Dreamworks Home Entertainment
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Hudson, Danny Glover
Extras: Extended Musical Numbers, Music Video, Documentary, Featurettes, Screen Tests, Previsualization Sequences
Bill Condon's "Dreamgirls" was certainly a remarkable film that made quite a splash during the awards season earlier this year and not surprisingly, it not only garnered accolades but also some trophies to show for. A Golden Globe for Best Picture and an Academy Award for newcomer Jennifer Hudson as best supporting actress are just to of the awards the film won. Now that it's available on home video I am sure even more people will revisit, discover and enjoy this film and its incredible music.
Based on a successful Broadway musical, "Dreamgirls" tells the story of three young singers with aspirations to become stars. More or less loosely based on the real-life story of "The Supremes" the film shows their climb to the top of the charts, lead by a determined but ruthless manager, Curtis Taylor (Jamie Foxx). Curtis makes use of all his resources – and the people around him – to make sure "the Dreams" will be a major success. As the times change so do his ambitions and he wants to break them into the mainstream, which means giving them a sound that appeals more to white audiences and white radio DJs. As a result he decides to reshuffle The Dream girls. Since Effie's (Jennifer Hudson) voice is too strong, dominant and "black" he decides to make Deena (Beyonce Knowles) the lead vocalist of the group. With her smooth voice she is much better reflecting the soft taste of general American audiences. This line-up change creates a lot of friction in the band, of course, which leads to Effie's split. But while Deena and the Dreams continue and celebrate ever bigger successes, things are no longer the way they used to be. The idealism and innocence has been lost and Curtis' selling out everyone and every thing around him brings things to the boiling point. The sensation that was "The Dreams" implodes – in style and in front of a sold-out crowd.
The thing that is immediately striking about "Dreamgirls" is its music. Hands down, this film has the best music I have heard in a movie in a long time. Henry Krieger who wrote the music for the original Broadway adaptation of the material provided his songs to this movie and boy, do they blow one away. Full of energy, full or drama, full of driving rhythms, full of soul, perfectly reflecting the times and tastes of the period, these musical numbers are simply amazing. Especially the first half of the movie is filled with some of the most staggering songs in the film and if this style of R&B were still in fashion today, I can guarantee you there would be a series of chart toppers in this movie's soundtrack.
It is easy to see how Effie White's character reflects "The Supremes'" Florence Ballard while Deena's character mirrors the band's front-woman, Diana Ross, without ever explicitly referencing them. There are also plenty of musical nods to hits and other performers of the time, such as James Brown, B.B. King, the Jackson Five and many others without using their actual tunes or personae. The entire film is an amalgamation of music, events and characters of the Motown era, which in turn makes to so charming and accessible.
The music alone would probably have been enough to make this film a success but as it stands, the acting in the movie is also on the highest level, helping to establish the "Dreamgirls" as a real movie to be taken seriously rather than a simple adaptation of a Broadway musical. While we expect great things from actors such as Jamie Foxx and Eddie Murphy, it is really the likes of Jennifer Hudson and Beyonce that steal the show. Especially Hudson's Effie is a character that is full of emotion, depth and resentment. She is real, she is someone viewers can sympathize with and she is putting on such a remarkable performance that at times you may feel tempted to applaud her during the movie – at least I did. As everyone knows by now, Hudson was an "American Idol" contestant, but didn't win the competition. Good for her, I say, because it gave her the fire to spread her wings without an inflated record deal and ultimately landed her the part in this movie. If this role is any indication of her talent, she will not only have a great musical career in front of her but also one as a remarkable actress.
Coming as a 2-disc HD-DVD version, this release is packed with a superb feature presentation and rounded out by some cool extras. Offering up a pristine 1080p high definition transfer that is VC-1 encoded, the image on display here is simply gorgeous. Free of any defects or blemishes, the picture is rich in detail and manages to capture even the most subtle nuances in the film's great photography. Colors are rich and striking adding to the overall appeal of the film. Especially the live performances look like glamour shots coming to life as they strike the perfect balance between shadow fall offs and highlights, combined with rich hues and colors. Every little texture, every little gradient in the picture is flawlessly reproduced with incredible detail and sharp edges. Supplemented by deep, solid blacks the image has an incredible depth that catapults this transfer into the echelon of the best there are.
The same goes for its audio presentation which is served up as 5.1 channel Dolby Digital Plus tracks on this disc, which is in stark difference to the Blu-Ray version which contains only standard bitrate Dolby Digital tracks. While the increased bitrate of the Plus track is a nice addition to this release, the fundamental question remains why Dreamworks did not included uncompressed audio tracks here, especially considering the movie's musical nature. With remarkable clarity and a wide frequency response the track perfectly complements the images on the screen. The lower end helps driving the beat of the music and giving the performances general "volume" while the high end of the spectrum remains crystal clear and free of distortion at all times. It is a pounding sound track without flaws that adds to the experience of the film without ever distracting from it. Dialogues are also well integrated and always understandable, although the musical tracks a can become a bit overwhelming at times in terms of the overall balance of the mix. I did reach for the remote control on occasion to turn the volume up or down.
In terms of the supplements, all releases of "Dreamgirls" contain the same extras but on the high definition releases, including this HD-DVD version, many of the bonus materials are actually presented in high definition. There are 12 extended musical numbers for example that come to you in full high definition glory. Given the overall quality of the music of the film it is no wonder that these added numbers are a superb addition. A standard definition version of Beyonce's music video for "Listen" is also included as well as a short sound track promo.
On the second disc of the set we find the release's real meat in the form of the full-length documentary "Building The Dream," presented entirely in high definition. It is an in-depth look at all aspects of the movie. The origins of the material, the Broadway musical, the film adaptation, the casting, the production, the hiccups, the style, the music, and so much more is covered here, making for a well-rounded and engaging behind the scenes look. Running almost 2 hours this documentary packs quite some punch and leaves no stone unturned and offers up interviews with just about everyone involved in the production and plenty of behind-the-scenes footage. It is clearly the single-most important supplement on the release and for a change it does not feel like a repurposed EPK but a documentary designed to truly tell the story of the film's genesis.
There are also two additional featurettes – in high def – called "Dream Logic" and "Dressing The Dreams" which cover additional topics on more detail.
You will also find a series of screen tests and audition tapes on the release as well as seven previsualization sequences that were used to create the look of the film.
Bill Condon is an exceptional filmmaker. He doesn't make a lot of movies but every time he makes one, it is a cinematic highlight you will remember. Condon has a way of bringing his style and sensibilities to the screen like few directors and writers are capable of doing by exploring characters with sensitivity and showing us how their surroundings form, shape and direct them. "Dreamgirls" is not different. It is a film that makes an impression on the viewer, throws us back in time to the glory days of Motown and the rise of R&B, Soul and Disco as the popular music forms of their time. It is a dazzling film because of its story, its characters, its music and its look. It is top notch entertainment no matter what critics said about the film during its theatrical run. The HD-DVD release is also clearly among the best in the market with a perfect feature presentation and great extras, presented in high definition, making this a phenomenal first entry in to the high definition arena by Dreamworks.