DREAMGIRLS - HD DVD review

This is one of the finest HD-DVD releases currently available and if you love music, as I do, then there is absolutely no reason to not rush out and buy a copy...

DeanWink

Paramount's "Dreamgirls" is a fictional story that is based on the true life story of The Supremes and founding members that included Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson and Diana Ross. There has been some controversy regarding the historical accuracy of "Dreamgirls." Mary Wilson has gone on record to state that the original play and theatrical adaptation are quite close to the events that transpired during the period of the Supremes. She named her first autobiography after the 1981 Broadway play, Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme. Diana Ross has taken the direct opposite approach to the play and film, stating it is indeed not historically accurate; though others have stated that Florence Ballard's ousting in favor of Diana Ross closely mirror's the Effie White and Deena Jones storyline of "Dreamgirls."

"Dreamgirls" features a wonderful cast that is full of entertainers. Jamie Foxx portrays the Dreams manager, Curtis Taylor, Jr. Foxx has released a very good R&B album in 2005 titled "Unpredictable" and won great acclaim for his ability as a pianist and a singer in the incredible 2004 film "Ray," which earned him an Oscar for Best Actor. Eddie Murphy is R&B artist Jimmy Early in the film and has released a few albums during his storied career. Murphy's biggest hit was the 1985 single "Party All the Time" and he found some success with the 1989 release "Put Your Mouth on Me." The album that spawned "Put Your Mouth on Me" was the release "So Happy." I happen to have a copy of that CD in my collection, as well as the Dual Disc release of Foxx's "Unpredictable." Jennifer Hudson is the doppelganger for Florence Ballard in the film and her musical career began when she finished seventh during the third season of "American Idol" and has a forthcoming solo album. Beyoncé Knowles is another member of the Dreams in the film and has had a very successful musical career as part of the R&B girl group "Destiny's Child."

In the film, the trio of Effie White (Jennifer Hudson), Deena Jones (Beyoncé Knowles) and Lorrell Robinson (Anika Noni Rose) are struggling to break into show business. One night, fate lands them a job singing as backup singers for recording artist James "Thunder" Early (Eddie Murphy). Car salesman and hopeful musical agent Curtis Taylor, Jr. (Jamie Foxx) works out a deal between the girls and Early and while they are hesitant of taking a gig as backup singers, Curtis talks them into accepting the gig as it may be their best chance at getting a foot into show business. Early has had his own problems scoring a hit on national radio and Curtis enrolls the help of a composer friend and Effie's brother, C.C. White (Keith Robinson) to pen songs that will send James Early and the Dreams to the top of the charts; even at the cost of liquidating his Cadillac's to earn bribe money to pay disc jockeys for airtime.

James Early and the Dreams find chart success and ride a wave of momentum for a couple years. However, Early's career starts to sag and Curtis decides it is time for the Dreams to release their own single and break away from Early's shadow. However, Curtis has one significant change to make for the Dreams. Their talented, but overweight lead singer Effie White is replaced as the trio's lead by the lovely and sexy Deena Jones. Effie is far from happy with this change. She has a romantic involvement with Curtis and feels betrayed both professionally and personally. Eventually, the strain is too much for Effie to take and she leaves the Dreams when Curtis hires a replacement for the oft tardy and unruly Effie.

The Dreams succeed on the R&B and Pop charts for a few years without Effie as a member. Effie, who's only talent is her singing voice falls into a state of depression and hides a secret from Curtis and her former Dream singers; she has given birth to Curtis' daughter. Curtis had replaced Effie with Deena behind the microphone and between the sheets. His affair with the new leading lady of the Dreams begins to cause problems with the dreams and his increasingly tyrant-like behavior has also cost him the friendship he shared with Jimmy Early. At one point, Curtis was one of the most successful producers in the musical business with both Early and the Dreams scoring hits. However, with Early's departure and growing stress between the Dreams, his career begins to unwind and sets the stage for a final concert featuring the Dreams.

"Dreamgirls" is another fine film that chronicles the storied past of Motown music. While not an official autobiographical film like "Ray," "Dreamgirls" focuses on Diana Ross's replacement of Florence Ballard, who died at the age of 32 after a losing battle with alcoholism and depression after her departure from the Supremes. The film is a conglomeration of inspirations, with similarities to the singing styles of Aretha Franklin and other Motown dignitaries. The film combines a well thought out story and plot based on the popular 1981 Broadway play and entertaining performances by the likes of Eddie Murphy, Beyoncé Knowles and Jennifer Hudson. The actor/singers bring back the sounds of 1960's Motown R&B with fervor and heart. Murphy delivers a very rousing performance late in the film when his character drops his pants on-stage and Jennifer Hudson brings back memories of the powerful female R&B vocals of the era.

