Saturday Night Fever: Director's Cut [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Paramount Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (3rd June 2017).
The Film

I personally did not experience seeing this film back in the 70’s and pretty much despised the music of that era and its disco fashions and lifestyle, so it was with hesitation that I watched this special 40th Anniversary "Director's Cut" Edition of John Badham’s cinematic gem. Nonetheless one cannot disregard the huge impact that this film had on both cinema and music industries and how it propelled John Travolta forward as a new superstar.

I was the ripe age of sixteen when this film premiered and I wanted nothing to do with it; my life was a far cry away from the life of Tony Manero, a 19-year-old Brooklynite that worked in a paint store, and then danced the night away on the weekends. Watching this film now, years later, I still have a bitter aftertaste regarding the music and fashions depicted in the film; the narcissistic preening by Travolta on the dance floor struck me as being shallow and egotistic. I was stunned by its misogynistic attitude towards women, the "Director’s Cut" being filled with vulgarities with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the forehead. I couldn’t but help but compare this film to Martin Scorsese’s "Mean Streets" (1973) and how much better his version was with its troubled characters and their conflicts regarding both women and religion. Badham’s version seems like a light hearted version of Scorsese’s with its stereotypical portrayal of Italian working class parents, with Tony’s brother, Frank Jr. (Martin Shakar) as a rebellious Catholic priest, and his issues with his father (Val Bisoglio). It seems like both directors were exploring similar territories, but that Scorsese’s version felt more authentic to me than the populist vision of Badham and his disco-tech settings. I cannot discount Badham’s film because it too explores the concept of escape from home and family, and Tony, as the film continues, does try to stretch his barriers, as he attempts to have a non-sexual relationship with Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney).

The basic plot of the film is that Tony Manero (John Travolta), an ambitionless and troubled youth of 19 yearns for an escape from the daily drudgeries of working at a paint store and the nightly arguments around the dinner table with his Italian family. Dad is out of work and mom blesses herself every time she happens to mention the name of Tony’s older brother who is a Catholic priest; there’s also grandma and little sister, but the central rub apparently is Tony and his disco lifestyle with his low life friends. Tony’s walls of his bedroom are adorned with posters typical of the time: the infamous Farrah Fawcett bathing suit poster, a large poster of Al Pacino as Serpico, a poster of Bruce Lee in a fighting pose; all of these express Tony’s desire for something greater than his current status. As his dancing partner Stephanie puts it “Right, and you probably live with your family, hang out with your buddies, and Saturday nights you blow it all. You’re a cliché. You’re nowhere, on your way to no place.” And she is correct, but Tony is king of the dance floor on the weekends, and that has given him a taste of life beyond Bay Ridge.

There are subplots that don’t really develop into much; his sensitive friend Bobby C. (Barry Miller) has gotten his girlfriend pregnant, but Tony doesn’t have the time for him and his problems, fellow crew member Gus (Bruce Ornstein) is beaten up by gang members and put into the hospital, and former dance partner Annette (Donna Pescow) is gang raped in the backseat of the car while Tony sits up front sulking. The entire film seems to be built around the nights at the disco where Tony is the centrepiece of attraction; in one long take Tony takes to the dance floor with a partner, but then she is discarded and he dances by himself while the surrounding crowd applauds. It is the elusive Stephanie that captures Tony's eye; she is not an easy lay and she calls bullsh*t on Tony's patented line of patter, she is all too familiar with guys of his ilk and she knows it. Stephanie is the opposite of former dance partner Annette who is gaga over Tony and allows him to treat her badly.

The film builds up to the big dance contest where we see three different couples compete, but Tony knows that the second place couple was better than he and Stephanie were and he angrily surrenders the prize money and trophy to them. It seems that Tony is no longer the king of his world; he takes Stephanie to the car and roughly tries to have sex with her, but she protests and strikes him in the groin. The coming of age story climaxes with Tony and crew leaving the disco with Annette in the backseat succumbing to a sexual assault by fellow crew members, and then stopping for some goofy hijinks’ on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, a place that has a special meaning for Tony because it symbolizes an escape from Brooklyn and a way to Manhattan. Of course, tragedy strikes for poor Bobby C. as he falls to his death after trying to gain Tony’s attentions by mimicking the other crew’s actions, and Tony has the memorable line about “there's ways of killing yourself without killing yourself." By this time, I too was feeling that way as the movie continued to grind on to its lame conclusion.

