Chicago (2002)

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Released 15-Sep-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Musical Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-Rob Marshall (Director) and Bill Condon (Screenwriter)
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-28:28
Deleted Scenes-Song: Class (4:08)
THX Optimizer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 108:47
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (71:15) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Rob Marshall
Studio
Distributor

Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring Renee Zellweger
Catherine Zeta-Jones
Richard Gere
Queen Latifah
John C. Reilly
Lucy Liu
Taye Diggs
Colm Feore
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $36.95 Music John Kander
Danny Elfman


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes, lots: in period
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, scenes replaying under credits

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    A film of a stage musical can be a dicey business. Some musicals translate well to the screen with few changes; some don't. There have been some films of musicals that have been little more than a camera pointed at a stage — I hate those. I guess it depends on the courage of the director to change the musical to make it work on film. And the bigger and more successful the stage musical, the more courage it will take to change and adapt it. One of musical theatre's big names is Bob Fosse; he has made some of the best musical films, too, so there's another layer of intimidation — the director knows that whatever he does will be compared with people's conception of what Bob Fosse would have done.

    This one is directed by Rob Marshall. This guy has a lot of guts (in the commentary he talks about "the ghost of Bob Fosse"). It helps that he's a choreographer. He had a lot of help, but he gets the credit because he wears the responsibility, either for the good or for the bad. And it's good. It's really really good!

    They wanted to present the musical numbers in a stage-like manner, but the storyline in a somewhat realistic way. So they came up with an interesting concept: all the musical numbers (except the opening and closing) take place in the imagination of Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger). This works superbly, allowing the numbers to be presented with gloss while the storyline is rather grim.

    The film is set in Chicago in 1929. Roxie Hart is in the Onyx Club watching a performance of Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) on the night that Velma gets arrested for the murder of her husband and sister. Roxie dreams (literally) of being on-stage in Velma's place, but she allows her escort, Fred Casely (Dominic West) to lead her away and astray. When, a month later, she discovers that Fred has been lying to her about his ability to get her a start in show business, she blazes away at him with a revolver. Roxie's husband, Amos (John C Reilly), covers for her initially, but Assistant DA Harrison (Colm Feore) sees through the story, so Roxie is sent to the Cook County Jail. The women's section of the jail is run by Matron 'Mama' Morton (Queen Latifah), who is a poster person for corruption — she'll do you all manner of favours, for a price — she takes a shine to Roxie, and recommends that Roxie hire the best defence lawyer in Chicago: Billy Flynn (Richard Gere). Billy Flynn ain't above lying and manipulation to get his clients off (sure, like the sea ain't above the sky!). Billy specialises in getting his clients favourable publicity prior to the trial, then playing on that in court to get even the guiltiest off. One of the highly-esteemed members of the Press is Mary Sunshine (Christine Baranski — who I could have sworn was Joanna Lumley) — she's a sucker for a sob-story (or maybe that sells a lot more newspapers?). It's highly entertaining the story that he works up for Roxie. They blame the evils of jazz music and alcohol for her downfall. Billy Flynn is also representing Velma, but he neglects her for Roxie which, as you can imagine, does not exactly endear Roxie to Velma.

    The performances are excellent, both in the storyline, and in the singing and dancing. I was highly amused to see three lines towards the end of the credits that emphasise that Richard Gere, Renée Zellweger, and Catherine Zeta-Jones performed their own singing and dancing. Renée Zellweger's singing is at times a touch breathy (like the Marilyn Monroe clone she sometimes resembles), but she's good. Catherine Zeta-Jones, on the other hand, is fabulous, with a strong vibrant voice and sure dancing. Richard Gere has an adequate voice, and is a better dancer than I expected (especially in his tap-dancing sequence), but it's his showmanship that really sells his role (the court-room scenes are marvellous).

    This show is a sarcastic comment on the nature of celebrity (especially the fleeting nature of celebrity) and the power of the press (and the perversion of that power), but the real attractions in this film are the song and dance numbers. The hottest number is the Cell Block Tango (I love the moments that look like role-reversed Apaché dancing), but it has some real competition. In the commentary Rob Marshall mentions that they cut five numbers, but that's because the numbers didn't fit with the storyline — they stayed true to their idea of having all the musical numbers taking place in Roxie's mind. The inter-cutting of the fantasy sequences with the storylines is an excellent technique, and effective storytelling.

    If you are a fan of musicals, then you definitely owe it to yourself to get a copy of this disc.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    This DVD is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, 16x9 enhanced, although you may find the thin black bars above and below vanishing into your display's overscan. The theatrical aspect ratio was 1.85:1, so that's acceptable.

    The image is superb; it's sharp and clear most of the time, with some scenes softened by smoke. Shadow detail is quite good, although we can't expect a lot in the theatrical lighting of the musical numbers. Film grain appears on occasion, like around 11:55, but it comes across more as an effect than an artefact. The film grain looks a bit like low-level noise, but isn't.

    Colour is very well rendered. The storyline scenes are drawn from a somewhat muted palette because of the grim and grimy milieu; the fantasy scenes are glossy and vividly coloured; the transfer renders both styles with equal ease. Some of the theatrical sequences show things like stage lights, but even so there are no colour-related artefacts.

