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John Badham
John Travolta, Karen Lynn Gorney, Barry Miller, Joseph Cali, Paul Pape
Norman Wexler

Where do you go when the record is over ...

Rated R.

Academy Awards:
Nominated for Best Actor-John Travolta.

Widescreen 1.85:1
English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 118 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 5/5/2009

• Audio Commentary with Director John Badham
• “Catching the Fever” Featurette
• “Back to Bay Ridge” Featurette
• “Dance Like John Travolta With John Cassese” Featurette
• “Fever Challenge!” Quiz
• “70s Discopedia”
• Deleted Scenes


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Saturday Night Fever: 30th Anniversary Special Collector's Edition [Blu-Ray] (1977)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 30, 2009)

Oddly, negative trends often start from positive beginnings. For example, the whole tendency for movie studios to pack the summer with big-budget nonsense began after the enormous success of Jaws in 1975. As much as some may hate that programming, one can’t fault the still excellent Jaws for it.

Similarly, many folks loathe the inane nature of many contemporary movie soundtracks. These get packed with hoped-for chart-toppers, even when they have little to do with the film in question. The cart drives the horse; hey, even if the flick flops, maybe it can generate a successful album!

If you want to find a culprit in that case, you should probably look no farther than 1977’s Saturday Night Fever. While the movie itself did very well at the box office, the soundtrack album became a true sensation. According to the RIAA, it moved a phenomenal 15 million copies. That makes it the second biggest-selling soundtrack after The Bodyguard, which earned certification as 17-times platinum.

Despite the skillions of crummy soundtrack albums that followed Fever, one can’t blame it or its creators. 30 years after its release, the music holds up pretty well. Of course, disco went badly out of fashion for quite some time, but fashions change, and now the tracks seem fairly solid. I was surprised to discover how much I enjoyed them, honestly.

I adored that album back in 1978 when it became such an enormous hit. In fact, my fondness for the music influenced my mother’s decision to allow me to see Fever theatrically. It was my first-ever “R”-rated film, though Paramount soon offered a compromise; because of the album’s enormous popularity, they created a “PG”-rated edition to allow more kids to see it. Happily, I checked out the full “R” cut, and somehow it didn’t scar me.

Actually, at the time, I didn’t see what caused such a ratings fuss. Fever included some brief nudity and a lot of profanity, but otherwise it didn’t seem too offensive. In retrospect, I now know that a lot of the material simply went over my young head. I didn’t understand scads of sexual references and other adult content that was too advanced for my naïve little mind. Surprisingly, Fever seems much more risqué to me at 41 than it did at 10.

While Fever became a true cultural sensation based on it soundtrack album, that shouldn’t lead one to discount it as a movie, though I didn’t expect much from it before I watched the DVD a years ago. I knew it still enjoyed a positive reputation, but it simply didn’t reside high on my list of priorities.

To my modest surprise, I really liked Saturday Night Fever. After more than 30 years, I expected it to seem frighteningly dated, but instead I found a fairly timeless flick that still held up quite well despite its many period elements.

Fever focuses on 19-year-old Tony Manero (John Travolta), a working-class schlub from Brooklyn. He lives with his family and toils at a low-paying hardware store job. He does okay at his job, but his home life seems problematic, as his parents are disapproving and critical; Tony can’t live up to the ideal set by his priest brother Frank, Jr. (Martin Shakar). Tony’s entire world revolves around the weekends, when he can blow his cash and strut his stuff at the local disco. There he becomes the king of the world, as his dancing talents make him the most popular guy on the scene.

Fever doesn’t follow a strict plot, but some elements dominate the story. Tony’s fave disco offers an upcoming dance contest, and he agrees to pair with drippy Annette (Donna Pescow); she has a serious crush on Tony, but he seems disinterested in her. Tony changes his mind about his partner, however, when he sees Stephanie Mangano (Karen Lynn Gorney) at the disco. Her dancing impresses him, and he clearly feels attracted to her as well. Tony tracks down Stephanie and tries to work his mojo on her, but she largely resists. However, she does agree to dance with him in the contest, so the two start a professional relationship that Tony wants to make personal.

That theme generates most of the action in Fever, but a few other subplots wind through the film. Annette continues to throw herself at Tony and becomes more and more desperate for his attention. A local Latin crew beats up one of Tony’s gang, so his other buddies want revenge. Bobby C. (Barry Miller), the nerdiest member of Tony’s group, impregnates his girlfriend, and he constantly badgers others for advice. His nagging presence means that others essentially tune him out and don’t take him seriously, which feeds his insecurities and makes Bobby even needier. In addition, Frank Jr. decides to leave the church, which leads to much consternation from his parents and grandmother.

