For all its mawkish, melodramatic corniness surrounding one teen's fight to lift a ridiculous ban in his small town, 'Footloose' is actually not altogether bad. Much of the storyline and sensationalized situations remain pretty silly and laughable, like Kevin Bacon's outrageously grandiose solo dance number where shadows conveniently obscure his face so we never guess it's actually a stunt double. But when we overlook those things and try to contain the unavoidable snickering, what we find hiding underneath is a genuine, heartfelt plot about kids asking adults to rejoice in life, rather than live in the grim, painful accidents of the past.
So, while the rest of this 1984 teen drama can seem quite silly at times and somewhat dated — thanks in large part, of course, to its specially-designed soundtrack — the film's emotional center thankfully does not feel ham-fisted or awkwardly strained. In fact, director Herbert Ross ('Funny Lady,' 'Steel Magnolias'), working from a script by Dean Pitchford, best known for his songwriting talents, does a fine job delivering the message with ease. The inevitable happy conclusion doesn't just spring out of nowhere, but is the natural result of the events preceding it.
John Lithgow, in one of his best dramatic performances as the religiously stringent Reverend Shaw Moore, is essential for making this work as well as it does. Along with Dianne Wiest as his very quiet wife, he shows he is dealing with a parent's pain of loss and unsure of how to handle it appropriately. He's not a villain or portrayed as someone we'd like to hate. Instead, he's a father slowly realizing his best intentions for protecting children come with negative reactions and consequences, ones that could potentially be more destructive. It's quite engaging seeing him come to that discovery when the community takes his rigid rules to the next logical step.
Bacon's outsider rebel Ren McCormack, of course, plays a part in the reverend's change of heart, stirring up trouble unwittingly by wanting to celebrate his youth. But more importantly, he brings the spirit of individuality, of a desire to freely express one's self without reprisal or shame. Although far too old to play a teenager, Bacon is surprisingly excellent in the role, one which brought his sudden fame and celebrity status despite already garnering a bit of attention for his previous work. When everything else around him seems fairly cliché, Ren stays true in his fight to be an individual and not be punished for the mistakes of the past.
The opening credits are probably one of the most clever and creative sequences in setting the film's overall tone and message. With Kenny Logins's song playing in the background, a couple years before he struck gold again riding into the danger zone, the dancing feet display character and a unique personality in their dress style and rhythmic movement. Once in the movie proper, we see this same uniqueness in the other teens Ren makes friends with. Ariel (Lori Singer), Rusty (Sarah Jessica Parker), Willard (Chris Penn) and Woody (John Loughlin) are all very distinct and different from other teens we've seen in the movies, but they each play a significant role that moves the narrative forward.
Calling 'Footloose' the film that defined a generation, as it is more recently promoted, seems like a bit of a stretch, but the teen musical has definitely grown into a cultural icon of the 1980s, still enjoying immense popularity after 25 years. Part of that, I'm sure, is the nostalgia factor, but the movie is actually well-made with a strong, earnest story at its center, based loosely on the events surrounding the senior high school class of Elmore City, Oklahoma. It has its moments of schmaltzy cheesiness, but overall, 'Footloose' remains an entertaining drama.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Paramount Home Entertainment brings the 80s favorite 'Footloose' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 disc, housed inside a blue eco-case with a new cover art design. The package also comes with a theater coupon for the remake which must be activated via the internet. After the Paramount logo screams across the screen, viewers are taken to the main menu with the normal option and music.
'Footloose' dances its way unto Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.78:1) that shows a few troubled spots amongst the several other excellent scenes.
Immediately, viewers will quickly take note of the greatly improved resolution levels and the rich, clarity detail throughout most scenes. There are some age-related issues, particularly at nighttime and during poorly-lit sequences, but on the average, the movie looks great compared to its DVD counterpart. The transfer is very well-defined with plenty of sharp, detailed lines in hair, clothing and architecture. Many close-ups reveal terrific textures, and the rust stains on Ren's yellow bug are clear and distinct. Colors are lively and boldly saturated, especially the primaries, but it never feels overly-done or unnatural. Blacks are generally deep and accurate though they tend to overwhelm in several darker segments, obscuring the finer lines within the shadows.
Continuing on the negative side of things, contrast has been slightly boosted and has little effect on the overall picture quality, allowing for excellent, crisp visibility of the distant objects. However, this does end up creating some noticeable ringing in many daylight exteriors and even some interiors. A few segments appear as if the result of some light noise reduction, where facial complexions are a bit too smooth in one scene when compared to another. While most poorly-lit sequences expose a bit of noise, a couple other actually show aliasing and some light moiré effects. There's much to admire in this presentation, but there are some visible artifacts which fans might take note of.
For the audio, Paramount does a much better job with an exciting and entertaining DTS-HD Master Audio codec which makes great use of the film's musical soundtrack.
Songs fill the front soundstage, providing an expansive image that's wonderfully engaging and welcoming. They also bleed into the back speakers nicely and without distraction, creating an enjoyable environment of 80s pop tunes. Several discrete effects fill in the gaps and extend the soundfield with convincing movement. The rest of the lossless mix continues the show with strong, intelligible dialogue reproduction and lots of activity in the other two channels. Dynamics and acoustics are very distinct and crystal-clear, ensuring that the songs never lose a beat and maintain excellent clarity in the instrumentation. The low-end is also healthy and energetic, giving the songs some crowd-pleasing oomph.
The video may be a bit of hit-and-miss, but the audio doesn't disappoint.
Paramount puts on its dancing shoes by recycling many of the supplements seen on previous DVD releases, but also shows off some fresh moves with a few new pieces which can also be found on its day-and-date DVD counterpart.
For many, 'Footloose' counts as a classic motion picture about teen angst and rebellion. For others, it's a memorable 80s flick that had everyone putting on their dancing shoes and buying the soundtrack like crazy. For me, the teen drama from director Herbert Ross and film composer/filmmaker Dean Pitchford is a well-made and still entertaining movie displaying the spirit of teendom in a unique and original way, despite some of the silly melodrama. The flick hits the Blu-ray stage with a mostly attractive and good-looking picture quality, but it also shows a few drawbacks. The audio offers a better presentation while the supplements are a mix of recycled and new material. Altogether, it makes a good package worth picking up if you are already a fan, but neophytes ought to give it a rent first.