Director : Randal Kleiser
Screenplay : Bronte Woodard and Allan Carr (adapted by Carr from the musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Case)
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 1978
Stars : John Travolta (Danny), Olivia Newton-John (Sandy), Stockard Channing (Rizzo), Jeff Conaway (Kenickie), Didi Conn (Frenchy), Eve Arden (Principal McGee)
Not many movies these days get theatrical re-releases, but after the phenomenal success of the re-release of Star Wars in 1997, the '50s-style musical Grease was a logical flick to bring back to theaters in 1998 to celebrate its 20th anniversay. Not only was it an unexpectedly enormous hit back in 1978, but, like Star Wars, an entire generation of kids have grown up with Grease on video. And, of course, John Travolta was even hotter in 1998 than he was in 1978 (well, I guess that's debatable), the public was hungry for '70s memorabilia, and the music was still an ageless trip. Even after 20 years, the soundtrack continues to sell well, and in 1997 the "Grease Megamix" (a souped-up re-mix of bits and pieces of all the hit songs) was one of the most requested tunes on pop stations around the country.
Watching Grease again feels like going to a class reunion. Seeing Travolta back in his early 20s, with a lean body and greasy black ducktail, makes it all the more amusing to see some of his more recent movies, particular his playing a gray, overweight Clinton clone in Primary Colors (which was playing at the same time as the Grease theatrical re-release in 1998). In both movies, Travolta radiates off the screen like a true movie star, but in Grease it's a more primal, teen-angst kind of stardom, something along the lines of Leonardo DiCaprio in his adolescent prime. And, like DiCaprio, Travolta was not only desired for his physical attributes, but also for his talent—he rode into Grease on the critical and commercial success of Saturday Night Fever (1977), for which he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar.
When Grease was made in the late 1970s, there was a strong nostalgic feel for the innocence and joviality of the late '50s. As the turbulent '70s were coming to a close, with the emphasis on the failure in Vietnam, the embarrassment of Watergate, racial tension, and general unpleasantness, it was nice returning to a time when black leather, fast cars, and necking in back seats were harmless means of being bad. Movies at the time were gritty, urban tales of corruption and moral ambiguity, and Grease made itself out to be the absolute antithesis.
Of course, the Eisenhower era portrayed in Grease is a time period that never really existed. It's more a whimsical version of how we think it was—filled with shiny hot rods, black leather jackets, hip diners, clueless principals, and gangs with names like the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies. Everything is simplified down to its barest essentials, and that's what is so nice about the movie. It doesn't demand much of anything from the audience, other than they check their problems at the door and have a good time. The story about the good greaser Danny (Travolta) and his love for the squeaky-clean new girl in town, Sandy (Olivia Newton-John), is a kind of ageless adolescent myth that virtually anyone can relate to.
Based on the hit Broadway show by Jim Jacobs and Warren Case, Grease is imaginatively campy, kind of goofy, but always energetic and fun. The music, ranging from the disco-inspired opening song by Frankie Valli, to the infamous "Greased Lightning" with all its automobile-inspired sexual innuendo, was hot stuff then and still is now.
The songs, brought to life with lively performances by Travolta and Co. and the fantastic choreography by Patricia Birch, have a campy, infectious quality that always makes you want to sing along with them, no matter how cheesy (how can you not at least tap your feet to "Summer Nights" or "You're the One That I Want"?). In fact, the musical sequences will be the most eye-opening to those who have only seen Grease on video. Those poor souls who have been stuck with lousy pan-and-scan copies on video will be amazed seeing it in widescreen for the first time, which finally allows full viewing of Birch's dance numbers.
Probably the only let-down of Grease is how little it did for its performers. It's easy to assume that a hit like this would have been a launching pad for its twentysomething actors and actresses, but in fact almost none of them went on to meaningful film careers. Jeff Conaway, who was so good in the role of Danny's best friend Kenickie, went nowhere. Didi Conn, who played the unforgettable Frenchy, didn't even get that far (she was desperate enough to show up in 1982's Grease 2). Even Stockard Channing—whose performance as Rizzo, the tough leader of the Pink Ladies, gives Grease the closest thing it has to real drama—had a mostly uneventful movie career until she resurfaced in the early '90s with her Oscar-nominated role in Six Degrees of Separation (1993).
And what of the leads? How did Olivia Newton-John's career take off? Does Xanadu ring a bell? And even Travolta, whose career seemed infallible at the time, made one great film (Brian De Palma's Blowout), one okay film (Urban Cowboy) and two really bad films (Staying Alive and Two of a Kind) before sinking into a 15-year rut until 1994's Pulp Fiction set him free.
Nevertheless, Grease was a huge success for its time because it bucked the trends and gave moviegoers something they hadn't seen in a long time. Upbeat, funny, occasionally witty, and always enjoyable, Grease is no great piece of art, but with its complete lack of pretension, it is about as fun a movie experience as you can get.
|Distributor||Paramount Home Video|
|Release Date||Septmeber 24, 2002|
| 2.35:1 (Anamorphic)|
Grease was restored and theatrically re-released in 1998, and the new anamorphic widescreen transfer on this disc was most likely taken from that master. It is quite good throughout; the colors are particularly striking, conveyed in bold, well-saturated hues that are nicely delineated and never bleed. This is particularly evident in the outdoor scenes against bright blue skies. The overall detail level in the image tends to change from shot to shot. Close-ups and medium shots are well-defined and nicely detailed, whereas extreme long shots become softer and less distinct. Black levels are generally good throughout, with some expected graininess.
Grease is also being offered in a separate pan-and-scan release that should be avoided at all costs. Much of Grease—not just the musical numbers, but many of the funniest dialogue scenes, as well—are horribly butchered in the pan-and-scan process, making some shots borderline incomprehensible. Stick with the widescreen.
| English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, 2.0 Surround|
French 2.0 Surround
For the theatrical re-release, the original stereo soundtrack was remixed in 5.1 channels, which is available on this disc in Dolby Digital. The new six-channel mix really opens up the soundtrack, particularly during the various musical numbers. Frankie Valli's "Grease" never sounded so expansive, which also allows for finer details in the sound effects (you can distinctly hear every one of the quirky little sounds during the animated opening credits sequence). For purists, the original two-channel stereo soundtrack is also included.
| "Rydell Yearbook" retrospective featurette|
Color me disappointed. It's great to finally have Grease on DVD after such a long wait, but the supplements included here are slim and recycled. This 17-minute featurette was produced for the re-release in 1998 and has already been included on both the 20th anniversary VHS tape and laser disc. It features then-new interviews with director Randal Kleiser, producer/cowriter Allan Carr, and stars John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing, Didi Conn, and Jeff Conaway. It's a fun and upbeat featurette, if definitely too short. The best parts are the original footage from the movie's premiere at Mann's Chinese Theater and a few brief glimpses of home movies made during the shooting of the carnival sequence. It's too bad that more couldn't have been included, particularly something that addresses what a cultural phenomenon the movie became.
Original theatrical trailer
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick