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Saturday Night Fever: 30th Anniversary Special Collector's Edition DVD Review

Saturday Night Fever movie poster Saturday Night Fever

Theatrical Release: December 16, 1977 / Running Time: 119 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: John Badham / Writers: Norman Wexler (screenplay), Nik Cohn (magazine article)

Cast: John Travolta (Tony Manero), Karen Lynn Gorney (Stephanie Mangano), Barry Miller (Bobby C.), Joseph Cali (Joey), Paul Pape (Double J.), Donna Pescow (Annette), Bruce Ornstein (Gus), Val Bisoglio (Frank Manero, Sr.) , Julie Bovasso (Flo Manero), Martin Shakar (Frank Manero, Jr.), Nina Hansen (Grandmother), Lisa Peluso (Linda Manero), Sam J. Coppola (Dan Fusco), Denny Dillon (Doreen), Bert Michaels (Pete), Robert Costanzo (Paint Store Customer), Robert Weil (Becker), Fran Drescher (Connie), Monti Rock III (The DeeJay)

Songs: Bee Gees - "Stayin' Alive", "Night Fever", "More Than a Woman", "How Deep is Your Love", "You Should Be Dancing"; Yvonne Elliman - "If I Can't Have You"; Tavares - "More Than a Woman"; David Shire - "Manhattan Skyline", "Barracuda Hangout", "Salsation", "Night on Disco Mountain"; M.F.S.B. - "K-Jee"; Walter Murphy - "A Fifth of Beethoven"; Trammps - "Disco Inferno"; Kool and the Gang - "Open Sesame"; Rick Dees - "Dr. Disco", "Disco Duck"; K.C. and the Sunshine Band - "Boogie Shoes"

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There are two images from Saturday Night Fever that just about everyone knows, whether they've seen the movie or not. One is of John Travolta confidently strutting through the sidewalks of Brooklyn to the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive." The other is the poster shot of Travolta in his iconic white suit with bell-bottomed legs spread and finger pointing up.
Put together, the images reveal the two sides of Travolta's star-making role of Tony Manero, working class schmo and dance floor king. They also hint at the two versions of Saturday Night Fever. The one that people remember: the late-1970s, disco-popularizing pop culture blockbuster. And the somehow forgotten one: the gritty, unabashedly R-rated adult drama.

With a low-paying paint store job, a bawdy group of male friends, and an Italian Catholic family that doesn't think much of him, nineteen-year-old Tony is unextraordinary in most ways. The one thing that makes him stand out among other youths is his disco dancing ability. Well-groomed and stylishly dressed, Tony spends weekend nights as a focal part of the electric atmosphere of local club 2001 Odyssey. A rhythmic young lady named Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney) catches Tony's eye one night and he enlists her to become his partner for an upcoming dance competition. While rehearsing together, Tony clearly takes interest in Stephanie beyond the dance floor, though there exists a distinct gap in their modes of life.

In between plentiful scenes that serve us merely with the sights and sounds (dance and disco) of '70s nightlife, we spend time with Tony at work, at home with his family, and, most of all, out with his friends. There is plenty of sex and violence involving Tony's gang, who butt heads with the Barracudas, a local Hispanic gang, while maintaining racist, sexist attitudes towards their Bay Ridge neighbors. Most captivating of the peripheral characters are: Tony's older brother Frank, Jr. (Martin Shakar), whose divine status with his parents takes a nosedive when he leaves the priesthood; Annette (Donna Pescow), a plump girl who wants nothing more (or less) than to be with Tony; and Bobby C. (Barry Miller), the most diminutive and youthful of the guys who worries over his girlfriend's pregnancy. Gloom seems to lurk over all three, though hinted-at demise isn't in store for each; one has to settle for degradation and another, an uncertain early exit.

In the iconic, oft-parodied opening of "Saturday Night Fever", Tony Manero (John Travolta) struts along on the sidewalk to the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive", carrying a paint can and eating two stacked slices of pizza. Tony admires the dancing abilities of Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney), a young lady who seems to be going places in life.

