Blu-Review: Dirty Dancing: The Keepsake Edition

Directed By Emile Ardolino
Starring Jennifer Grey, Patrick Swayze, Jerry Orbach, Cynthia Rhodes and Kelly Bishop



Until now, despite a fondness for cheesy ’80s movies and a high tolerance for chick flicks, somehow I’d managed to survive 26 years without ever watching Dirty Dancing. It’s a feat not unlike living on the sun and avoiding a mild tan. The film has become an unlikely phenomenon since its release as a low-budget indie, scoring annual DVD releases, unleashing a soundtrack that’s become ingrained in the cultural subconscious like a fluffy burrowing mite, and launching the late, great Patrick Swayze into super-stardom.

It’s a film that everyone with ovaries has seemingly seen and laid loving claim to, and one which guys will generally watch only at the behest of their significant others. That’s something that hasn’t really changed; it’s still a film marketed squarely at girls and women everywhere, and if you hated it before, you won’t like it 23 years later. But for a cheesier-than-mozzarella romance flick, it holds up as a pretty damn good one.

It’s 1960-something, and Baby Houseman (Jennifer Grey) is holidaying at a dance-centric vacation camp in the Catskill Mountains with her wealthy, loving family. She soon spots dreamy bad boy Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze), the camp’s mambo dance instructor. Eager-to-please nice girl Baby leaps at the chance to fill in for Johnny’s dance parter, who has been waylaid by the need to get a pesky abortion. Baby’s no dancer though, and the big show is mere days away, so she’ll need an awful lot of shirtless dance lessons from Johnny, who opens her mind to “dirty dancing”, love and other valuable teen movie life lessons. Sadly, he dresses like a greaser and is from the wrong side of the tracks, so their love is naturally forbidden (though her dad doesn’t mind her dating a hotel heir who looks like a sleazy, middle-aged insurance salesman) and they’ll have to fight against the odds to be together.
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Of course, you already know how it’ll work out. Dirty Dancing mostly succeeds not by being especially original or surprising, but by virtue of an excellent cast with great chemistry. The wonderful Patrick Swayze may be more endearing to guys everywhere when he’s waxing philosophical and tearing out convict throats as cooler-than-cool bouncer Dalton in Road House, or bank robbing and bromancing with Keanu in Point Break, but the guy had charisma to burn no matter the role, and he does wonders turning a “bad boy” stereotype into a magnetic character whenever he’s around. Jennifer Grey exudes a bubbly, awkward and endearing everygirl charm and the two play off each other wonderfully, especially in the lively dance numbers, soundtracked to a great mix of ’60s period pop and soul and cheesy ’80s ballads.

Sure, it’s clichéd and predictable, especially after 20-odd years of cookie-cutter ‘Plain Jane meets bad boy’ movies in its wake, but there’s more layers to the characters and relationships than the average teen-baiting romance, better performances and a tonne of life to the frequent dance scenes. It’s a surprisingly ballsy film, too, all considered; I can’t think of many films nowadays that’d have the audacity to use a botched abortion as the crux of their feel-good chick-flick romance.

It’s cheesy fluff through-and-through, but it’s also infectiously sweet and peppy, tremendously fun and an infinitely more durable chick flick phenomenon than Twilight. Now, please excuse me while I watch Road House again and reclaim a little of my lost masculinity.
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On the Blu-ray/DVD:


I could include a bullet-point list here of the special features included on The Keepsake Edition discs, but I’ll just give you the short version: It includes everything. Ever.

The sheer amount of bonus features crammed onto the set is astonishing. Anything even remotely connected to the film is included, to the point where the only things missing are Jennifer Grey’s childhood diary, Kelly Bishop’s tax returns and a copy of Jerry Orbach’s dental records, and even they’re probably hidden away on the discs as easter eggs.

Firstly, the set is one of those incredibly handy Blu-ray/DVD combi packs, with the high definition Blu-ray version of the film and an extra copy of the film on DVD, so both bases are covered at no added cost. Also included is a third disc carrying a huge chunk of the special features. Sadly I was only sent the DVD discs from the set for review, so I can’t comment on the visual quality of the Blu-ray, but the extras alone are undoubtedly enough to make any fans of the film want to snatch it up.

