There are times when shelling out a few extra dollars for a “Special Edition” DVD isn’t worth the money. That’s not true with the Hairspray: 2-Disc Shake & Shimmy Edition. Spend the extra money and get the full treatment. You won’t be sorry.
The seemingly incomprehensible decision to turn John Waters’ 1988 comedy Hairspray into a Broadway musical turned out to be a huge success. Despite its success on the stage, though, heading back to the big screen with a version of the musical was no sure thing, as The Producers movie proved. Director/choreographer Adam Shankman deserves credit for taking all the fun, humor, and outsized joy evident in the stage version of Hairspray and transferring it into this big budget musical.
The focus of the film remains Tracy Turnblad (newcomer Nikki Blonsky.) Living in Baltimore in 1962, she doesn’t let her short fat body get in the way of her sunny personality, which comes out in her kick-off tune, “Good Morning Baltimore.” Sung partially on top of garbage truck and featuring rats, flashers, and drunks, big-haired Tracy is a master of seeing the best in every situation. Her single-minded focus is the daily dance show hosted by Corny Collins (James Marsden) and featuring “The Nicest Kids in Town.” Of course, the kids aren't all that nice, especially icy Amber von Tussle (Brittany Snow) and the even icier, Velma (Michelle Pfeiffer), her station manager mother.
Velma is set on keeping out not only someone of Tracy's heft, but also making sure Corny's show stays all-white, except for the once a month "Negro Day" hosted by Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah.) While in detention at school, Tracy learns a few moves from Maybelle’s son, Seaweed (the outstanding Elijah Kelley,) and catches Corny’s eye, becoming the new sensation on the show. This brings her closer to dreamboat Link (Zac Efron) but also acquaints her with the injustice towards the black dancers who are kept off the show. Along with her best friend Penny (Amanda Bynes), who has taken a liking to Seaweed, Tracy tries to sing and dance her way into bringing equality to Baltimore in the early 1960s.
The singing and dancing is the key, here. The songs, by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, are wonderful and capture the mood of the era, helped along mightily by Shankman’s inventive choreography. Blonksy, Snow, Latifah, Marsden, Efron, and Kelley all turn in fantastic musical performances that slap a stupid grin on your face that simply won’t go away. The show-stopping “Run and Tell That” featuring Kelley and the amazing 14-year old Taylor Parks as his sister, Inez, is eye-popping in its energy. The movie does drag when it pushes the tolerance card in a very straightforward and uninteresting way, but then another song pops up and things get moving forward again.
Speaking of drags, the only thing that keeps this movie from rating even higher is the completely miscast and woeful performance by John Travolta as Tracy’s mother, Edna. Travolta follows tradition of a man playing the role of Edna (it was Devine in the Waters’ film and Harvey Fierstein on Broadway) but he doesn’t make anything of the fact that he is man in a fat suit playing a woman. It’s a wasted opportunity. He adopts an odd accent that no one else shares, and his main musical number, "Timeless to Me,” with husband Wilbur (Christopher Walken, also miscast) grinds the whole movie to a screeching halt. It’s one of Shankman’s only blunders and considering this the guy who directed Cheaper by the Dozen 2, that’s no small feat.
Ignoring Travolta and focusing on the wonderful music, dance, and the sight of X-Men’s Marsden bopping to the beat makes for a fun movie experience. If you learn a little something along the way about being nicer to fat people or not excluding someone based on race, then so much the better. Mostly you should just sit back, smile, and watch Tracy’s dream come true.
The two-disc edition is an example of how to take a big, fun, popular movie and load up a special DVD for fans that costs a little more, but pays off with tons of extras. Not only are the transfer and sound great, but the high number of featurettes, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes shots, and documentaries are ordered in a logical and easy to understand way, making for breezy navigation.
Disc 1 has the weaker extras, with most of the good stuff packed onto Disc 2. There are two commentary tracks included on Disc 1. The first is by director Adam Shankman and Nikki Blonsky. I strongly recommend avoiding this track unless you’d get a lot out of watching the movie with giggly teenage girls and hearing their comments. Both Shankman and Blonsky spend most of the commentary saying, “Oh, there’s John Smith, oh, I love that guy, he’s sooooooooo wonderful.” When anything “behind-the-scenes” is revealed, Shankman usually ruins it by turning the last five or six words into a giggle that lasts for the next ten seconds. The commentary by producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan is a little better, but one of them has a bad case of state-the-obvious disease. His contributions are in the vein of, “Here is the scene where we introduce John Travolta as Edna, Tracy’s mother.” Or, “now we see where Tracy is sent to detention and meets the African-American kids and learns some of their moves.” The commentaries are, on the whole, the most disappointing part of this whole package.
One nice Disc 1 feature is the function that also allows viewers to jump to an individual song from a separate menu. This includes all musical numbers in the film. Additionally, you can watch them in sing-a-long format with the words at the bottom. This might be fun if you a slumber party in your future or you host kitschy karaoke parties.
The other two Disc 1 extras start with “Hairspray Extensions.” This is an extended behind-the-scenes look at six musical numbers (“Nicest Kids in Town,” “Miss Baltimore Crabs,” “Ladies Choice,” “Welcome to the 60’s,” Run and Tell That,” and “You Can’t Stop the Beat.”) Shown on two or three split screens, the viewer sees portions of the actual film, dance rehearsal, vocal rehearsal, vocal recording, and filming from alternate and behind-the-scenes angles for each number. Overall it gives you a really great view of how big musical numbers are filmed. The other extra is called “Step by Step” and purports to teach two of the Hairspray dances, “Ladies Choice” and “Peyton Place After Midnight.” The assistant choreographers do show all the moves, but they are done so quickly that only pretty experienced dancers would be able to do anything close to the moves while watching.
The cornerstone of the extras on Disc 2 is “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” the holding pen for all the making-of featurettes. They cover every major area of the production (casting, music, choreography, costumes, hair, and production design) and can be viewed individually or using a play all function. When they are played together, they last a whopping 80 minutes total. It’s very comprehensive and, for obsessives, well worth the price of the second disc.
That’s only the beginning, though. There is also a three part section on “The Roots of Hairspray.” This covers not only “Hairspray” the Broadway musical, but Hairspray, the 1988 movie, and going even farther back, the Buddy Deane Show, the 1960’s Baltimore dance program that inspired director John Waters. Again, each segment can be viewed alone, or they can be strung together for a 40 minute featurette. The section on the Buddy Deane Show is very interesting as even people familiar with the 1988 film probably have no idea about this local Baltimore program. Dancers from the show talk about segregation and how it impacted their program. The only drawback is that you don’t see the actual show, just photos and film that someone took at the studio while the show was being broadcast. For people who are drawn mostly to the musical aspects of Hairspray and know little or nothing of its origins, this whole three part package is very informative.
The final big Disc 2 section is deleted or alternate scenes. This includes a fully filmed version of “I Can Wait,” which was written for the movie and then, thankfully, cut. There are also alternate versions of three songs “Big, Blonde, and Beautiful (reprise),” “Welcome to the 60’s,” and “You Can’t Stop the Beat.” They don’t add much in the way of plot (except a new ending for Velma in “Beat” that comes across as hokey.) The other non-musical deleted scene shows Edna getting arrested. Each of the scenes can also be played with commentary by director Adam Shankman and Nikki Blonsky.
The rest of Disc 2 includes theatrical trailers and what is billed as “DVD-Rom Online Features.” Unless there is some trick to finding the features, the only things you get are links to the movie and studio websites.
This has a chance of being one of the DVD’s of the year. It wasn’t the best movie, but a combination of a fun film and a wagon load of extras will be hard to beat.