by Dan Goldwasser
Last year we were at the scoring sessions, and now the award-winning musical Dreamgirls will be released on home video this week, and SoundtrackNet takes a look at the upcoming 2-disc "Showstopper Edition" DVD.
Loosely inspired by the story of Diana Ross and The Supremes, Dreamgirls follows a small Detroit group of girls on their rollercoaster ride of fame and fortune. Effie White (Jennifer Hudson) is the lead singer of The Dreamettes, but when she and her two companions get a chance to sing backup to James "Thunder" Early (Eddie Murphy), they take a chance and their stardom begins to grow. But soon their manager Curtis Taylor, Jr. (Jamie Foxx) wants to take the girls out on their own - but with Deena Jones (Beyoncé Knowles) as the lead, resulting in plenty of dramatic conflict.
This film is an all-out fun-fest of music, with some great performances by everyone all around. Oscar-winner Hudson steals the show, and Beyoncé does a good turn as a Diana Ross inspired-character (director Bill Condon doesn't hold back with the references, especially during the "Disco phase"). The music is obviously based on Henry Krieger's Tony-nominated Broadway show of the same name, and was produced and arranged by The Underdogs (Harvey Mason, Jr. and Damon Thomas). Their take on the music is fresh and crisp, but the music is more "Broadway" than authentic "Motown" or "R&B". So people in the film talk about all these great new R&B songs, but then when you hear it, you actually have a Broadway tune that sounds like it's trying to be R&B. There is also some unconventional usage of the songs as narrative devices (characters will burst into song in mid-conversation), and as such there are some times where it's not clear if the music is being used as a "performance" or a "dramatic statement". Composer Stephen Trask (Hedwig and the Angry Itch) composed bridging underscore that connect many of the songs together, and his contribution is effective, if invisible.
Dreamgirls is a flashy movie, but it suffers from some plot issues, especially towards the second half, which also slows down the pace considerably. Ultimately it's a visual and aural treat, with some excellent costume design, choreography, cinematography, and production - but it's not much more than that, and at a little over 2-hours long, style can only take you so far before the lack of substance starts to let your mind wander.
The image on the 2-disc "Showstopper Edition" DVD is presented at the original theatrical aspect ration of 2.35:1, and the transfer is crisp and clear. Colors are exceptionally vibrant, making the image pop nicely, with solid black levels creating nice shadow depth and compression artifacts nearly invisible.
Obviously with nearly wall-to-wall music and songs, the audio on Dreamgirls is vitally important, and while a dts audio track is missing, we're given a very dynamic and sharp 5.1 English audio track. A 2.0 English track is also included as well as a 5.1 French dub.
The first disc contains no commentary by director Bill Condon (an unusual omission considering his commentaries on Gods and Monsters and Kinsey), but it does contain 40 minutes of "Extended and Alternate Scenes". These mainly comprise the musical performances from the film, shown without cutting away to plot-relevant dialogue. They're certainly fun, but the removal of the narrative elements of the film explain why there is no "seamless branching" extended version of the film presented. Also included is an unreleased duet featuring Jennifer Hudson and Keith Robinson ("Effie, Sing My Song"), which was presented as spoken dialogue in the final film. The disc is finished off with the inclusion of the "Listen" music video, featuring Beyoncé Knowles
The second disc is where the real meat of the special features are stored. "Building the Dream" is a nine-part feature-length documentary chronicling the evolution of Dreamgirls from a Broadway musical. Running about two-hours long, it's a rather comprehensive look at the making of the film, and includes a plethora of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews. There's a lot of really good information on the music, including the recording and producing of the songs, but not much on the actual underscore. Three distinct featurettes look at the editing process ("Dream Logic: Film Editing"), costume design ("Dressing the Dreams: Costume"), and production lighting ("Center Stage: Theatrical Lighting").
In the "Auditions and Screen Tests" section we're presented with three pieces of video: the Beyoncé Knowles screen test, the Anika Noni Rose audition, and the Fatima Robinson Choreography Audition. There are also seven "Previsualization Sequences" included that were used as guides for the shooting production. What makes these especially interesting is the use of stand-ins and temp-recordings of the songs. Finally, the four-part "Image Gallery" includes "Storyboards", "Costume Designs", "Production Designs" and the "Art Department Archive".
A glaring omission from this 2-disc edition are the theatrical teaser and trailers for Dreamgirls. I'm not sure why, but it seems to be a new (and unfortunate) trend that DVDs will not include the materials used to market the films, but will instead put on trailers for other films. In this case, there are trailers for Norbit and Shrek the Third included on the first disc. Given the wealth of great material on this 2-disc release, it's unlikely that there will be a double-dip with a commentary and the trailers, but you never know!
Overall, this is a very well put-together package. There's a lot of information about the making of the film, and all the different aspects and teams that came together to pull it off. It's not the most comprehensive look at making a film ever presented on DVD, but it certainly has a lot of stuff to keep you busy for hours, and it's an entertaining film as well.
Dreamgirls director Bill Condon with composer Stephen Trask at the scoring sessions at
the Newman Scoring Stage at 20th Century Fox, on October 9, 2006.
Dreamgirls will be released on May 1st on DVD (as a regular movie edition and a 2-disc "Showstopper Edition"), as well as on HD-DVD and BluRay Disc.
Some images © 2007 Paramount Pictures/Dreamworks. Used with Permission.
Scoring session photo taken by Dan Goldwasser.