Strictly Ballroom (1992), the first entry in Baz Luhrmann’s “Red Curtain Trilogy” (followed by Romeo + Juliet (1996) and Moulin Rouge! (2001)), is by far the most charming of the series but also, tragically, the most overlooked. As an Australian import about organized, competitive ballroom dancing (preceding by a decade the trend in television that resulted in shows such as So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars), it’s no surprise that the film was widely overlooked by mainstream American audiences upon initial release. But Lionsgate Home Entertainment is giving North American audiences yet another chance to experience this quirky, romantic comedy with the release of Strictly Ballroom on Blu-ray, timed to coincide with the release of Luhrmann’s own Great Gatsby.
The film opens with a hysterical, Christopher Guest-style mockumentary about a regional competition in which promising young dancer Scott Hastings nearly destroys his career as a competitive ballroom dancer by performing “new steps” (gasp!). And that’s something the Federation, headed by the nefarious Barry Fife, strictly prohibits. Many of the film’s funniest moments arise from this exaggerated strictness in the Federations approach to dancing. This results in competitions during which all the couples on the floor dance identical routines in perfect circles.
The story of Strictly Ballroom is admittedly conventional, as Scott is torn between his urge to break from the Federation’s prescribed style of dancing and his mother’s expectations of him: anticipating a Hastings triumph at the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix. There’s also a bit of Dirty Dancing thrown in– Scott trains a passionate, amateur dancer named Fran to be his partner in secret, much to the dismay of his fellow dancers and her family when their relationship is discovered. Most of the film’s narrative threads play out as expected, but the colorful aesthetic presentation of the film, which finds all the characters adorned in gaudy pastels and sequins, not to mention its contagious positive spirit more than compensate for any of the lack in narrative originality.
The Blu-ray features a vibrant HD transfer that perfectly highlights that aforementioned spectacular aesthetic. The special features on this release are the same as those included on the previous, 2-disc Special Edition DVD release of the film from Buena Vista. These features include an audio commentary; Samba to Slow Fox, a documentary about the sort of competitive ballroom dancing on which the film is based; a deleted scene; a narrated design gallery; and the behind-the-scenes featurette, “Strictly Ballroon: From Stage to Screen.” “From Stage to Screen” is as wonderfully quirky as the movie itself, featuring extensive interviews with Luhrmann, as well as the film’s producers, and loads of wonderful footage behind the scenes of the production.