The film is also a story of betrayal and the cutthroat nature of the musical business. When C.C. composes a song about a Cadillac, James Early finds his soulful and funky recording of the song lost into obscurity when a popular white artist records a far less powerful version of the song and finds success at the top of the charts. Curtis refuses to allow James Early any ground to try something new and fresh and forces the fading star to stick to depressing and soulful music that sells records and tickets. He forces Early to the shadows and eventually delivers Early into heavy drug use and depression as he has trouble dealing with his friend's betrayals and his diminished role on the charts. The ultimate betrayal is that of Effie White. Effie had fallen madly in love with Curtis and given her heart and soul to the producer. However, he quickly moved to another's bed and failed to support her as a singer. He kicked her to the curb and quickly forgot about her; leading to the film's final image of Curtis realizing his wrongdoing when he realizes he has a daughter.

I have enjoyed "Dreamgirls" since first screening the film and had supported Eddie Murphy for the Best Actor statue. Murphy has earned his keep in Hollywood and ran the gamut as a performer by appearing in films of various genres. His early roles were foul-mouthed comedies and the actor first found success as Axel Foley in the "Beverly Hills Cops" franchise and as Reggie Hammond in the two "48 Hours" films. He has since tried his hand in dramas and family friendly comedies and has become one of the more bankable stars for Walt Disney. He has long had a love of music and tried to maintain a singing career during the 1980s. "Dreamgirls" was a role that suited Murphy like a well tailored suit and I still feel he was the most deserving of the Oscar award. While the film features a few musical numbers to keep true to its Broadway beginnings, it is a serious drama that takes a deep and effectual look at the days when Motown was mighty and the business was just as cutthroat as ever.

Video:
"Dreamgirls" is a stunning looking film. The 2.35:1 picture is mastered on HD-DVD with VC-1 compression technology and features an amazing array of color and three dimensional depth. Costume Designer Sharen Davis and Production Designer John Myhre has captured the atmosphere, dress and look of the musical industry during the 1960s and early 1970s. Combining their efforts with director Bill Condon and Director of Photography Tobias Schliessler, "Dreamgirls" is a well shot picture that perfectly showcases the visual capabilities of the high definition formats and joins other Paramount dignitaries such as "Sahara" and "Æon Flux" as testaments to their ability to release some of the better looking discs on the format.

Each performance of the Dreams or James Early is a visual tour de force that features brilliant lighting and wonderful coloring. These are the highlights of the film and the transfer does an incredible job of bringing them to life. Whether it be the warm colors of a flashbulb, the cool colors of blue stage lights or the soft pastels that dominated the clothing of the era, "Dreamgirls" is about as near as you can get to perfection of color reproduction. Detail is also incredibly strong as every detail of the actors faces stands out, as well as the fabrics worn during the film. There are no problems with the digital transfer and common problems such as posterization and stepping are completely non existent. I could not find a singular occurrence of film grain. The film features deep blacks that are just as convincing as the wildly vibrant colors. Shadow detail is strong and during the darkest materials, detail stands out and is finely defined. "Dreamgirls" is provided on the Blu-ray format with a different compression scheme, but the visuals are essentially identical. I could not find anything that would find one being superior over the other, although I felt the HD-DVD had slightly better coloring. Simply put, "Dreamgirls" is an amazing looking transfer.

Sound:
I have to first admit that I am disappointed that Paramount did not include a more potent and modern soundtrack to accompany the wonderful sounding film and its striking visuals. "Dreamgirls" is supported in its native tongue with only an English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 multi-channel surround mix. Both French and Spanish languages are supported with matching Dolby Digital 5.1 Plus mixes and all three languages are bolstered with subtitle support. While I would have preferred to see either a DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack or the potent Dolby TrueHD, "Dreamgirls" is still a very good sounding film that is among the better sounding HD-DVD releases to date and perhaps the best sounding Paramount title yet released. It does not feature any aggressive sound effects such as "Mission Impossible III" or "Sahara," but it is a sonically powerful mix that fully utilizes the technology it has access to.

Sound is incredibly detailed. The gentle and persistent tapping of percussion instruments such as cymbals comes across very precisely. Horns sound as if they are coming from within the room. The cast sings their way through the films wonderful performances and a few numbers that allow "Dreamgirls" to be a part-time musical. The timbre and individual inflections of each actor/singer's voice is easily discernable and sounds incredible. The front speakers are effectively used to recreate the soundstage of a concert performance and rear surrounds are used throughout the film to bring to life the ambient sounds of crowds or crowded night clubs. Bass is effectively used and the .1 LFE channel booms when necessary to drive home the Jazzy and funky beats that accompany the film's vocals. Comparing the HD-DVD release to the Blu-ray release, the soundtrack exhibits no significant differences. While not being an aggressive sounding film, "Dreamgirls" knows exactly what it needs to do with each speaker and delivers a finely tuned sounding performance.

