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The DVD Dissection: Footloose (I Love the 80’s Edition)

August 5, 2008 | Posted by Chad Webb

Kevin Bacon: Ren McCormack
Lori Singer: Ariel Moore
John Lithgow: Reverend Shaw Moore
Dianne Wiest: Vi Moore
Christopher Penn: Willard Hewitt
Sarah Jessica Parker: Rusty
John Laughlin: Woody
Elizabeth Gorcey: Wendy Jo
Frances Lee McCain: Ethel McCormack
Jim Youngs: Chuck Cranston
Directed By: Herbert Ross
Written By: Dean Pitchford
Theatrical Release Date: February 17, 1984
DVD Release Date: August 5, 2008
Running Time: 107 minutes

Rated PG

The Film

A lot of cheesy facets emanated from that decade which came after the 1970’s and before the 1990’s. Whether we like it or not, Footloose applies to this, and the amount of cheese contained within the story has yet to be determined, or maybe that can never fully be. If you don’t believe me, sit through the opening credits where viewers stare at all sorts of feet, exposing the failures of fashions from the 1980’s. Footloose is what I call the Commando of dance flicks. It is so absurd, so corny, and so incredibly preposterous, but after all that, it is somehow enjoyable.

In 1983, a little movie entitled Flashdance was released, and it was a mammoth hit. In light of that success, Footloose was made and released a year later as the male equivalent with Kevin Bacon unleashing the dance moves. Both Flashdance and Footloose are more music video compilations than genuine films with stories, but at this point, one can’t bash it too hard for that. As a side bit of trivia, the U.S. release was originally rated “R”, but was edited down to earn a “PG” rating instead. It was shorn of the male frontal nudity, and the phrase “go fuc* yourself” was altered to “go flack yourself”.

The story is loosely based on events that took place in the tiny, rural community of Elmore City, Oklahoma. After enduring the leg warmers in the feet intro, we meet Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon), a teenager who was raised in Chicago, and has now relocated with his mother to a small town where dancing and rock music have been banned, among other things. Though most of the students initially perceive Ren as odd, he finds a friend named Willard (Chris Penn) who shows him the ropes around the area. He is also taken with Ariel Moore (Lori Singer), an attractive girl whose father is Reverend Shaw Moore (John Lithgow). He is a powerful individual in this town who makes it his daily goal to keep dancing and rock music away from the kids. Ren eventually persuades enough people to support the idea of a senior prom, which would obviously include dancing to music. Unfortunately, in order for this to happen without a hitch, he must gain the approval of the local board.

Most of the performances in Footloose are exaggerated and beyond trite, but two are not. The first is of course Kevin Bacon. Maybe the studio selected him for other reasons, but make no mistake, Bacon is a fantastic actor, and he tackles the thin premise with the necessary punch of enthusiasm it so desperately required. Ren is goofy because he loves to dance and apparently dresses funny. Watching this theme unfold in 2008 is silly as hell, but Bacon never breaks stride. Though his relationship with Willard is a bit shady and homoerotic if you know what I’m saying, Ren is a normal guy who stands out in an extremely odd town. At this juncture of his career, Bacon was seen in Diner and Friday the 13th, but Footloose launched him upward. His charm, combined with his talent, no doubt helped his acquisition of scripts.

The other worthwhile depiction is that of Reverend Shaw Moore, played by John Lithgow. He completed this at the same time as Terms of Endearment, and although the Reverend’s arguments are totally idiotic, Lithgow transforms them into a believable cause. He is a good villain in that you can actually understand how a man like that would want to enact such radical policies and laws. Lithgow portrays Shaw not as an over the top dictator to his family, but as a concerned parent who feels that banning certain activities would help children. The exchanges Shaw has with his wife Vi (Dianne Wiest) act as the emotional nucleus of Footloose. She is a wife who is supposed to sit back and shut up, but she picks proper occasions and suitable wording to inform her husband that he must change before it is too late.

On the negative side of the spectrum is Chris Penn, who in an early role, could not dance a lick, so when the laughably awful montage begins where Ren is instructing Willard on how to dance, Chris is actually learning. Penn has no trouble resembling a kid from a farm town, but he is out of place once the dancing commences. Lori Singer is quite striking, but in the end she is just another pretty face here as Ariel. There is nothing terribly wrong about Singer, but nothing worth praising either. Madonna auditioned, and should have won, but thems the breaks. Oh, and her friend is named Rusty, played by Sarah Jessica Parker as a brunette. In the words of Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

Footloose has not aged well in over 20 years. For starters, accepting the town of Beaumont is difficult enough to swallow, but then you toss in the mounds of plot holes. For example, at the beginning, Ariel is at a local hang out, and proceeds to blare music outside on a regular sized radio. Not only does everyone in the restaurant hear the tune clearly, but I would wager every living being within a 10 mile radius heard. Her father sees this and stops the music. When he does this, everyone immediately gets quiet, and listens in, even the damn girls inside the bathroom, who should be unaware of what is happening outside. Secondly, wouldn’t the “chicken” scene have been more effective with cars instead of tractors? And for the love of God, how does a town full of people forbidden to hear pop songs and dance, suddenly know rather hard dance steps when the senior prom goes down? Yes, that was a spoiler…deal with it. I would also discuss the “making Ginger pop” story of Ren’s, but I should keep the review short.

