Strictly Ballroom: Special Edition (1992)

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Released 23-Apr-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Romantic Comedy Menu Animation & Audio
Featurette-Samba To Slow Fox
Gallery-5
Audio Commentary
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1992
Running Time 90:33
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (20:44) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Baz Luhrmann
Studio
Distributor

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Paul Mercurio
Tara Morice
Bill Hunter
Pat Thomson
Barry Otto
Gia Carides
Peter Whitford
Case ?
RPI ? Music David Hirschfelder


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/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 for the Hearing Impaired
French
French Titling
English Audio Commentary
French Audio Commentary
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

A life lived in fear is a life half lived.

    Strictly Ballroom is many things. Baz Luhrmann calls it the first volume of his Red Curtain trilogy of films (more on that later). It was a hit at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival, and quite possibly was one of the reasons Baz Luhrmann got the backing to make the films he's made since. It was the first film Baz Luhrmann made. It was the first film Paul Mercurio starred in. It was the last film Pat Thomson made (she died before she received the award for her part in this film). I call it a favourite - when I first got a DVD player I made a list of films I wanted on DVD, and this one was high up the list.

    This film is about ballroom dancing, or so it appears superficially. It is really about oppression of creativity and about the lengths someone may go to to retain power. There's a love story, and treachery, betrayal, and deep dark secrets. Heck, if it had sword fighting it would The Princess Bride! It has the same overt melodrama, the same theatrical quality - if you liked The Princess Bride, you'll like this.

    Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio) has been trained as a ballroom dancer since the age of 6 years old with a single objective in mind: to win the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix. This would have happened, had it not been for a disastrous incident at the Waratah Championship. Scott and his partner Liz (played superbly by Gia Carides) get boxed in, and Scott yields to impulse, deviating from the permitted steps to escape the box - he resorts to "flashy, crowd-pleasing steps". As Dance Federation President Barry Fife (an awesome performance from Bill Hunter) puts it: "you can dance any steps you like, but it doesn't mean you'll win". They don't win. Liz can't stand it - she dumps Scott as a partner. Scott is approached by a beginner, Fran (Tara Morice), who wants to dance his steps, no matter whether they win or not. Meanwhile, Scott's mother Shirley (Pat Thomson) and his dance coach Les (Peter Whitford) are hoping to find Scott the right partner so he can resume the straight and narrow path and win, the way they've always planned.

    There are added complications: Fran's father (Antonio Vargas - who happens to teach Flamenco dancing in real life...), who is Spanish, and not impressed by the ballroom dancing version of the paso doble; Scott's father, Doug (Barry Otto) and his secret; The Dance Federation as a whole, and Barry Fife in particular. We know things will work out, but there are plenty of bumps along the way. There are some wonderful moments, too, particularly when Scott rediscovers his joy in dancing.

    On the commentary, Baz Luhrmann makes it clear that the world of ballroom dancing that this film is gently sending up is not real - although the film was made in the 1990s, and sort of set in the 1980s, the kind of ballroom dancing it refers to is more that of the 1970s (the rigid limits on steps had already relaxed in the 80s). He is at pains to point out that this is a fantasy world in which our fairytale takes place. Despite these protestations, I think there are some strong elements of truth - certainly the costumes are not in the least exaggerated. I continue to be amazed by the female costumes in the Latin dance sports - they consist of small scraps of cloth covered in sparkles, held in place by the personal magnetism of the wearer, as far as I can tell.

    This film features magnificent performances by so many of the actors. Paul Mercurio is good, but Tara Morice is even better - she had the advantage of playing Fran in the earlier stage production, but it is her performance that really sells the transformation from ugly duckling to swan. Antonio Vargas is very good, but his role is not a big stretch. Barry Otto is superb, just as is Pat Thomson. Bill Hunter is absolutely brilliant (wish his make-up wasn't so orange, though) as the despotic president, played in the manner of a familiar Australian political figure. In fact, put simply, there isn't a single weak performance in the whole film.

    Some of the best lines are reserved for Kylie (Scott's little sister, played by Lauren Hewett) - just as in Gregory's Girl, the smaller children seem much more mature than the teenagers.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    This transfer is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, 16x9 enhanced. That's the original theatrical aspect ratio. Baz Luhrmann has used the whole frame, even to the extent of having actors standing half off both edges of the frame on occasion - almost as if he was aiming at a scope frame. It would be a crime to Pan & Scan this film.

    The image is quite intentionally grainy at times (particularly any footage that is meant to look like news footage, like the interview segments), so the sharpness is variable. As the film moves toward a more 'natural' appearance, the sharpness increases. Shadow detail is always a bit limited, but perfectly adequate. There is what looks like low-level noise at some points, but it is probably fine grain. The flaws in this transfer are really only obvious on a large screen - on a 68cm screen, for example, the flaws are pretty much invisible.

