Strictly Ballroom

Strictly Ballroom (1992)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Paul Mercurio, Tara Morice
Extras: Commentary Track, Documentary, Still Gallery

Fans of Baz Luhrman’s film ’Strictly Ballroom’ must have been shocked when they saw his dark take on ’Romeo & Juliet’. At the same time, those who are only familiar with ’Romeo & Juliet’ and ’Moulin Rouge’ will be surprised by how tame ’Strictly Ballroom’ is, why still retaining a certain Luhrman sensibility. As one can garner from the title, ’Strictly Ballroom’ takes place in the world of ballroom dancing. Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio) is a promising young dancer who suddenly finds himself shunned by his family and friends when he improvises some dance steps during a competition. Scott’s dancing partner leaves him and it’s made very clear that one shouldn’t stray far from the traditional dance steps. Determined to buck the system, Scott finds a new partner in the awkward and shy Fran (Tara Morice), and together they begin to forge their own dance and a passionate relationship. However, Scott’s domineering mother (Pat Thomson) is determined that Scott will stick to tradition. Will Scott stay with Fran, or join an established dancer?

As with ’Moulin Rouge’, ’Strictly Ballroom’ takes a fairly simple story, and places it in a world which most of us aren’t familiar with. Despite the fact that the story is predictable, it is engaging nonetheless due to the wonderfully eccentric characters. The most noticeable thing about ’Strictly Ballroom’ is the absence of the insane camera movements Luhrman incorporated in ’Romeo & Juilet’ and ’Moulin Rouge’. While there are some nice shots here, Luhrman focuses more on the story and characters and last on dazzling the audience, giving the film a real heart. The other surprising thing about the movie is that it is thoroughly funny at times, and some scenes border on slapstick. So, if you’re in the mood for a romantic comedy, which features great dancing and sparkling costumes, then ’Strictly Ballroom’ is for you.

’Strictly Ballroom’ twirls onto DVD from Buena Vista Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and is enhanced for 16×9 TVs. The image is sharp, but the low-budget nature of the film shows through in this transfer. There is a visible sheen of grain here, and some of the shots are rather dark. On the bright side (no pun intended), the colors are good, as the film is populated with stark whites and fiery yellows. (It’s noted in the commentary that each character has a signature color). The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track offers clear dialogue and nice musical reproduction, but it’s disappointing in other departments. The surround sound is limited to occasional musical cues and crowd noise, and there is very little bass response.

This DVD features an audio commentary with Luhrman, Oscar winning production designer Catherine Martin, and choreographer John ’Cha Cha’ O’Connel. This is a fun and spirited talk, as Luhrman speaks at length about the production of the film and its history (it was originally a stage play). Also included is the 30-minute documentary ’Samba to Slow Fox’, an inside look at ballroom dancing. Finally, there is a still gallery which offers behind-the-scene stills and promotional material. Luhrman offers commentary to these images, but he often sounds rushed.