Xanadu Magical Musical
As this movie was firmly based on traditional musicals of the past, Xanadu always had it certain level of elegance and extravagance embedded underneath its tarnished surface. I was jazzed like any other Xanadu fan when it was announced that this movie will not just be re-issued, but it’ll come with a few bonus features. However, the realist side of my brain warned me, as with any official Xanadu news, about the odds of dashed expectations and it didn’t look good with this one. I kept hearing Rodney Dangerfield tugging on his red tie and repeating his famous mantra ‘No Respect!’
It only got worse when I got e-mails from a couple of interviewees in the new DVD documentary telling me that the company who was in charge of this DVD expressed frustrations with Universal over the limited budget. Seems they found tons of rare Xanadu material as the movie was heavily promoted, but the studio wasn’t interested in clearing the rights. According to Universal, the original 1999 Xanadu DVD didn’t sell enough to justify the financial effort.
After a curtain point, any good Xanadu fan gets use to the lack of consideration from the general public, some of the movie’s participants and the movie’s copyright owner have towards Xanadu. Yup, life ain’t easy for this tarnished gem. In this case, knowing that there’s more rare material out there may fill the fanboy’s heart with glee, BUT the harsh reality is that it’ll remain unreleased. Well, it makes you bite the bullet until the next go around or you’re forced to get dentures, whichever comes first.
On the day of the new DVD release, I went to the local Best Buy…and they didn’t have it! I’ve gotten more obscure DVD titles like ‘Aqua Teen Hunger Force: The Movie’ here before and they have a large DVD selection, so this was some concern well as a small warning for me. I would later find out through the Only Olivia message board that even for those who lived in towns like Los Angeles faced the similar situation.
Luckily, I wondered into the Borders next door and found a copy…on sale! The volume on Rodney’s rap was turned down for the moment.
It seems obvious that the first thing I checked out when I got to my DVD player was the documentary, Going Back To Xanadu. This 26 minute original documentary managed to line up and talk to many of the movie’s surviving cast and crew: director Robert Greenwald, choreographers Kenny Ortega & Jerry Trent, animator Don Bluth, producer Lawrence “Larry” Gordon, costume designer Bobbie Mannix, Fee Waybill & Michael Cotton from The Tubes, muses Sandahl Bergman & Marilyn Tokuda, original writer Marc Rubel, screenwriter Richard Danus, many surviving Xanadu Dancers, Gene Kelly’s widow Patricia Kelly and fans Ken Anderson and Heather Hoban. Sadly, going MIA in this production was the two song writers, co-producer Joel Silver, Michael Beck and the lady who’s face is plastered all over this package, Olivia herself.
Even though this original production is on the skimpy budget side (not even for a title card!?!? Geezz, come on, guys!!), the information provided will make hearts of fans flutter, even the casually interested might find it entertaining…possibly more than the movie itself (I see Xanadu 2: Unmaking Of A Musical in development horizon already!).
Thankfully, one of the biggest mysteries of Xanadu is settled: What Happened?! A steady time frame of the film’s origins is presented, where Xanadu goes down the yellow brick development road from a innocent comedy script idea based on Rubel’s Venice Beach friends to a “no budget, no star roller disco” and quickly skirts to a more broader traditional fare, thanks to the sudden signings of ONJ and Kelly…all in such a short period of time. As Ortega put it: “I went to bed thinking I was doing a roller skating disco movie and woke up with the biggest star in music and suddenly the icon of motion picture musicals and truly going….’I don’t know how to do this.’
While the crew was sweating it out, there was a small sub-culture of dancers bubbling on the movie’s set; stories like Ortega’s working relationship with Kelly and jugglers miscues are charming. Even Ms. Kelly offered a few surprises herself, like the ‘Whatever’ number was filmed after the movie officially wrapped and revealed more about the Fiorucci store where the ‘All Over The World’ world was filmed; it was in the first movie theater in Beverly Hills.
Even though this documentary was fun and educational, still, that lack of…hmm, I don’t know, effort on the studios part was a little irritating; not only where they’re no title card, but they relied on cheap BGM instead of the actual music from the movie…HELLLOOOO! This is a musical, ya cheap bastards….you forgot something!!!! Guess they didn’t feel like affording the connection here.
Bonus feature number two, the photo gallery, has a few gems itself. There’s 46 photos of rare and little known front and behind the scenes with a few standouts like the muses in front of a blue screen and, rubbing it all in, a shot from a deleted scene; where Sonny catches up with Danny at Dodger Stadium to tell him that he found a place for Xanadu. Somewhere, Dangerfield is laughing his tie off.
As for the movie itself, the only real question is how’s the upgrade? Not bad at all. The picture is brighter and sharper than the original DVD and the sound is much clearer. However, as I not a film snob enough to have a 5.1 set up, so you’ll have to form your own opinion on that matter. The subtitles are a little more detailed that the first DVD but, it misinterprets many of Jeff Lynne’s background vocals in All Over the World and Xanadu. For example: the AOTW line of “Monte Carlo, Shard End and…” is listed as “Monte Carlo, China and then…”.
As for that bonus number three, the audio CD of the original soundtrack? Well, fans might end up keeping it to complete the package, if they’re not tempted to use it was a coaster or a X-mas tree decoration. For the casually interested and, what the Rocky Horror fanbase would call “virgins”, this should help flush out the whole experience.
Finally, there’s a discount coupon for Xanadu On Broadway, the production that snowballed this DVD package in the first place. However (here we go again, Rodney!), even though there were footage of the show made for the documentary, it wasn’t used in the final cut of the documentary. Whatever….
For Xanadu fans, this beats nothing…though not by much and for the rest of the market, a solid entertainment package; a full spectrum of a movie, good bad, warts and all, complete with explanations…which is kinda rare for a poorly reviewed gem like this.
Thankfully, the “lowered expectation” sting is numbed a bit by the arrival of a 16 CDR collection called ULTIMATE XANADU at my door; it’s all the audio that is related to the movie: outtakes, separate channel versions of the ELO songs, an ass-load of cover version and so on to either push you into Xanadu nirvana or a dangerously serious nose bleed.
It’s nice to hear something as elaborate and Xanadu-ish like this ULTIMATE set while I type out a diplomatic letter complaining to Universal Home Entertainment or to petition Criterion Collections to consider Xanadu for their usual royal treatment, which sure as hell beats listening to something like…oh, Rodney Dangerfield’s 1984 rap single ‘Rappin’ Rodney. “Sex and steaks are my favorite pair…No Respect, No Respect…Both served the same, very rare” If this keeps up, I probably end up FedEx-ing a molotov cocktail to the studios front door.
UPDATE 2019: By this time, you might have heard about the Blue-ray edition of this movie. There’s nothing new to report here as it has the same contents (well as same complaints) under new digital microscope. Still, if Criterion puts out a Howard The Duck set first, there will be a dumpster fire parade in front of their doors!!
P. P. S.: Since the Blue Ray release, Universal has issued another DVD version of Xanadu only without the CD and a new slip-cover.