Clearly, I'm not the target audience for 'Stomp the Yard.' As a boring, middle-class white boy from the suburbs, I'm about as likely to relate to a movie about urban collegiate step dancing as I would a film about Amish workers tending crops on a farm in Ohio. Not to mention the fact that I'm a good twenty years on from the characters in the movie -- most of the kids in this movie weren't even alivewhen I was starting my first year of college.
Yet as I watched 'Stomp the Yard,' I found myself strangely intrigued by the picture -- drawn into a world that is completely alien to me. I became sympathetic to the plight of the film's hero, DJ (Columbus Short), a troubled youth from the inner city who, after the death of his kid brother in a gang shooting, gets a second chance with scholarship to Georgia's Truth University. I started to root for DJ's budding romance with April (Meagan Good), a smart, pretty student. And I was never less than entranced with the bombastic musical sequences, as rival groups of talented step dancers jockeyed for position with their best moves, all set to blistering, extremely loud hip-hop.
My affection for 'Stomp the Yard' is even more of a surprise given that the picture is completely and utterly formulaic. Every plot twist is cliched, and the characters are all a mix of the stereotypes we've seen in a million other teen movies. We know the minute that DJ first steps on campus and bumps up against a group of evil step dancers that there's going to be a big "dance-off" at the end of the movie. We know the minute he first makes goo-goo eyes at April that he's gonna get the girl. It's also no surprise that every teacher will be a kind-hearted father figure, that there will be an evil rival whose missteps will end in tragedy, and that anytime the film's pace even remotely lags, there will soon be another hyperactive musical montage to keep things moving.
Still, I didn't mind the utter predictability of 'Stomp the Yard,' simply because of the enthusiasm with which it is acted and directed. I knew nothing of the film's cast, who are a mix of up and coming young actors and hip-hop stars, yet I found them all very appealing. Lead actor Columbus Short has so far been stuck largely doing bit parts in episodic TV, but as DJ, he has a quiet, authoritative presence that holds the screen well. And, as DJ's romantic interest, Meagan Good ('Waist Deep,' 'Venom,' 'Brick') is even more of a find, turning in a multi-faceted and extremely likeable performance.
I've not been terribly impressed with director Sylvain White's previous oeuvre, having seen his utterly dreadful direct-to-video sequels 'I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer' and 'Trois 3: The Escort.' But to his credit, White makes the smart decision to get out of the way of the story in 'Stomp the Yard,' allowing the earnestness of his cast shine through by letting every moment unfold as if it were fresh and not incredibly corny and predictable. Conversely with the musical numbers, White goes totally over the top, but there too, his approach is a plus. Since the dancing is often so impressive (and notably done entirely without the benefit of CGI or wire removal) it's impossible to complain about such great razzle-dazzle.
I know many are likely to hate 'Stomp the Yard' on Blu-ray. Though the flick opened at the top spot at the box office when it debuted earlier this year, it currently suffers from a No. 44 ranking on the IMDB's all-time worst rated movie list. Still, despite its obvious flaws, I found 'Stomp the Yard' to be a likeable, upbeat flick. It may not be a true guilty pleasure, but if you like come-from-behind, underdog-makes-good teen movies like 'Save the Last Dance,' 'Drumline' and 'Bring It On,' then give 'Stomp the Yard' a shot.
'Stomp the Yard' comes to Blu-ray in a sharp, eye-popping 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer. This is another one of those films that is totally jacked up, with highly processed colors and harsh contrast that almost assaults the eyes. Yet, even though I'm not always a fan of this kind of MTV-esque visual style, in this case it suits the film well, and the transfer also holds stable quite admirably -- 'Stomp the Yard' looks clean, vivid and detailed throughout.
Seeing as this is a new release, fresh from its hit theatrical run, the source is predictably immaculate. Blacks are inky perfection, with whites super-crisp, but generally free from blooming. Colors are very intense, especially reds, yellow and blues, which look impossibly vivid. But I was perhaps most impressed by the lack of noise -- only a couple of very low-light nighttime exteriors displayed a slight bit of fuzziness in the darkest blues. The image is also as sharp as a tack, with a stark but still detailed look. Depth holds up well, too, especially on close-ups . Black crush can be a bit strong for my taste, but shadow delineation remains very good. All things considered. 'Stomp the Yard' is definitely in the upper tier of release Blu-ray transfers.