However, I must commend Badham’s use of authentic locations and shooting in New York City; the cinematography by Ralf D. Bode is striking, and he captures the city as it really was, in all of its gritty essence. Pop this disc in your machine and prepare yourself for some serious time travel; it is suddenly 1977 and disco rules the airwaves once again.

This all new edition includes the "Director's Cut" (122:15) and the original "Theatrical" version (119:02).

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1 HD 1080p mastered with AVC MPEG-4 compression. This transfer is a brand new 4K scan. This film looks surprising great and you would never know that it was 40 years old. The night shots are very good, the club interior shots hold up very well, with close ups of facial features looking authentic and proper. This is a very clean presentation of the film and really makes a difference.

Audio

The "Director's Cut" features an English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track, the "Theatrical" version includes audio in English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround, French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. The TrueHD audio makes excellent use of 5.1 surround, as the soundtrack really comes to life; The Bee Gees and other artists sound superb and the dialogue scenes are clear and distinct. Solid use of bass throughout the film and the stereo effects are used correctly, fading from the front speakers and to the rear ones. Optional subtitles are included in English, English for the hearing impaired, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Extras

You get a lot of bang for your buck here as the Blu-ray is loaded with extra features. An audio commentary, trivia track, a documentary, three featurettes, and a deleted scene. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

The audio commentary features director John Badham on the original "Theatrical" version of the film only. The director talks about the film in general, speaking about the impact of the film on audiences, and how important the soundtrack was at the time. Solid track but would have liked to hear him talk about the "Director's Cut".

There's a pop-up trivia track, you can watch the entire film with a pop-up disco floor pattern that shows you various facts about the film and a running commentary of miscellaneous trivia on the "Theatrical" version only.

There's a 5-part documentary entitled "Catching the Fever" (total run time 52:39), this felt dated because it was intended for the 20-year anniversary edition of the film, but essentially features members of the cast and the director and producer speaking about the film in general. Nothing too revealing here. The parts include:

- “A 30-Year Legacy” (15:25), the producer, the director, and the cast members from the earlier featurettes are shown speaking about the incredible staying power of this film.

- “Making Soundtrack History” (12:40), two surviving members of The Bee Gees speak about how the best-selling album came about and how their careers were resurrected by the film and its disco beat.

- “Platforms & Polyester” (10:37), a look at the fashions of the film, and an interview with the costume designer detailing on where she located those ridiculous platform shoes for the various cast members.

- “Deejays & Discos” (10:19), two disc jockey types discuss why the DJ Is so important and how the disco beat continues to pervade the current music scene. Ho Hum.

- “Spotlight on Travolta” (3:36), various cast members nostalgically recall their time with the major star and reflect on how grounded he was in real life.

“Back to Bay Ridge” featurette (9:01), hosted by Joe Cali, this is a return to the scene of the crime pinpointing various shooting locations. Unfortunately, the 2001 Odyssey disco has been demolished and the dance studio was locked up tight. This was for die-hard fans only.

“Dance Like Travolta with John Cassesefeaturette (8:50), is a painfully embarrassing episode with John Cassese, the doctor of dance, instructing the audience on how to imitate the final dance scene between Tony and Stephanie. Again, only for disco hard cases.

"Fever Challenge!" featurette (4:00), is an interactive feature, again the lighted dance floor motif appears and home viewers are invited to dance along.

Deleted scenes feature three deleted scenes (1:32) with audio commentary by John Badham, the scenes feature “Tony & Stephanie in the Car”, there is a reason that these ended up on the cutting room floor; nothing that you can’t live without seeing.

Packaging




Overall

There are plenty of fans that will want this complete package so that they can reminiscence about their lost years and how cool they once were. This film is a nostalgia piece that fans will be clabbering for with a very clean picture with and an excellent soundtrack. You will swear that you are back in the heydays of disco and ready to bust a move on the dance floor with your favorite girl.

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

 


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