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Grease Blu-ray Review

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  • 2.35:1
  • Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
  • Audio Codec: English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Mono
  • Region: ABC (All Regions)
  • Discs: 1
  • Actors: John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing, Frankie Avalon
  • Studio: Paramount
  • Release Date: May 5th, 2009
  • List Price: $29.99
Overall
The Film
Video Quality
Audio Quality
Supplemental Materials

Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures

More screen captures (14 total)

(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG and thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)

The Film

By the time Grease hit theatres in June of 1978, John Travolta was already a bona fide superstar from his roles on television’s Welcome Back, Kotter and 1977’s box office smash Saturday Night Fever, that helped raise the 70’s Disco craze to new heights of awareness and hedonism. When the film adaptation of Jim Jacobs’ and Warren Casey’s stage musical, Grease, finally hit the big screens, it solidified Travolta’s status as a 70’s icon and sex symbol. It also bolstered the career of Aussie singer Olivia Newton-John, who was already well on her way to becoming a sex symbol in her own right.  When I first saw Grease in 1978, I was a wee lad of six, but I certainly recall having a major crush on Ms. Newton-John for a long time after that. The soundtrack to the film even became, for this lifelong music lover, one of my earliest musical memories. I must have worn out the grooves on the Grease LP playing back my family’s copy on our old console.

Looking at the film today through the eyes of a more world-worn adult, several times heartbroken, more attuned to the historical references I can’t help but notice the obvious dichotomy of the trite and raunchy that mingle together in Grease. With its 1950’s retro look at teenage angst, love and rebellion that is less rose-colored than fisheye, Grease is replete with subversive looks at the “innocence” of the 1950s filtered through two decades of cultural upheaval.

The story is about greaser Danny Zucko (John Travolta) and wholesome Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John) who fall in love over the summer at the beach, but then the summer ends and Sandy must leave to go back to her native Australia. Sandy’s plans change, however, and the two end up at the same high school for their senior year. Their summer romance struggles to survive as Danny must play the tough guy in front of the friends in his gang the T-Birds, and Sandy hooks up with bad girls The Pink Ladies, who look to Danny’s ex, Betty Rizzo (Stockard Channing) as their leader.

The film is immediately evocative of an Elvis Presley movie; some hybrid of Jailhouse Rock and Viva Las Vegas and filled with both classic 50’s songs like “La Bamba,” appearances by Frankie Avalon and original numbers mainly lifted directly from the stage production that hearken back to 50’s Rock and Roll and Doo Wop. One wonders, looking back, how much of an influence Grease had on the early-80’s Rockabilly resurgence that would see acts like The Blasters, The Stray Cats and even veterans like Queen (“Crazy Little Thing Called Love”) rocket to the top of the charts with full-on Rockabilly songs?

Choreographer Sandy Birch, who also choreographed the stage production, obviously helps ease director Randal Kleiser’s transition into directing his very first musical with her lavishly staged numbers and Grease, being one of the highest grossing musicals ever, may lean towards the cheesy side, but its songs, clothing and dance numbers are memorable and sure to last in your memory for a long time. It’s one of the more successful adaptations of a stage musical to the screen you are ever going to see.

Video Quality

Grease arrives on Blu-ray with its original 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio intact in a 1080p/24 AVC/MPEG-4 high definition transfer from Paramount Home Entertainment. Detail is not where it should be due to the original production values employed by director Randal Kleiser. For much of the film, a soft, diffuse filter is employed, giving the film a hazy look.  The picture varies from sharp and detailed to soft and obscured, often in the same sequence.

There also seems to have been some use of light DNR (Digital Noise Reduction) processing employed to help reduce grain and  also some light dirt and scratch removal processing, because the source looks too pristine for a film from 1978. Whether this has anything to do with the wide swings in detail is difficult to say without having access to the original unaltered master, but certainly Grease still looks the best it has ever done on any home video format, it’s just not absolute reference material.

Audio Quality

The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless mix is mixed well for the source material. Relying mostly on the front three channels, the film’s musical soundtrack is presented well across the front soundstage with the surround channels adding mostly light ambiance for an open, live feel.  During Frankie Avalon’s performance of “Beauty School Dropout,” things become a bit more discrete, with everything from background vocals to instrumentation such as harps and strings being mixed into the surround channels, but it is the only moment where the surround mix is utilized in that manner for the musical performances.

Otherwise, the dialogue is clear and intelligible in the centre channel, with a good balanced mix that occasionally follows the action directionally across the front three channels. Low frequencies are not abundant, but there is just enough to support the musicality of the film.

Supplemental Materials

Grease has been provided with all of the supplements from its previous DVD releases for this Blu-ray release and as such everything is in standard definition, other than the Theatrical Trailer (1.78:1; 1080p/24) that is in such awful condition, it says high definition but looks no better than DVD-quality anyway

The supplements provided on this release are:

  • Commentary by Director Randal Kleiser and Choreographer Patricia Birch
  • Introduction by Director Randal Kleiser
  • Rydell Sing-Along — Sing along to your favorite songs with the aid of timed lyrics with this in-movie feature. Individual songs can be selected so viewers can jump right to their favorite track.
  • The Time, The Place, The Motion: Remembering Grease (1.33:1; 480i/60) — This making-of featurette gives a pretty detailed account of this classic musical’s journey from stage to screen with interview segments with the cast, crew, director and choreographer.
  • Deleted/Extended/Alternate Scenes (1.33:1; 480i/60; black and white):
    • T-Birds Harass Eugene
    • Classroom Announcements
    • Pink Ladies and Sandy at Lunch
    • She’s too Pure to be Pink
    • Intro to Summer Nights
    • Rydell Pep Rally
    • Kenickie and Danny Outside Frosty’s
    • The Stroll
    • National Bandstand
    • At the Dance
    • Thunder Road
  • Grease on DVD Launch Party (1.33:1; 480i/60) — In 2002 when Grease was released to DVD by Paramount for the very first time, they threw a huge release party, bringing together the cast and filmmakers. This included some nice live performances of the songs from Grease by the film’s stars at the release party that are sure to please longtime fans.
  • Grease Memories from John & Olivia (1.33:1; 480i/60) — An interview with John Travolta and Olivia Newton John from the 2002 DVD release party.
  • The Moves Behind the Music (1.33:1; 480i/60) — Director Randal Kleiser, choreographer Patricia Birch and other members of the Grease cast and crew discuss interpreting the big dance numbers for the film.
  • Thunder Roadsters (1.33:1; 480i/60) — The spotlight is placed on Grease’s classic hotrods in this featurette.
  • John Travolta and Allan Carr “Grease Day” Interview (1.33:1; 480i/60) — An interview with John Travolta from 1978 at the Grease premiere.
  • Olivia Newton-John and Robert Stigwood “Grease Day” Interview (1.33:1; 480i/60) — Olivia talks about getting the role in the Grease film.
  • Photo Galleries:
    • Rydell High Year Book
    • Production
    • Premiere
    • Grease Day
  • Theatrical Trailer (1.78:1; 1080p/24) — This original theatrical trailer is provided in high definition, but the poor condition of the source means that it really looks no better than DVD-quality.

The Definitive Word

Overall:

Grease holds fond memories for me, and even today, 31-years after I first saw it, I have to admit that it still gets my feet tapping and that watching Olivia Newton-John play Sandy melts my heart. Unfortunately, this Blu-ray release with its uneven picture quality and standard definition supplements isn’t a reference quality catalogue release. There are some glimmers of brilliance in the picture and the sound serves the music well.  The film does look the best it ever has on home video, so it is not completely a lost cause.

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