Fame (1980) Blu-ray review

All together now: I'm gonna live forever, I'm gonna learn how to fly (high)...

With the remake currently stinking up multiplexes on both sides of the Atlantic, it's no surprise that Warner Home Video has seen fit to bring the original Fame to Blu-ray this week.

Personally speaking, the thing I've always found most intriguing thing about Alan Parker's 1980 movie is that while many people claim to have seen it, when quizzed the majority seem to have confused it with the phenomenally popular and considerably more family-friendly TV series that followed in the film's wake between 1982 and 1987. As such, I can only presume that if and when they ever settle down to watch the film, they'll be pretty surprised by Parker's rather gritty and naturalistic movie.

Seemingly determined to rob show business of any and all glamour, the film charts the experiences of a group of hopeful actors, dancers and musicians as they make their way through the New York School for the Performing Arts. For modern audiences the film follows a rather familiar template - first come the auditions, then the classes and finally the real-world experiences for those who actually find some measure of success (one of the major strengths of the film is that not everybody makes it).

I feel it coming together
Sadly, as much fun as some aspects of Fame remain, it still has quite a few problems. The pacing is all over the place (the years fly by with barely any major development for several of the main characters) and Parker seems to struggle with the idea of making a film about a performing arts school that isn't a musical. Twice during the course of the 134min feature everything grinds to a halt for extended musical sequences. The first occurs during a visit to the school's lunch room, the second is the much-celebrated sequence where the kids take their dancing to the streets of New York City. While both are fairly entertaining, they stand out like a sore thumb compared to the more grounded material that surrounds them, and neither serves to advance any of the many storylines that are in action at the time.

So, what about the Blu-ray disc itself? Well, like the film itself the 1080p imagery proves to be a rather inconsistent experience. Parker opts for a stripped-down, faux-documentary-style to his visuals, which means that the VC-1 1.85:1 encode doesn't exactly sing the praises of high-definition during most of its interior sequences. The subdued lighting leads to rather soft edges and flat blacks that reveal little in the way of shadow detail. I'd be amazed if it wasn't an improvement on the old DVD, but it's possibly worth tempering your expectations a little anyway. That said, whenever the action moves outside the image quality improves massively - the long-shots of Times Square are particularly impressive, with the fine detailing and clarity lending the visuals a tangible depth that is absent elsewhere. Meanwhile colour reproduction is excellent throughout, and the level of grain evident in the image makes it hard to imagine that there's been much of the way of DNR tech employed outside of that inherent to the video codec.

Too much is not enough
Unsurprisingly, when it comes to the audio side of this the company has opted for a lossless version of the Dolby Digital 5.1 remix present on the earlier DVD release. Presented in Dolby TrueHD (Warner appears to be one of the few major studios still favouring Dolby over DTS's lossless codec) the 5.1 remix pretty front-heavy - but that's hardly a surprise considering the limitations of the original source material. And it least it has the benefit of not sounding particularly forced like some more aggressive surround remixes we've encountered. Where the remix works is in adding some heft and depth to the music - which, admittedly, is pretty key to a film like this - making use of the full soundstage to surround you in dodgy synthesiser music.

Moving on to the extras, there's sadly nothing here that fans won't already be familiar with from the DVD release. Alan Parker delivers a slightly dry, but still informative audio commentary track that would definitely have benefit from having some more of the cast participate to liven it up a bit - however to make up for this there are 12 short video interviews with Parker and members of the cast that are linked to the commentary, which you can check out while watching the film. If you don't fancy interrupting the movie's flow, each can also be accessed directly from the Special Features menu. Rounding out the disc are the 12min On Location with Fame (an archival behind-the-scenes featurette), 11min Fame Field Trip (a more recent featurette about the real Performing Arts School) and the theatrical trailer. All of bonus video material is presented at 480p.

Warner Home Video, All-Region Blu-ray, £16, Out now