Divine, Ricki Lake, Sonny Bono and Debbie Harry star in this musical comedy set in 1960s Baltimore from director John Waters. Overweight teenager Tracy Turnblad's (Lake) dreams come true when she becomes the newest star on a television dance program. She is soon the most popular dancer and finds herself the focus of some dirty tricks at the hands of rival Amber Von Tussle (Fitzpatrick) and her pushy parents but Tracy is more concerned with her campaign to have her black friends accepted on the all-white show.
When you hear the name John Waters, I'm certain that you don't think about family friendly movies that are rated 'PG'. No, you most likely think about the cult films 'Pink Flamingos' or 'Female Trouble'. There's a reason Waters is known as the "Pope of trash". He's earned that title well, and he wears it on his front coat pocket proudly. But did you know that in 1988, he actually made a family friendly film that was rated 'PG'? Well he did, and you might have heard of it. It's called 'Hairspray' and was adapted to the Broadway stage with original music in the early 2000's, then several years later, it was remade with John Travolta and was a huge box office success. But it could never compare to the original film, which Waters directed.
Waters captured a turbulent time in 'Hairspray', which is set in 1962, right in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement. While Waters captures some of that on film, he also shows the struggle of an overweight girl from a lower-middle class family trying to fit in and gain acceptance in a town of ignorant, wealthy people who look down on anyone who isn't the same color or the same amount of money.
Since 'Hairspray' is set in 1962, we don't see the whole 60's movement as this was before Woodstock, The Beatles, Hendrix, and the Flower Children. This time period was more like if the 50s were trying to hang on to that last thread of order before the big change. Back in the 50s and 60s, there were tv shows the featured dance contests with judges, just like there is today. And in this film, the Corny Collins Show hosted by Corny Collins (Shawn Thompson) is the equivalent of 'Dancing With The Stars', minus all the harsh judging.
'Hairspray' follows Tracy Turnblad (a young Ricki Lake), who is an overweight middle class girl who loves to dance. Lucky for her, the Corny Collins Show is in her hometown of Baltimore (where all of Waters' films take place), to crown a lucky teenage couple the dancing champions. It would seem that Amber Von Tussle (Colleen Fitzpatrick) and Link Larkin (Michael St. Gerard), the hottest and slimmest couple in the contest are a shoe in for the prize. But when Tracy shows off her excellent dance moves, despite the fact that she is three times the size, people take notice not only of her physical abilities, but her award winning personality as well.
Tracy's mother Edna (Divine in his last role) and her father Wilbur (Jerry Stiller) are always there for Tracy and Edna becomes her coach and manager, which has some funny consequences since it's Divine playing the role. And Amber's parents Velma and Franklin von Tussle (Debbie Harry and Sonny Bono) only fuel the hate in Amber's fire to destroy Tracy and her friends. Tracy's best friend Penny Pingleton (Leslie Ann Powers) helps Tracy overcome some of her obstacles while avoiding her mother who is constantly punishing her.
But through the dancing and songs, we see that Tracy and Penny are actually ahead of their time, as when they are asked about the Civil Rights Movement, they tend to thing everybody should be equal where everyone else in town feels the opposite. 'Hairspray' is a great coming-of-age story with great music and fun over-the-top performances. The music Waters used in the film is quite brilliant that sets the stage for the times. But in later adaptations, these songs were replaced by original music. Look out for cameos from Ric Ocasek, Pia Zadora, and Divine without the makeup. 'Hairspray' is truly a magical movie of song, dance, and acceptance with a hell of a soundtrack.
'Hairspray' comes with a great 1080p HD transfer presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio. This image is very colorful and John Waters put an emphasis on each color of the spectrum to make the characters and their outfits pop right of screen. It's as if you are in a fairy tale world in regards to the color. The detail looks really nice on this Blu-Ray as well. Facial features are well-defined an everyone's big hairdo looks impressive and vivid. The makeup, props, and costumes also look crisp and clear too in closeups.
