In the summer of 1963, innocent 17-year-old Baby (Grey) vacations with her parents at a Catskill's resort. One evening, she is drawn to the staff quarters by stirring music. There she meets Johnny, the hotel dance instructor, who is as experienced as Baby is naive. Baby soon becomes Johnny's pupil in dance and love.
The most complete and collectible edition of Dirty Dancing to date. The newly remastered Blu-ray version of this timeless film includes all existing special features plus over an hour of brand new bonus materials including a heartfelt Patrick Swayze tribute, three new featurettes, a fan reel created by Facebook fans, and an interview with Patrick Swayze discussing the music of Dirty Dancing.
One of a handful of crowd pleasing flicks that are seemingly impervious to criticism, 'Dirty Dancing' may well go down in film history as the little movie that could. Somehow this unassuming little story about a young girl's coming-of-age in the Catskills managed to not only become the sleeper smash of 1987, but it gave birth to a veritable cottage industry -- two soundtrack albums, a live touring production, an eventual TV spin-off series, a semi-sequel, and even annual 'Dirty Dancing' fan conventions.
Now here we are, twenty-three years later, and 'Dirty Dancing' continues to enjoy a cult devotion that -- if not as intense as a 'Star Wars' or 'Rocky Horror' -- is still rabid enough to inspire yet another video release, this time the 'Limited Keepsake Edition.' And while those just stumbling upon the film today without being wrapped up in the warm glow of nostalgia may end up wondering what all the fuss was about, taken on its own terms, 'Dirty Dancing' is still an immensely likable (if terribly cliched) tale of first love.
Jennifer Grey won the breakout role of a lifetime as Frances "Baby" Houseman, a young ingenue vacationing with her dear papa Dr. Jake Houseman (Jerry Orbach) and family at the upper-class Kellerman's lodge in the Catskills. On the verge of her eighteenth birthday, Baby is still idealistic, flush with longings of romantic love, but frustrated by her family's continued attempts to fix her up with all manner of shallow, snooty rich boys. Those feelings come to a head after she stumbles upon on a late-night "dirty dancing" session held in secret by the lodge's staff, and first spies lead dancer Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze). Faster than you can hum "She's Like the Wind," Baby falls head over heels for the "rebellious" foot man -- much to the dismay of dear old dad.
No more plot synopsis is required, because (even if we haven't already seen the film a million times) we know where this story is going the minute Baby meets Johnny. In this case however, familiarity only seems to breed endearment. In fact, what's sweet about 'Dirty Dancing' is that it never aspires to be more than its simple story, yet insists on telling its tale well. Even twenty years later, the film still feel fresh because it was made with a knowing lack of cynicism, treating Baby's innocence sincerely. We truly like all of these characters, and 'Dirty Dancing' facilitates an instant empathy with the audience. The film also argues against classism, asking us to root for Baby and Johnny over the objections of the stern Houseman clan and Kellerman's snooty patrons. In that sense, 'Dirty Dancing' could even be called subversive, in that it brought a bit of racy taboo-busting to the consumerist, Reagan-era '80s.
Yet the reason 'Dirty Dancing' really works is because of Grey and Swayze. Okay, so their hair is really bad, and the endless music video montages are glorious camp, but Grey, despite her self-conscious line readings (it always seems like she is looking just slightly off-camera at cue cards), has such a fresh, appealing personality that she radiates bubbly charm. And Swayze admirably does not condescend or trivialize Johnny, who in other hands might have been just another poor man's James Dean. Swayze really makes us buy Johnny's predicament, and as a result, we understand why Baby has fallen so hard for her savior in a leather jacket. It's a tougher, smarter performance than Swayze was ever given credit for.
And then of course there's the film's climax -- set to the ingratiating number one hit "(I've Had the) Time of My Life)" -- when our heroic young lovers finally stand up to the repressive values of Baby's family, and unite all of Kellerman's in a huge explosion of dirty dancing. By the time Johnny utters his immortal line "Nobody puts baby in a corner!", it's impossible not to bust into a huge, Cheshire cat of a grin. 'Dirty Dancing' may be cinematic junk food, but it earns every calorie. Guilty pleasures don't come any sweeter than this.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Not to be sexist or anything, but this Limited Keepsake Edition of 'Dirty Dancing' has certainly been devised to attract the film's large female following. A predominance of pink bathes the box set packaging, which includes a tri-fold digipak that houses two discs (one contains the film and special features; the other a digital copy) and is adorned by a selection of color scene stills. There's also a slickly designed 48-page commemorative hardback book that pays tribute to the movie's stars, features a reflective essay by writer Eleanor Bergstein, and includes many more color photos. Also within the pages are a 'Dirty Dancing' pop quiz, the lyrics to 'Kellerman's Anthem,' and several quotes from Swayze, Grey, and others regarding their feelings for the film. Buried at the bottom of the box, there's even a coupon for $50 off a two-night stay at the real Kellerman's, a.k.a. the Mountain Lake Hotel in Pembroke, Virginia.
