A Chorus Line
R0 - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (7th January 2018).
The Film

"A Chorus Line" (1985)

Michael Douglas stars as a choregrapher who subjects 16 dancers to a grueling audition in this Academy Award nominated adaptation of the landmark Broadway musical. Featuring Marvin Hamlisch's Oscar nominated music and Jeffrey Hornaday's sizzling choreography, this thrilling portrayal of life behind the velvet curtain is truly "One Singular Sensation"!

After narrowing down hundreds of Broadway hopefuls, Zach (Michael Douglas) leads a select group of dancers on the tryout of their lives. In an audition twist, Zach asks each performer personal and intimate questions - with results that powerfully affect not only the young performers but the hardened stage veteran as well.


In 1975, the meta-musical "A Chorus Line" debuted on Broadway. Rather than converting the stage to a location, the stage was a stage. The setting was the theater. Audiences were not transported to another world or location. There were no set changes, basically no jumps in time, and not playing with the standards of the stage. The whole production was like watching a real time audition process from a director trying to pick the best of the best while dealing with an old flame that appears wanting a role as one of the chorus dancers. There were traditional dreamlike musical montages sequences in between to express inner monologues and showcase some of the characters. The show was a massive success with twelve Tony Award nominations and a winner of nine. With 6,137 performances, it became the longest running Broadway production until "Cats" broke the record.

With discussions of a film adaptation of the play, many theater fans were skeptical whether it would translate to the movie screen. Original Broadway director Michael Bennett suggested a version in which the auditions would be for a film adaptation of "A Chorus Line" but the idea was rejected. After sweeping the 1983 Academy Awards with eight wins for "Gandhi", director Richard Attenborough could have made any film he wanted. His decision to pick up the microphone for an American stage musical adaptation was far from anything he had ever done - from war epics to biopics, to even a psychological horror film in the previous years. The directorial choice was an odd one that left musical fans and critics perplexed, though to be fair his directorial debut was 1969's acclaimed musical comedy ensemble film "Oh! What a Lovely War" which was based on a stage musical.

As for the cast, Michael Douglas as Zach the director knows how to play aggressive and fierce very well and does an admirable job in his scenes that are mostly limited in darkness. Alyson Reed plays Zach's former girlfriend Cassie, her role as Zach's former muse that left Broadway behind for a bigger career out west, but returns after her career had stalled. While the film touches upon the subject and the tension between the two can be seen, it is not as strong as one would hope. Cassie's role is to represent an actress looking at one last chance to both shine on stage and mend the wounds of her past, but instead feels tacked on rather than a focal point. As for the ensemble cast consisting of Jan Gan Boyd as Connie, Matt West as Bobby, Justin Ross as Greg, Yamil Borges as Diana, Gregg Burge as Ricky, and the cast of dozens of other dancers at the audition give their individual stories through both dialogue and song, and there are some heavy hitters in there. Director Zach doesn't just ask them for their simple background, but wants to know more. What makes them tick. What makes them break down. Whether it's stories of a terrible upbringing, times contemplating suicide, racism faced in their lives, favoritism, sexuality, marriage and divorce, heartbreak, the performers give a little back story to their characters for some personality. The ironic twist is that by the end when four men and four women are chosen to be part of the chorus line, they are all in the same - lost in the crowd of faces with everyone wearing the same costume singing the same tune. But it is not about standing out during a production - it is about standing out to prove oneself during the audition process. The actors do a fair job, but again some of the stories don't particularly lead anywhere and the transitions from one to the next can be slightly awkward cinematically.

On a stronger side of things is the choreography by Jeff Hornaday who previously worked on choreographing the dance sequences in "Flashdance" (1983) and "Streets of Fire" (1984). The use of the stage, the multiple mirrored backgrounds - which in fact do not catch any of the film cameras in the reflections is a miracle of choreography from the cinematographer Ronnie Taylor who also lensed "Gandhi" for Attenborough previously. The film has a graceful look and a powerful soundtrack, though even the music was met with controversy, with certain songs from the Broadway version being swapped out for brand new tracks, and some songs being sung by different characters at differing scenes. While it's incredibly rare that a film adaptation of anything will be 100% faithful to the original, fans questioned why the songs had to be changed for the film.

The film was released in December 1985 for the awards season and opened in most other territories in the same month or in early 1986. While the film was nominated for three Academy Awards - Best Sound, Best Original Song, and Best Film Editing, and also two Golden Globes for Best Picture and Best Director, it was surprisingly not a hit with most critics or audiences with mixed reviews and box office grosses. The $25 million production only grossed $14 million and was completely shunned from the award wins. "A Chorus Line" is not a terrible film by any means. It is well choreographed and shot though the main focus of the reunion of Zach and Cassie was not played well enough and the rest of the ensemble cast did not make a lasting impact as they could have.

Note this is a region 0 NTSC DVD which can be played back on any DVD or Blu-ray player worldwide

Video

Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement in the NTSC format. Opening with the MGM Lion logo, this appears to be an identical transfer to the 2003 released US MGM DVD. But how does a transfer from a more than decade old master hold up today? Actually not that bad, but not that great either. The tacky colored 80s wardrobe don't pop out or have true vibrancy and detail can be lost in some of the very wide shots. On the plus side, the transfer is very clean with no major damage to the image, colors are stable, and there is a light amount of film grain visible. The film has had HD masters made by MGM and by Studio Canal, but Umbrella Entertainment unfortunately decided not to release the film on Blu-ray but DVD only.

The runtime is 117:30.



















Audio

English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
The theatrical release prints were released on 70mm 6 track surround, and rather than recreating the soundscape in a 4.0 mix or 5.1 mix, a seemingly standard 2.0 surround track has been used. Granted this is also what was featured on the MGM DVDs of the past. The number of channels should not be downplayed. the Dolby Pro-Logic decoded surround track is actually very impressive. The musical sections come to life, vocals soar and the music resonates fully and very effectively. One could even mistake it for a 5.1 or 4.0 setup if not carefully monitoring. Considering those vocals and instruments were recorded in studio they sounds slightly artificial compared to the "natural" sounding scenes of the actors on stage. When not singing and dancing, the dialogue is mostly center based. Not much to fault with the audio, though like almost all musicals, once it gets to a song and dance routine, the slight quality bump in the audio is noticeable.

There are no subtitles for the film.

Extras

Nothing. No menu even.

The US MGM release had a featurette and a trailer, though their Blu-ray upgrade omitted the featurette. Studio Canal in the UK also released the film on Blu-ray but specs and extras have not been confirmed.

Overall

"A Chorus Line" just couldn't capture the same magic that was from the Broadway version, though it does have some commendable moments with its visual flair. The Umbrella Entertainment release gives fair video, great audio, though the lack of any extras makes this difficult to recommend.

The Film: C Video: B Audio: A- Extras: F- Overall: C

 


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