Updated: Apr 30, 2018
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
“GREASE: 40th ANNIVERSARY EDITION”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital copy; 1978; PG-13 for sexual content including references, teen smoking and drinking, and profanity; streaming via Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes (4K), Vudu and YouTube
Best extra: “Grease: A Chicago Story”
THANK GOODNESS for anniversaries and reboots – they’ve become the best justification for Hollywood studios to remaster their treasures on 4K Ultra HD.
Last year, Warner Brothers, Paramount and Disney joined forces to issue six Christopher Nolan’s films on 4K: The “Batman” Trilogy, “Inception,” “Interstellar” and “The Prestige,” coinciding with the release of “Dunkirk.”
Sony released anniversary edition Oscar winner “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” and Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” while Universal did the same for “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.”
2018’s 4K classics pipeline includes: Paramount’s 20th Anniversary of World War II epic “Saving Private Ryan” (May 8) and the “Mission: Impossible Collection” (June 26) as Tom Cruise’s sixth installment, “Fallout,” hits theaters in July; 20th Century Fox has “Die Hard: 30th Anniversary” (May 15); Universal brings out the "Jurassic Park” series for its 25th Anniversary (May 22) and tie-in to “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” with “Schindler’s List” a likely candidate for its 25th Anniversary. Warner’s 50th Anniversary of “2001: A Space Odyssey” is planned for the holiday season.
It’s not official, but it seems Paramount is also scrambling to get the Jack Ryan Collection ready for 4K, when John Krasinski appears as the CIA analyst in the upcoming Amazon Prime series, “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” premiering August 31.
JUST RELEASED – The 40th Anniversary of "Grease," the highest-grossing American musical of all time, with a brand-new 4K master from Paramount. With a $6 million budget, the international hit set in the late 1950s from producers Robert Stigwood (“Saturday Night Fever”) and the flamboyant Allan Carr, surprised many Hollywood insiders. Paramount studio mogul Barry Diller, who greenlit "Grease," reportedly called it, “cinematic cotton candy.”
Randal Kleiser, with only a background in TV (“The Boy in the Plastic Bubble”), was assigned to direct – a first-timer helming a feature film. Many top critics weren't as kind as NBC “Today Show’s” Gene Shalit, who called it, “visual junk food.” On its 20th Anniversary, Entertainment Weekly still called it, "A clunker."
Sticks and stones never kept moviegoers away; they returned again and again for more. (I first saw it the summer of '78 at a West Virginia drive-in with my new bride.) It topped Christopher Reeve’s “Superman” as the No. 1 money-maker that year. Its fan base has only increased over the decades via home video or on DVD and Blu-ray watching good-hearted bad boy Danny Zuko, played by John Travolta, and blonde good girl Sandy, played by Australian pop-singer Olivia Newton-John find true love.
Another draw was its blockbuster soundtrack, which sold 28 million copies worldwide, featuring doo-wop, early rock ‘n’ roll beats and catchy lyrics. Everyone seems to know the words for “Summer Nights,” “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” “You’re the One That I Want,” “Sandy,” “Greased Lightin,’” “Beauty School Dropout” and “We Go Together.” Frankie Valli of the Four Seasons was recruited to sing the title song written by Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees, who helped define the disco vibe of the late ‘70s in “Saturday Night Fever.” Surprisingly, ten of the original Broadway songs were shortened or cut from the movie version.
Paramount’s new 4K restoration does not disappoint. Sourced from the original camera negative (2.39:1 aspect ratio), the new master reveals striking colors, especially deep reds as exhibited by the Rydell High football uniforms, Coach Calhoun’s (Sid Caesar) jacket, and Sandy’s red-hot lipstick in the finale. HDR/Dolby Vision black levels are noticeably deeper, without losing detail, evident during the nighttime bonfire pep-rally. Brightness levels between the 4K and Blu-ray are very similar; both are balanced with even lighting from cinematographer Bill Butler in traditional Hollywood style.
Overall sharpness is quite good, with plenty of natural film grain, and added clarity on facial close-ups even revealing some crow’s feet from 29-year-old Newton-John and 33-year-old Stockard Channing as the Pink Ladies’ Rizzo. The majority of wide-shots are razor sharp from foreground to background.
