‘Saturday Night Fever’ Blu-ray Review: Racism, Rape, and the Bee Gees
It’s been 40 years since Saturday Night Fever was released, and I’m here to say polyester leisure suits have held up far better.
While the famous soundtrack still sounds great, if you watch this movie – as I did – without the warm glow of nostalgia coloring your experience, you’ll likely find it to be brutally bad. Mind you, this isn’t hyperbole from a hip 20-something. I was riding Big Wheels when it came out in 1977 and I generally love all things 70s, but as iconic as the film is, I had never seen more than a few minutes of it. I was under the impression that this was a raw, poignant tale about a working-class kid who lives to dance and dreams big. What I got from it was simply an odd and crude tale plucked from the disco era.
John Travolta plays Tony Manero, a 19-year-old Brooklynite who works in a hardware store and can dance well. He’s also a jerk. To his parents, to a girl who has a crush on him, and to a new girl he wants to dance with—jerks to them all. Oh and he’s the ringleader of his buddies; a group of drug-abusing, women-harassing, gay-taunting, slur-spewing punks who also dabble in rape. Other than that, hey, these really are some good kids! Learn that tango two-step, Tony! Go for your dreams!
I understand this was a different era and we’re supposed to be getting a “real” look at a rough slice of lower middle-class Italian-Americans, but good lord, it’s impossible to root for any of these people. Instead, I passed the time by keeping score between the film’s great songs and horrible lines. For every “How Deep is Your Love” there’s a “You can’t f**k the future. The future f**ks you!” It was tied up at 6 before I lost track.
This is a new Director’s Cut of the film which is said to “round out the character and plot” with added scenes, but I cannot report noticing any rounded out characters. That anyone holds this film in high regard must be because of when they saw it and the music, because there’s nothing “classic” about the plot, characters, or pacing. Between the up-pants shots of Travolta, the unlikable characters, and the meandering storyline, Saturday Night Fever has nothing of value to offer today’s viewer except for 70s satire. It’s only after a supporting character’s death coupled with a rigged dance contest that Tony sees there may be more to life than name-calling and doing The Hustle. Far too little and far too late for me.
On the bright side, this is one of the greatest soundtracks in film history, with every song still quite capable of getting your head nodding. If you’re looking for a slice of the 70s, just go with the Bee Gees.
Movie Score: 3.0 out of 10
Audio & Video
Knowing that the film was restored in 4K using the original negative, I’ll admit I was a little disappointed as soon as I saw the opening shot of the New York City skyline. This is a grainy film that seemingly was never going to be able to pop out of its 70s-era video quality, unlike, say, the Jaws Blu-ray. Saturday Night Fever – Director’s Cut is presented in 1080p and 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, and thankfully, for a movie that relies so much on its music, it sounds great and the dialogue is clear. An update to the surround sound mix was also performed for the Director’s Cut.
One original sound design flaw I noticed was hearing various noises during the dance club scenes (like hand claps) with the music blaring. This sucked me out of the moment a little, as I then realized they probably filmed the scenes with no music on whatsoever, which then had me analyzing the dance moves to see if they were actually being done in step to the beat of the song.
A/V Score: 6.0
Packaging, Menus, & Special Features
For the packaging, a new slipcase has been created, which oddly removes John Travolta’s face from the cover. It’s shiny and full of multi-colored dance floor squares though, so there’s no mistaking the movie you’re holding. Inside the eco-friendly case you’ll find a pretty funny insert sheet reminding you that “The Original Soundtrack is OUT NOW.” Got it!
I like what Paramount did with disc’s menu, using a mirror ball to show images and scenes from the film while “Staying Alive” plays on.
The special features are all carried over from the 2009 Blu-ray release, but I enjoyed them. They include a director’s commentary with John Badham, a 70s Discopedia feature that pops up trivia tidbits during the movie, and retrospective featurettes. Seeing some of the film’s cast 30 years later (even if this was 10 years ago now) was fun, and hearing from The Bee Gees and some of New York’s disco scene legends was great.
Extras Score: 5.0
I’m aware that many people consider Saturday Night Fever a good-to-great film, but I can only call ’em as I see ’em. Having never seen it until now, I was shocked at how bad it is. I understand the impact was quite different 40 years ago, but this is a movie that just does not stand the test of time. The music is great and the 70s flashback factor is fun, but the unlikable characters, laughable dialogue, and who-cares plot adds up to a stinker. This Director’s Cut edition seems to offer minimal upgrades to the previous Blu-ray release. I say snag the soundtrack (it’s OUT NOW, by the way) and avoid the cover charge on this one.