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Saturday Night Fever: 25th Anniversary Edition

Paramount Home Video

Starring John Travolta and Karen Lynn Gorney

Written by Norman Wexler
From a magazine article by Nik Cohn

Directed by John Badham

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Review by Gregory P. Dorr                    

There's little argument that the 1977 release of Star Wars irreparably changed the Hollywood landscape. Shaken by the explosion of their native Death Star, movie moguls became hell-bent on replicating the long lines, the crowd-wowing action and effects, and the million-dollar merchandising and franchising strategies. It's lucky then that Saturday Night Fever came out when it did, six months later, giving moviegoers one last-gasp chance to turn a rough, realistic and brilliant slice-of-life into a breakout hit before the movie business product-cycle was irreversibly altered in the other direction.

The very last of the unblockbustery blockbusters, Saturday Night Fever grossed over $250 million with an unlikely character study that stacks its climax with a violent brawl, a date-rape, a gang-bang, a suicide, an anticlimactic dance contest, and the romantic leads quietly agreeing to be friends. John Badham's film, however, isn't simply unconventional, it's also an honest and uncompromising study of the confusing period of young adulthood during which working-class upstarts endure a turbulent conflict between their youthful hopes and tough realities.

John Travolta commands the screen as Tony Manero, a strutting 19-year-old in blue collar Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, who suffers a dead-end job in a paint store to afford the glamour of weekends at a swanky Manhattan disco. Though marginal in the everyday world, he dominates the pulsating dance floor. His indefatigable confidence, silky moves, and dreamy good looks weaken the knees of all the women in his sight — except for Brooklynese expatriate Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney), who is awkwardly trying to recast herself as a Manhattan elitist. At first Tony is drawn to her dancing, but, while her pretenses annoy him, he also yearns to break out of the juvenile soap opera of his macho street life.

While Saturday Night Fever features many potentially melodramatic subplots, it neither sensationalizes nor sugarcoats them. Inspired by a magazine article about New York disco culture, it's as believable a portrait of New York street life as has been made — the Kids of an earlier era — and as well an affecting and subtle struggle toward adulthood.

While a lot of the film's popularity is built around its superior Bee Gees-produced soundtrack of disco classics and Travolta's natural prowess as a dancer (he is so charismatic and masculine that, incredibly, he makes disco look not gay), but the movie is also deeply heartfelt, easily relatable, and, at times, raucously funny. Tony's bickering banter with his family and friends is classic attitude and produces several memorable (and repeatable) scenes and lines.

The largely unknown cast adds terrific flavor and verisimilitude, augmenting the experience of the great Julie Bovasso, as Tony's mom, with new faces like Donna Pescow, Barry Miller, and, briefly, Fran Drescher.

Paramount's 25th Anniversary Edition of Saturday Night Fever presents the film in a vibrant anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and a remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The disc includes a dry commentary from director Badham, a trailer, and three brief, mildly interesting deleted scenes. The best feature on board is a 30-minute edit of VH1's excellent Behind the Music special about the film's rough production and its explosive cultural significance.

— Gregory P. Dorr

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