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Thursday, October 18, 2007

DVD Review: Saturday Night Fever: 30th Anniversary Edition

It’s hard to believe Saturday Night Fever is 30 years old this year. I was very young when the film was originally released, but I remember vividly how everyone wanted to dance like John Travolta and the Bee Gees driven soundtrack pulsed out of radio airwaves and the homes of my friends and family. Saturday Night Fever was a true cultural phenomenon, the film influenced the way people dressed, danced and socialized.

Norman Wexler’s screenplay was based on a July 7, 1976 New York Magazine cover story titled, “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night” by Nik Cohn. The article talked about how new generations of young men in the suburbs were agreeably working nine-to-five jobs during the week but on Saturday nights were breaking out into the discos to dance, party and score with the chicks.

John Travolta is perfectly cast as Tony Monero, a seemingly slacker paint store employee living in Brooklyn with his parents. On Saturday nights, Tony is the king of the disco. On the dance floor he exudes confidence and is the epitome of cool to all his buddies. Saturday Night Fever starts out as a story as Tony’s all consuming attempt to win a dance contest at a club called 2001. After he spurns his former dance partner Annette (Donna Pescow) for the smart and sexier Stephanie Mangano, the plot takes a much darker turn and how little dancing there actually is in the film.

When Saturday Night Fever first arrived on screens back in 1977, most people just saw it as a disco flick with great beats. Very little mention was made of the underlying darkness of the whole story. Tony is really a fairly pathetic character, desperate to get out of his dead end life in Brooklyn. Stephanie for all her annoying qualities lives in Manhattan. She represents Tony’s ticket out of a life of nothing. While his friends are likely destined to remain in Brooklyn in dead end jobs, married to women they don’t love. Annette a rather naïve, dimwitted girl is gang rapped by a couple of guys in a car while Tony sits in the front seat. Tony’s friend Bobby C. gets a girl pregnant and throughout much of the film he seeks advice on how to handle the situation, even as the boys hit the disco and live their Saturday life. No one around Bobby truly offers to help and he “accidentally” plunges to his death off the Brooklyn Bridge. Saturday Night Fever was really a film about youth looking for a way to escape poverty and rigidity more than a dance contest.

However, it is the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack that rose up above all else. A series of Bee Gees dance grooves along with several other club friendly songs helped the soundtrack spawn several hit singles and gross $285 million in just the albums first eight months of release. The Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack has sold over 40 million copies and is one of the biggest selling records of all time.

Saturday Night Fever: 30th Anniversary Edition DVD as a package is nothing particularly special. If you own the 25th Anniversary Edition you probably don’t need to pick this up. If not, by all means put on your boogie shoes and go get it. There are a lot of extras, but they don't add to the film as well as the 25th Anniversary version did. All new featurettes are assembled under one section called "Catching the Fever" which includes recent interviews from the cast and director John Badham. These are interesting, but John Travolta doesn’t make an appearance in the newly produced segments for this new edition.

Music supervisors and soundtrack artists the Bee Gees are interviewed for the first time on DVD during the soundtrack segment, and this is the best addition to the interviews on the disc. We get a guided tour of the film locations as they look today, which isn’t exactly riveting stuff. Brought over from the 25th Anniversary Edition is a good commentary by director John Badham which is well constructed and entertaining.

I’m not sure why, but the DVD also includes dance lessons both in a studio with a choreographer not affiliated with the movie and in the form of a Dance Dance Revolution lighted square guide. Another feature gives the viewer pop culture trivia about disco in bubbles on the screen while the movie plays called the "discopedia." I can’t imagine many folks will have any use for these features. This edition would have been better served by including the deleted scenes found in the version released five years ago.

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