Fresh on 4K: ‘GREASE’ has collected some rust over 40 years

Connor Bynum // Film Critic

GREASE

Rated PG-13, 110 minutes.
Director: Randal Kleiser
Cast: John TravoltaOlivia Newton-JohnStockard ChanningJeff ConawayBarry PearlMichael TucciKelly WardDidi ConnJamie DonnellyDinah ManoffEve Arden and Frankie Avalon
Available today on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and Digital HD.

It’s time for a confession. Before sitting down to watch my review copy of GREASE, I must admit, I had never before seen the cult classic. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people question my status as a film critic and a self proclaimed lover of musicals upon discovering that I had in fact never witnessed what apparently defined a generation. Perhaps the sheer amount of hype surrounding this movie was why I avoided it for so long. After hearing about how it had changed so many lives and became such an iconic piece of cinema history, how could the film itself ever live up to such expectations? To put it simply: it didn’t. For whatever reason, GREASE just wasn’t the one that I want.

With that in mind, I wholeheartedly suggest that you take this review with a grain of salt and know that I’m primarily focusing on how the film fares in the jump to 4K Ultra HD resolution for its 40th anniversary release.

Movie: C+

GREASE is essentially a movie about a selfish jerk getting the girl of his dreams to change everything about herself because he wins an illegal street race and does a semester of track. If this film is a product of its time, it has not aged well. Danny (iconically played by John Travolta) surrounds himself with childish friends who seemingly lack any ability to shut their mouths for five minutes. Sandy (Olivia Newton John) plays Danny’s love interest who refuses to conform to the kind of girl he wants her to be until she does. Virtually every character in the film is an insufferable stereotype of how people like to think kids in the 1950s behaved themselves. Perhaps this exaggeration is better suited for the stage, but any concept of subtlety is entirely lost in its transition to film.

However, I must admit that when the musical numbers fill the screen, there is an undeniable sense of timelessness to be found in GREASE. During these scenes, I began to understand why the film had captured the hearts of so many viewers over the last four decades. But then the characters started talking again. This is a prime example of a musical whose songs deserve a better story to hold them all together.

Video/Audio: B+

Unlike most films released in the budding format, GREASE has a tendency to show its age. For what it’s worth, it is derived from a native 4K digital intermediate for this release and upon direct comparison with the included standard Blu-ray disc, this is without a doubt the best GREASE has ever looked. That being said, those hoping to find an experience similar to that of BLADE RUNNER may be disappointed by what they see.

There are instances of incredible detail to be found in this disc, mostly thanks to the inclusion of HDR10 and Dolby Vision. The film is simply bursting with color especially when compared to the harshly desaturated tones found on the Blu-ray. The blue sky behind the bleachers during the iconic “Summer Nights” sequence is unquestionably more vibrant. The darker scenes such as the bonfire where Danny and Sandy are first reunited with each other also greatly benefit from the increased color contrast. However not all is peachy keen, jelly bean. For all the times the film soars on the format, there are also scenes that appear unmistakably soft and border on being out of focus. Granted, there is little an increase in resolution can do for such issues, but the end result is unfortunately a mixed bag.

As for the audio, GREASE is presented with a 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track that unfortunately contributes to most of what reveals its age. Nearly every scene is painfully dubbed by the actors after filming in a process called ADR. This causes everything to sound as though it is coming out of a can and is even more distracting when dialogue transitions to song. A prime example can be found in the lunch scene leading up to “Summer Nights.” Both scenes with the guys and girls are set outdoors, but everything is eerily quiet under the dialogue with no ambient noise. Perhaps it is due to the increased visual fidelity but it’s often heavily noticeable when the ADR fails to sync up with the actors’ performances.

Movie still courtesy of Blu-ray.com

Extras: A-

There are no extras included on the 4K disc, but the special features packed into the standard Blu-ray disc are tailor made for fans of the film. Along with legacy content from previous releases, many new features including a never before seen alternate ending are included as well. The alternate ending itself is nothing to get too excited about, but “Grease: A Chicago Story” offers a fantastic look into the stage production of the show and how it made its way to Broadway and eventually the screen. Overall, this is exactly what fans would hope to find for the 40th Anniversary release.

Special Features:

  • Commentary by director Randal Kleiser and choreographer Patricia Birch
  • Introduction by Randal Kleiser
  • Rydell Sing-Along
  • The Time, The Place, The Motion: Remembering Grease
  • Grease: A Chicago Story—NEW!
  • Alternate Animated Main Titles—NEW!
  • Alternate Ending—NEW!
  • Deleted/Extended/Alternate Scenes with Introduction by Randal Kleiser
  • Grease Reunion 2002 – DVD Launch Party
  • Grease Memories from John & Olivia
  • The Moves Behind the Music
  • Thunder Roadsters
  • John Travolta and Allan Carr Grease Day interview
  • Olivia Newton-John and Robert Stigwood Grease Day interview
  • Photo Galleries
  • Theatrical Trailer

Final Grade: B+

In the end, this release is designed for fans of the film. It’s certainly a visual improvement over previous discs and has extras to warrant a double dip. However, anyone who has yet to experience GREASE will likely fail to see what all the fuss was about.

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