DVD Review: 'Hairspray'
You can't stop the fun with all the interactive and informative extras
While Waters' original material gives the latest version its strong and irreverent foundation, an enthusiastic cast -- especially plucky unknown Nikki Blonsky in the lead -- gives it its heart and energy. Pleasing, cartoon-colored visuals, frenetic dance numbers and a brisk directing style just make the entire package pure entertainment. The special 2-disc "Shake & Shimmy" edition DVD highlights all of these attributes with an extensive array of bonus features.
It's Baltimore 1962, and teenager Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) dreams of dancing with her heartthrob Link Larkin (Zac Efron) who is regular "council" member on the local "Corny Collins" dance show. When an opening becomes available, Tracy proves that looks -- whether it's your body type or your skin color -- are misleading and can't hide the talent and heart inside. When she lands the coveted spot, she starts a controversy when she stands by her black friends against conservative, white-washed Baltimore.
The "Hairspray" DVD set is a fan's dream. Not only does it provide oodles of the usual behind-the-scenes stuff, but it also celebrates the parts of the film that musical fans really appreciate: the songs and dances. On the first disc, interactive elements encourage the viewers to participate by providing a singalong feature to the film and instructions on how to perform the dances.
The "Jump to a Song" feature lets the viewers skip to a specific musical number, complete with surtitled lyrics on the screen. By using the "play all" option, the entire film will play, with lyrics popping up at the appropriate moments. "Step by Step: The Dances of Hairspray" is probably the best feature overall. Two associate choreographers on the film, Zach Woodlee and Jamal Sims, walk the viewers through each count and move of two dances -- the council's "Ladies' Choice" and the detention kids' "Peyton Place After Midnight" -- explaining the different approaches and styles.
Trying this feature alone allows one to rewind as much as possible to perfect the steps since the choreographers and dancers on-screen zip through each part far too quickly (for this reporter anyway). In front of a group, however, this makes for a thoroughly fun, silly time, highlighting friends' ineptness or talent at performing the mashed potato, slop or spank.
"Hairspray Extentions" focuses on the breakdown and rehearsals for the dance numbers, with the option to play the finished film version afterwards to compare. A handful of the songs are featured, and the best ones are probably "The Nicest Kids in Town," showing just how fast some of the steps are, and "Miss Baltimore Crabs," demonstrating Michelle Pfeiffer's natural talent.
Skip the producers' audio commentary and opt for the one featuring director-choreographer Adam Shankman and Blonsky instead. Shankman is just a hoot with his rather racy comments and genuine admiration for his stars, yet provides some fairly detailed tidbits about the film, such as the backstory about the council member who got pregnant and who the baby daddy is.
Frankly, the first disc is plenty, but Disc Two delves into the history behind "Hairspray" and gives the detailed production info some cinephiles crave. "The Roots of Hairspray" informs about the real-life local Baltimore dance show that inspired the "Corny Collins" show and how the "committee" members became minor celebrities. When these former dancers had a reunion, filmmaker John Waters was inspired to write the film that became 1988's "Hairspray" starring Ricki Lake. The feature then traces the story from the film's cult status, Divine's death and how Waters' vision was brought to Broadway with huge song-and-dance numbers and starring Marisa Jaret Winokur and Harvey Fierstein.
"You Can't Stop the Beat: The Long Journey of Hairspray" examines the latest incarnation of "Hairspray" in eight sub-featurettes focusing on various aspects of production ranging from casting and music to the choreography and costumes. It's very easy to get "Hairspray'd" out watching all of these in one sitting. Nevertheless, taken in small doses, there are definitely fun facts to be learned such as why rapper Queen Latifah had the easiest time recording her part of "You Can't Stop the Beat" in the studio or why the hairdo for Penny (Amanda Bynes) doesn't seem coherent.
As with most deleted/alternate scenes, it's easy to see why the ones on the DVD ended up on the cutting room floor. Probably the worst is "I Can't Wait," a snoozer of a song that takes place in the bomb shelter/bunker that Tracy is shut in by Penny's mom. Even Shankman and Blonsky can't hide their feelings for this ill-conceived number during the optional commentary.
Overall, the 2-disc "Hairspray" DVD should get lots of use not only because of repeat viewings of the film, but also some smart, interactive features that will make fans come back to experience the film in a more personal way. The informational features can get tedious, but as long as they're viewed judiciously, can provide entertaining insight into the film.
EXTRAS: Filmmaker commentary; new "I Can Wait" musical number; deleted scenes with audio commentary; "You Can't Stop the Beat: The Long Journey of Hairspray" documentary; "Step By Step: The Dances of Hairspray" featurette; "Hairspray Extensions" dance breakdowns; Jump to a song with optional sing-along feature; "The Roots of Hairspray" featurette