When wider shots pop up on the screen, the image goes a little soft with some digital noise popping up, but I think that is a source problem and not a transfer problem. The black levels run deep and inky and the skin tones look natural and smooth. The fine layer of grain gives this image a filmic look and is never overly done. There are no issues with aliasing or banding, making this upgraded transfer worth watching.
This release comes with a great lossless DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix, which is a step up from its Dolby Digital 5.1 mix on the DVD some ten years ago. The dialogue is always crisp and clear and easy to understand. There are no instances of pops, cracks, or hissing. The songs and score are very lively and robust this time around, as they pour through the surrounds with a very wide dynamic range.
The bass hits its mark each time perfectly and never has a rough rumble. The sound effects during the larger crowd scenes sound loud with a cartoony vibe to it, but that's how Waters wanted it. The LFE is excellent here too with good directionality. When the songs and dance scenes are in full force, this audio presentation goes from great to excellent.
Commentary with Writer/Director John Waters and Actor Ricki Lake - This commentary is from the 2003 DVD release and has Waters and Lake discussing 'Hairspray'. Their commentary tracks were recorded separately, but have been edited together nicely to seem like they are in the same room. Waters provides a lot of historical information of the time period as well as some fun anecdotes on set and his casting process. Lake offers some information on how she won the role and amusing stories from the set. This is a great commentary.
Get to Know John Waters (SD, 7 mins.) - Here is a local Baltimore interview with John Waters from 1987. Great stuff.
Vincent Peranio: 'Hairspray's' Production Design (SD, 4 mins.) - The production designer discusses how he built some of the sets and talks about some of his drawings for some of the settings that were and weren't used in the final cut of the film.
Rachel Talalay: Producing 'Hairspray' (SD, 4 mins.) - Rachel Talalay was an assistant on Waters's earlier film 'Polyester', but is now a studio executive. She talks about working her way up and producing the film.
Original 'Hairspray' Featurette (SD, 7 mins.) - An original 1988 interview with the cast, hosted by Waters.
Two of the Original Buddy Deaners: Linda and Gene Snyder (SD, 3 mins.) - The Corny Collins Show was based on an actual show called 'The Buddy Deane Show, and here couple discuss their life briefly.
Dennis Dermody, Sue Lowe and Brook Yeaton: Divine In Memoriam (SD, 9 mins.) - Divine died shortly after the release of 'Hairspray' and some friends and family pay tribute to him here.
Sue Lowe, Peter Koper and Dennis Dermody: A Portrait of Cookie Mueller (SD, 14 mins.) - Here is another tribute to Cookie Mueller, a Waters movie regular who died shortly after the release of this film where some friends pay tribute here.
Bob Adams on the Dreamlanders: Close Circle of Friends (SD, 2 mins.) - John Waters's close group of twisted friends were known as the Dreamlanders and Adams is one of them and his appeared in a few of his films.
Dennis Dermody: Seasons Greetings, Love John (SD, 4 mins.) - This interview is from 1993 and has Dermody showing off his Christmas cards that he has received from John Waters, which are quite hilarious.
Rikki Lake: A 'Hairspray' Reunion (SD, 5 mins.) - In 1994, Rikki Lake had a reunion of 'Hairspray' on her own talk show with the cast and John Waters.
John Waters and Divine Interview: (16 mins.) - John Waters and Divine discuss all sorts of topics in this audio only interview with topics ranging from Elton John to drug use to travel and Hollywood.
Theatrical Trailer (SD, 3 mins.) - Trailer for the film
I'm a huge fan of everything John Waters has done. From his gross out comedies to his PG films, I like the guy's work. He is definitely an acquired taste though and might offend or down right disgust people. But with 'Hairspray', none of the "pope of trash" scenery is there. The music is fantastic, the dancing is great, and the message is solid. The video and audio presentations are both excellent and there is a treasure trove of extras imported from previous releases. This original version of 'Hairspray' comes highly recommended.