Grease 40th Anniversary 4K UHD Review

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Hoo Hoo Hoo

If there’s a template to Grease’s long term success, it’s the universality of high school. Even with years of progressive measures, nerds still get bullied and jocks still pine for cheerleaders. Grease is much a caricature as it is a corny, frisky take on America’s ‘50s.

Applause is deserved for Grease’s willingness to prod into the seedier edges of teenage years. A cast of near 30-somethings helps remove some of the creepiness. A teenage pregnancy, the overzealous, grabby guys, and the fears of homosexuality from a TV host latch onto a chunk of reality in an otherwise benign romance tale. Grease is a torrent of smiles.

A fan theory insists Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) is actually dead; the movie itself is a heavenly dream. That’s beyond where Grease aims, even as a doughy-eyed fantasy without a single parent present. It’s a perky, sappy tale of horny teens, played by good-looking Hollywood types with strong voices. Certainly, closing on two powerhouse songs helps audiences leave happy. Re-watches await the pitchy “You’re the One That I Want,” to cheer on Sandy and Danny (John Travolta).

Between the torrent of smiles is enough weighty context to make Grease plausible

In the pantheon of musicals, Grease doesn’t come from MGM stock. The dance numbers barely move. Adapted from a stage musical, Grease still feels like a stage musical. The enthusiasm is in the music and singing talents. Watching the whole of Grease is an endurance test, conking out in the back half for a sluggish dance party and dull drag race. Character progression happens between edits, not through song. It’s quite the mess.

But it has energy for days. Even with the ‘50s setting, malt shops and leather jackets included, “Summer Lovin’” remains relevant in any generation. And, through sly innuendo and open sexuality, Grease belies its traditional, fictional slice of Americana. Between the torrent of smiles is enough weighty context to make Grease plausible. Grease is more than a sing-a-long; it’s a breakout piece of sexual expression and honesty. No wonder it catches the eye of teens.

The guy gets the girl in the end of course. Travolta and Newton-John embrace, but in an unorthodox way. Grease’s best asset is a touch of script writing bravery at the climax, turning Newton-John from a conservative Australian into a tight leather wearing American greaser, role reversal in a film otherwise locked to a traditional battle of the sexes. Grease sticks the guys in cars and girls in sleepovers, then at the end, throws tradition away. The idyllic ‘50s were fading. In came the ‘60s, and Grease’s clever means of displaying cultural momentum breaks down a barrier.

Video

“Beauty School Dropout” sums up the uneven performance of this Paramount disc. Opening with fuzzy, imprecise imagery, it’s soon shifting to stunning sharpness and resolution. Then, into a digitally filtered appearance. All of Grease is this erratic on UHD.

The good stuff: This is a 4K scan. A few moments where that’s visible show remarkable fidelity. An HDR pass (Dolby Vision) adds spunk to the highlights and separates black leather jackets from the nighttime backgrounds. That’s stellar. Black levels in general reach superb depth.

The not so good stuff: Signs of DNR ravage potential fine detail. Grease looks unnaturally glossy, with smoothed over skin and lackluster texture. Grain limps into the image, clearly reduced, barely leaving an impact. This isn’t the case with every scene. “Greased Lightning” looks splendid, and as mentioned above, so do parts of “Dropout.” Some of the exteriors of the carnival display peak sharpness too. Most of Grease chugs in 4K though.

If there’s a savior, it’s the color. Bountiful reds and blues cascade across the screen. The pink jackets worn by the girls carry gorgeous saturation. Greenery in the exteriors pop. It’s suitable to Grease’s excitable personality.

Audio

This TrueHD mix does what it can (there’s no boost to Atmos or DTS:X for this disc). The important material is obviously in the songs, boomy and clear. Vocals stand out in the center, stretching into the stereos as needed. Don’t expect spread into the rears.

Rear channels do see use. Inside Frosty Palace, jukebox tunes sit in the back. The car race, too, uses the surrounds to track vehicles as they pass. That’s enough to add a bit of zing.

Non-singing dialog runs dry and pale, lacking firmness. Even considering age, Grease sounds weary

Extras

For the 40th anniversary, Paramount adds a small batch of new features. Those begin with A Chicago Story, tracing the origins of Grease to its earliest stage performances, even interviewing the original actors. This runs 24-minutes. Next is an alternate opening, found in Paramount’s vault. There’s a bit value there.

Everything else existed on prior editions, many dating back to the 2002 DVD release so it’s great to have a complete set of bonuses. A commentary from director Randal Klaiser and choreographer Patricia Birch is up first. The Time, The Place, The Motion recounts the film’s behind-the-scenes action. A slew of deleted scenes and brief alternate ending (some 10 seconds after an introduction) come next.

When the DVD first released, Paramount brought the cast and crew back together for a celebration. One feature tracks the event broadly, a second interviews Travolta and Newton-John. A peek at the car design, two additional interviews, a sing-a-long, and photo gallery pop up for the finale.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras

Movie

Grease’s fantasy has everlasting value as a figment of the high school experience, but it flounders anytime it’s not in song.

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