    Colour has to be strong to support the vivid colours of the costumes, and it is. There are no colour-related artefacts, although there are some unusual looking colours on occasion, but these are effects of the lighting. There is quite  a bit of flaring in the 1967 flashback sequence, but this is part of the design, and inherent in the source material. There's also a lot of flare from lights around dance floors, but that's part of the style, and it would look wrong without it.

    There are numerous film artefacts, but they are small, and not troubling.

    There's no real aliasing, moire, or MPEG artefacts. There is some very mild posterization, but it doesn't detract from the picture.

    There are subtitles in French, and captions in English. There are also subtitles for the audio commentary in both English and French, which is good to see, although the French commentary subtitles have to be selected by remote, because there's no menu selection for them (most players won't permit this, which is a shame).

    The disc is single-sided and RSDL-formatted. The layer change is very early in the film, at 22:44. It comes in the middle of a scene, but it's not particularly obvious.

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

Audio

    The soundtrack is provided in English and French. The English soundtrack is Dolby Digital 5.1 and it really deserves the 5.1 mix.

    The dialogue is clear, but the Australian accents make a few words less than perfectly comprehensible. There are no audio sync problems.

    David Hirschfelder has assembled an excellent score - this film would be lessened without it. There are a number of songs of the period included in the soundtrack, including the well-known ones from John Paul Young. (listen to his parody of Standing in the Rain over the credits). Interestingly, the song Time After Time is sung on the soundtrack by Tara Morice - she has a good voice.

    This is a beautifully immersive soundtrack, with the surrounds constantly in use, but used quite subtly - they don't draw attention to themselves.

    The subwoofer doesn't get a heap of signal, due to the dearth of explosions in the soundtrack, but it does a lovely job of supporting the deep bass register.

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

Extras

    There are only a few extras on this disc, but they are interesting.

Menu

    The menus are animated with music. One piece of bad news: on a Pioneer player there's a nasty 'crack' at the end of the music, and at the end of the transitional pieces. First time I heard it I thought something had broken. I've reproduced this problem on two Pioneers, and confirmed that it does not happen on a Sony. Thank goodness it is only on the menu.

Featurette - Samba to Slow Foxtrot (30:20)

    This is an interesting study of the world of ballroom dancing that inspired this film. This documentary was made in 1985, well before the movie. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and is therefore not 16x9 enhanced.

Gallery - Design

    This is divided into five sections, none of them very long. There is commentary over each section.

Audio Commentary - Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, John (Cha Cha) O'Connell

    A fairly interesting commentary from the director and co-writer, Baz Luhrmann, production designer and co-costume designer, Catherine Martin, and choreographer, John O'Connell. They cover a lot of ground in a somewhat disorganised way. It becomes obvious at a few points that this commentary was recorded for the Region 1 version of the DVD, because they go to trouble explaining some things they think Americans might not understand, including Paul Mercurio's singlet. Even so, I recommend giving this commentary a listen.

R4 vs R1

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

    I was rather keen to get this movie on DVD. The first version available was the Region 2 (released quite a while back), then the Region 1 (earlier this year), and now the Region 4. The Region 2 is quite different from the others, both in content and design - it has quite an ugly cover, and completely different extras. The Region 1 version and the Region 4 are quite similar, using the same menu design, and almost the same extras. Comparing these two:

    The Region 4 is missing:

    The Region 1 is missing:

    The Region 2 has none of the extras that are on the Region 1 and 4 versions, but it has:

    By the way, if you look up the R2 on-line you may see claims that it is 1.33:1 and that it is 113 minutes long - these claims are rubbish; it is 1.85:1, 16x9 enhanced, and runs 90:53, which is 20 seconds longer than the R4 (I have not located those extra 20 seconds, but I don't think it is an extended cut). Note that the R2 is only single-layered, while the R1 and R4 are dual-layered, but this doesn't seem to have resulted in over-compression of the R2, perhaps because it has less information (no commentary). Apparently this version may have been discontinued (information is contradictory), and replaced by a Collector's Edition with the same extras, but a different transfer.

    The video transfer for all three versions is fairly similar, but the R2 version has only Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded sound, versus the 5.1 soundtrack on the R1 and R4, and the 5.1 is well worth having. The extra extras on the R1 are interesting (especially the deleted scene), but they are hardly compelling reasons to pick the R1. I'd say you could be very happy with either the R1 or R4, providing you're willing to overlook that nasty noise on the menu (or your player doesn't reproduce it).

Summary

    Strictly Ballroom is a marvellous movie, on a good disc.

    The video quality is rather good.

    The audio quality is very good, except on the menu (on some players).

    The extras are interesting.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Friday, October 11, 2002
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

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Comments (Add)
Individual release - IgorWopatropski REPLY POSTED
Strictly Ballroom - Tiff
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Odd, not so - Tom Tuttle