1st September 2003
It's 1920's Chicago and along with prohibition and gangsters the hottest thing in town are the seductive Kelly sisters. However, Velma Kelly's career has just hit a slight stumbling block when, after finding her sister in bed with her husband, she's arrested for the cold blooded murder of both her sister and husband. So much for the sister act. However, hotshot lawyer Billy Flynn is on the case and it doesn't matter whether Velma is guilty or not, Flynn has never lost a case and once the jury are brain washed with his version of the facts Velma will be walking free. Alistair Campbell would be proud.
Meanwhile, Velma's number one fan, Roxie Hart is in some hot water of her own. Although married, albeit to a rather boring and unadventurous man, she is a lowly chorus dancer who is seeing someone on the side. Fred Cassely claims to be able to launch her career but, as is the case in most of these situations, he is stringing her along in order to get what he wants in the bedroom. As soon as Roxie realises this she shoots her lover dead and waits for her husband to arrive home from work.
Although Roxie's husband Amos initially creates an alibi for his wife, upon discovering her infidelity he refuses to take the blame for the murder and Roxie is sent to jail with Chicago's most famous singing murderess. Although heart broken by his wife's misdemeanors, Amos doesn't want to see his young wife hang so he approaches the best lawyer in the land and Roxie and Velma soon find themselves competing for the attention of the one and only Billy Flynn. But Billy takes an instant shine to Roxie and with his influence the tabloids are soon going crazy for everything Roxie, the girl who took the wrong path. However, with Roxie's new found fame Velma is soon forgotten and she becomes more and more desperate to get onto Roxie's bandwagon to freedom.
For a film of this genre and its large brightly lit stages with its multitudes of colour, the transfer really needs to be something special in order to make it standout from the crowd. On the whole it does pass the mark, with a sharp image accompanied with plenty of rich and vibrant colours and flesh tones. Whenever the screen is filled with the bright colours of the stage, especially with high levels of red, it behaves itself marvelously and the high bit-rate and superb transfer ensures that there is no colour bleeding or over saturation.
Unfortunately, the picture can still be far from perfect as there are plenty of scenes where there are signs of grain whilst the black levels can also only be described as adequate. Perhaps the shear variety of colours on offer were just too much for the DVD encoding process to handle. Quite how this has occurred on what is an important DVD release is beyond me. Still, the picture manages to remain free from pixelisation and outlining whilst the print is free from any dust scratches and other picture imperfections.
Whilst the picture may be a surprise disappointment to some, the sound is an important area where additional points can be reclaimed. The poorer picture quality could be attributed to the fact that valuable disc capacity was taken up by both Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks, and if there was ever a film that deserved both formats then Chicago would have to be one. But, like the picture, the sound is also a surprise disappointment.
Whilst both soundtracks are rich and dynamic with clear and precise dialogue in the centre channels, the surround channels are rather neglected throughout the film. They only tend to burst into life during the musical scenes, and then the effects are rather unimaginative, whilst remaining virtually silent for the rest of the film. It's hard to pick one soundtrack above the other, but it is the clarity and superior separation of the DTS soundtrack that gives it the slight edge over the Dolby Digital. However, I was still rather surprised by the lack of any real sonic differences. This could be attributed to a bit of over zealous compression of the DTS soundtrack or sheer laziness on the part of the DVD encoders.
In order to cater for people who don't have a home cinema system it's normal practice to include a Dolby 2.0 stereo soundtrack. Whilst this is still the case, it has instead been utilised for an audio descriptive soundtrack. This is something that is to be heartily welcomed and it's good to see that distributors are starting to cater for visually impaired viewers, albeit at the expense of the multitude of subtitles that seem to appear on most European discs and the soundtrack for none home cinema types.
The menu system is pleasantly animated and scored with a number of cut scenes from the the film playing in the background. However, once you select one of the submenus it becomes a static and silent affair. Whilst the extras the extras are reasonable enough there's nothing really to make you get excited. As usual, the behind the scenes documentary is the self congratulating kind with everyone telling each other how good they are and how they just loved working with each other. Fortunately, things do improve somewhat with the behind scenes rehearsal footage and some information on Chicago's history. There's also a deleted musical number "Class" with optional director's commentary. It's certainly not as classy as the other musical numbers, but its still nice to see such an offering on the DVD.
Also included is an audio commentary track with director Rob Marshall and screenwriter Bill Condon. Whilst it should be interesting to listen to, there is frankly far too much information to take in and it quickly becomes boring. It would have been so much better if some of the cast were on hand to liven things up somewhat. However, they were probably too big in their boots to lower themselves to providing such a menial task. The disc also contains theatrical trailers for The Hours, Frida and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. These are automatically played whenever the disc is inserted and there is no apparent method of accessing them from the menus. Quite why Buena Vista would want to do something like this is beyond me - it's almost as if they are treating it as a rental DVD.
Watching Chicago it is hard to believe that Richard Gere has had previous stage experience and I was cringing with embarrassment whenever he burst into song. However, it was Catherine Zeta-Jones who stole the stage with her bold and brash performance. It's obvious she loved every moment of it. British television viewers may well have already seen the "before they were famous" clips to realise just how suitable she was for the role. But as Nicole Kidman proved in Moulin Rouge, Renée Zellweger is no slouch. Although not a patch on Catherine Zeta-Jones, she also proves that she can sing and dance, although I suspect it will be her only venture into the tricky world of musicals.
The thing that puzzles me the most about Chicago is the fact that it grabbed six academy awards. Why should this film claim so many whilst, in my opinion at least, the far superior Moulin Rouge should have equalled, or even surpassed, that number of awards? It just goes to show how out of touch the academy awards are when they routinely overlook action films such as Lord of the Rings and opt for a more "classy" genre.
As a DVD package Chicago is criminally poor with extras that can only be classed as average and with the packaging and general presentation stinking of a rushed job to maximise profit. There's not even a booklet or sleeve of paper with the chapter listings on for heavens sake. I also detect the faint smell of a cash in and I wouldn't be at all be surprised to see a two disc special edition dancing its way onto the scene in the not too far distant future.
Chicago may not be to everyone's taste, and if you don't like show music then you should probably avoid it like the plague. However, deservedly or not, considering it swept the board at the Oscars you'd be mad to miss out on a viewing, even if its just a rental.
- Behind the Scenes Special
- Deleted Musical Number "Class"
- Audio Commentary with Director and Screenwriter
- Theatrical Trailers