As a teenager back in the 1980s, there are certain films that I saw then that affected me more than others. For me, the "Star Wars" trilogy was one of them and the other, believe it or not, was a low-budget modern movie musical called "Footloose".
The year was 1984. Every dance party I went to that year had Kenny Loggins' smash hit song "Footloose" playing almost non-stop. I had a cassette of the movie soundtrack (which I later upgraded to the CD format) playing daily in my room as well. You can't turn on the radio without hearing at least one of the many hit songs from the soundtrack. "Footloose" was the movie that you had to bring your date to. Kevin Bacon became a heartthrob to many teenage girls and Lori Singer was the fantasy girl in many a teenage boy's dreams. In fact, at that point in time, my generation was probably more deeply influenced by the film "Footloose" and the many great pop songs that came from it than anything else.
"Footloose" was also one of the biggest hits for Paramount Pictures in the 1980's. Made for just a little over $8 million (a cheap price tag by any standards), it made ten times as much money in the box office and millions more in home movie rentals and sales. Written by Dean Pitchford, a lyricist for the movie "Fame", "Footloose" benefited mostly from its close marketing collaboration with the then-fledgling cable music network, MTV. By releasing music videos for the songs from the movie on MTV, Paramount generated so much early buzz for the film that it opened for business to a very enthusiastic and frenzied crowd of teeny-boppers who couldn't wait to see it.
"Footloose" basically tells the story of a city boy who is transplanted to a small town with some really stringent and bizarre rules. Led by a charismatic bible-thumping Baptist minister by the name of Reverend Shaw Moore (John Lithgow), the elders of the small town of Bomont have effectively banned all forms of dancing, rock music, "harmful" literature and alcoholic beverages--things that they think will corrupt the minds of impressionable teenagers. As unlikely as the premise of the movie sounded, it was actually based on real events that, according to screenwriter Pitchford, happened in Elmore City, Oklahoma. In 1979, the seniors of the local high school there wanted to hold a prom but found out that dancing was outlawed in that town since the late 1800's. No one alive then knew what the reason for the ban was but it was the law.
After his parents' divorce and due to financial difficulties, Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon), together with his mother Ethel (Catherine Cox) are forced to move in with relatives in Bomont, a small hamlet somewhere in the Midwest. A city kid from Chicago, Ren tries to adapt to small town life but almost everything that he does seems to meet with plenty of resistance and dirty looks from the local townsfolk. Bomont is a town that is wary of outsiders, especially ones that do not conform to their own conservative values. Then Ren learns the real reason behind the unorthodox bans: five years ago, a group of kids got killed during a night out (including Reverend Moore's son). Alcohol, rock music and other inappropriate influences were blamed for the accident. After that tragedy, the town, led by Reverend Moore, basically overreacted and took steps to prevent another such accident from happening by throwing a blanket ban on the things that teenagers everywhere take for granted. Of course, nothing makes teenagers more determined to break the rules than for adults to tell them not to do something. This attitude is truly exemplified by the Reverend's own rebellious daughter Ariel (Lori Singer), who drinks, dances and even goes out with the town redneck, Chuck (Jim Youngs). As far as conventional wisdom goes, you know she is only doing this to get back at being a minister's daughter.
Many would expect a many clichéd moments in "Footloose" and I don't blame you--it is that kind of film. However, this film, at certain points, rises above the oversimplification usually associated with many musicals of its kind. A prime example is the character of Reverend Moore, who is brilliantly portrayed here by John Lithgow. Instead of simply characterizing him as a religious zealot out to spoil the fun for everyone, Reverend Moore is actually a father first and a minister second. Due to the heartbreaking death of his son, he is so much more protective of his only daughter, Ariel, who, for all her rebellious acts, is still a vulnerable little girl to her father.
"Footloose" must be credited with giving Kevin Bacon his first leading man role and also his first shot at stardom. It is interesting to note that Bacon actually gave up another leading role in Stephen King's "Christine" to take a gamble on "Footloose". As you can see, that gamble has certainly paid off. Bacon's energetic dancing moves probably set a big number of teenage girls' hearts aflutter. Another noteworthy performance was Chris Penn's portrayal of Willard Hewitt, Bacon's lovable, if not slightly ignorant (in a small town way) high school sidekick. Oh yes, before I forget, also look out for a very young and very bubbly Sarah Jessica Parker as Ariel's friend, Rusty.
