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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Grease (1978)



Reviews and Comments

One hit wonders Warren Casey and Jim Jacobs' Broadway musical smash hit, Grease, gets rather muddled screen treatment in this filmed version of the play. The sound mixing is particularly distracting, for there is a continual tendency for the background music and noise to drown out the voice of the solo singer or speaker for the moment. [Note: the 1998 rerelease of Grease, with a restored soundtrack, fixes this problem.] Few of the jokes are handled as they should be, the result that a lot of humorous lines pass by unnoticed. Grease is something one must see on stage to appreciate fully. It's much more effective, for instance, for the guys and the girls to be on stage together during Summer Days but pretending they don't see each other, in that quirky stage musical version of reality. The film cuts back and forth between two totally different settings, with considerably less impact.

There's one great asset of the film over the musical, however, namely John Travolta in the lead role of Danny. He so perfectly embodies his character, simultaneously a serious interpretation and a parody of him. He also showcases his considerable singing and dancing talents, which, alas, have little outlet today. Olivia Newton-John is also good as Sandy, the female lead, but the other characters aren't especially noteworthy.

The songs are, with few exceptions, truckloads of fun. They are just enough reason in and of themselves to see the play or film -- but the parts in between are dull and shallow. (An amusing scene added for the movie has Travolta trying out for different sports, but this is directly due to the actor's aforementioned strength in the role.)

With all Grease's faults and weaknesses, it's hard not to like it. The songs alone are rousing enough to elicit forgiveness for its shortcomings, and the atmosphere of the fifties, though heavily glamorized by an overzealous memory, is rich. So if you're looking for some musical fun without a lot of excess baggage like plot, Grease is the perfect place to turn.

But see it letterboxed if at all possible! So much happens off the screen in the pan-n-scan version, it hurts.

[Warning: Spoilers follow.]

A curious observation about Grease and many of its peer musicals -- and actually the society that produced them in general -- is that conformity is a bad thing, and one must rebel against the system to be one's own individual. Curiously, the way to do this is to become like every other rebel to "fit in." Grease was written in the seventies, toward the end of this idea's popularity but set in a time when it was just beginning, the late fifties. It, too, hypocritically advocates submission to peer pressure. I must severely criticize this. It would have been a better message to send if Danny had had to accept Sandy the way she was, in spite of acceptance or rejection by his friends -- not to mention that this would have made a much more interesting story. Did Sandy really change, or is she just pretending? The former option is unrealistic; the second is impractical. Somehow this doesn't preclude a toe-tapping happy ending, but a little brain engagement wouldn't have hurt.

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