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Featured Blu-ray Review: Strictly Ballroom

April 29th, 2013

Strictly Ballroom - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

Baz Luhrmann started in theater but moved into movies with Strictly Ballroom. This film was made just over 20 years ago for $3 million, but became a smash hit in its native Australia earning $21.76 million. At the time, that was the third best box office in Australia for a homegrown hit, behind the first two Crocodile Dundee films. It also did quite well here earning $11.74 million, which is great for a limited release. A few years back, it was given a special edition DVD release, but this week it is coming out on Blu-ray for the first time. Has the film aged well? And is the Blu-ray worth picking up?

The Movie

Strictly Ballroom takes place in the world of competitive ballroom dancing. We are first introduced to Scott Hastings' parents, Shirley (Pat Thomson) and Doug. Shirley tells the story how her son, Scott, and his dance partner, Liz, should have won the Pan Pacific Grand Prix Amateur Five-Dance Latin American Champions, but during the Samba, they were boxed in by Ken Railings (John Hannan) and Pam Short (Kerry Shrimpton), their rivals. In order to get back to the center of the dance floor, Scott resorted to some unorthodox dance moves that were not "strictly ballroom" and the Dance Federation President, Barry Fife (Bill Hunter) made sure they didn't win.

As a result, Liz leaves Scott and instead partners up with Ken. This is too much for Shirley to take, but Les Kendall (Peter Whitford), Shirley's former dance partner, comforts her telling her they can get a new partner for Scott and he can still win. Scott, on the other hand, is sick of the competitive dance scene and wants to dance his own moves. After saying this to no one in particular, he begins to dance in the empty dance studio his mother runs. However, Fran sees him dance. Fran has an idea that she could be his partner, because she gets what's in his heart and wants to dance his moves. At first he scoffs at the idea; after all, she's only been dancing for two years and doesn't even have a partner for class. He does give her an hour, but when she shows him a dance-step she developed, a modified pasodoble, he decides she's good enough to be his partner. He still has to put on the charade with his mother that he's trying to find another partner while secretly practicing with Fran.

As they practice, Fran becomes more self-confident, while a romance between her and Scott grows. However, this is a romantic comedy, so you know there's going to be one more obstacle thrown in their way. The details are too far into spoiler territory, so we'll end the plot summary there.

I'm of two minds when it comes to Strictly Ballroom. On the one hand, it is a rather simplistic story, one that has been told countless times. Like all Baz Luhrmann films in The Red Curtain Trilogy, this one has a lot of style, but sometimes the style gets in the way, because it's just too much. The characters can be a little too quirky, making it hard to be engaged by the movie. The plot is predictable and not very well developed. Fran goes from ugly and awkward duckling to beautiful and graceful swan really fast. It's just a couple weeks in movie time, and a few minutes of montages on screen. Plus she takes off her glasses, which is a hack-level cliché. On the other hand, it is does have a light charm to it that is hard to deny, the two leads do have good chemistry together, and there's a high energy level that can suck you in, despite the problems. I'm not as enamored with the movie as some other critics are, but it is certainly worth checking out.

The Extras

Unfortunately, the Blu-ray is shovelware of the 2010 special edition DVD. Fortunately, there were quite a bit of extras on that DVD, especially for a limited release. Up first is an audio commentary track with Baz Luhrmann, the writer / director; Catherine Martin, the production designer; and John (Cha Cha) O'Connell, the choreographer. There is 23-minute making of featurette called From Stage to Screen and a 30-minute featurette on the Australia dance scene called Samba to Slow Fox. Up next is a two-minute deleted scene. And finally there are five Design Galleries with audio commentary.

There's more bad news. The film only cost $3 million to make and it was made 20 years ago, and you can tell. The video is inconstant with some scenes that are far too soft for high definition and other scenes very clear. Hell, there are times shots within a scene go back and forth. Colors are very bright, but sometimes bleed. Contrast likewise wavers. It's not terrible and it is a step-up from the DVD release, but it isn't a great looking movie. Likewise, the audio is fine, but not particularly great. For the most part, the audio is front and center with the music and some crowd noise coming from the surround sound speakers.

On the plus side, the Blu-ray does only cost $12 on Amazon.com.

The Verdict

Strictly Ballroom is making its Blu-ray debut to take advantage of Baz Luhrmann's latest film, The Great Gatsby. Fans of the film will be happy to have it on Blu-ray, but it is shovelware and the technical presentation is only average, which is disappointing.


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Filed under: Video Review, Strictly Ballroom, Crocodile Dundee, Gia Carides, Baz Luhrmann, Paul Mercurio, Barry Otto, Tara Morice