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Blu-ray Review: Footloose

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The Blu-ray of 1984’s Footloose hits store shelves just in time for the 2011 remake. The original is an icon of the ‘80s. It is most notable for making Kevin Bacon a big star and its hit sound soundtrack featuring Kenny Loggins’ title track song. One of the three big dance films during the ‘80s, the film struck a chord with teens. Its 1983 predecessor, Flashdance was a hit with women, while 1987’s was a hit with kids and adults. All three films shared a common theme of dance as a symbol for freedom and nonconformity. Footloose is a simple kids vs. the establishment story with a timeless theme wrapped up in a dated package.

Ren McCormack (Bacon) is a big city kid who moves to a small Utah town with his single mom. Ren soon finds out dancing and rock music are banned in the town. Ren is labeled a troublemaker because of his urban clothes and endless supply of rock music he blasts from his car stereo. The instigator of the music and dancing ban is the town preacher Shaw Moore (John Lithgow) who sees dancing as the pathway to a life of debauchery. It sounds extreme because it is. Footloose is a movie that is black and white with no shades of gray. Things are either good or they are bad. If you don’t conform to the politics of the town and its Reverend then you are forever an outsider.

Ren, who is in his senior year of high school, wants to change things. He decides to organize a senior prom and to try to get the ban on dancing lifted. Along the way he meets the Reverend’s bad-girl daughter Ariel (Lori Singer) who is bent on proving she isn’t anything like her conservative dad, though she hides her antics from him. Ariel takes a liking to Ren though she is dating the town bully. Ariel is such a wild child that she seems to have a death wish. She straddles between two speeding cars in the face of an on-coming semi, and she dodges trains without a second thought. Honestly, the character comes across as a little disturbed, but her actions are explained away as simply lack of attention from her father.

The problem with Footloose is that the story is wrapped in cliché. The characters have no nuance. The Reverend is unwavering in his convictions no matter how absurd. His wife (Dianne Wiest) would like nothing more than to be hemming her daughter’s prom dress, but never says a word of disagreement to her husband. The bully hates Ren for no reason other than he is an outsider, and his vendetta against Ren is constant to matter what. It’s too simple. Even Ren is portrayed so you can only think one way about him. The movie is at its most fun when it’s not taking itself too seriously. When the teens sneak out to go dancing in a nearby town, when Ren is dancing alone in the factory, or when they are playing chicken on tractor’s are the most engaging scenes of the film.

The performances, for the most part, border on stiff even from good actors like Lithgow and Wiest, who were clearly restrained by the lack of depth in their characters. It is easy to see why Bacon became a star after this movie. He brings a lot of charisma and charm to role. Besides Bacon the other breakout performance comes from Chris Penn as Ren’s friend Willard. Willard is a good natured guy who hasn’t given the dance ban a lot of thought. Willard is a go with the flow kind of guy who is only bothered when he is in an uncomfortable situation. Willard likes Ren and wants to help with the plan to have the prom. Unlike Ariel, he is not doing it to be rebellious he is doing it because he develops a genuine interest in doing something new. He also has his eye on Ariel’s friend Rusty (Sarah Jessica Parker), and wants to learn to dance to impress her.

Overall, Footloose is a good time capsule piece. It’s the breakout performance for Kevin Bacon and is filled with a lot of other notable actors. At times the movie is a lot of fun, but it is dragged down by overly serious movie clichés. Without Bacon and a soundtrack that spawned a slew of hits the film would likely have been a forgotten relic of its era.

The picture is presented in MPEG-4 AVC/1080p HD. The picture looks pretty good, especially considering the era. The colors are natural and the clarity is pretty good except for some of the landscape scenes where the backgrounds lack detail. There are some signs of noise reduction, but overall I thought the picture quality was decent. The soundtrack is presented in lossless DTS-HD MA 6.1 audio. The sound is excellent with the music that is such important part of the film sounding better than ever. The film makes good use of the surrounds with both the music and the ambient noise. The dialog is clear and crisp and Lithgow’s booming sermons sound exceptionally good.

There are a lot of special features included on this disc including a touching tribute to the late Chris Penn. There are new interviews with the actors and filmmakers reflecting on the making of the movie and its importance to their careers. There are two audio commentary tracks one with just Kevin Bacon and the other with producer Craig Zadan and writer Dean Pritchford. Kevin Bacon’s screen test is included with the actor discussing the process of his casting in the role. Another featurette discusses the songs used in the movie and reflects on that era of music.

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About Sherry Lipp

Sherry Lipp is an entertainment and food writer who specializes in film and television reviews. She has published the gluten and grain-free cookbook Don't Skip Dessert.