Tuesday, January 24, 2006

DVD

Columbia-TriStar, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, pan&scan, languages: English DD 5.1 & Dolby Surround, French & Spanish Dolby Surround, subtitles: English, French, Spanish, double side-single layer, 28 chapters, "extra concert footage", rated PG, 93 min., $29.99, street date 6/16/98.

Studio Line

Directed by Bob Spiers. Starring Melanie Brown, Victoria Addams, Melanie Chisholm, Emma Bunton, Geri Haliwell, Richard E. Grant.

It is the summer of 1997. All is quiet on the banks of the Thames and calm in Docklands backwaters. In Battersea Park, people snooze in the shade and children play; in Trafalgar Square, a road sweeper does his daily round and pigeons roost undisturbed atop Nelson's Column. Suddenly, a faint rumble is heard in the distance and a gust of perfume rushes down the Mall... A double decker bus roars into view and hurtles toward us and then... In a dazzling explosion of music, color, clothes, and really big shoes, five fabulous girls emerge from popping flashbulbs and screaming fans to descend upon the capital with as much in-your-face fanfare as their phenomenal debut onto the international pop scene.

Hang on to your knickers, pump up your platforms and fasten your seat belts, because the Spice Girls - Emma Bunton (Baby Spice), Geri Halliwell (Ginger Spice), Melanie Brown (Scary Spice), Melanie Chisholm (Sporty Spice) and Victoria Addams (Posh Spice) - are taking center stage in their feature film debut SPICE WORLD, a roller coaster ride which will Spice Up Your Life and open your eyes very wide!

A celebration of the meteoric success of one of pop's hottest bands set against ultrahip '90s London, Spice World is a bold and boisterous adventure that mirrors the inimitable style - sexy, hip, stylish, and kitschy all rolled into one - of the Spice Girls. Bursting with funky music, far-out fashion and a lot of fun, Spice World is a jambalaya for the senses - a '90s version of A Hard Day's Night with a pinch of This Is Spinal Tap and a dash of Speed, all flavored with the Girls' unique and piquant Spice. But be warned - this Spice is HOT!

Picture/Sound/Extras (B+/B+/D+)

Although I don't know how much credibility I actually have with the readers of the DVD MovieGuide - especially after my long-standing positive feelings about Armageddon - the statement I'm about to make may absolutely ruin any reputation I have. Nonetheless, I will bravely plod on, steadfast in my belief that the true shall set me free. No more will I hide in shame! So here it is:

I LOVE the Spice Girls.

Now, before you judge me too harshly, I need to tell my story. Once upon a time, I was a staunch a Spice-hater as there was. When the group first hit in the US, I literally cackled with delight about how terrible I believed they were. I mocked them at every turn and took joy from any failures. Of the latter there were few, but I greeted them enthusiastically nonetheless.

Since I'd built up such a malevolent interest in them, I just HAD to see Spice World when it came out in early 1998. I even got my best friend and my fiancée - also both Spice-haters, though not to my extreme - to go with me. We'd all seen the previews, and the movie just had to be horrific.

To my surprise, it wasn't that bad. To be sure, it wasn't about to win any Oscars or make anyone forget A Hard Day's Night, but it made a respectable showing for itself and managed to maintain a certain level of silly fun. Grudgingly, I had to acknowledge these facts; so emerged the first chink in my armor!

To quickly sum up the rest of the story, I remained a Spice-hater despite my non-hatred of Spice World and I decided that it would be fun to see the Spice Girls live when they embarked on their first US tour in the summer of 1998. I'd seen their performances on TV shows back in 1997 and they were terrible; even though I now love the band, I still recognize how bad those early live bits were. As such, I anticipated quite a lot of Spice-hating material would manifest itself during an entire concert.

My fiancée and I went and to my never-ending surprise, the Spice Girls put on a damned fine show. I've been to many, many concerts in my life - about 300 at last count - and I tend to be rather difficult to impress; I've seen so many that a kind of regression to the mean occurs and it's hard for anyone to bust out of the pack. Well, Spice Girls did just that. They put on a polished, professional and downright sharp show that night, and that was all she wrote. Just as had happened to me when I saw Madonna 13 years prior, I quickly went from foe to fan because of the high quality of a live performance.

