" The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as the Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient. And as the philosophy of the orient expresses it, life is not important. "
— General William Westmoreland, Hearts and Minds

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It is difficult to separate Saturday Night Fever from the phenomenon that surrounded it — the disco craze, the fashions, and John Travolta’s iconic pose in the white suit. The movie does capture a moment in time in the late 1970s, but it holds up well 30 years later. Look beyond the suit, and you’ll find a story with universal themes, as well as a fine performance by Travolta.

The bonus features on a new 30th anniversary DVD are mostly fluffy, so watch this one for the movie.

Lord of the Dance

Look beyond the white suit, and you'll find a story with universal themes
Look beyond the white suit, and you’ll find a story with universal themes

At the start of the film, 19-year-old Tony Manero (Travolta) is on top of the world, strutting through the streets of his Brooklyn neighborhood, dressed immaculately from his bright red shirt down to his platform shoes. The camera lingers on his body in the movie’s opening minutes, not just his clothing, but his elaborate grooming ritual. Travolta’s eyes have never looked so intensely ice-blue as they do here, his hair has never been so lustrous and black. And surely no one in the history of cinema has ever looked so sharp and ready for action in a pair of salmon-colored polyester pants as Travolta does here.

It was a big part for Travolta. As director John Badham points out on the DVD commentary, Travolta is in every scene. He is charismatic on the screen, but is able to disappear into a role that requires macho bravado, vulnerability, and good dancing.

Night Fever

Tony works in a hardware store, but lives for Saturday nights, when he and his buddies go to 2001 Odyssey, the neighborhood disco. Tony’s friends are looking to get high and have casual sex, but Tony would rather dance. It’s the feeling he gets when he’s dancing, that gives Tony the idea that maybe he could do more with his life than sell paint and hang around with his immature buddies.

A new friendship with Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney), draws Tony further away from his insular circle. He sees her at the disco one night, she seems classier than anyone else he knows. He thinks she’d be a good dance partner in an upcoming contest. Turns out she’s from Brooklyn too, but she’s got a job in Manhattan, and she’s got ambitions to move up in the world.

The movie has a few too many subplots. They wrap up in such rapid succession towards the end, that it’s easy to forget the traumatic event that had seemed so important at the movie’s climax. It’s a minor complaint, and the threads do serve to show Tony’s growth as a human being. A movie that was only about the disco culture of the 1970s could be easier to dismiss, but Saturday Night Fever transcends its era.

DVD Extras

The commentary by Badham is above average. It sounds like it might have been recorded for the 25th anniversary edition, five years ago, because a couple of times, he says “twenty-five years ago,” so this is probably partly a repackaging. There are too many long pauses, but he usually has something interesting to say, and he seldom repeats himself.

Catching the Fever is about an hour long and has five segments covering various aspects of the movie. The first three are the most interesting and cover the making of the film, the music and the costumes. Each segment has its own credit sequence, so don’t be fooled into thinking it’s all over. These segments include interviews with the actors (but not Travolta), filmmakers and the surviving BeeGees.

Dance Like Travolta and Fever Challenge are disco dance lessons that might be fun with a group. When I tried to select ’70s Discopedia on the special features menu, the disc returned me to the main menu.

Picture and Sound

Both picture and sound are excellent. The DVD’s enhanced widescreen picture was virtually flawless. The sound is Dolby Digital 5.1.

How to Use This DVD

Watch the movie. Then check out Catching the Fever, but turn it off when you start to get bored. If you want to know more about the making of the movie, check out Badham’s commentary, but save it for another time.