Extras:
Billed as the "2-Disc Showstopper Edition," "Dreamgirls" is a very nice 2-disc set that continues the trend of releasing higher profiled titles on multiple platters. This worked with "Mission Impossible III" and the forthcoming "Flags of Our Fathers" is to also populate two discs. Blu-ray is capable of greater storage, but the competing format finds these films on two platters as well. While taking up two complete platters, with bonus materials spread across both discs, there exist no supplements to accompany the running length of the feature presentation. There are no audio commentaries, no video commentaries and no trivia fact tracks. While the supplements that are provided are very nicely done, this felt slightly odd; as I would assume the general public has my same sensibilities and looks forward to a good commentary track.

The features contained on the first disc are geared more towards the musical performances contained in the film. The first selections on the first disc are the Extended and Alternate Scenes (36:05). These twelve scenes may be played individually or collectively with the "Play All" menu selection. Most of these segments are longer musical numbers from the film. Thankfully, these wonderful additions are featured in full HD splendor with a VC-1/1080p codec and full Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 sounds. I personally would not have minded having a longer cut of the film with these numbers mixed back into the film. Part of the reason I enjoyed "Dreamgirls" as much as I did was for the music. I love music and this is thirty more minutes of it. One of the scenes is billed as a Jennifer Hudson Performance Not Seen In Theaters, "One Night Only." Another musical number, "I'm Somebody" featured the Dreams without Hudson's character and was a quick reminder of the 1970s. The first disc also contained a Music Video "Listen" By Beyoncé Knowles (3:49) and a Dreamgirls Soundtrack Promo (1:01) and some Previews for other Paramount releases.

The second disc of the 2-disc set features materials pertaining to the making of "Dreamgirls." Some of these supplements are presented in full high-definition, while others are 4:3 standard definition. The largest and most notable supplement is the Full Length Documentary "Building the Dream (1:54:53), which is one of the HD presented supplements. This is a very long and very detailed documentary that makes up for the fact that no commentary track was provided. Running for a longer amount of time than many full-length features, the documentary details the music history portrayed by the film, information relating to the Broadway play and features the various actors and talent that worked together to bring the film to the big screen. "Building the Dream" is broken up into nine chapters, but can be played as one complete documentary. The picture and sound quality of the HD supplement is solid and I highly recommend this documentary for any fans of the film or old Motown music and may be one of the best documentaries ever produced for a home video release.

Aside from the very good documentary, there are a number of other supplements. Dream Logic: Film Editing (4:08) spends time with Virginia Katz, the editor for "Dreamgirls" and director Bill Condon. They discusses the editing process and challenges involved with editing the lengthy musical. Dressing the Dreams: Costume Design (8:21) is a look at the work done by Sharen Davis on the film. The outfits are quite colorful and nicely represents the various looks of the 1960s and 1970s. Center Stage: Theatrical Lighting (8:44) takes a look at the lighting used for the stage performances contained in the film. Time is spent with Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, who are the film's theatrical lighting designers. Lighting was an important aspect of "Dreamgirls" and helped define the potent period look of the film. These three featurettes were all provided in full HD. Three Auditions and Screen Tests are included. One is for a fully costumed Beyoncé Knowles (2:24), another is for Anika Noni Rose (2:09) and the final audition is for Fatima Robinson (6:19). These are presented in various compressions and are not full high definition supplements. Finally, seven Previsualization Sequences complete the lengthy collection of extras. These run for nearly thirty seven minutes and combine storyboards and rehearsal footage of various scenes from the film.

Closing Thoughts:
Jamie Foxx seems to single-handedly be trying to chronicle R&B music from the 1960s. He brought Ray Charles to life in the highly entertaining "Ray" and has now helped in bringing to life a fictional story of a girl group that closely mirrors that of Diana Ross and the Supremes. Joining Foxx are Beyoncé Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover and Jennifer Hudson. "Dreamgirls" is not as powerful a film as "Ray," but includes more music and performances and recreates the Motown sound of the 1960s and early 1970s. The female actresses who bring the Dreams to life have wonderful voices and this film would not have succeeded without them. However, veteran entertainer Eddie Murphy stands out in his role as Jimmy Early and I feel the actor deserved the Best Actor Oscar. With incredible visuals and sound to bring the film's concert performances to life, "Dreamgirls" is showcase material for HD-DVD. This two disc set features hours of bonus materials and one of the best making-of documentaries you will ever find. The full length of the supplements falls near the four hour mark, although it was a bit surprising to not find any commentary tracks on a 2-disc set. This is one of the finest HD-DVD releases currently available and if you love music, as I do, then there is absolutely no reason to not rush out and buy a copy of "Dreamgirls."

Ratings

Video
10
Audio
9
Extras
9
Film Value
9