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Grease – 40th Anniversary Edition (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

Grease is the word, and that word is about to go over the hill as the feature film celebrates its 40th birthday this year. And with how many darn rereleases this film has had since the inception of home video, you just know Paramount will not pass over the opportunity to throw us another. And here we are. But, they are doing it right, with a 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray of the classic musical, with a brand new transfer and restoration overseen by director Randal Kleiser taking it back to what he felt it was originally supposed to look like. Toss in a couple new bonus features and this isn’t just some mere cover art change of a disc you may already own (Let alone a Blu-ray only steelbook edition that contains the Blu-ray debut of Grease 2). You’ll be able to relive these those summer niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiights when Grease – 40th Anniversary Edition releases on April 24th. 

Experience the friendships, romances and adventures of a group of high school kids in the 1950s. Welcome to the singing and dancing world of “Grease,” the most successful movie musical of all time. A wholesome exchange student and a leather-clad Danny have a summer romance, but will it cross clique lines?

I’m going to lose some film geek street cred with this admission, but I like Grease. No, I’m not gaga and crazy about the film and my enjoyment has certainly waned as the years pass by, but I’m fine with it. Film musicals (I’ll just add stage, too, because duh) are something I enjoy, whether they be something profound and powerful like Cabaret or fluffy like this take on Grease is. In setting out to just be a peppy, poppy bit of fun it succeeds. There are some dynamite performances from its leads and incredibly memorable renditions of the songs from the broadway production while also adding some of its own new tunes to the Rydell High lore. I’ve never actually owned Grease until this 4K Ultra-HD edition. I had always watched it at friends’ houses or on TV. My sister’s age difference with me (She’s 5 years younger) allowed me to avoid a “Grease craze” if she even had one. The only annoyance I had was its 20 year anniversary resurgence when it became insanely hard to avoid. Luckily, I first experience Grease when I was maybe 8 years old. I hadn’t seen anything really like it, and was actually taken in by the story and the songs. I thought John Travolta was the coolest dude in the world. An unfeathered and unbiased experience I may not have had if I grew up around its released or not seen it til I was a teenager. My original experience also may have opened the door for my enjoyment of musicals.

T-Birds and Pink Ladies may have their fare share of character, but when it comes to Grease the hot topic is always Danny and Sandy. John Travolta was coming in hot off of Saturday Night Fever and Grease further launched him into superstardom that would carry him through the mid 1980s. Of his “big” films of this era, Grease is certainly the weakest, but he still kills it here, with the unparalleled charisma and bravado he brought in Saturday Night Fever brought to a bit more theatrical and campy heights. The guy’s got moves, a solid singing voice and a massive screen presence like no one else of the era.

Opposite Travolta is his hand-picked choice of Olivia Newton-John, who holds her own with him as they share a blazing chemistry that have driven people crazy for years (Although, nobody was crazy for when they reunited for Two of a Kind in 1983). Newton-John as Sandy is one of the best break out performances in pop culture, as she quickly became an it girl. Previously a country artist, the Australian born actress was able to evolve her brand to straight pop. Unfortunately, Grease was Olivia’s peak for her film career. She would have a massive hit in 1982 with the song “Physical”, but her film career was full of duds and notorious flop in Xanadu (Which, admittedly she’s not the issue with that movie, it has some good songs and she’s still quite charming and radiant). When I first saw Grease, I was quite a young lad (not even ten I think) and I remember thinking she was maybe the most beautiful woman I had ever seen at the time.

Things don’t come to just Sandy and Danny though. Many of the supporting cast are some fun one-note characters that issue some laugh and color to the film. But, none as much as Rizzo, played by Stockard Channing. She’s a complete scene stealer on paper, but Channing even elevates that material. The camera loves her and she just feels free and extremely comfortable. The biggest tragedy of it all is that her character’s arc is cut short or altered for the worse, because the film wants to be something the original production wasn’t, light and fluffy. Grease has some real weight and tackles some hefty issues with Rizzo that Stockard Channing could have more than handled. Rizzo’s abortion storyline is brushed on here and then gleefully tossed away in the finale in a manner that has set less and less well with me over the years. Sure, some songs didn’t make the cut for the film, but the change in character arcs and moving from an honest look at these kids lives to an EVERYTHING IS HAPPY attitude has not helped the film age with me. Is Grease still as big a phenomenon with Rizzo’s arc intact? I don’t know, but it certainly becames a much better, more interesting film that has more to say.

