Release Date(s)1977 (May 2, 2017)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B
For people of certain generations, beyond the era when Saturday Night Fever was originally released, it’s become somewhat customary to write the film off as nothing more than a simplistic disco movie. That’s certainly understandable, as it was released during a time when other movies like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Apple also came along, but with unsatisfactory results. Because of this, the film’s story and its performances are often overlooked. But for its 40th anniversary, many people either revisiting the movie or discovering it for the first time will find it to be an eye-opener.
Despite being re-released to theaters and airing on TV in a more PG-friendly version, Saturday Night Fever is anything but a light-hearted tale about a kid from Brooklyn who spends his evenings at the 2001 Odyssey nightclub, dancing the night away with his buddies while being cheered on by the eager crowds gathered around him. It certainly is that on the surface, but the main thread of the movie, or at least its overarching theme, is having to realize one’s own potential in an environment that doesn’t fully appreciate it, and having to grow up to do it. In that sense, it’s one of the most realistic portrayals of an American teenager. The way that Tony and his friends interact with each other, as well as the everyday drama in Tony’s family life, is played as nothing more than normalcy, making it feel extremely authentic. John Travolta gives one of his finest performances as a guy who is both charming and repulsive, and you don’t necessarily always connect with him. He says rude things, he makes mistakes, and he’s terrible to some of the people around him. Because of this, he feels genuine, whereas if he was a somewhat angelic character, it wouldn’t be as truthful. Moments throughout his story are often uncomfortable, bordering on disturbing, which is difficult to imagine for a film that’s primarily known for its more positive aspects.
Although Saturday Night Fever has always been a mainstay within pop culture, it’s also been seen in a variety of forms over the years. According to director John Badham, it was cut by about four minutes just prior to its premiere in fear of exceeding a two-hour running time. Some of those four minutes have shown up in various TV airings, or been featured as deleted scenes. However, for the new Director’s Cut, portions of those moments have been dropped back in. They include a moment of solace for Tony early on when he visits the Brooklyn Bridge alone for contemplation (which ties into his scenes with Stephanie at the same bridge later on), Tony’s father receiving a telegram informing him that he’s been newly employed (the flipside of the earlier scene in which Tony tells his father about the raise he received), and an additional moment when Tony arrives at Stephanie’s apartment at the end of the film, begging her to buzz him into the building. Surprisingly, the only deleted scene that’s featured as an extra on this release wherein Tony drops Stephanie off at her apartment and they share a brief but unsatisfactory kiss, wasn’t included. MIA altogether is the moment of Tony dancing to “Disco Duck”, which is likely a rights issue more than anything. Although the missing four minutes aren’t that necessary, as nothing really felt missing in the first place, most of these extra moments don’t interrupt the flow and feel a part of the overall fabric. Regardless of which version one watches, Saturday Night Fever still remains a high point in both filmmaking and general mainstream, pop culture-infested cinema.
Not only has Saturday Night Fever received the Director’s Cut treatment, but it’s also been given a major overhaul in the A/V department. Sourced from a brand new 4K restoration from the original camera negative, this is most assuredly the definitive version of the movie to own. It retains its intended look, mixing harsh natural lighting with soft neon diffusion in the club scenes, but at the same time, it’s a much more filmic presentation. Grain levels are handled amazingly well, helping to show off the vast amount of fine detail on display, both in the light and in the shadows. Colors explode in a range of gorgeous hues, with accurate skin tones and deep blacks, while brightness and contrast levels are virtually perfect. Besides being a stable presentation, there are also next to no film artifacts to be seen. For the soundtrack, several options are available, including English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD for both versions of the movie. The theatrical also has additional options in both French and Portuguese 5.1 and in Spanish mono, all three Dolby Digital tracks. The main 5.1 presentation is decent enough but doesn’t fully represent the movie’s original soundtrack, yet it doesn’t pervert it with a lot of unnecessary additions or subtractions. It mainly spaces things out, but not to the extent of aggressively remixing it into the rear speakers for a more powerful surround sound experience. Dialogue isn’t quite even all the way through but it’s comprehensible for the most part, while sound effects have a little bit more clarity. The music is still as strong as ever, but again, it’s a mostly front-heavy presentation. The movie’s original soundtrack would have be preferable since they went to the trouble of doing a new restoration anyway. That aside, what we do get is a solid video presentation with merely passable audio. Subtitle options include English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
For the extras, nearly everything has been carried over from the movie’s previous releases, including an audio commentary with director John Badham for the theatrical version only; a 70s Discopedia on-screen trivia track; the Catching the Fever documentary in 5 parts (A 30-Year Legacy, Making Soundtrack History, Platforms & Polyester, Deejays & Discos, Spotlight on Travolta); the Back to Bay Ridge featurette; the Dance Like John Travolta tutorial; the Fever Challenge! interactive tutorial; and the aforementioned deleted scene. Oddly enough, no trailers or TV spots have been included and missing from the movie’s 25th Anniversary DVD release is the Highlights from VH1’s Behind the Music special. I’m actually slightly ok with this because despite the program containing some great interviews and behind the scenes footage, it lifted out any references, either musically or during interviews, to the Bee Gees, which is bizarre. It tends to recycle the same songs over and over again and, despite the material, it becomes tedious. Having the original version of it would have been nice, but it’s not sorely missed. It also wouldn’t have been a bad idea to have had John Badham record a new audio commentary for the Director’s Cut since none of the extras included even refer to it.
I’ve been a fan of Saturday Night Fever for many years and, if it isn’t painfully obvious by now, I try to sing its praises to those who missed the boat and never realized what a dramatic and powerful movie it is. It still works as potent as it was in 1977, because the themes resonate and are still applicable, regardless of age or background. Its re-release on Blu-ray is mostly solid, with a great picture and decent extras. This is the best presentation of the movie on disc thus far. Perhaps, for its 50th Anniversary, we’ll get a more complete package. As is, this is still a highly recommended release.
- Tim Salmons