Dreamgirls (2-Disc Showstopper Edition DVD)
Directed by Bill Condon
Dreamgirls offers up the razzle dazzle and the 2-Disc Showstopper Edition DVD provides an exhausting look at the massive effort put into making the movie. Unfortunately, the movie still runs a bit cold when the characters aren't belting out the showtunes and pseudo-pop.
Turn the Wig Around
A Broadway sensation back in the early '80s, Dreamgirls is a thinly-veiled tale based on Diana Ross and the Supremes.
In this cinematic adaptation, Beyoncé Knowles (Austin Powers in Goldmember) tackles the Diana Ross-esque role of Deena Jones while American Idol contestant Jennifer Hudson makes her big screen debut as Effie White.
Starting off with the familiar storyline of a musical act struggling to get noticed and airplay, the Dreamettes get set to take the stage at a talent show in Detroit. They're anxious to make it big and, fortunately for them, there's an agent back stage anxious to break the next big thing. Curtis Taylor is his name and paying off the judges so the girls lose is his game.
Curtis (Jamie Foxx, Ray) is right there to console the girls and he steers them into a $400/week gig singing backup for James "Thunder" Early (Eddie Murphy, Bowfinger). To his credit, Curtis knows he has a good thing on his hands and, in order to finance the endeavor — and buy radio play — he sells off his Cadillac dealership. With the newfound funds on hand, the Dreamettes find themselves rising to the top.
Their first smash with James Early, Cadillac Car, is quickly rehashed into pure white bread for the Dick Clark set by the totally generic Dave and the Sweethearts.
The Sound of Tomorrow
Therein is one of the film's strengths: director Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters) skillfully weaves in the racial tensions of the '60s as the girls fight their way to the top of a white-dominated music industry. Unfortunately, that dramatic backdrop oftentimes takes a back seat to a cast of stock characters that are so self-involved as to be unlikeable.
At times Dreamgirls soars, but there are other times when it sags. And that is the result of a lack of emotional resonance. Outside of a few show stopping songs, there's no particular reason to care much for the characters. Deena falls for her agent, Curtis, who was already clearly involved with Effie. Then a third Dreamette falls for the druggie James Early.
As it stands, Knowles does a fine job acting out her character, perhaps the most sympathetic of the bunch. Eddie Murphy also brings some scene-stealing magic as he piles it on as an outrageous, drugged up super star who repeatedly finds himself trying to keep up in an ever-changing industry.
On the other hand, Foxx and co-star Danny Glover are disappointing and surprisingly bland. For lack of a better term, they are pure vanilla in their roles.
In terms of production values, Dreamgirls offers up the eye candy, but it's too literal an adaptation of the Broadway show. While four new songs have been added for the movie, some of the older songs simply scream to be freshened up and presented with a little more imagination in order to avoid the cheesy feel of stale '80s Broadway showtunes.
In addition to the feature film, Disc 1 holds 12 extended or alternate musical numbers. Some of them are fun, such as the extended cut of I'm Somebody and the disco version of One Night Only, but some simply don't work, such as the alternate, all-sung intro to Steppin' to the Bad Side. There's also a performance by Jennifer Hudson "not seen in theaters," but it's nothing special; it's simply an alternate take that would have bridged over to her rendition of One Night Only.
The disc also includes a well done Beyoncé music video for Listen.
Disc 2 features a comprehensive, exhaustive (and exhausting) 2-hour documentary that covers everything from the original Broadway production to the movie's premiere at the marvelous Ziegfeld in New York City. The documentary does generate an appreciation for the amount of effort put into the movie, and it's also good to see Eddie Murphy yuck it up along with other cast members. Feel the love.
After the documentary, it would seem there is nothing else left to say. But no, there's much more, including roughly 75 minutes of featurettes and other items.
The featurettes provide an interesting look at the editing, costume design, and theatrical lighting aspects of the production.
Also on tap is Beyoncé's screen test, in which she sings Dreamgirls solo; Anika Noni Rose's audition (a very robust take on Ain't No Party), and a lengthy choreography audition set to Steppin' to the Bad Side. They're all worth a peak.
Taking things a little overboard is a section called "Previsualization Sequences." Here you'll find seven sequences featuring rehearsal footage with "understudies," storyboards, and other production art. Some of the raw performance footage is fun to watch but the material becomes a bit tedious by the time that seventh sequence rolls onto the screen.
Hang on! There's more. The disc also includes a great image gallery. Oftentimes this is a throwaway feature used to take up disc jacket space, but in this case it's really well done. On tap are the storyboards for 10 sequences; great, colorful galleries of Sharen Davis' costume designs and John Myhre's production designs; and a nifty little collection from the "Art Department Archive" that includes the artwork for such things as posters and album covers for James "Thunder" Early and the Dreams.
After watching all the content on Disc 2, one revelation is painfully obvious: Bill Condon's favorite word is "just." He uses it in almost every sentence he speaks. It's annoying. Would ya just work on that, Bill?
Picture and Sound
The DVD's picture, presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16:9 TVs, is uniformly excellent.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (available in English and French) is also well done. There's also an English 2.0 Surround soundtrack as well as English and Spanish subtitles.
How to Use This DVD
First, watch the movie — and pump up the volume. After that, check out Beyoncé's music video and the alternate cuts on Disc 1.
After a suitable intermission, tackle Disc 2. The feature-length documentary is the best place to start. Just for fun, see if you can count the number of times Bill Condon uses the word "just." After that, hit the collection of featurettes and audition footage.
If you still can't get enough dreaminess, visit the costume, production design, and art department archive galleries. After all that, if you're still not satiated, play through the storyboards and previsualization sequences. The latter should be enough to send the average fan off to a different kind of dreamland — namely, sleep.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.