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DreamgirlsDreamgirls on Blu-ray

The movie version of the 1980's Broadway musical is big and lush, with excellent performances from a fine cast.

So why did we not feel satisfied when it was over?

We cut our teeth on such classic musicals as Oklahoma!, My Fair Lady, Oliver!, West Side Story and the like and, with the exception of the tragic, Romeo and Juliet-based West Side Story, most of these musicals make you feel good for one reason or another. Maybe the lovers get to live happily ever after; maybe the young waif finally finds a loving home; maybe the musical family makes good its escape… But whatever the reason, by the time the last curtain call comes, or the last name rolls up the screen, you're in a terrific mood, humming the tunes and happy that life is unfolding as it should.

Dreamgirls wasn't like that. Sure, it isn't meant to be a bouncy thing, and it has its share of unhappiness in it, but we went away feeling quite empty. That said, there's plenty to like here, especially in the high definition disc format that shows off every color, every bit of detail, to its best.

The girls of the title are, initially, Effie White (Jennifer Hudson), Deena Jones (Beyoncé Knowles) and Lorrell Robinson (Anika Noni Rose), friends whose dream is to be discovered. And discovered they are, though not as the headliners they want to be but as emergency backups to the "legendary" James "Thunder" Early (Eddie Murphy, looking very Little Richard-like).  

Effie takes this the hardest because she's the lead singer – and she gets hit even harder shortly thereafter when they actually get to headline, but (thanks to the cajoling of their manager Curtis Taylor – played by Jamie Foxx – and songwriter C.C. – played by Keith Robinson) with the more attractive Deena out front and Effie relegated to backup.

It's a story of dreams, the cost of attaining them and the toll success can take. And though we never get to really know the main characters, except perhaps for the unfortunate Effie, some of them do exhibit growth (if you can call it that) during the course of the story. Effie grows angry and desperate, for example, and Curtis grows downright nasty and ruthless.  Oh, and James "Thunder" Early grows flowers out of his dead corpse after fate passes him by in favor of the megastar Dream girls…..

The production is top notch. The look, the feel, and the sounds are all wonderfully realized and all the elements work very well – right down to the dead on Jackson 5 lookalikes near the end that brought a real smile to our face.

The performances are also very good. Foxx, who we last saw in his stunning portrayal of Ray Charles, is a nasty piece of work here, though it takes watching the whole production to see it come to the surface. Beyoncé Knowles is fetching and talented and very good in the role, and Eddie Murphy is terrific as "Thunder". But it's Jennifer Hudson who really steals the show with her powerful voice and sensitive portrayal of the gifted but whiny Effie.

Then there are the songs. While they fit well with the story and actually help advance the plot (or help us understand what's going on inside the characters' heads), they aren't particularly memorable. There's no "The Impossible Dream," no "I Could Have Danced All Night," no "Some Enchanted Evening" here. We can't even remember the songs particularly well, and we watched the disc last night!

Where are Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Lowe when you need them? Oh yeah; they're long dead….

Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, of Little Shop of Horrors, The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast fame, were well on their way to be the next great team but Ashman died early and, though Menken continues to work his magic today, the memorable hits like "Suddenly Seymour", "Under the Sea" and "Be Our Guest" have been rarer since the loss of Ashman.

The music in Dreamgirls hearkens back to Motown, obviously, and composer Henry Krieger has done a nice job of bringing that era back to life. But there isn't a "My Girl" or a "Stop! In the Name of Love" here, either, which is a shame.
Still, with the success of Dreamgirls and Chicago, it's nice to see Hollywood discovering the "old fashioned" musical again.  

We received the Blu-ray version of the movie and overall it's a nice choice. The 1080p picture is, for the most part, "loverly", very clean and bright and colorful. We noticed some grain in some places, but that was the exception rather than the rule. We're not happy about the high definition DVD format war, but from what we've seen of Blu-ray and HD DVD titles so far, we're glad that at least one of them is coming on.

The audio is conventional Dolby Digital 5.1, which is a shame considering the new Dolby Digital TrueHD and dts-HD formats that are now available with high definition discs. That said, few people can play those formats back natively yet anyway…. Audio quality was good but not great; we noticed some distortion in louder sequences.

And we had a technical problem with the disc itself. It hung up repeatedly during playback, pausing several times as if it were at a layer change. The pauses lasted up to several seconds, but even though playback always resumed afterward it was still quite annoying.

The Blu-ray (and special DVD edition) also includes a second disc that's full of extras, and disc one includes extended musical numbers including a performance by Jennifer Hudson that wasn't seen in the theatrical version. There's also a music video of the song "Listen" performed by Ms. Knowles and a promo for the movie soundtrack. Disc two has oodles of extras, including:

  • "Building The Dream" full-length documentary
  • image Gallery  
  • featurettes includng Dream Logic: Film Editing, Dressing The Dreams: Costume Design, Center Stage: Theatrical Lighting and more.
  • screen tests/auditions
  • previsualization Sequences
  • and more

Dreamgirls, from Paramount Home Entertainment
130 min. anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Hudson
Produced by Laurence Mark
Written and directed by Bill Condon

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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