximized to full effect of the many musical sequences in the film.

Optional subtitles are also included in English, English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.

Extras

This two-disc set includes deleted and extended scenes, a music video, promo spot and bonus trailers as well as a documentary, 3 featurettes, auditions and screen test footage and 7 previsualization sequences. Below is a closer look at these supplements broken down per disc.

DISC ONE:

This set is packed with great extras, so let's start. In the first disc, you'll find 12 Extended and Alternate Scenes (36:10), presented in full Dolby Digital 5.1. They are: I'm Lookin' for Something (2:24), Goin' Downtown (1:57), Takin' the Long Way Home (2:27), Fake Your Way to the Top (6:38), Steppin' to the Bad Side (7:26), Heavy (1:14), I'm Somebody (0:38), I am Changing (4:05), Perfect World (1:30), Effie, Sing my Song (1:31), One Night Only (2:53) and One Night Only (Disco Version) (3:23). Most the scenes are just smaller shots here and there, but some, like Fake Your Way to the Top have nice little character bits, which add to the movie. That particular number, for example, tells the story of Jimmy going to a bar and picking up a girl, while he's singing on stage. It's quite inventive and it's a shame it couldn't be in the movie. However, had these been kept in, the movie would certainly be too long. It's very nice to see them as they were conceived, though.

Next up is a Music Video, 'Listen' by Beyoncé Knowles (3:49), which is the only extra in the set (apart from the previews) that's isn't anamorphic widescreen. It's a nice song and video, but a bit different in style and conception than the musical numbers in the movie. Lastly, you have a few Previews, a minute-long spot for the movie's original soundtrack, as well as trailers for 'Shrek the Third' (2:07) and 'Norbit' (1:55).

DISC TWO:

Starting the second disc is the wonderful Building a Dream documentary. It's a terrific, full documentary on the making of the movie. More movies should get this kind of documentary. It's 1 hour, 54 minutes and 47 seconds long and covers everything you can ever wonder about. It starts by talking about the Broadway play, then covers the casting, the actors, the pre-production, the music, the location shooting, shooting the musical scenes, the costumes and everything else. Just about everybody that had anything to do with the movie comes in to talk about every aspect of the movie. It's incredibly thorough yet never long or tedious. You hear funny on-set stories, like the girls having problems with the microphone cords, and Eddie Murphy getting a bloody mouth. It's a great 2 hours and is fascinating to watch.

After that, you get three featurettes, Dream Logic: Film Editing (4:09), Dressing the Dreams: Costume Design (8:21) and Center Stage: Theatrical Lighting (8:44). As you may have guessed, each covers a specific aspect of the movie and all are very nice to watch. They talk about how they kept the theatricality intact, while making an already-cinematic play even more so. It gives out nice information, and even shows you a little footage of the editor, costume designer and lighting director doing their job.

Auditions and Screen Tests are next. The documentary said they auditioned hundreds of girls for the role of Effie, which eventually went to Jennifer Hudson. She must have given an incredible audition, which, oddly enough, is not in this set. I find it very strange given the attentions she's gotten. In any case, you do have 'Dreamgirls : Beyoncé Knowles Screen Test' (2:24), 'Ain't No Party : Anika Noni Rose Audition' (2:09) and 'Steppin' to the Bad Side - Fatima Robinson Choreography Audition' (6:20). The tests are nice, and it's interesting to see how things differ (or stay the same) when comparing them to the movie. They're basically the same, by the way.

After that, seven Previsualization Sequences can be seen. 'The Talent Show' (9:35), 'Fake Your Way to the Top' (6:57), 'Cadillac Car' (3:01), 'Steppin' to the Bad Side' (8:24), 'I Want You Baby' (2:45), 'Heavy' (1:46) and 'Hard to Say Goodbye' (4:29) combine demo reel footage with storyboards to show you how the scenes were supposed to look. The final scenes are in the extended scenes section on disc 1. The differences are pretty minimal. As the director says in the documentary, the movie should already be finished before you start shooting it. The previz scenes show that the makers knew what they wanted.

Overall

Film and extras are reviewed by Pat Pilon, the video and audio specs have been reviewed by Noor Razzak

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

 


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