Saturday Night Fever was a bona fide cultural phenomenon, arriving seven months after Hollywood had just churned out another one of those in Star Wars. Between "Welcome Back, Kotter", Carrie, The Boy in the Plastic Bubble and two albums, John Travolta was already known and enough of a heartthrob to lead thousands of sight-seekers to Fever's New York filming locations. But Fever announced his arrival as a genuine movie star, status that helped Paramount's Grease draw crowds and break records the following summer. The movie also declared Travolta a talented performer, something not always required for large fan followings; this debut starring role earned him Best Actor nominations in the Golden Globes and, more importantly, the Academy Awards.

Fever was the third highest-grossing film among 1977 releases, behind only the colossal Star Wars and Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind. While lots of movies can claim high attendance levels, few can take credit for changing the worldwide musical landscape. Fever can do both, with its global popularity helping disco music and clubs go mainstream like never before. One need only glance over a list of Billboard magazine's #1 hit songs from 1977 and 1978 to appreciate the popularity of the Bee Gees' contributions to the movie. "How Deep is Your Love", "Stayin' Alive", "Night Fever", and Yvonne Elliman's "If I Can't Have You" (penned by the Brothers Gibb) took turns holding the title of the most popular new song in America, with few interruptions (most significantly by the trio's younger brother Andy) into late spring of the next year. By comparison, Paramount and Travolta's smash hit follow-up Grease only claimed the #1 song slot for just three scattered weeks.

Fever's instant and rampant recognition led Paramount to reissue it in 1978 with some trims and alternate television versions of scenes in place, securing a "PG" rating that allowed a wider audience to attend. I'm not sure what percentage of theatrical viewings were of this version that ran 7 minutes shorter. However, there is a lot of evidence that an entire campaign was built around the phrase "Because we want everyone to..." Perhaps this tamer cut, coupled with the fact that nearly all TV broadcasts have been born of it, has helped secure a nostalgic reputation of passι styles and silliness.

The tough Brooklyn boys act tough outside of Bobby C.'s car. Tony isn't having Annette (Donna Pescow) as his dancing partner no more.

Such a reputation isn't really fitting of Saturday Night Fever, but it's somewhat understandable if Paramount's back-to-back, music-heavy John Travolta blockbusters of the late-'70s have blurred a bit in the public consciousness. Whereas Grease's adult content could mostly float right over the heads of youngsters entranced by the upbeat singing and broad '50s setting, Saturday Night Fever is a much different period piece: steeped in contemporary culture, born out of a non-fiction New York magazine article later revealed to be fabricated, and filled with dialogue that'd turn heads even today, especially in a mainstream sensation.

Despite the bold, atypical, likely-to-offend style, Fever isn't quite one of those yesteryear draws that today yields utter head-scratching over its initial appeal. Travolta really is the key; though short on brains and an active conscience, Tony somehow remains a bit likable as the cool guy hanging onto the end of his adolescence, going with the flow, and trying to impress a woman who holds some perspective beyond the moment.
His bedroom is a selective shrine to '70s pop culture (with wall space claimed by Al Pacino, Farrah Fawcett, Sylvester Stallone, and Bruce Lee), he takes blow-drying to an art form, and one can't help but be endeared by his earnest smile. The slightest push towards detestability and the movie falls apart. Somehow, the "stugats" who celebrates victory with a sour attitude and an attempted date rape doesn't quite push us away completely. Maybe it's those dimples.

As with many of the most popular titles in its catalog, Paramount took some time before debuting Saturday Night Fever on DVD, wisely waiting for the DVD-buying population to expand. It arrived in October of 2002 with no special moniker but some fanfare. The same disc has also been a part of a two box sets: The Travolta DVD Collection and the DVD Dance Pack. This week, it gets a genuine revisiting in the long-windedly-titled 30th Anniversary Special Collector's Edition. Curiously, on the same day, the old DVD edition (which is not without some unique treats of its own) is also being reissued as part of a lower-priced Double Feature with the critically-lampooned but moderately-grossing 1983 sequel Staying Alive, directed by Sylvester Stallone.