    There are no film artefacts, as we'd hope.

    There are subtitles and captions in English, but no other languages. I watched the captions all the way through, and they are an impressive effort: easy to read, well-timed, and close to word-perfect; and they subtitle the lyrics, which is very important in a film like this where the lyrics are part of the storyline.

    The disc is single-sided and dual layered. The layer change comes at 71:15, and it is excellent. It is essentially invisible on most players.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    UPDATE: MichaelD has listened to selections from this DVD, and he is confident that it has been pitch-corrected, so the music is in the correct key. It still runs 4% fast, but that's even less noticeable that the pitch.

    The soundtrack is provided in English, English, and, umm, English. The soundtrack is provided in Dolby Digital 5.1 at 448kbps, and also in dts 5.1 at 768kbps (half bit rate). Then there's a rarity: an English Audio Descriptive track, in Dolby Digital 2.0 (not surround encoded) at 192kbps. Plus there's an audio commentary in English in Dolby Digital 2.0 (not surround-encoded) at 192kbps. I started by listening to the dts track (I get too few chances to exercise my dts decoder), then I sampled about half an hour of the Descriptive track, then listened to the commentary, then the Dolby Digital soundtrack, then did some direct comparisons of the 5.1 tracks. So I've watched the movie a few times...

    The dialogue is clear and easily understood, as are the lyrics (very important in this show). There are no audio sync lapses in the spoken dialogue, and only the slightest betrayal of the lip-syncing in the musical numbers — they had to be lip-synced because no human could sing like that while dancing so acrobatically.

    The music is marvellous stuff. It includes music and lyrics from the original stage show (music: John Kander, lyrics: Fred Ebb), and some score for the storyline portions (Danny Elfman). Elfman's work blends excellently with the original material. The film has been cut with care to fit the music — it's no surprise that it took the Oscar for editing (Martin Walsh).

    The 5.1 soundtracks do demonstrate some directional sound, but it is quite limited; the surrounds are mostly used for ambience, although some music does leak into them. This seems to have been a deliberate choice, because the musical numbers are so carefully staged in theatrical style, and therefore it is logical that their sound be mainly frontal. That's not a criticism — it works very well. The subwoofer supports the lowest registers, but is well-integrated and never draws attention to itself.

    The Dolby Digital 5.1 and dts 5.1 soundtracks are essentially the same. I didn't notice anything significantly different between them, even when A-Bing them (this disc doesn't block you from doing that).

    The Audio Descriptive track is interesting. Intended as assistance for the visually impaired, it features a woman with a clear and attractive voice describing what's happening over the regular soundtrack. It isn't always completely accurate, but it's close enough. It's unfortunate that it is only a 2.0 soundtrack, but I guess they didn't want to use up too much of their bit-budget on sound (there's plenty needed for the video).

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There aren't a lot of extras, but that's cool: there are just enough — any more and they'd start to eat into the space needed to present this film well. Nice judgment.

Menu

    The menus are animated with music. They are simple and effective.

Audio Commentary — director/choreographer Rob Marshall, writer Bill Condon

    Once again we get a big warning (does any non-Buena Vista company bother warning us before commentaries?). Rob Marshall has a heap to say, and Bill Condon chimes in fairly often. They start talking over the opening logos, and continue through the entire movie and all of the credits — they barely finish before the end of the film. It's an interesting commentary, and well worth a listen.

Deleted Song — Class (4:08)

    You can watch this number, and it's a good one, with or without commentary from Rob Marshall and Bill Condon. They explain that they had to delete it because it didn't test well, but they felt better about it because it didn't fit their image of all the numbers taking place inside Roxie's mind. It features superb harmonies between Queen Latifah and Catherine Zeta-Jones, two of the best voices in the film. The lyrics we hear are rather crude; apparently they are the original lyrics, which couldn't be used in the stage show back in 1975.

Featurette — Behind the Scenes Special (28:28)

    A decent behind-the-scenes piece with a bit of rehearsal footage. There's a bit of the usual promotional stuff "he is so good" / "she is great", but you have to expect that.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 version of this disc was released in August, a little earlier than ours. It is pretty much the same as this one, including the dts soundtrack, commentary, and featurette.

    The Region 1 disc is missing:

    The Region 4 disc is missing:

    The Region 1 transfer is reported to be very good, just like this one, so I'd say the two discs are essentially equivalent.

Summary

    An excellent musical that makes a superb transition to film, given a really nice transfer to DVD.

    The video quality is excellent.

    The audio quality is excellent.

    The extras are just about right — I'd hate to see more at the cost of reducing the film quality.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Sunday, September 14, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left, Centre, Right: Krix Euphonix; Rears: Krix KDX-M; Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

Other Reviews
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Web Wombat - James A
AllZone4DVD - Magalie S

Comments (Add)
Pity about the lack of extras -
Extras - Jace
Pitch correction - REPLY POSTED
Re: Pitch Correction - REPLY POSTED
Chicago for $25.49 @ Kmart (Thur & Fri only) - Ben H (My biography. Go on have a read...)
Special Edition -
Another kind of pitch correction !! - Bran (my bio, or something very like it)