The previous Blu-ray edition of 'Dirty Dancing' may not have been afflicted with a dirty transfer, but the effort left a lot to be desired and disappointed the film's legion of fans. So when Lionsgate announced the Limited Keepsake Edition would feature a newly remastered print, expectations ran high that previous errors would be corrected and this would be the definitive version of a beloved movie. And to my eyes, it is. But before anyone gets too excited, I must emphasize that 'Dirty Dancing' was never the belle of the ball visually, so terms like "eye-popping," "brilliant," and "dazzling" won't be finding their way into this review. Emile Ardolino's film has always looked rather flat, dull, and hazy, with muted color and contrast, and it still looks like that here. The image, however, is completely free of dirt and scratches, and clarity is about as good as one can imagine. Lines are crisp, but never appear artificially enhanced (as they did in the previous Blu-ray version), and the picture exudes a cozy warmth that nicely reflects the coming-of-age story. Grain is still a bit thick, but fits in well with the period flavor, and black levels are solid and deep. Exteriors possess a bit more pop than interiors, and the lush greens of the Kellerman resort fare the best of any hues in the film. Fleshtones look natural, and no banding or digital noise disrupt the picture.
This is it, kids… the best 'Dirty Dancing' will probably ever look. It ain't 'Avatar,' and it never will be, but without a doubt, this remastered version improves on the last release, and 'Dirty Dancing' diehards should definitely consider upgrading.
Lionsgate switches up the audio on this release as well, replacing the old 6.1 PCM track with a spanking new DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track. The sound is still clean and well-modulated, with no distortion creeping into the high end and not much subwoofer activity rounding out the low, but there's not a huge bump up in quality, and that's largely due to the film itself. 'Dirty Dancing' has never been a powerhouse in the audio department, with limited surround presence and so-so fidelity, and the DTS upgrade can't disguise those inherent deficiencies. Still, dialogue is well prioritized and always easy to understand, and there's some decent stereo separation across the front channels that helps widen the sound field somewhat. The soundtrack tunes possess good tonal depth and brightness, but lack the hoped for wow factor until the climactic number. '(I've Had) The Time of My Life' at last blows the lid off the track, bursting across all the speakers with terrific clarity, distinct accents, and pulsating bass tones that really ramp up the exuberant final dance sequence. Why the other songs sound slightly anemic by comparison remains a mystery. All in all, though, there's nothing wrong with this lossless track; it just doesn't consistently rock the room like it should.
Here at High-Def Digest, we often bemoan the lack of extras on Blu-ray discs, and take studios to task for dropping the ball in that department. Well, Lionsgate, you won't have to absorb any slings and arrows from me regarding this latest 'Dirty Dancing' release. Loaded – and I mean LOADED – with supplements, this Limited Keepsake Edition is a dream-come-true for the film's fans. Almost all the special features from the 20th Anniversary Blu-ray have been ported over (the only missing component, as far as I could tell, is a featurette chronicling what was then the upcoming stage version of the film), along with plenty of new material expressly produced for this edition. Almost none of it is in HD, but somehow I don't think that will matter too much to the film's faithful.
A third "commentary" is also included, the "'Dirty Dancing' Pop-Up Trivia Track." About half has been re-purposed from the previous "Ultimate Edition" DVD release, although this version does include some new factoids and much snazzier graphics. It's all very VH-1, "Pop-Up Video"-esque, and tons of fun. Most appreciated are all the newer tidbits about the various songs and music acts in the film, which were glossed over on the previously-produced subtitle track.
For diehard aficionados who can't live without the ultimate set, the 'Dirty Dancing Limited Keepsake Edition' makes a fine gift and improves upon the previous Blu-ray release just enough to merit an upgrade. Just don't raise your expectations too much. The video transfer is definitely better, but source issues will always make this film look rather dull in high-def, and the audio still doesn't possess the fidelity levels a music-laden movie requires. Extras, though, are off the charts, with hours and hours of excellent supplemental material to keep fans occupied, and it's all dressed up in a nicely packaged, not-too-frilly boxed set. All this at a fairly reasonable price makes this latest 'Dirty Dancing' dip worth checking out.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.