Buy Saturday Night Fever: 30th Anniversary Special Collector's Edition DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround (French),
Dolby Mono 2.0 (Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish;
Closed Captioned
Release Date: September 18, 2007
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Black disc tray with clear plastic slipcover

VIDEO and AUDIO

Saturday Night Fever is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, which approximates its 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. Paramount has long and consistently churned out fine 16x9 transfers, but this one is a few notches above fine. For a 30-year-old film and one shot on a presumably modest budget, Fever looks terrific in a presentation which shows age only in mise en scθne and not in DVD quality. The element is fantastically clean, colors are accurate and reliable, sharpness is where it should be. Some shots, especially outdoor ones, have a slightly soft look with gentle auras around light colors; I think this is due to the camera technology of the time more than insufficient remastering. On the whole, this is a major improvement over the TV broadcasts that many are used to and, I would imagine, the previous DVD release.

Likewise, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is satisfying, especially when one considers the movie's origins. The elements are evenly balanced and the mix's star feature (a near-constant stream of familiar '70s disco tunes) is where it most appropriately comes to life. Even beyond that, there's the occasional use of channels to adequately convey atmosphere.

In front of a disco ball and colored lights, Donna Pescow (whom early 2000s Disney Channel viewers will recognize as the mom from "Even Stevens") is one of many cast members reflecting on their 1970s experiences in five "Catching the Fever" featurettes. A regal-looking Barry Gibb discusses the Bee Gees' musical contributions to the film in "Making Soundtrack History." Joseph Cali (Joey in the film) points out where the 2001 Odyssey club used to stand in "Back to Bay Ridge."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, and PACKAGING

The only one of the 2002 DVD's three bonus features seen fit to re-appear here is a feature audio commentary by director John Badham. Twenty-five years may weaken some filmmakers' memories of their work, but not Badham, who is sharp, full of information, and able to dispatch it in an engaging way. He's got a lot of stories and observations to share, many of them screen-specific, and manages to fill the air most of the time without getting dull, a drain, or full of himself. His thoughts happily find a balance between production anecdotes and dramatic intent, satisfying aspiring filmmakers and diehard SNF fans alike.

"Catching the Fever" can be played as a single 53-minute documentary, but it's clearly a collection of five separate new featurettes,
all of which contain full end credits, regardless of selecting the "Play All" option. First and most satisfactory, "A 30-Year Legacy" (15:20) is an all-purpose retrospective which enlists many key members of the cast and crew to reflect on the movie's production, themes, appeal, and success. "Making Soundtrack History" (12:35) expectedly deals with the film's music, with comments from cast/crew complemented by observations from the two living Bee Gees members.

The shorter next three pieces are limited to more specific topics. "Platforms & Polyester" (10:35) deals with the wardrobe, with remarks from SNF costume designer Patrizia von Brandenstein, "That '70s Show" costumer Melina Root, and already-seen cast members who talk about '70s fashions and how the film chose to feature them. With interview subjects more loosely related to the film, "DeeJays & Discos" (10:15) discusses the '70s club scene and the oft-proclaimed-dead music style that's prominent in SNF. "Spotlight on Travolta" (3:33) allows castmates and acquaintances to say nice things about the leading man, merely underscoring his glaring absence from the disc's new features.

The 9-minute "Back to Bay Ridge" (9:00) takes actor Joseph Cali back, obviously, to the Brooklyn sites where Saturday Night Fever was filmed. It's interesting to see what's become of the hardware store, eateries, dance club, etc., and relevant excerpts make sure it's clear where and when each location was seen in the movie.

Dance Doctor to the Stars John Cassese and his beautiful partner Jennell Wax teach us how to "Dance Like Travolta" (and Gorney). "Fever Challenge!" is like a short, Saturday Night Fever version of Dance Dance Revolution.

The new featurette "Dance like John Travolta with John Cassese" (9:45) finds so-called Dance Doctor Cassese and partner demonstrating and instructing how to recreate Travolta and Gorney's climactic competition duet.

Running just under 4 minutes, "Fever Challenge!" is an activity which purports to testing your dancing skills. You're supposed to follow along ΰ la Dance Dance Revolution, making moves as directed by an animated dance floor to the song "Night Fever." At the very least, you're bound to get a little cardiovascular workout while certainly looking silly to anyone watching you.

