Featured Blu-ray review - Chicago: Diamond Edition
February 15th, 2014
Chicago came out in 2002 and was a surprise hit earning more than $300 million worldwide on a $30 million production budget. It was a surprise hit, in part because movie musicals had not been able to find an audience like that in a long, long time. Musicals have been around for as long as movies have had sound. The first film with spoken dialogue, The Jazz Singer, was also the first movie musical. But the heyday of movie musicals ended about forty years before Chicago hit theaters. Unfortunately for a lot of studios, Chicago wasn't able to reinvigorate the movie musical genre. Has the decline in the genre meant Chicago hasn't aged well? Or have more recent musicals failed to match it at the box office, because they have also failed to match its quality?
We see behind-the-scenes of a jazz club in 1924 Chicago where things are not going quite right. The star act, the Kelly Sisters, Velma and Veronica, are late. When they finally do arrive, it's just Velma, as Veronica isn't feeling herself tonight. At least that's what Velma says. We see her hide a gun and wash blood off her hands and during her act, we see the cops show up. Clearly she's wasn't entirely truthful earlier.
Also during her act, we see Roxie Hart in the crowd. Roxie fantasizes about becoming a singer and sees herself in Velma's place on stage. She's there with Fred Caseley. Fred has connections and he's going to make Roxie a star, or so he claims. They carry on an affair for a month, but after Roxie admits she wants to leave her husband, Amos, Fred drops the act. He tells her he doesn't have any connections and he's just been lying to her to have sex. When she protests, he shoves her against the wall and threatens to hit her again. Has he's leaving, Roxie gets her husband's gun and shoots him dead. Fortunately, after she tells Amos the guy was a burglar, Amos agrees to take the wrap, until he learns it wasn't a burglar. And when Roxie finds out Fred had a wife and kids, she flips out and confesses.
It must be a slow news day, because there are reporters waiting to get pictures of Roxie as she's led away. The chief detective tells her that the D.A. is looking at the death penalty, so Roxie will be sent to Murderesses Row while she's on trial. This particular jail is run by Mama Morton, who is openly corrupt. Roxie's sent to the same wing as Velma. On day Roxie overhears Mama and Velma talking about her trial. Velma has a hotshot lawyer, Billy Flynn, representing her. Mama says he'll be able to get her acquitted in no time and after that, she'll be a bigger star than she ever was before, thanks to the publicity from the trial. This gets Roxie thinking. If she can get Billy Flynn to represent her, it will be her best chance to escape the death penalty. It could also boost her career.
Chicago won six Oscars, including Best Picture. I had forgotten that was the case, but when I read that, my first thought was, "It must have been a slow year." (On a side note, The Two Towers should have won.) Perhaps I'm just the wrong person to judge this movie, as I'm not a big fan of movie musicals. When people start breaking out in song, it causes my suspension of disbelief to be strained. In this case, the musical numbers there were actually took place only in Roxie's mind, so at least that wasn't an issue. On the other hand, in most movie musicals, the story information told in song is almost always easier to tell with actual dialogue instead of lyrics, so it tends to slow the movie down. And oh boy is that the case here. I found the songs tedious and in no way catchy. The editing of the musical numbers made the situation worse, as it was way too much style-over-substance. Quick edits and dark lighting made the dance numbers hard to follow. The dance numbers also felt really stagey, which makes sense, as the movie is based on a stage musical. However, there have been many stage musicals adapted into movies and the good ones find a way to open them up and make them feel like a movie, not simply the stage production shot with different camera angles. Since I wasn't drawn in by the music, most of the time I couldn't wait till the songs ended so we could get back to the movie.
So Chicago is a musical with music I disliked. Does that mean there's nothing I enjoyed here? Nope. I did like the performances of several of the actors, including Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah, both of whom earned Oscar nominations. I do like the story, when the music wasn't interrupting it. However, even then there are too many unlikeable characters to draw me into the movie.
This is not the first time the film has been released on Blu-ray and the old extras are back (audio commentary, extended dance numbers / dance number rehearsals). However, there is also a massive retrospective. It's more than two hours and twenty minutes long. If you love the movie, and I will admit most critics did, then this is a big selling point.
The film was also remastered with new video and audio, including a Dolby Vision transfer. What is Dolby Vision? ... At the moment, it's more marking hype and than something truly new. It's a transfer designed to take full advantage of 4K displays, but TVs compatible with Dolby Vision are not yet on the market. The video is still a step up from the previous release, but not as great as what Dolby Vision promises later on. On the other hand, the audio has been upgraded from 5.1 to 7.1 and this is a really noticeable difference. I might not have liked the movie, but I loved the audio mix.
The Blu-ray costs just $10 on Amazon.com, which is great for a double-dip with a new transfer and new extras.
Chicago is a movie that was loved by critics when it was first released and was the big winner on that year's Oscar night. I, on the other hand, disliked the vast majority of the characters, which made it hard to be drawn in by the story. I also disliked the songs and was annoyed by the way the dance numbers were shot. There's very little I did like. That said, there's plenty to recommend on the Blu-ray Diamond Edition, including the Feature-Length retrospective and the improved audio and video. If you are a fan but haven't bought it on Blu-ray yet, it is absolutely worth owning. If you own the previous Blu-ray, then it is likely still worth owning, especially given the price.
Submitted by: C.S.Strowbridge
Filed under: Video Review, Chicago