The Blu-ray disc gets an added DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track, while the audio tracks offered on the DVD are a choice between 6.1. DTS ES, 5.1 Dolby Digital or a 2.0 Dolby track. Despite the multitude of dance numbers, Dirty Dancing isn’t really the kind of film you’ll use to showcase your DTS system, but nonetheless, the audio sounds as great as possible. The DVD transfer isn’t the most pristine, but it looks good, and the Blu-ray will be the go-to disc for visual quality anyway.
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Onto the special features, first up are two commentariesone with writer/co-producer Eleanor Bergstein and the second with choreographer Kenny Ortega, actress/assistant choreographer Miranda Garrison, cinematographer Jeff Jur and production designer David Chapman. The group track is mostly pieced together from separate commentaries, so the crew weren’t together in the same room when it was recorded. As such, there’s no group interplay or banter, so it’s quite a dry track and isn’t the most interesting, though it may be an informative listen for hardcore fans. The solo track from Eleanor Bergstein fares infinitely better thanks to her having a more personal involvement in the film as the writer, and is a much more entertaining and engaging listen that delves into her own experiences that informed the film.

Also included on the first disc are a detailed subtitle trivia track and a trio of featurettes. ‘Kellerman’s: Reliving The Locations of the Film’ centres on the real hotel and camp featured in the film, with production designer David Chapman discussing the various locations. There’s also interviews with the real hotel staff about their experiences during filming, before providing a look at the Dirty Dancing-themed activities and tours that the hotel offers. ‘Dirty Dancing: The Phenomenon’ is a surprisingly entertaining feature that focuses on the rise and fall of production company Vestron Video, who produced the film, and also offers curious looks at the short-lived 1988 Dirty Dancing TV show and the fairly recent sequel Havana Nights. Lastly, ‘The Rhythm of the Dancing’ is a short interview with Swayze in his own recording studio, discussing the song ‘She’s Like The Wind’, which he wrote and recorded for the film.
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On disc two is a morbidly wide selection of tributes to untimely deceased actors and crew members on the film. Either the Grim Reaper despised this movie with an insatiable fury or he loved it so much that he wanted the cast for his own reunion re-enactment, because death is slowly cutting a depressing swath through everyone involved. The most notable tribute is one devoted to the late, great Patrick Swayze, highlighting what a lovely guy and true badass he was (he performed the final dance number on a shattered knee – “Pain don’t hurt”, indeed) with touching, heartfelt interviews with his brother Don and his wife Lisa. Handkerchiefs at the ready, folks. Individual tributes to Emile Ardolino and Jerry Orbach are also included, along with an ‘In Memorian’ feature consisting of a photo montage of the late actors and crew.

On a fluffier note, the extras move on to a 2 minute ‘Fan Reel’, containing clips and photos of worldwide fans of the film posing with memorabilia collections, in Dirty Dancing shirts or imitating the film. It’s only really worth watching if you’re in it. ‘James and Julia Derbyshire: Dancing Across the Pond’ centres on a Brit couple who performed the final dance number from the film at their wedding, put it on YouTube and wound up on Oprah for a surprise meeting with Patrick Swayze. Sadly none of the Oprah clips are included, presumably due to rights issues, and it’s simply not as interesting to hear about it rather than just see it.

‘Dirty Dancing With Patrick Swayze’ offers an interview with the actor about the film and his dance background. It clocks in at a brief 13 minutes, but he’s an incredibly earnest and engaging speaker and great to listen to. Around an hour’s worth of individual interviews with Jennifer Grey, Eleanor Bergstein, Miranda Garrison and Kenny Ortega are also included. If that weren’t enough behind-the-scenes interview action for you, there’s also a ‘Vintage Featurette’ - a short promo piece from the film’s original release containing on-location interviews with Swayze and Grey.
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Not enough? Two ‘Multi-Angle Dance Sequences’ offer a couple of clips from the film with the option to check out the different coverage angles. There’s a selection of screen test footage showing Jennifer Grey’s original audition and her screen test with Swayze, a short collection of outtakes and music videos for ‘Hungry Eyes’, ‘She’s Like The Wind’ and ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life’. Finally, there’s a collection of 21 deleted, alternate and extended scenes and a photo gallery.

And that’s just the DVD discs. The Blu-ray disc has its own exclusive extras – the 83 minute ‘Dirty Dancing Live in Concert’, a ‘Dancing to the Music’ featurettethe film’s script and the theatrical trailer. But that’s still not all – the set comes with a 28 page commemorative booklet. Dirty Dancing fans may have had to endure more DVD re-releases than Ernest Borgnine’s had hot meals, but I can’t imagine what more they could add to top this, and it’s surely the essential, definitive, must-have set for lovers of the film.

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Dirty Dancing: The Keepsake Edition is available to buy on DVD/Blu-ray combi pack in the UK from Monday 25th October.
Click here to order the set from Amazon.co.uk.

(Note: The images above were captured from the DVD and aren’t intended to reflect the quality of the Blu-ray image.)