Grease works very well visually because of its costume, set design and choreography moreso than its camera work. The film features some really jovial colors that pop and make for a happy feeling when watching. There a couple interesting choices here and there, but its really a bit stale from a cinematography standpoint, not really pulling off anything interesting beyond the end of Summer Nights number. Granted, its from the 1970s, so it automatically seems to have a good eye by default and can compose some nice frames. What helped me this time around is marveling at how fantastic the restoration work on the film was that made it a much more visual joy than ever before (More on that in the spec section). A drag race at the climax, when the film has a chance to add some excitement beyond the song and dance, it falls flat on its face. The action doesn’t drive any intensity and the cars look like they are driving extremely slow and careful. One could argue in a decade that brought us The French Connection, Vanishing Point and The Seven-Ups, Grease gives us one of the worst car chases.

First time feature film director Randal Kleiser really comes firing out the gate with Grease. From the fun opening credits song and animated sequence right into the first day of Rydell High, Grease really moves and kicks in with great character introductions, developments and big fun group dance numbers. Everything is running on all cylinders. Scenes moves-bam bam bam. However, once we get past “Beauty School Dropout”, the film starts sagging and really truly drags on until the end of the school year carnival where “You’re the One That I Want” rescues the film and brings it back to its A-Game. During this prolonged down period we get the school dance (Which, “Hand Jive” is cool enough) followed by the Drive-In sequence and others that feel a bit stale with songs that aren’t really catching or working near the top notch levels the first half of the movie had been running at. Add into that, there are some weird translations that look like they worked on a stage production but should have been rewritten for a feature film (For example, after the drag race, Sandy goes to Frenchie and telling her she needs her help for a change and they immediately run off to do it right that minute).

Overall, I’m down with Rydell High as its just wants to have a fun time and not get in too deep on anything. However, with what Grease was supposed to be looming largely over it (With artifacts still showing through the seams), its hard not to want more from it. The film ducks and dodges these moments whenever it can. But, its cast and musical numbers are dynamite and mostly make up for what its lasting. Some things hold up, some don’t (“Greased Lightning” is a fun song, but wow if that scene super ridiculous and really really dumb). We can’t deny that the film hasn’t touched the lives of many and has continued to do so for 40 years now. My big curiosity is wondering if the “phenomenon” aspect may not be coming to an end as we continue to progress in modern cinema. The nostalgia for Grease isn’t really universal and children today are going to come up with a much different outlook and experiences with film and television. Hell, maybe we could update Grease and get a new film that actually follows the original script (Or does and also updates it a little). I’d be down with that approach, as its a way you could have two Grease films that exist and are very different experiences.

Video 

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p) Dolby Vision

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

Layers: BD-66

Clarity/Detail: For its 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray debut, Grease had its original negative scanned and it received extensive clean up and color correction. The standard Blu-ray for the film features an impressive image, but I feel this 4K picture even notably steps up from that. Its much more crisp and textured. The grain is a little more apparent here and more details make themselves apparent. Heck, some of the out of focus moments show up in this image. Colors and blacks are handled a bit better as well. This was a terrific restoration and it shines in both formats, but the 4K Ultra-HD presentation is the easy winner.

Depth:  Depth is one area that is immediately apparent upon seeing the difference. There is a bit more of a three dimensional zest on the image through the camera and character movements. Spacing between foreground and background has an extra pushback and looseness. Movements are natural, smooth and feature no distortions such as blurring or jittering.

Black Levels: Blacks come through very natural and have a nice saturation to them. During night sequences, there are much more details defined and apparent. Fora  good example, check out the lovers’ lane sequence in the film. No crushing occurred.