"'70s Discopedia" suggests merely a song identification track, but in fact, it's a wider, more informative trivia subtitle stream which dispatches tidbits on cast and crew, their other projects, the '70s at large, Saturday Night Fever tie-ins and parodies, and so on. Whether watched in tandem with Badham's commentary or on its own, this Discopedia sheds a lot of light on the movie, its historical context, the filmmakers and the many works that connect them.

Finally, under "Previews", we find just one 2½-minute promo for Dreamgirls. No trailers for Saturday Night Fever are anywhere to be found.

John Travolta and Karen Lynn Gorney look down to read a fun fact that's part of the '70s Discopedia trivia track subtitle. A spinning disco ball is found in the animated main menu; submenus and the disc artwork must settle for static disco balls.

Very disappointingly, the disc drops a few things from the film's 2002 DVD release. Three roughly minute-long deleted scenes definitely don't sound like justification for a separate purchase, but they were the only bit of non-theatrical cut movie footage provided.
It's well-known that there's a lot more alternate content that has shown up in the PG-rated version and TV broadcasts (confirmed in both the commentary and trivia tracks), so if anything this re-release should have included more of this deleted material, rather than losing the three minutes previously offered.

In addition, the 2002 DVD included highlights from a 2001 episode of VH1's "Behind the Music" devoted to Saturday Night Fever. Running 31 minutes, this was nearly the full hour-long episode, considering commercial time. Like many cable TV programs, it probably overdramatized the production. But its inclusion of interviews with folks like John Travolta, Rocky director John Avildsen (who was fired from Fever just two weeks before filming started), esteemed critic Roger Ebert, and former Paramount executive and ex-Disney CEO Michael Eisner make its exclusion here all the more disconcerting. There certainly was room for more bonuses here and a second disc shouldn't have been out of the question. A two-disc set could have paved the way for the movie's PG-rated version to make its format debut. It's frankly quite ridiculous to have a new Saturday Night Fever DVD without any appearance by Travolta whatsoever.

The pleasing menus employ disco balls with imagery from the film. Set to "Stayin' Alive", the Main Menu impressively adorns its spinning ball with pictures and video, while balancing it with a larger montage of highlights. For this re-release, Paramount has provided packaging that is more eye-catching than conventional. A clear slipcover featuring only disco pose Travolta and the title houses a disc tray that is marked by holographic background art and disc art that appropriately resembles a big disco ball.

To applause, disco music, and all sorts of colored lights, Tony shows why he's king of the 2001 Odyssey dance floor. In one of the movie's tender latter moments, Stephanie and Tony (Travolta) talk about the bridge connecting two distant worlds, Brooklyn and Manhattan.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Like Rebel Without a Cause, Saturday Night Fever is more historically significant and a fun time machine than it is a great movie. Still, just like Rebel, there are many factors which keep entertainment value high, among them a natural, star-making performance by John Travolta and a soundtrack which remains cool long after disco's death proclamation. This 30th Anniversary DVD delivers terrific quality for the feature presentation, while its bonus features are a bit of a mixed bag. Most of the new featurettes are well worth the required time investment, the two dance supplements may interest some, and the ported commentary and new fact track both considerably enhance replay value. But the loss of the old disc's deleted scenes, the lack of any additional ones, the dropping of the "Behind the Music" program, and the complete absence of John Travolta all detract from this re-release and prevent it from being a clear, easy upgrade.

Diehard fans of the movie would be wise to pick up this version for the picture improvement and worthwhile new extras, but they'll also want to hold onto their old disc for its unique extras. Those who are interested but have held off owning the movie should lean towards this edition even if it initially costs more than the new Double Feature and nearly twice as much as the okay original DVD. As for the completely unacquainted, they're urged to rent the movie before buying. More than just a dated target ripe for parody and a showcase for '70s fashions and music, Fever is also a racy, none-too-pleasant drama that will certainly leave a number of first-time viewers disappointed and some outright disgusted.

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Reviewed September 18, 2007.



Text copyright 2007 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1977 Paramount Pictures and 2007 Paramount Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.