Fame even higher with the EXTENDED DANCE EDITION of the film, featuring over 15 minutes of thrilling dance footage you couldn't see in theaters!
Passions will be tested. Hearts will be broken. Talent, dedication and hard work will triumph! Fame is the inspiring story of a group of dancers, singers, musicians and actors at the New York City High School of Performing Arts, and their spirited drive to live out their dreams of stardom. In an incredibly competitive atmosphere, each student must shine amidst the tumult of school work, deep friendships, budding romance and self-discovery. Debbie Allen, Charles S. Dutton, Kelsey Grammer, Megan Mullally and Bebe Neuwirth co-star along side a group of gifted young performers in This soaring reinvention of the Oscar®-Winning hit film*.
Anyone who read my recent review of 'Beyond a Reasonable Doubt' knows how I feel about remakes. As a rule, I don't like them, although a small part of me can understand why retooling the 1980 teen musical 'Fame' might have seemed like a good idea…at least for a few minutes. Considering the monster success of such splashy Broadway adaptations as 'Chicago,' 'Dreamgirls,' and 'Mamma Mia!' – and how they helped fuel the new millennium's musical renaissance – why not ride the wave and take another stab at 'Fame,' a proven entity that would surely appeal to the rabid 'High School Musical' set and their parents? And in this day and age of instant stardom, thanks to reality shows like 'American Idol,' examining a group of teen hopefuls in hot pursuit of recognition and notoriety in the hard-knock entertainment world would tap into another ready-made audience hungry for stories about overnight sensations and second-rate wannabes. Yet unfortunately, director Kevin Tancharoen blows this golden opportunity by tinkering too much with a winning formula. Glitz and style may be enough to put over a four-minute music video, but they can't sustain a feature-length film. Substance is a must, and all the drama, grit, and angst director Alan Parker so deftly infused into the original 'Fame' are nowhere to be found here, nor is – gasp! – the music that made the 1980 film such a buoyant, inspirational love letter to the drive, creativity, and soulfulness of America's youth.
In short, this is the Disney Channel version of 'Fame.' Insipid, artificial, emotionless, and filled with cookie-cutter characters who move robotically through the paces of the lumbering script. Yes, the basic plot mirrors the original, as it follows a group of aspiring singers, dancers, actors, and musicians through their rigorous four-year tenure at New York's famed High School for the Performing Arts, but aside from one shared musical number – "Out Here on My Own" – the similarities end there. Parker's film struck a chord because it examined how these motivated, starry-eyed, and troubled students came of age, grappling with sexual identity, race, religion, pressure, romance, and difficult family situations while funneling their insecurities and rage into the creative process, which in turn provided liberation and joy. The remake only grazes such issues, choosing instead to focus more intently on how the students meet the demands of their busy schedules and the frustrations of the overly gruff, arrogant teachers (portrayed by such stalwarts as Debbie Allen, Kelsey Grammer, Bebe Neuwirth, Charles S. Dutton, and Megan Mullally), who seem to spend more time psychoanalyzing their pupils than instructing them. No one really grows, no one really develops, except for a gifted concert pianist (Naturi Naughton) who suddenly discovers she can sing like Mary J. Blige and almost instantly lands a recording contract, much to the chagrin of her overbearing father.
Sure, times have changed since 1980, but not so much for performing artists. Just like prostitution, entertainment is one of the world's oldest professions and requires selling oneself, often to a shady clientele, to get work. So why the 'Fame' remake decided to completely overhaul the story, characters, and thematic emphasis of the original when it still strikes a chord today doesn't make sense. The screenplay doesn't depict the industry's tawdry side as the original did, save for a silly scene in which a hunky teen star makes a tame pass at a friend who's naïvely looking for her big break – a failed attempt to duplicate the heartrending sequence in Parker's film in which Coco (Irene Cara) is forced by a sleazy casting director to remove her blouse during a bogus audition. It also makes the path to stardom look like its paved with pixie dust, as characters experience little of the rejection and heartache that's such an integral part of a performer's life.
And what about the music? I don't blame the remake for embracing more recent influences, such as hip-hop and rap, but did it also have to abandon the tunes that made the original soar? The 1980 title track rose to #4 on the Billboard pop chart (and #1 in England), yet it's shockingly relegated to play over the end credits here, almost like an afterthought. In its place, among other oddities, we get a campy performance by Mullally of all people singing an ancient Rodgers and Hart song, "You Took Advantage of Me." (How did a relic like that wander into this supposedly hip-and-happening picture?) And Tancharoen foolishly replaces "I Sing the Body Electric," the majestic graduation anthem used in the original, with a gaudy revue that only serves to further emphasize the shallowness of both the characters and the entire film. This Blu-ray disc includes the "Extended Dance Edition" of 'Fame,' adding "over 15 minutes of thrilling dance footage you couldn't see in theaters." But there's so little music and dancing even in this extended edition, you take away those 15 minutes and almost nothing remains.
You want to see young talent and bright personalities? Turn on the TV and watch 'Glee.' While the dancing in 'Fame' certainly eclipses anything seen on the Fox series, the acting and singing (with the exception of Naughton) leave plenty to be desired. Sure, the screenplay demands the actors spout some seriously horrible dialogue, but even innocuous lines often sound awkward, and drag this misguided remake further into the dregs. If some of the young performers of 'Fame' one day succeed in achieving the stardom they so doggedly pursue in the story, it will most definitely be in spite of this film, not because of it.
'Fame' arrives on Blu-ray sporting a pleasing but unspectacular video transfer. The 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encode possesses good contrast and vibrant color, and enough mild grain to exude a slight gritty feel that complements the urban New York setting and harsh school environment. Black levels are strong and deep, fleshtones look natural, and a crisp overall appearance reflects the film's recent vintage. Though not overly dimensional, close-ups are sharp and fine facial details are well defined. Background details don't show up quite as well, but most of the time there's not a lot of clutter in the frame. Some low-lit scenes result in a bit of black crush, but generally the image is properly balanced and easy on the eyes. No edge enhancement, banding, or other processing issues intrude upon the viewing experience, and even dark sequences are free of noise. All in all, a good effort from MGM, but not a dazzler.
Even though I can't classify this version of 'Fame' as a true musical, it still requires dynamic, powerful audio, and the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track pumps out clear, potent sound that tries its best to enliven the dreary on-screen action. Some subtle ambience trickles into the rear speakers, and strong stereo separation across the front lends the track an expansive, lifelike feel. Bass frequencies are a definite strong suit, with hefty low-end tones beefing up the musical numbers and soundtrack tunes, which blast through all five channels with palpable, room-shaking force. Details are quite strong and distinct, and though they often compete with the dialogue for prominence, conversations are never drowned out. Despite all the aural elements, distortion is never an issue, and the wide sonic scale handles anything this active track throws at it.
A fair number of fluffy extras round out the disc. There's no audio commentary, but in this case, that's a blessing.
The remake of 'Fame' is a crying shame, and no one will be remembering its name. With the 1980 original coming out on Blu-ray next week, there's no reason to waste even rental money on this lackluster knock-off. Yet if curiosity somehow gets the better of you (and remember, it killed the cat!), this disc features solid video and audio, and a decent array of substance-free extras. One to avoid, for sure.