In a few spots, a second-generation print was required to fill gaps from a worn-out or damaged negative. There, the resolution takes a nosedive and the film grain becomes less visible on 4K; on Blu-ray and DVD, it’s less obvious since footage is a closer match to those resolutions.
The first difficulty appears at the seven-minute mark, lasting only 15 seconds as Principal McGee (Eve Arden) talks to office worker Blanche (Dody Goodman). It lasts longer at the 12-minute mark in a wide-shot that should’ve been tack-sharp as the Pink Ladies gather for lunch in full sunlight. Inter-cuts are super sharp, with plenty of film grain. The most glaring happens during the beginning of “Greased Lightin,’” lasting until it transitions to a dream sequence with a supercharged car. Then it becomes a 4K highpoint with sharpness, film grain and HDR highlight control as Danny and the gang sing and dance against a white background.
The new six-channel Dolby Atmos track (default Dolby TrueHD) seems to have been sourced from an original six-track featured on the 70mm theatrical print from the ‘70s. Dialogue is straightforward and clear, but sound explodes with a wide dynamic range of bass, midrange, and highs in musical numbers.
EXTRAS The enclosed Blu-ray includes the new 24-minute “Grease: A Chicago Story,” which unveils the show's origins. It was the brainchild of Jim Jacobs, a community theater actor and advertising copywriter, and Warren Casey, a former New York high school art teacher, who had moved to Chicago to become a disc jockey. They met at the community theater, and the idea was born during a late night party at Jacobs’s apartment. Wondering why Broadway hadn’t done a Rock and Roll musical, the show took root. Casey passed away 30 years ago, but Jacobs recalls he asked, “What would you call it?”
“GREASE," Jacobs said. "Because of the ‘50s greasy hair, the food was greasy – hamburgers and French fries – the guys are always under the hood of a car and they come out covered in grease. Everything was greasy in those days.”
Jacob's cousin Tom was the inspiration for Danny Zuko. Tom would hang out at the Superdawg Drive-in, which was famous for its hot dogs, carhops and ‘50s greaser types. Located just down the street was William Howard Taft High School, the inspiration for Rydell High. Jacobs attended the school from 1956 to 1960. “I was scared to death when I first attended the school. Everyone was smoking, guys wearing leather jackets, girls with bouffant hairdos and full-figures,” he says in the new featurette.
“Grease” premiered at the Kingston Mines Theater in Chicago on a frigid Feb. 5, 1971, in a converted trolley barn. Originally scheduled for four performances, it ran for over eight months. The crowd stood in the aisles many nights.
The show then landed off-Broadway at the Eden Theater, with Jacobs and Casey tweaking the play, removing all of the Chicago references, sanitizing the dialogue, and adding songs. One night, producer Allan Carr, composer Marvin Hamlisch and choreographer Michael Bennett stopped by for a performance. Carr knew right-off-the-bat “Grease” had movie potential. The film rights had already been snagged, but once they lapsed, he paid $200,000 for them and took “Grease” to Paramount.
The 4K and Blu-ray both include a commentary with director Randal Kleiser and choreographer Patricia Birch, who also created the dance moves for the Broadway show. Kleiser and Birch share plenty of behind-the-scene stories about filming at Venice High School in West Los Angeles, and the unbearable heat filming the finale, which included a surprise visit by legendary director George Cukor ("The Philadelphia Story," "My Fair Lady").
The Blu-ray includes eight featurettes previously available on the 20th Anniversary DVD. The best of the bunch is the "DVD Launch Party," with Newton-John and Travolta reuniting on stage to sing “You’re the One That I Want” and “Summer Nights.”
The disc also includes the original song planned for the animated opening. Thank goodness it was dropped for Gibb’s theme song, “Grease.”
“Grease” verifies Paramount commitment to the 4K Ultra HD format via physical disc or streaming. Classics “Gladiator,” “Braveheart” (May 15) and “Forrest Gump” (June 12) are just around the corner.
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer