Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover, Jennifer Hudson, Anika Noni Rose, Keith Robinson, Sharon Leal, Hinton Battle, Mariah I. Wilson
Bill Condon, Tom Eyen (book)
Fame Comes And Goes, Stars Rise And Fall, But Dreams Live Forever.
Director Bill Condon brings Tom Eyen's Tony award-winning Broadway musical to the big screen in a tale of dreams, stardom, and the high cost of success in the cutthroat recording industry.
The time is the 1960s, and singers Effie (Jennifer Hudson), Lorrell (Anika Noni Rose), and Deena (Beyoncé Knowles) are about to find out just what it's like to have their wildest dreams come true. Discovered at a local talent show by ambitious manager Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx), the trio known as "the Dreamettes" is soon offered the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of opening for popular singer James "Thunder" Early (Eddie Murphy).
Subsequently molded into an unstoppable hit machine by Taylor and propelled into the spotlight as "the Dreams," the girls quickly find their bid for the big time taking priority over personal friendship as Taylor edges out the ultra-talented Effie so that the more beautiful Deena can become the face of the group. Now, as the crossover act continues to dominate the airwaves, the small-town girls with big-city dreams slowly begin to realize that the true cost of fame may be higher than any of them ever anticipated.
$378.950 thousand on 3 screens.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 130 min.
Release Date: 5/1/07
• 12 Expanded/Alternate Scenes
• Music Video
• “Building the Dream” Featurettes
• “Dream Logic: Film Editing” Featurette
• “Dressing the Dreams: Costume Design” Featurette
• “Center Stage: Theatrical Lighting” Featurette
• Auditions and Screen Tests
• Previsualization Sequences
• Image Gallery
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Dreamgirls: Showstopper Edition (2006)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 20, 2007)
With 2006’s Dreamgirls, the movie musical showed life for the first time since 2002’s smash hit Chicago. No, the $103 million take of Dreamgirls didn’t compete with the $172 million earned by Chicago, but it certainly looked pretty good, especially compared with recent flops like Rent, The Producers and The Phantom of the Opera. Since many critics liked Dreamgirls as well, it looked like the flick could emulate Chicago’s Oscar success.
Alas, that wasn’t to be. Yes, Dreamgirls’ eight nominations led the 2006 pack, but three of those were for songs, and it won only two awards: Jennifer Hudson took home the Best Supporting Actress trophy, and the movie also got Best Achievement in Sound Mixing. Dreamgirls failed to get a nod in the Best Picture category and generally found disappointment on Oscar night.
Although Dreamgirls may not have lived up to all expectations, I think the end result offers a flawed but generally winning experience. Based semi-loosely on the real-life story of the Supremes, Dreamgirls takes us to Detroit in the early 1960s to meet an amateur singing group called the Dreamettes. Big-voiced Effie White (Hudson) takes the lead, while Deena Jones (Beyonce Knowles) and Lorrell Robinson (Anika Noni Rose) handle the backup vocals. Local car dealer Curtis Taylor (Jamie Foxx) sees them in a talent contest and thinks they possess the talent to break through to the big time.
In the meantime, they need to climb the ropes, and they get their professional start as backing singers for R&B singer James “Thunder” Early (Eddie Murphy). This takes them on the road and gets them started in the business. Eventually Curtis renames the group “The Dreams” and launches them as a solo act. In this transition, he decides to make Deena the focus of the trio; she lacks Effie’s vocal power but offers a more appealing presence as a front woman. The movie follows the professional and personal ups and downs experienced by the women and those close to them.
Am I the only one who thinks Dreamgirls would work better if it didn’t attempt to tell the tale of the Supremes? On one hand, that makes the story a little more provocative, but I think it causes more distractions than it needs. As I watched the flick, I constantly tried to connect the movie’s fictionalized events with real-life occurrences, and that made it tough to concentrate on the plot and characters. If the picture went with a more generalized look at a Motown-style group and wasn’t so obviously based on the Supremes, I think it’d be a more involving effort.
Once we get past those distractions, though, Dreamgirls presents an effective and entertaining flick. I’ve often cited my general dislike of musicals, but this one manages to avoid many of the usual pitfalls. One positive comes from the movie’s use of its musical numbers. Only occasionally does it present the contrived notion in which characters sing their dialogue. Most of the time it presents its tunes via live or studio performances by the characters. It doesn’t just take us to the stage in an ordinary way, as it integrates the songs with montages and other action. However, I very much like the fact that unlike most musicals, Dreamgirls doesn’t often stop the action to make the participants sing their thoughts. The tunes of this flick flow more smoothly and work well.
This factor allows Dreamgirls to flow pretty well most of the time. The first half goes especially well, as it moves quickly and wraps us up in the world of the Dreams. We get involved in the characters and the settings, and we enjoy the ride we take.
Once Effie becomes a problem and leaves the group, however, the movie loses steam. Much of that comes from the absence of tension, as the natural sense of conflict – both romantic and professional – that occurs with Effie in the group creates much of the film’s drama. With her out of the loop, the movie droops and tends to meander toward its conclusion.
The other issue that occurs without Effie in the mix comes from the lackluster nature of the Deena character. She never develops into much of a personality, a factor that relates both to the personality as written and as performed by Knowles. Some of this may be intentional, and one could possibly interpret it as a slap at Diana Ross; perhaps Dreamgirls intends to demonstrate that she always should have stayed in the background and never have become the star. I wouldn’t agree with that thesis; no one enjoys such a long, successful career without very clear mass appeal and talent. I don’t think the movie’s portrait of Deena/Diana as something of a cipher is an accurate one.
Perhaps I shouldn’t blame the script and I should pin the criticism on Knowles. She offers a lovely presence and doesn’t embarrass herself in the role, but she lacks much heft in the part. She does fine during the first half, as the flick concentrates more on Effie and Curtis, but once Deena becomes more prominent in the story, Knowles doesn’t carry matters well. Her lackluster performance means that the movie drags in its third act.
Dreamgirls also loses points due to a distant turn from Foxx. Cast in the Berry Gordy role, Foxx never quite connects with the part. He conducts himself as aloof and imperious without any heart or real personality. As with Deena, perhaps this was intentional and meant as a commentary on Gordy himself, but it doesn’t work very well for the movie. Foxx simply doesn’t seem to involve himself in the role; he often looks a bit distracted, like he’s mentally working on another film.
As I mentioned already, Hudson won an Oscar as Effie. While I don’t know if I believe she truly deserved it, I won’t clearly say that she didn’t. I didn’t feel tremendously impressed by her acting chops, as I think she seems a little forced at times. Nonetheless, Hudson inhabits the role with reasonable effectiveness and has the right voice for it. She does what she needs to do for this pivotal part.
Murphy didn’t win an Oscar as Early, but he deserved one. Many will blame the release of the execrable Norbit smack in the middle of Oscar voting season for Murphy’s loss, and that may be the case. If so, that’s a shame, as the voters shouldn’t have allowed one role to affect their judgment of another. Murphy proves absolutely sensational as Early in arguably the best work he’s put on film.
During the movie’s first act, we can overlook Murphy’s gifts, as he basically comes across as Eddie being Eddie. Those portions cast him fully in James Brown impersonation mode. Actually, that’s a little unfair, as Murphy’s early shows more depth than simple mimicry, but those elements of the part don’t force him to demonstrate much beyond what we’ve seen from him in comedic roles.
However, as the movie progresses, Murphy brings out more from the part. Early experiences professional and personal ups and downs that Murphy conveys with real dimensionality. He doesn’t stick to stock mannerisms. Instead, he turns Early into a rich, full character who offers the most interesting and involving part of the flick. While I think Alan Arkin is a fine actor, there’s no way his one-dimensional shtick as the drug-using grandpa in Little Miss Sunshine merited an Oscar victory over Murphy’s work here.
Otherwise, Dreamgirls probably got the Oscar consideration it deserved. Entertaining but flawed, it keeps us interested for much of its running time, though it goes too long and loses us somewhat during the third act. This is a better than average movie musical but not one that I’d consider to be a classic.
The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B+/ Bonus A
Dreamgirls appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. From start to finish, the movie looked great.
At all times, sharpness appeared excellent. The film offered very good delineation in all kinds of shots. From close-ups to wide images, the flick stayed concise and accurate. No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects materialized, and I noticed no edge enhancement. Source flaws remained absent through this clean presentation.
The palette of Dreamgirls favored warm oranges, browns and similar tones. These complimented the dark-skinned actors and provided a lush setting for the film. The colors seemed full and dynamic. Blacks were deep and dense, while shadows appeared clear and well-defined. I couldn’t find any reason to complain about this fine transfer.
More praise comes for the fine Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Dreamgirls. Given the movie’s nature, it should come as no surprise that music dominated the affair. The many, many songs displayed strong stereo imaging and opened up well to the rears. The whole spectrum delivered the music in an involving, immersive manner. Effects played a smaller role, but they seemed well placed and appropriate. Crowd noise helped put us in the live settings, and other elements worked fine as well. This wasn’t a terribly ambitious soundscape, but it succeeded for what it needed to do.
Audio quality excelled. Of course, music remained the most aspect of the track, and the mix rendered these elements well. The songs and score were warm and dynamic throughout the movie, with clean highs and deep lows. Speech was natural and concise, while effects appeared accurate and clean. All in all, I felt impressed by this satisfying soundtrack.
For this two-disc “Showstopper Edition” of Dreamgirls, we get a broad collection of extras. On DVD One, we start with 12 Expanded and Alternate Scenes. Viewed together via the “Play All” option, these fill a total of 36 minutes, 10 seconds. Music comes to the forefront in these clips, as they all revolve around performance numbers. We get some without cut-aways to other elements, and many just run longer than in the final flick. All are entertaining to see, especially the ones that only appear in incidental form in the movie such as the TV performance of “I’m Somebody”. Nothing here expands the story or dramatic arcs, but it’s fun to see the clips anyway.