As good as 'Stomp the Yard' looks, it sounds even better. Right from the Sony's opening logo, this soundtrack is seriously off the hook. But what's just as notable as the film's superior sound design is the fact that 'Stomp the Yard' includes both uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround (48kHz/16-bit/4.6mbps) and (in a first for Sony) Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround (48kHz/16-bit). At last -- a true apples-to-apples comparison between the two high-resolution audio formats.
As it turns out, the results are a wash, but that's a good thing -- both sound fantastic. The over-the-top sound effects that litter 'Stomp the Yard' are of course ridiculous -- most are about as realistic as those silly whoosh noises you hear in old martial arts flicks. But that intensity is what makes both the PCM and TrueHD tracks so much fun, because the surrounds are almost constantly active (and sometimes even louder than the fronts). Channel pans are excellent, with a seamless quality that achieves a 360-degree effect of transparency. The "wall of sound" effect during the dance sequences is as impressive as anything I've heard on either high-def format.
Granted, the film's dialogue scenes and more sedate moments don't always deliver sustained ambiance, but it matters little as there is rarely a dull moment in 'Stomp the Yard.' The film's deft mix of hard-hitting hip-hop tracks and the more contemplative, almost emo score by Tim Boland and Sam Retzer is also almost wall-to-wall, and the contrast gives the soundtrack an even more dynamic feel. Tech specs are also top-notch, with airtight low bass and smooth, warm mid-range. Dialogue is also nicely balanced in the mix, which is impressive considering how loud all that stomping can be.
Admittedly, I'm not sure if we really need two high-resolution formats like PCM and Dolby TrueHD on the same disc, but far be it for me to complain about such an embarrassment of riches.
Sony continues to impress with recently bumped-up support for supplemental features on their Blu-ray releases. Though 'Stomp the Yard' doesn't boast the most extensive package of extras ever seen on a next-gen disc, it does replicate what's found on the standard-def DVD release of the film, so at least fans won't miss out on anything.
First up is a pretty straightforward making-of featurette, the 17-minute "Battles, Rivals, Brothers." The most interesting aspect of the production was the location research the filmmakers conducted in an effort to find talented step dancers to lend authenticity to the film. Among the interviewees here are director Sylvain White, producer Will Packer, and most of the main cast. This is also the only video-based extra on the disc to feature full 1080p/MPEG-2 video.
White also joins editor David Checeland, and cinematographer Scott Kevan in a screen-specific audio commentary. For the most part, this tracj is fairly specific and technical, from the intricacies of constructing the dance sequences to selection of the music to achieving some of the more complex shots in the film. However, there are some interesting little tidbits scattered throughout, including how the dancers often had to speed up or slow down their routines to create a realistic effect, instead of the filmmakers relying on the usual post-production trickery. Granted, there is not too much on the story here, but let's face it -- that's not the main appeal of the film anyway. Overall, a solid commentary.
Next up are a couple of excised sequences. There is a single Deleted Scene, "The Clean Up," plus two Extended Dance Sequences, for "Get Buck" and "Opening Battle." Given how impressive the step dancing is in the flick, it's a shame Sony couldn't have presented these clips in full 1080p -- as is, the 4:3 windowboxed video is rather poor.
The last extra is a 2-minute Gag Reel, mostly dancer missteps and the cast cracking each other up with missed lines. Nothing special, really.
Preview spots included on the disc include trailers for the Sony Blu-ray titles 'Little Man,' 'The Covenant' and 'XXX: State of the Union,' the latter of which hasn't yet been announced for next-gen release as of this writing. Unfortunately, there is no actual trailer for 'Stomp the Yard' included.
I may not be the target audience for 'Stomp the Yard,' but I still found it strangely compelling despite its non-stop parade of cliches -- the cast is enthusiastic, the direction energetic, and the step dancing sequences blistering. And while the merits of the film itself may be debatable, it sure is Blu-ray eye-candy -- the transfer is top-tier, and in a first for Sony, they've delivered both uncompressed PCM and Dolby TrueHD audio. 'Stomp the Yard' may not be for everyone, but if you've been hankering for a bit of urban step dancing in your Blu-ray diet, this is your disc.