Release Date(s)1987 (April 27, 2021)
Studio(s)Great American Films/Vestron Pictures (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A
While vacationing with her family at Kellerman’s swanky Catskills resort in the summer of 1963, Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman (Jennifer Grey) breaks the guest rules by befriending the resort’s working class entertainment staff, including star dance instructors Penny Johnson (Cynthia Rhodes) and her partner Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze). But when Penny discovers that she’s pregnant, Baby—wanting only to help—asks her father (Jerry Orbach) for money that she then gives to Penny to pay for an abortion. The back alley procedure goes badly, so Baby’s father—who’s a doctor—quickly steps in to help the girl. But when he realizes that this is what his money paid for, he’s not only furious at Baby, he wrongly assumes that Johnny was the father, all of which makes things vastly more complicated when Johnny begins teaching Baby how to dance… and the pair inevitably falls in love.
A passion project for writer/producer Eleanor Bergstein, who based the story on her own experiences as a teenager summering with her family in upstate New York, Dirty Dancing was first pitched to MGM by producer Linda Gottlieb, but eventually ended up at Vestron Pictures, which greenlit the production (at just half of the proposed budget) despite the fact that director Emile Ardolino had only worked previously in TV. Swayze was an easy choice for the role of Johnny, given his film experience, but Grey was considered a risky choice as her most notable role up to that point was as Matthew Broderick’s annoyed sister in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The pair’s on-screen chemistry was obvious however, and the film ultimately supercharged the careers of both actors. Key to its success was the fact that Ardolino insisted that his actors do all of the actual dancing, which lent the film an authenticity that bigger and glossier Hollywood productions of the day lacked (both Footloose and Flashdance, for example, used dance doubles for some scenes). The film’s nostalgic setting appealed to audience too, and its soundtrack—a mix of new pop hits and oldies—ultimately sold more than 32 million copies worldwide. Dirty Dancing was a massive hit on home video too, becoming the first film to sell more than a million copies on VHS, and ultimately selling tens of millions of copies on DVD and Blu-ray over the years.
Dirty Dancing was shot on 35 mm photochemical film using Panavision Panaflex cameras and spherical lenses. It was finished on film at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio for its original theatrical release. For its debut on Ultra HD, Lionsgate has scanned the original camera negative in native 4K to create a new 4K Digital Intermediate, complete with high dynamic range color grading approved by cinematographer Jeff Jur (both HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are included on the disc). The resulting image represents a dramatic improvement upon any previous home release, with a significant increase in detail. It should be noted, however, that you’re also going to see a lot of film grain. That grain is moderate to strong—the latter especially apparent in optically printed titles and transition shots—and has always been a part of the film’s “indie” look, but a certain kind of A/V enthusiast (who prefers all-digital content) will probably not be able to get past it. Longtime cinephiles, however, will recognize just how good the footage scanned directly form the OCN looks compared to previous Blu-ray presentations. Skin tones, hair, and costume fabric exhibit much more refined textures. Colors are a bit richer too, and significantly more refined, but this tends to vary a little from shot to shot. The daytime resort footage looks very naturalistic, as it was mostly shot in natural light. The dance numbers, however, feature proper stage lighting and the colors—both in terms of the environments and costumes—are lush and vibrant. Highlights are genuinely bold and the shadows are darker but more detailed than ever before. (Both HDR options are equally good, with little obvious difference between them.) It’s worth keeping in mind that Dirty Dancing was shot on a shoestring budget of just $5 million (the average movie budget at the time was $12-15 million) and entirely on location. This was really a kind of guerrilla filmmaking that was uncommon before digital cameras made such efforts much easier. Dirty Dancing has also been repeatedly exploited on home video, which means the negative has been handled a bit more often that is typical of films of this vintage. Nevertheless, while you’d never call this 4K image reference quality, this Ultra HD release represents a genuine upgrade of this particular film. And in a lovely touch, the presentation even includes the original Vestron Pictures logo at the start of the film.
As good as the image is, however, the new English Dolby Atmos mix is even better. Dirty Dancing is obviously not an action film, but for a musical this mix is as good as it gets—straight-up reference quality. The soundstage is big, wide, and immersive, with clear and full-sounding dialogue, pleasing and natural movement, and lovely dynamics. Atmospherics are lively and constant right from the moment the Housemans arrive at Kellerman’s—you can hear insects, bird calls, and the sounds of games and kids playing on the beach from the surrounds. Music filters in from the rear channels, while dialogue is front and center. When Baby discovers the after-hours staff party, the music playing from their quarters lifts into the height channels as she follows Billy up the long stairs. Once at the party—and during all of the dance numbers—the whole soundstage comes alive with conversation, music, and general revelry from every direction. To top it all off, the film’s soundtrack is presented in outstanding fidelity, with full and pleasing bass. This film has absolutely never sounded better than it does in Atmos. Hats off to re-recording mixer Tim Hoogenakker, who created this mix. It’s sonic home run that recalls the best Paramount mixes back in the early days of Blu-ray, on titles like Footloose and Grease. Note that the previous English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is also included, as is an English 2.0 stereo mix in Dolby Digital format that preserves the original theatrical audio experience. Optional subtitles are also available in English SDH and Spanish.
Lionsgate’s 4K Steelbook includes the following special features:
- Audio Commentary with Eleanor Bergstein
- Audio Commentary with Kenny Ortega, Miranda Garrison, Jeff Jur, Hilary Rosenfeld, and David Chapman
- Establishing Shot with Cinematographer Jeff Jur (4K HDR – 12:59)
- Theatrical Trailer (4K SDR – 2:24)
The two audio commentaries are quite good and have been carried over from previous Blu-ray releases. The first features the film’s writer and producer, while the second track includes the cinematographer, choreographer, one of the actors, the costume designer, and production designer. But the Establishing Shot featurette is new for this release, presented in actual 4K and graded for HDR. (The trailer is in 4K as well, but the color is 10-bit SDR). When Jur came in to approve Lionsgate’s new 4K remaster and HDR color grade, special edition producer Cliff Stephenson wisely thought to set up a camera and take the opportunity to shoot a new interview with him. The result is terrific, as Jur offers significant insights on the making of the film and his involvement with the production. He’s also provided numerous Polaroid photos taken on the set, all used for the featurette, which represent a never-before-seen look behind the scenes.
The Steelbook package also includes the film in 1080p HD on a Blu-ray Disc, but this is not remastered from the new 4K scan—it’s the same 30th Anniversary Edition disc released back in 2017. It includes the following extras:
- Happy Birthday, Dirty Dancing (HD – 29:19)
- Patrick Swayze: In His Own Words (HD – 12:52)
- Eleanor Bergstein: Thoughts on a Lifetime of Dirty Dancing (HD – 6:40)
- Patrick Swayze Uncut (HD – 13:34)
- Dirty Dancing: The Phenomenon (SD – 13:45)
- The Rhythm of the Dancing (SD – 4:08)
- Hungry Eyes Music Video (SD – 3:54)
- She’s Like the Wind Music Video (SD – 3:59)
- (I’ve Had) the Time of My Life Music Video (SD – 4:51)
- Jennifer Grey Interview (SD – 11:14)
- Eleanor Bergstein Interview (SD – 18:38)
- Miranda Garrison Interview (SD – 13:19)
- Kenny Ortega Interview (SD – 15:23)
- Deleted Scenes (SD – 11 scenes – 11:53 in all)
- Extended Scenes (SD – 7 scenes – 7:50 in all)
- Alternate Scenes (SD – 3 scenes – 2:40 in all)
- Baby Blackmails Lisa: Jennifer Gray Screen Test (SD – :53)
- Baby Blackmails Lisa: Extended Scene (SD – 1:08)
- Baby Confronts Dad: Jennifer Gray Screen Test (SD – 1:06)
- Baby Confronts Dad: Actual Scene (SD – 1:36)
- Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey Screen Test Montage (SD – 1:12)
- Outtakes (SD – :38)
Some of those features were newly-created for the 30th Anniversary Edition, and some go all the way back to the original Artisan DVD release of the film way back in 2001. Of course, this is not everything that’s been created for this film. Diehard fans will definitely want to hang on to Lionsgate’s 2010 Limited Keepsake Edition Blu-ray box set, which included a number of additional features not carried over here (among them Kellerman’s: Reliving the Locations, multiple Tributes videos, For the Fans, Dirty Dancing with Patrick Swayze, Multi-Angle Dance Sequences, a Vintage Featurette, and more). But what you do her here is significant, and the new Establish Shot featurette is well worth your time. The Steelbook package also includes a Digital Copy code on a paper insert.
Dirty Dancing has long been a home video favorite. It’s one of those beloved catalog titles that keeps getting re-released every few years and sells well no matter what format it’s on. Lionsgate’s new 4K Ultra HD Steelbook edition is currently only available at Best Buy stores, but we suspect it will go into wide release (in standard Amaray packaging) at some point in the coming months. If you’re a fan of the film and you’re 4K ready, it’s absolutely not to be missed.
- Bill Hunt