Color Reproduction: Colors look really appealing and pop quite nicely on this 4K, featuring much more saturation and definition than the Blu-ray counterpart. Strong vibrant colors work out much better, as you can see on the red garment that Marty wears during the “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee” sequence, which pops nicely hear but really bleeds and lacks detail on the standard Blu-ray. The T-Birds logo on the leather jackets also has a nice zing to it and really strikes with its blue like I’ve never seen.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent from start to finish of Grease. Facial features like make-up, lip texture, scars, stubble, sweat and facial grease all come through with great clarity.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 5.1  Dolby TrueHD, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, German 5.1 Dolby Digital, Italian 5.1 Dolby Digital, Japanese 2.0 Dolby Digital, Brazilian Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital, Castilian Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Latin American Spanish Mono Dolby Digital, English Audio Description

Subtitles: English, English SDH, Cantonese, Mandarin Simplified, Mandarin Traditional, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Brazilian Portuguese, European Portuguese, Castilian Spanish, Latin American Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish

Dynamics: Unfortunately, Grease has not been remixed for Dolby Atmos of DTS:X. However, this is not the same 5.1 TrueHD track from the previous release. This new mix is enhanced from a six-track mix created for an original 70mm release.  While details in the mix for effects and individual instruments in the score are impressively detailed, layered and distinct, it has some balance issue. This mix is very loud when it comes to the music in the film. The menu is loud all the numbers are loud. However, the inbetween are noticeably lower by comparison. You’ll be turning it way up for the dialogue and “in between songs” scenes only to be jolted out of your seat once a song starts blaring.  Everything sounds great, it just needed to be a bit more even keel.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: Grease really bumps from the bass and drums when a musical number hits. With other moments like the drag race some other more forceful sounds, they could have applied that same pressure, but it ends up being just a little bit lighter of a hit from the subwoofer.

Surround Sound Presentation: Grease fills the room with just good loud concert quality sound when a song is performed. The whole room comes alive from all the speakers. During regular moments, its a bit more front heavy with good accuracy on movement and volume placement. Rear speakers provide some good ambiance and a few unique moments during these scenes (Usually ones with crowds like the diner or the gymnasium dance prosper).

Dialogue Reproduction: As mentioned, vocals for the dialogue in the movie are a little bit low in the mix. Singing jumps up some notches. With the songs, there is a good crisp, clarity and depth to the vocals, but the dialogue sometime feels a little bit of a dated analog track in moments.

Extras 

Grease – 40th Anniversary Edition comes with the Blu-ray edition and a digital copy. With exception of the commentary track, all bonus material is found on the standard Blu-ray disc.

4K Ultra-HD Disc

Audio Commentary

  • By Director Randal Kleiser and Choreographer Patricia Birch

Blu-ray Disc

Introduction By Randal Kleiser (SD, :24) 

Rydell Sing-Along

The Time, The Place, The Motion: Remembering Grease (SD, 22:26)

Grease: A Chicago Story (HD, 24:30) – The writer of the original stage production and original cast (Including Marilu Henner) discuss the origins of the script as well as the origins of the production through to the changes to the broadway production.

Alternate Animated Main Titles (HD, 3:44) – The credits sequence was originally animated to a different song. This is the sequence with that song restored and Sing-Along lyrics on the screen. They made a good choice to ditch it.

Alternate Ending (HD, :45) – Sources from a black & white 35mm workprint that was artificially colorized 20 years ago.

Deleted/Extended/Alternate Scenes with Introduction By Randal Kleiser (SD, 10:17)

Grease Reunion 2002: DVD Launch Party (SD, 15:13)

Grease Memories From John & Olivia (SD, 3:23) 

The Moves Behind The Music (SD, 8:14)

Thunder Roadsters (SD, 5:22)

John Travolta & Allan Carr “Grease Day” Interview (SD, 1:48)

Olivia Newton-John & Roger Stigwood “Grease Day” Interview (SD, 2:06)

Photo Galleries

  • Rydell High Year Book
  • Production
  • Premiere
  • Grease Day

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:09) 

Summary 

After 40 years, is Grease still the word? The film has been ingrained in the pop culture lexicon from the moment it was released to the passionate love of many and ire of many others. Either way, its no doubt made quite an impact on pop culture and continues to do so. Paramount’s leap of the film to 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray provides a stunning restoration that despite your feelings on the film, it looks amazing. The new 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track has balance issues, but still sounds impressive nonetheless and owns the musical numbers. Grease has been pretty much squeezed dry of extras over the years, but they still managed to provide a couple new features of merit. Overall, Paramount should be commended for a (for the most part) outstanding catalog release worthy of a day 1 purchase (For fans and collectors). My only beef is that us 4K  Ultra-HD users have no option to purchase Grease 2 unless we choose to immediately double dip on the inferior format.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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