STRICTLY BALLROOM is the delightful little Australian import that introduced audiences to the work of director Baz Luhrmann, who would go on to great acclaim for the incredible visual styling of films like ROMEO + JULIET and MOULIN ROUGE. Although much smaller in scale than those later films, STRICTLY BALLROOM is a genuine delight of a movie that gives audiences a glimpse of what Luhrmann would be capable of doing with much larger budgets. Luhrmannís eye for composition and his use of color in STRICTLY BALLROOM clearly demonstrate that the filmís relatively low budget didnít prevent him from achieving his artistic vision.
STRICTLY BALLROOM is the story of a championship level dancer named Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio), who does the unthinkable during a competition- he makes up some flashy new steps that violate the strict ballroom dancing guidelines. In ballroom circles, Scottís transgression is the worst of all possible sins and he finds himself held up to ridicule and dropped by his longtime dancing partner. Even Scottís own mother Shirley (Pat Thomson) is not above berating him for the shame she feels that he has brought upon their family. However, in Scottís own mind he decides that he is done something very liberating and he decides that he no longer wants to play the game by anyone elseís rules. Needing to find a new partner, Scott teams up with Fran (Tara Morice), an ugly duckling of a dance student, who has expressed her willingness to dance Scottís steps in an upcoming championship ballroom competition. The cast of STRICTLY BALLROOM also includes Bill Hunter, Gia Carides, Peter Whitford, Barry Otto, John Hannan and Sonia Kruger.
Miramax Home Entertainment has made STRICTLY BALLROOM in a 1.85:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. Although STRICTLY BALLROOM has been given a very nice transfer, the filmís low budget origins remain readily apparent. Mild film grain is noticeable during much of the movie and there is some inconsistency in the look of the film stocks used to throughout the course of the movie. Also, one will notice some blemishes on the film element used to transfer this decade old movie.
The image isn't as sharp as a new American movie, but it isn't particularly soft looking either. Color reproduction is quite nice, with plenty of bold, striking hues on display throughout the movie. Some of the more intense hot colors can get a bit fuzzy, but otherwise the colors appear pretty stable. Blacks are accurate, although shadow detail is only adequate. The dual layered didn't display any truly noticeable signs of digital compression artifacts, but did raise some compatibility concerns with one of my DVD players.
STRICTLY BALLROOM features a Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack that sounds pretty good considering the film's age and production limitations. There are some directional effects in the mix, but the track isn't particularly aggressive. The soundtrack is comprised of a lot of musical passages, so it should come as no surprise that these sequences are where the track shines. Fidelity isnít quite as good as a new movie, but the music still sounds quite pleasing. Dialogue is always understandable, although the actors' voices don't sound as cleanly defined as they do in larger budget films. Subtitles have been provided on the DVD in English, French and Spanish.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVDís interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some supplemental features. First up is a running audio commentary by director Baz Luhrmann, production designer Catherine Martin and choreographer John O'Connell, which is entertaining and fairly informative. Next is a half hour documentary entitled Samba To Slow Fox, which looks at actual Australian ballroom dancing competition. Finally, there are five very brief featurettes that look at various aspects of the production and its origins. If STRICTLY BALLROOM is purchased as part of the Red Curtain Trilogy box set, then additional materials can be found on the bonus disc BEHIND THE RED CURTAIN, which offers an interactive documentary that contains hours of behind the scenes footage for this film as well as ROMEO + JULIET and MOULIN ROUGE.
STRICTLY BALLROOM is a delightful, feel good movie that is certain to please. Considering the film's low budget origins, Miramax's presentation looks and sounds good. If you have discover director Baz Luhrmann through his later films ROMEO + JULIET and MOULIN ROUGE, then you will definitely want to check out STRICTLY BALLROOM on DVD as well.
STRICTLY BALLROOM is available on DVD individually for $19.98 or along with ROMEO + JULIET and MOULIN ROUGE as part of the Red Curtain Trilogy box set for $69.98.
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