A remake of writer/director John Waters’ 1988 cult hit, Hairspray is an exhuberant movie musical that builds off the smash-hit Broadway production to recreate the excitement on film for a new generation. Whether it’s bigger and better than previous iterations, I can’t say, because this DVD release marks my first Hairspray experience. What I can say is if Waters’ original and the Broadway show are even half as good, they’re definitely worth your time.
If that doesn’t convince you, this Hairspray also presents John Travolta as an obese, middle-aged woman — a transformation that required plenty of make-up and, more importantly, allowed Travolta to finally reveal his true self for all to see.
It’s Baltimore, 1962. Pleasingly plump teenager Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky, in her first feature film role) dreams of dancing on the Corny Collins Show, a local TV dance program based on the real-life Buddy Deane Show. When she hears about auditions for a spot on the show, Tracy is rarin’ to go for it, but her recluse mother (Travolta, Face/Off) is afraid Tracy will only be rejected and hurt. Her father (Christopher Walken, Sleepy Hollow) disagrees, and urges her to reach for the stars. At the audition, one of the show’s stars, Amber Von Tussle (Brittany Snow, John Tucker Must Die) and her mother, station manager Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer, I Am Sam), do their best to put Tracy down, but she wins a role on the show anyway, thanks to her new-found African-American friends. With her exhuberant personality and hip dance moves, Tracy becomes an overnight sensation. She then launches a campaign to racially integrate the Corny Collins Show, but she won’t succeed if the Von Tussles have anything to do with it.
So it’s a story about fat girls and racial minorities being oppressed. Pretty heavy stuff, but Hairspray is very upbeat and mostly happy, which offsets a lot of the weight of its subject matter. The end result is schmaltzy and sweet, but highly entertaining.
Obviously, the film has some great material to work with. The Broadway production, with songs by composer Marc Shaiman and lyricist Scott Wittman, won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical. And Waters’ original film, while only marginally successful in theatres, has gone on to become a cult favourite. This time around, director-choreographer Adam Shankman (Bringing Down the House) has turned out a movie musical that looks to continue to the revival kickstarted by Moulin Rouge and Chicago. Fans of the genre will certainily appreciate the music and dance, while movie buffs in general will love seeing Christopher Walken singing and dancing in an impossibly believable performance that actually convinces us he’s in love with fat-lady Travolta.
Hairspray (Shake & Shimmy Edition) is presented on two discs, with the film on disc one in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen format. This one’s all about eye candy, with bold colours and set designs that shout it out loud. They’re handled very well, with rich, consistent colour treatment, and sharp, detailed picture. The big production numbers, with their energy-packed choreography, are standouts, though there seems to be very slight compression artifacting on some of the tight, fast-motion shots. It’s hardly noticeable, though, and won’t likely detract from this ocular feast. Bon appetit!
Main audio is either DTS ES 6.1 or Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, and either one will fill your place with the ethusiastic sounds of Hairspray, accurately and enjoyably reproducing everything from the amusing dialogue to hit songs like “Good Morning, Baltimore” and “You Can’t Stop the Beat.” The sound is full, with good use of the surrounds, but not a lot of action from the subwoofer. That’s an observation, not a complaint, because this track is definitely satisfying. And this is not a case of DTS being the obvious choice over DD, because both tracks sound really good.
English audio is also available in DD 2.0, while subtitles are offered in English and Spanish.
This two-disc Shake & Shimmy Edition is loaded with enough bonus material to satisfy any fan. If you can’t stop the beat when the credits roll, dance right on in to these extras:
On disc one:
- Audio commentary by Adam Shankman and Nikki Blonsky: this enthusiastic pair offers up an energetic track that’s a little light on the technical stuff, but chock full of enjoyable anecdotes.
- Audio commentary by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron: the producers’ track is more technical and production-oriented, covering very different ground than the first commentary. Definitely worth a listen if you want to dig a little deeper.
- Hairspray Extensions: taking a closer look at each of the film’s song-and-dance numbers, you have the choice to watch the scenes with behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage mixed in, or in final film form.
- Step by Step – The Dances of Hairspray: two of Shankman’s assistant choreographers teach two of the film’s stars the steps to some of the dance numbers, in a format for viewers to learn along with them.
- Sing-along: a feature common to movie musical DVDs, you can skip directly to your favourite songs, with the option of singing along to the lyrics.
On disc two:
- The Roots of Hairspray: this nearly feature-length documentary looks at three aspects of Hairspray, including the original “Buddy Dean Show,” which inspired Waters’ creation, the original Waters’ film and finally the Broadway production.
- You Can’t Stop the Beat – The Long Journey of Hairspray: this one’s even longer, a thorough making-of documentary covering pretty much every aspect of this new film’s production, with plenty of interesting insight from the actors, crew and producers.
- Deleted scenes: this handful of deleted/extended scenes actually includes some great material, including a solo number by Tracy. Definitely check these out.
- Trailers: the original theatrical trailer for Hairspray, along with a bunch of other previews for New Line productions.
This version of Hairspray is a lot of fun, and you can’t beat this Shake & Shimmy Edition DVD release — it’s a triple threat of great video, rockin’ audio and smashing-good special features. A must-buy for any fans of the film.