Fever tosses out an awful lot of story elements, all of which easily could have turned melodramatic. However, it remains Tony’s story and always comes from his point of view. Really, Fever provides a fairly simple “coming of age” tale that doesn’t seem dissimilar from something such as Rebel Without a Cause. As the movie progresses, Tony starts to become more actively interested in the universe outside his insular little sphere, and he matures and grows beyond the provincial Brooklyn boy seen at the start of the story.

Despite all of the potentially melodramatic elements seen in Fever, the film remains surprisingly natural. As I considered my thoughts about the movie, “natural” remained my word of choice, for I felt the tale came across as believable and organic within its setting. This didn’t seem like outsiders pretending to be Brooklynites. Instead, the elements coalesced in such a way to create a realistic and smooth setting that appeared to accurately represent real life within that realm.

Two aspects of the film strongly contributed to those positive tendencies. For one, director John Badham kept things simple and didn’t go overboard with flashy techniques. No, he didn’t try to do something documentary-style, as Fever clearly offered some stylistic flashes. Heck, one of the flick’s most famous bits – Tony’s opening strut to the tunes of the Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive” – offers a purely cinematic moment.

Nonetheless, Badham presented much of the film in a matter of fact manner that didn’t manipulate the drama and make things more forced and overwrought. A number of life-altering events occurred in the movie; I won’t reveal these since they might be spoilers, but let’s just say that the events didn’t seem like typical “day in the life” material. However, the movie didn’t build inexorably and relentlessly toward a big climax or definitive moment. Actions occurred realistically within their framework, and the film didn’t shove the audience’s face in them.

In addition, Travolta’s stellar performance as Tony helped make the movie a success. At the time, some critics accused Travolta of simply playing himself in the role. With 30 years of hindsight, this notion seems more and more absurd, and the power of Travolta’s acting becomes clearer. He made Tony simple but not stupid and kept the character from turning into a stereotype. With his Brooklyn accent and occasionally dopey demeanor, Tony easily could have become a one-dimensional role, but Travolta brought a depth and humor to the part that seemed compelling and natural.

There’s that word again, but it remains the best term to describe Saturday Night Fever. The movie created a natural little world and told a tight tale within that spectrum. As a result, the film remains vivid and surprisingly timeless. Even with all the dated fashions of the mid-Seventies, Fever seems appropriate for modern times; you know there are still many Tony Maneros wandering New York, all with the same issues and interests. Fever may be best known for its music, but the movie offers a treat as well.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B / Bonus B

Saturday Night Fever appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. While the movie showed signs of its era, the transfer nonetheless seemed very strong.

Sharpness appeared positive. The picture came across as crisp and detailed throughout the film. I noticed no significant indications of softness or fuzziness during this distinct presentation; the photographic style meant some shots appeared crisper than others, but the Blu-ray accurately represented the source material. Jagged edges and moiré effects also caused no concerns, and I detected no edge enhancement.

As for print flaws, this was a clean image. A handful of tiny specks appeared but that was it. Grain remained appropriate for a film shot under the conditions that affected Fever and never seemed too heavy. Given the prevalence of low-light sequences, that became a minor miracle; the grain easily could’ve become a major distraction.

Fever provided a naturalistic palette, and the Blu-ray replicated the hues with good accuracy. The most notable potential concerns showed up during the nightclub scenes, as the colored lighting threatened to become somewhat thick. However, the tones looked nicely clear and realistic, and they showed no signs of noise or bleeding. Blacks appeared deep and rich, and shadow detail was concise. Given the movie’s age and budget, I thought the flick looked solid.

The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever seemed good but unexceptional. I didn’t expect a very active soundfield, and what I heard seemed good considering those restrictions. The mix favored the forward channels and created a reasonably engaging sense of atmosphere. Music showed fairly positive stereo delineation in the front, and effects popped up in logical locations. They blended together in a somewhat awkward and artificial manner, but this didn’t become a significant distraction. The surrounds usually just reinforced the music and sense of environment, but they did provide some occasional unique elements, such as the split-surround movement of a subway car.

Audio quality appeared acceptable across the board. Speech showed the greatest number of concerns. Fever featured more than its fair share of poorly looped dialogue; these offered some distractions during the relevant scenes. In addition, dialogue occasionally demonstrated some edginess. However, most of the lines seemed reasonably clear and distinct, and intelligibility never turned into a problem.

Effects played a relatively modest part of the film, and they seemed decent. At times they came across as a little thin, but generally they presented clean and accurate material that lacked significant distortion or other issues. The all-important music seemed good but not as strong as I’d hope. The songs packed some nice bass thump and appeared acceptably clear, but they could occasionally come across as a little limp and lifeless. Overall, however, most of the soundtrack seemed positive, and the audio worked fine given its origins.

