Producer extraordin-flaire Allan Carr was responsible for the worst, if not dullest, Oscarcast in history and a disco musical, Can’t Stop the Music, starring the Village People and Bruce Jenner in a cut-off T-shirt ludicrously played as heterosexually as possible. And yet I frequently find myself, in fits of over-reactive pique, citing his lone financial success, 1978’s splenetically nostalgic Grease, as the worst evil unleashed by the man. And keep in mind that he also funded Grease 2. I admit to allowing a general distaste for excitable high school drama students transmute itself into revulsion at every impromptu recreation of Danny and Sandy’s gunslinging dance-off promenade and every Bucky Beaver refrain of “brusha, brusha, brusha.”
Truthfully, there’s something perversely right about the fascination with Grease, a movie whose entire appeal is, essentially, nostalgia for an era where nostalgia meant yet a different era. Despite the film’s rose-tinted rearview mirrors and Ipana-worthy cheeriness, it’s not so much the Wedding Singer of its day as it is the Boogie Nights. Both films are painfully mired in the decade of their making, looking back in great reverie toward the time a full generation past, with the decade in between representing, more or less, the film’s antagonist. The eternal, “We’ll always be together” youth of the ‘50s was portrayed by a generation who was ready to cash in the social advances of the ‘60s in exchange for the pleasure principle, not to mention an era where big-budget musical films could still be a box-office draw. That Grease was the number-one box-office hit of 1978 just goes to show how hard audiences were willing to try to will the past into the present. Those droves weren’t sending Grease up Rocky Horror-style, singing “Who put the coke in the bop-she-bop-she-bop.”
Similarly, Boogie Nights was directed by an Altman worshipper in a Tarantino era, using disco pyrotechnics and ribaldry-in-mainstream-drag to bring back the era of socially-conscious Hollywood films before ‘80s materialism and ‘90s indie hell took the fun out of being incredibly dour. Boogie Nights has its heart in the right place, but whines more than pucker-face Sandy. Grease has no heart and thus can’t misplace it, but filling the gaping void is a nonstop arsenal of accidentally memorable non sequiturs, most of them as appropriately effervescent as the script would require if there actually were a script. It’s a perfect recipe for a definitive junk food film; there isn’t a single calorie in the entire damned thing that isn’t empty. Otherwise superlative grace notes like Stockard Channing’s immortal Rizzo, a baby-dyke precursor acting out a trial run of Looking for Mr. Goodbar, end up flushed out along with the entire system.
And therein lies the film’s true colonic evil. In preparing audiences for a diet consisting of nothing but signals, iconography, and isolated, contextless emotion, this harmless eight-ton poodle skirt of a film really paved the way for media that sells you your memories. Secretly, I like it as much as I like deep-fried cheese curds, but when Grease gets remade two decades from now, it will be a Target commercial. And we’ll all be fat.
Previously released on DVD, this "Rockin' Rydell Edition" transfer does look somewhat better in the next-generation format. If Frenchie's hair truly looked like an Easter egg on DVD, the entire film looks like a fat, heavy-pastel shell passing for something digestible on Blu-ray. In other words, who cares if skin tones appear to have switched places with the hot rods' Turtle Wax when it all looks so remarkably dense? Daylit scenes fare better than the film's (surprisingly numerous) nighttime sequences, but the more stage-bound and overtly fantasy-oriented (i.e. "Beauty School Dropout"), the better. The 5.1 TrueHD surround mix is, by turns, loud, louder, and loudest. I may not be the best one to judge, since I was covering my ears the entire time.
Since Paramount couldn't be bothered to come up with any new extra features from the previous DVD special edition of Grease, I'll repeat the words I had for the features last time around: "Seriously, the last thing I need is to annotate Rydell High's yearbook, which is what slogging through these extra features felt like. First off, there's a commentary by director Randal Kleiser and choreographer Patricia Birch. Kleiser's observation that 'some of these match cuts are wrong' is the understatement of the year, and Birch's explanation of what the 'hand jive' dance was originally called (which hadn't occurred to me but now seems patently obvious) only elucidates how antiseptic the whole thing is. But I couldn't have cared less if Lorenzo Lamas did the commentary. I'm not sure what the 'Rydell Sing-Along' feature is supposed to accomplish, because all the musical clips are presented with no available sing-along captions. There are captions, however, on the stockpile of featurettes and deleted scenes. There's plenty of P.R. to go around."
As Blu-ray still remains largely the province of gamers and fanboys, I don't really see the point of even releasing Grease on the format at all.