The biggest thing that attracted me to "Footloose", and I think for a lot of other people too, is the music. It is rare nowadays that you are able to find so many great pop songs in a single film. The only other time that I can recall this happening is when the Bee Gees rode the charts with their hits from "Saturday Night Fever". The way that "Footloose" uses the music to complement the story is remarkable. The talented people behind the film could not ask for a better set of songs with more appropriate lyrics. Everyone will instantly recognize Kenny Loggins' very danceable theme song "Footloose" and I'm sure many of you have slow danced to the love theme "Almost Paradise" by Ann Wilson and Mike Reno. You will also find many music icons from the 80s on this soundtrack with artists like Bonnie Tyler ("Holding Out For a Hero"), Foreigner ("Waiting For a Girl Like You"), John Cougar Mellencamp ("Hurt So Good") and Sammy Hagar ("Girl Gets Around").
"Footloose" is not the most intelligent film around nor is it the best modern musical film ever made. At its core, it is just a very fun film to watch. Period. Even today, as I was viewing it in order to write this review, I found myself fondly reminiscing about the time that I first laid eyes on the film and tapping my feet to Denise Williams' rousing pop anthem "Let's Hear It For The Boy" and Shalamar's smooth R&B song, "Dancing in the Sheets". As much as I still like this film, I will not pretend that it does not have a dated feel to it. It certainly does not translate very well to present day sensibilities twenty years on. I will be the first to admit that almost anything from the 1980s (some of which I will be glad to forget)--cheesy or otherwise--don't really have a place in 2004.
Even with all these reservations about the 80s, the "Footloose" phenomenon is perhaps one of the more enjoyable moments of my teenage years. I hope it was the same for you.
Unlike many other DVD first releases, the previous bare bones release of "Footloose" already featured anamorphic video measuring 1.85:1, which was the original aspect ratio for the film. So in order to improve upon that, this new release would have to clean up the video images and improve its quality. The bad news is, from my visual comparison of both discs, this Special Collector's Edition features the same transfer as the previous release. The good news is, the transfer already looked pretty good in the first place. There is a fair amount of dirt and scratches in the first couple of minutes of the film but after that, the images improve quite a bit. Overall, the colors look quite natural but a tad soft. Quality-wise, the images are a little uneven, ranging from clear in many scenes to dull in others. Also, the menu screen on this DVD undergoes a major upgrade from the previous static screen. Subtitle options include English and Spanish.
According to the specs on this DVD, there is one upgrade in terms of the film's audio mix. Instead of delivering an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix like the previous version, this new DVD enhances that to Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, which adds a center rear channel to the mix. However, my current speaker and receiver setups do not support this configuration. Therefore I cannot confirm the availability of the center rear channel. What I can confirm is that on a 5.1 system, the audio on this DVD sounds very much like the 5.1 track on the previous release. The main sound field stays in the front channels, with great reproduction of dialogue and also more importantly, the music. The surround channels are used only for environmental sounds and are not very active. Other audio options include English and French Dolby Surround 2.0.
To add value for anyone who is looking to upgrade their bare bones DVD of "Footloose", this Special Collector's Edition comes with some interesting extra features.
First, there are two audio commentaries, one with Kevin Bacon going solo and the other with producer Craig Zadan and writer Dean Pitchford. Both commentaries are quite informational and are from two quite different perspectives. The good thing is, they are not boring and offer quite a lot of background information.
Next are three featurettes. The first two, "Footloose: A Modern Musical Parts 1 and 2" can actually be combined into a single item. Both feature extensive interviews with producer Craig Zadan, writer Dean Pitchford, Kevin Bacon, Chris Penn, Lori Singer and a few others as they talk about how the film got made and the many interesting things that happened that could have derailed it. They are basically a not-so-historical look at the film's success and how it became a national phenomenon. The third featurette is perhaps the more interesting one for me. It is titled "Footloose: Songs That Tell A Story". Pitchford, the lyricist for some of the songs, talks about his collaboration with Sammy Hagar (who is also interviewed here) and the other artists and how the songs are written to complement the story of the movie. You will find an interview with Kenny Loggins in this segment. The final extra feature is the film's theatrical trailer. I was a bit disappointed to find that music videos from the film's hit songs are not included here.
Packaged in Paramount's usual keepcase, "Footloose" doe not come with any insert.
I must confess that I am a total sucker for films that I loved during the 80s, as they were my most formative years. "Footloose" is one of those films. When I tell my much younger and older friends about my affection for "Footloose", they simply could not relate to it. This clearly shows that you have to be at a certain age in 1984 to really understand all the fuss about a film that features dancing and plenty of melodious pop songs.
As you can see, this new Special Collector's Edition only adds the special features I listed above without upgrading the video quality. Although the audio gets a minor upgrade, it is not really a big deal, as many home theater setups are not configured for 6.1 or 7.1 audio. Also, in a film like "Footloose", the center rear channel is not that important in the first place.
As for my recommendation for this DVD, you can probably guess what my preference is by now. Anyone with a soft spot for "Footloose" (you know who you are, even if you may be shy to admit it), should definitely jump at this new version of the film. If you don't already own the earlier bare bones DVD version, you are probably not a fan and can skip this one as well.