One can only hate on films like Footloose so much because love ‘em or hate ‘em, they will keep coming no matter what era or decade it is. Step Up is the Footloose of this generation I’d say, but the difference is how likable the characters are in Footloose. Channing Tatum’s character is an arrogant and boring imbecile. Ren might be a pansy, but at least is somewhat affable. The hackneyed screenplay from Dean Pitchford is reminiscent of just about 100 other films, but we can let that slide providing entertainment can be had elsewhere in the proceedings. That arrives in the form of the soundtrack selections.

It is one of the most popular soundtrack albums of all-time, and for good reason. It has sold over 9 million copies. The plot is secondary to the music. Many sequences are constructed around the song as if it were on MTV. The title track by Kenny Loggins will not leave your head for approximately three days, I promise. The aforementioned montage with Chris Penn has the song “Let’s Hear it For the Boys” from Deniece Williams. The funniest sequence has Ren venting his frustrations from the town and his relatives by of all things…dancing. “Never” guides Ren as he jumps, flips, and struts his way in an empty barn or warehouse.

Director Herbert Ross had previously adapted a number of Neil Simon projects like 1977’s The Goodbye Girl for instance, but Footloose was his biggest hit. Ross had Goodbye, Mr. Chips and Steel Magnolias which were also successful. The dance choreography is phenomenal, even if it is ludicrous at the end, but those energetic moments of overjoyed dancing would have been better if the story was not so crammed with clichés. The rapid editing of Paul Hirsch also enhances the quality of the substance greatly in that he never dwells too long at any particular time.

It is impossible to not pick at Footloose, and the cast and crew should appreciate the fact that it is laughed at after all these years because that is partially the reason the studio persists in releasing the DVD again and again, and why folks like me write about it. Footloose is a horrendously bad film with outstanding lead performances and a handful of unforgettable scenes that boost the rating. Just like John Matrix in Commando wants to shoot people, Ren just wants to dance, no matter what damnit!

The Video

Unlike most of everything having to do with the 80’s, this does not have a lot of bright and flashy colors or visuals to speak of. The setting is a small rural community, so what we have are browns, blues, and other dull colors. The transfer is barely adequate with some fading in the color palette, and noticeable grain in certain portions. I cannot compare the quality here to that of the “Special Collector’s Edition”, but I can safely say that no aspect of this was re-mastered or polished in any way. This is presented in an anamorphic widescreen format with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.

The Audio

The audio portion is pretty weak considering all the hit songs. They do not resonate from the speakers with force or dynamism. It is all just blasé and passable. What doesn’t help matters is the lack of scenes with other distinct sounds. The soundtrack is offered in a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. Some of the songs end up sounding awkward and unbalanced. The dialogue is lucid, and all the characters are understandable. Also included on this disc is a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround soundtrack in English, a French Stereo track, plus English and Spanish subtitles.

The Packaging

Footloose is distributed in a standard black keep case with security clips on the side. It also has a cardboard slip sleeve cover on top of the artwork from the original DVD, which shows a clip of Ren dancing on his own. They attach an “I Love the 80’s” logo to fool buyers. The menu is simply an image of Ren from behind. It is extremely easy to navigate.

The Extras

Sadly not one single extra exists on this quadruple dipped film. We receive the first bare bones version for some odd reason. A “Special Collector’s Edition” is available with multiple featurettes, but they are missing here. You can also find Footloose on a “Double Feature” DVD with Flashdance, or a “Triple Feature” DVD with Flashdance and Pretty in Pink. What is included is a puny 4 song music CD with vintage 80’s hits. The tracks are (15:33):

1. “Lips Like Sugar” by Echo & the Bunnymen – An average song, nothing more. I should probably mention I was a hair band fan.

2. “Chains of Love” by Erasure – Not my type of band or song, but if you love 80’s tunes like this, then I suppose this is outstanding.

3. “Need You Tonight” by INXS – Easily the best song on this pointless excuse for a CD. I love INXS, but since I own the greatest hits, why the hell should I care about it on here?

4. “Take on Me” by a-ha – Definitely one of the best pure 80’s tracks out there. This one hit wonder group sort of vanished. Still, the video and the song are memorable to this day.

The Film: 6.5/10.0
The Video: 7.0/10.0
The Audio: 6.5/10.0
The Packaging: 6.0/10.0
The Extras: 2.5/10.0

The 411: There are a select few dance films that I enjoy enough to watch repeatedly. It has to be something special. Footloose is an exception because I would not hesitate to pop it in and make fun of it viciously with friends. The complaint department could be filled with issues that the script, direction, and acting possess, but in the end, it can be fun under certain circumstances. This DVD however, is an abomination. What did they expect us to do with the bonus CD? Watch the flick, pop in the 15 minute CD and have an 80’s jam with tunes in no way related to the film? Gimme a break. With no extras, mediocre technical specifications, and crummy additions to the cover, I will not feel bad in affording a piss poor rating.
Final Score:  5.0   [ Not So Good ]  legend

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Chad Webb
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