We also find a music video for “Listen” by Beyonce Knowles. The three-minute and 49-second clip alternates shots from the movie with simple lip-synch images of Knowles. It’s neither a memorable song nor a creative video, though Knowles looks exceedingly hot in her non-movie shots.
A few ads open DVD One. We get clips for Shrek the Third and Norbit. These also appear in the disc’s Previews area along with a Dreamgirls soundtrack promo.
Over on DVD Two, we start with a series of featurettes listed under Building the Dream. Taken together, these run a total of one hour, 54 minutes and 46 seconds – and take them together you should, as they’re meant to be viewed as one long documentary. They mix movie clips, behind the scenes footage, and interviews. We hear from Knowles, director Bill Condon, producer Laurence Mark, composer Henry Krieger, casting director Debra Zane, executive producer Patricia Whitcher, production designer John Myhre, choreographer Fatima Robinson, co-choreographer Aakomon “AJ” Jones, choreographer’s assistant Eboni Nichols, director of photography Tobias Schliessler, associate choreographer Joey Pizzi, music supervisors Matt Sullivan and Randy Spendlove, music producers Damon Thomas and Harvey Mason Jr., first AD Richard Graves, costume designer Sharen Davis, theatrical lighting designers Peggy Eisenhauer and Jules Fisher, department head hair stylist Camille Friend, department head makeup Tym Shutchai Buacharern, visual effects supervisor Gray Marshall, and actors Jennifer Hudson, Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, Loretta Devine, Anika Noni Rose, Keith Robinson, Danny Glover, Sharon Leal, and Hinton Battle.
“Dream” looks at the stage production and its adaptation for the screen, casting, and pre-production subjects like set design. From there we move through choreography, songs, performances and recordings, and the actual shoot. We also learn about locations, cinematography, lighting and camerawork, costumes, hair and makeup, and the movie’s premiere.
When I received this DVD, I bemoaned the lack of an audio commentary. After I watched the excellent “Dream”, I didn’t really miss the commentary anymore. It digs into so many issues in such a full, rich manner that it covers virtually all the appropriate bases. We get a tremendous amount of good information, and a surfeit of fine behind the scenes elements help make the program even better. This is a terrific look at the production that really entertains as it informs.
Next we find Dream Logic: Film Editing, a four-minute and eight-second featurette. It includes comments from Condon, editor Virginia Katz, and 1st assistant editor Ian Slater. They discuss the challenges involved with chopping down the reams of film shot for Dreamgirls into a coherent whole. We also learn the rationale behind many of their editorial choices in this tight, informative piece.
For the eight-minute and 21-second featurette Dressing the Dreams: Costume Design, we hear from Davis as she discusses her influences and style choices. This adds up to another insightful program that gives us a good look at the decisions made for the flick.
Another featurette looks at Center Stage: Theatrical Lighting. It goes for eight minutes, 44 seconds as it features Condon, Eisenhauer and Fisher. They chat about the techniques they used for the movie’s various lighting challenges. We get a mix of useful details, especially about the ways the lights reflected what would have worked in the movie’s era.
Under Auditions and Screen Tests, we locate three clips. This area houses “Dreamgirls – Beyonce Knowles Screen Test” (2:24), “Ain’t No Party – Anika Noni Rose Audition” (2:09), and “Steppin’ to the Bad Side – Fatima Robinson Choreography Audition” (6:20). Parts of these appear already in the long “Dream” documentary, but it’s great to see them on their own here. I especially like the one with Knowles, as we see her get on her internal Diana Ross.
Seven Previsualization Sequences come next. We get “The Talent Show” (9:35), “Fake Your Way to the Top” (6:57), “Cadillac Car” (3:01), “Steppin’ to the Bad Side” (8:24), “I Want You Baby” (2:45), “Heavy” (1:46) and “Hard to Say Goodbye” (4:29). These mix filmed storyboards, some musical test footage, and audio to approximate the flow of the scenes. They offer a cool way to see the movie’s planning processes.
Finally, we find an Image Gallery. This splits into four areas: “Storyboards” (988 across 10 subdomains), “Costume Designs” (78), “Production Designs” (15), and “Art Department Archive” (31). All four areas offer some great material. The storyboards are genuinely exhaustive – and exhausting, as flicking through them cramped my hand! I think the art department material is the most fun, though, as we get good looks at the album covers and posters created for the flick.
Dreamgirls provides an inconsistent but often entertaining piece of work. Though it sags as it goes, it provides a better than average movie musical and displays enough strengths to make it worthwhile. As for the DVD, it presents excellent picture and audio along with a stellar set of extras. This set gives us an enjoyable flick and a top-notch package.
Pursestrings note: in addition to this two-DVD “Showstopper Edition” of Dreamgirls, fans have the option of purchasing a single-disc release. It duplicates this set’s DVD One and retails for $29.99, or only $5 less than this version’s $34.99 list price. If you don’t care about extras, get the one that’s cheapest, but I think all the fine materials on DVD Two definitely warrant the extra cost.
Viewer Film Ratings: 4.1538 Stars|| Number of Votes: 13|