So here I am, nearly a year later, and my Spice-adoration has yet to wane. Mock me, ridicule me, say what you will - I'm damned nuts about Spice Girls!

And I like Spice World quite a lot as well. While the film impressed me to a certain degree when I hated the band, it clearly works a lot better if you like them. I certainly derive much more pleasure from the movie now than I would if I wasn't so in the bag for Spice Girls. As such, I probably can't be terribly objective about it, so I'll try to give TWO reviews of it: one that focusses on my initial impressions in my Spice-hating days, and one that discusses my current feelings.

As I mentioned earlier, my original thoughts about the movie mainly revolved around the fact I found it much more enjoyable than I expected. That doesn't mean I thought it was great, or even good, but since I thought it would be a stinker of epic proportions, "half-decent" was quite a victory for the movie.

In general, I didn't think it was too funny, but I liked the way that Spice Girls were willing to make fun of themselves and the whole hullabaloo that surrounded them. I expected it to me a completely artificial puff piece that displayed absolutely no life or wit, and that wasn't the case. Could Spice Girls act? Not really, but they acquitted themselves adequately, especially Victoria, who really came across quite well; she was the only one I thought - and still think - has the talent to pursue an acting career. All in all, Spice World wasn't much of a movie, but it was pretty okay.

Now, of course, I absolutely adore it. Most of that change of heart comes from the 180 degree turn my opinion of Spice Girls took last summer. If you don't find them to be charming and entertaining, then this film won't do too much to change your mind. If you already love them, however, you'll find much in which you can delight.

The girls essentially play caricatures of themselves, and all do so adequately, although Mel C. tends to fade into the background too much and Mel B. tries too hard to do her whole "scary" thing. Both Emma and ex-SG Geri come across well, and as I already noted, Victoria's terrific; she plays up her role as superficial bitch goddess with relish and abandon, and she makes a fine impression.

Maybe I'm just too sensitive, but I really think that most of the people who slam Spice World never saw it. It and Spice Girls are such an easy target. Of course they're going to win "Razzies" or whatever negative awards as "worst actresses"; such designations were made before the film ever came out. I still feel that many people attack the film simply because they're supposed to do so. I can't imagine I was the ONLY person who went in expecting trash but came away with some respect.

Unfortunately, the film was trashed with much more malice than was (or is) due. The movie purported to be a fun romp through a fictionalized week in the life of Spice Girls, nothing more, nothing less, and that's what it is. Maybe those attached to the movie riled people because they made frequent references to A Hard Day's Night - a film that ironically, altered the opinions of many Beatle-haters in 1964 as Spice World affected me. However, no one ever said Spice World was better than or as good as A Hard Day's Night; it simply followed a similar structural and plot path.

Actually, both movies have nearly identical plots, in that virtually none exists. Oh, there are some subplots, such as a newspaper editor who wants to ruin Spice Girls, and tensions between the Girls and their slave-driving management, and concerns for a pregnant friend, and issues surrounding the "big concert" that gives the film its climax, but there's no actual overriding story in place; the entire movie essentially consists of a bunch of semi-related skits and the (too) occasional musical performance.

And that's perfectly okay. Spice World trots along at a decent pace as it posits the Girls in situations of varying degrees of interest and humor. The group and everyone in the picture maintain a sense of spunky self-deprecation that really carries the day. Everyone knows the film is a piece of fluff and reacts as such. The movie ultimately works simply because it looks like fun and that sense comes through the screen. Hell, if a hardened cynic such as myself enjoyed it, there must be something decent going on up there.

Actually, my biggest complaint about Spice World revolves around the lack of extended musical bits. We get five song performances during the course of the film: Too Much, Say You'll Be There, Leader of the Gang, Wannabe, and Spice Up Your Life. The first track works worst because much of it runs under the opening credits and the sound mix is uninspired. Spice Up Your Life comes across tremendously well as the film's closing number since it was shot quite elaborately to mimic a live performance.

The other three tracks are of most interest to Spice fanatics, however. Leader of the Gang is a cover of an old Gary Glitter tune and it appears nowhere other than during the film itself. Say You'll Be There and Wannabe are quite readily available, of course, but the movie presents alternate versions of the songs - and in 5.1 sound at that! As much as I enjoy the picture itself, these are the moments to which I most frequently return - thank God for chapter search!

Anyway, I thought only five performances was too few, especially since the ones that do appear are so terrific. I also would have preferred less dialogue during the musical scenes; Say You'll Be There, Leader of the Gang, and Spice Up Your Life are all marred by some dialogue plopped into the mix. In all these cases, the music level drops for those bits, which takes away from the presentation.

Interestingly, the DVD and laserdisc (and maybe the VHS - I'm not sure) include one song deleted from the movie: a "live" version of Mama. This track was filmed during the same "concert" that gave us the previously mentioned clip of Spice Up Your Life. Unfortunately, while Mama looks good and seems to have been edited as though it were part of the film, it boasts poor mono audio; the sound comes directly from the set itself, which means we hear real crowd noise but only a taped backing track to which the Girls lip-synched. They lip-synched Spice Up Your Life as well, but at least the high quality version of the song was dubbed back on top of it - and in fine 5.1 as well. Although Mama is an auditory disappointment, it's a nice little piece to have on the DVD.

Other than that bonus clip of Mama, Spice World contains only one other "extra": the theatrical trailer. I find this to be a shame for a couple reasons. For one, they should have at least included the teaser; both it and the full trailer included material not in the film, and the teaser shows some footage not in the trailer. Obviously, Spice World isn't the kind of film Columbia Tristar (CTS) were likely to consider for full "special edition" treatment, but how difficult would it have been to gather up some bits and pieces of cut scenes and slap them on the DVD? Not very, I'd guess.

Despite that omission, CTS did a pretty good job with this DVD. Picture quality generally looks nice and sharp, although occasional scenes seem a bit hazy or grainy. Spice World favors a very brightly colored palette, and that aspect of the production comes through quite well on DVD; hues appears very bold but strong and accurate.

One note in regard to image: the Spice World DVD includes both letterboxed and full-frame versions of the film. I compared the two a little, and it looks like the full-frame version offers more visual information on the top and bottom. The only time this appears not to be true occurs at the start of the film when special effects are used to create a James Bond style opening credits sequence; this part seems to be cropped. Normally I don't report on the full-frame versions of DVDs because I rarely watch them when a letterboxed version exists; I prefer to see films in their original ratios. However, in this case, the full-frame Spice World is probably preferable since little information seems lost but some is gained, and in my book, the more Spice, the better! (On both sides of the DVD, Mama is letterboxed.)

Since Spice World so heavily features music, you'd expect it to have a strong sound mix, and for the most part, the DVD's Dolby Digital 5.1 audio delivers. Sound quality is always good; dialogue, music, and effects sound appear clean and natural. Rear channel usage seems surprisingly strong. Other reviews of this DVD make it appear that some music comes from the surrounds but little else. That's not the case; while music dominates the rears - since it dominates the film as a whole - plenty of other effects get the surround treatment as well. Unfortunately, some sounds that shouldn't come out of the rears occasionally do; a few times during Spice World, dialogue bled through to the back speakers.

The sound quality of the five musical performances is a mixed bag. Too Much isn't enough; the audio is essentially restricted to the front channels and it seems too subdued. The other four, however, sound pretty terrific and they make nice use of the rear channels. For another musical bit to show off your system, skip ahead to chapter 23 for the dance mix of Who Do You Think You Are. This scene plays the track to sound like it would in a club - which is where the segment takes place - and it really does. Actually, be prepared for that track, because it is loud; I turn the sound down right before the scene starts so the neighbors won't call the cops.

Okay, so it's fairly clear that critics and most people over the age of 12 be damned - I really like Spice World. Where does that leave you? I dunno. Anyone who thinks I'm not going to give this DVD a strong endorsement clearly hasn't read much of what I already wrote; I'm massively in the bag for Spice Girls and nothing on this DVD changed my mind. If you're a Spice-fan of any degree, it's worth owning. It presents the Girls and their music in a strongly positive fashion. If you're not fond of Spice Girls, aw hell, give it a shot anyway. Watch it, and if you still hate it, go ahead and hang me in effigy. Be careful, though; you might like it and end up like me, a big fat almost-32-year-old Spice-fan!