How did the picture and audio of this Blu-ray Disc compare to those of the 2007 DVD? Both versions offered virtually identical audio, but the Blu-ray improved the visuals. The pair seemed to boast the same transfer; I didn’t sense that Paramount remastered the film specifically for Blu-ray. Nonetheless, we got a boost in tightness and clarity from the high-def format. I thought the DVD looked good, but the Blu-ray was more satisfying.

In terms of extras, the Blu-ray essentially replicates the 2007 DVD. We start with an audio commentary from director John Badham. He offers a running, screen-specific track. The director looks at script and influences, cast and performances, music and its use in the film, sets, locations, technical elements, and many anecdotes from the shoot.

At times, this commentary suffers from an excessive number of empty spots; Badham often falls silent. However, the gaps don’t seem truly problematic – they pass fairly quickly – and the director provides enough useful information to make the spaces more forgivable. Badham proves to be a chatty and engaging participant. He seems honest and open about the production, and he tosses out lots of good notes. He includes many compelling anecdotes and gives us a nice overview of the film in this lively and likable chat.

Next come a series of featurettes. Catching the Fever breaks into five subdomains and lasts a total of 52 minutes, 40 seconds. It features movie clips, archival materials, and interviews. We hear from Badham, producer Robert Stigwood, executive producer Kevin McCormick, costume designer Patrizia von Brandenstein, composer David Shire, former Studio 54 deejay Nicky Siano, the Bee Gees’ Barry and Robin Gibb, Last Night a Deejay Saved My Life authors Frank Broughton and Bill Brewster, Studio 54 publicist Joanne Horowitz, filmmaker Neil Meron, and actors Joseph Cali, Paul Pape, Denny Dillon, Barry Miller, Sam J. Coppola, Martin Shakar, Karen Lynn Gorney, Donna Pescow, and Monti Rock III.

“Fever” covers the flick’s origins and development, studio concerns about the material, cast and performances, John Travolta’s impact and the movie’s influence. From there it looks at the flick’s music and the Bee Gees’ involvement, the film’s fashions and style, the Seventies disco scene and how the film affected it, and thoughts about Travolta.

While the absence of Travolta disappoints, it doesn’t surprise. Even without him, “Catching” presents a lot of good information. After the fine primer offered by Badham during his commentary, this one fleshes out various issues and supports the movie nicely. We get a good look at the flick and its era across these programs, though the final “Spotlight on Travolta” is a fluffy waste of time.

Another featurette called Back to Bay Ridge runs nine minutes, one second, and includes a tour of the movie’s locations. We hear from Cali, Pescow, and location executive Lloyd Kaufman. At no point does this piece boast a lot of substance, but it includes a reasonable amount of info about the various locations. It’s also fun to see how they look today.

For the next featurette, we get the nine-minute and 50-second Dance Like John Travolta with John Cassese. We initially learn of some of Cassese’s students. “Dance” offers a pretty forgettable piece. Cassese and partner Jennelle Wax demonstrate some moves and then offer step-by-step directions. Maybe someone will find this useful, but it does nothing for me.

Fever Challenge! goes for four minutes, one second as it presents some dance moves. We’re supposed to follow these and see if we can emulate some steps from the film. It plays like a poor man’s version of those dance video games and doesn’t seem like much fun.

A text commentary comes to us via the 70s Discopedia. It presents notes about the film and those who made it, its impact on society in the Seventies and related efforts, music, dance sequences, various bits of minutiae about aspects of the flick. Text tracks can be hit or miss, but this one’s quite good. It throws in plenty of fun movie details along with nice facts to fit us into the late Seventies era. I like “Discopedia” a lot.

Finally, we find three Deleted Scenes. These include “Tony and Stephanie in the Car” (1:30), “Tony’s Dad Gets His Job Back” (1:08), and “Tony at Stephanie’s Apartment” (1:00). Nothing major appears here, as the snippets wouldn’t add much to the film.

In fact, I think "Job" would've harmed the flick, as it would've lessened the sense that Tony's home life is such a downer. Perhaps the filmmakers considered it because otherwise Tony might look like a cad if he leaves his needy family. Anyway, even though the clips themselves aren't much, they offer a nice addition to this set.

One note: while these deleted scenes appeared on the original 2002 Fever DVD, they were dropped for the 2007 re-release. It’s nice to get them reinstated for the Blu-ray version.

Although Saturday Night Fever probably should come across as frightfully dated, the movie still seems compelling and engaging after 30 years. The flick comes across as surprisingly natural and spry, and it benefits from an excellent Oscar-nominated performance from John Travolta. The Blu-ray offers terrific picture along with good audio and extras.

If you don’t own a prior version of Fever, the Blu-ray is the way to go. It looks good and presents the film really well. However, if you already have the 30th Anniversary DVD and feel content with it, I’d question the need for an upgrade. The Blu-ray offers strong visuals, but the DVD remains very competent in that regard.

To rate this film, visit the original review of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER

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