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Blu-ray Reviews: Hairspray

Originally published in Australian HI-FI, November/December 2008, v.39#6
Last updated 6 April 2010

2007 - Roadshow Entertainment
Director: Adam Shankman
Starring: John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Amanda Bynes, James Marsden, Queen Latifah, Brittany Snow, Zac Efron, Elijah Kelley, Nikki Blonsky and Taylor Parks

Movie: 4.5 Picture: 5 Sound: 5 Extras: 5

Take a John Waters movie -- his first 'mainstream' one -- make a musical Broadway show of it, then make a movie of the Broadway show, and you have Hairspray. I preferred this musical to the original. It retains the same basic story, but fills in a few plot holes. It drops a couple of the off-colour elements that mark a typical John Waters creation, and adds just one: a cameo appearance by Waters himself as a flasher.

The original themes are preserved remarkably well through this long transition, adding just a little solidity to an otherwise light-hearted tale.

This movie is very easy on the eye, and the bright 'sixties' colour palette (the movie is set in 1962, just before the Beatles hit) look especially nice at 1080p24 with the VC1 encoding used.

The music sounds great. You could be easily tricked into thinking that the score consisted of covers of period music, but it was written fresh for the Broadway musical around 2000.

One of the special extras is a picture-in-picture commentary feature. The video window isn't just talking heads, thankfully, but also various behind the scenes shots relating to the on-screen action. This feature works even in the original 'Grace Period' Blu-ray players because it doesn't use the BonusView PIP features. Instead, there are two copies of the movie on Disc 1, the first, some 17.5GB in size, is the plain vanilla movie. The PIP version is only 13.5GB in size. The difference in size is the space consumed by the main movie's DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 channel, which averages around 4Mbps during the non-musical parts, and up around 6Mbps once the music gets going. The PIP version uses standard DTS 5.1 audio (1.5Mbps).

I'm not sure that the two surround back channels add much, but the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio seems to be flawless in terms of punch, musicality and power, even if there is not a great deal of subtlety. But that's due to the movie creators, not the audio codec.

The second disc carries a couple of hours worth of featurettes, so with the two commentaries and other extras on Disc 1, you can find out anything you want to know about Hairspray.

Running time: 116 minutes
Picture: 2.35:1 anamorphic, 1080p24, VC1 @ 13.99Mbps
Sound: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 24/48 3/4.1 @ 5579kbps (Core: DTS 24/48 3/2.1 @ 1536kbps); Two commentaries: DTS 2.0 @ 255kbps
Subtitles: English for the Hearing Impaired, Sing-Along
Extras: 'Behind the Beat' PIP feature (non BonusView); 5 Deleted/Alternate Scenes (1080p24 - 10 mins); 6 'Making Of' segments (1080i60 - 37 mins); Dancing instruction videos (1080i60 - 9 mins); 11 Making-of featurettes (1080i60 - 118 mins); Song Selection menu with 'Sing-Along' subtitles; Soundtrack Info
Restrictions: Rated PG (Australian rating); Region B locked; Some content in 1080i50 format

The following video bitrate graph was generated by BDInfo 0.5.3:

Hairspray video bitrate graph

Comparison: Blu-ray vs PAL DVD

Here are some comparisons between the PAL DVD and the Blu-ray version of this movie. At the top of each is the full frame (suitably shrunk down) used in the comparison, with a 250 pixel wide detail from the frame underneath. The left side is from the PAL DVD. The image was captured digitally from the disc, scaled up from its native 720 by 576 resolution to 1,024 by 576 (to present in the correct aspect ratio), and then, in order to be comparable to the Blu-ray version, from that to 1,920 by 1,080. The detail is from that last scaled version, and has not been rescaled again. The right side is from the Australian Blu-ray. This has not been scaled at all. Different applications were used to capture the two frames, so I am not comfortable comparing the colour between the two, merely the detail and sharpness. For those visitors from NTSC lands, generally the PAL DVD is just a touch sharper than the NTSC DVD.

Despite my disclaimer in the previous paragraph, this is a great movie with which to perform a comparison between Blu-ray and DVD. It is new. There are no differences in generation or level of restoration between the DVD and the Blu-ray. In fact, it seems fairly obvious that both the PAL DVD and the Blu-ray were drawn from the same physical telecining of the source film. The colours are spot on. What really nails it is that the framing is identical, down to the last couple of pixels. But in the following shot, the camera focus appeared to be out. The sharpest focus wasn't on the actress, but on the column to the right. The rest of the shots can speak for themselves.

Comparison 1

Comparison 2

Comparison 3

Comparison 4

Comparison 5

Comparison 6

© 2002-2010, Stephen Dawson