A lot of people who I know know that I love movies and review them for this website. Many times, people will ask me when a movie's coming out in theaters or on video and I'll tell them. Rarely though, do as many people ask me about a title as they have been with "Center Stage", a movie that did only ok in theaters, but seems like one of those titles that seems ready to build up a following on video. Interested in just what all the buzz was about, I sat down to watch the movie, and found it to be not flawless, but an entertaining effort that offers some high-energy performances and dances from the cast.
I liked how the movie started off, then it slowed up a a while, and came back again for a strong final act. We are introduced to the characters in the begining of the film and learn about how incredibly intense ballet training is as we see what the girls have to go through to even get into the schools. This is the makings of a very good story, to see that these girls have to go to the breaking point in these schools. Their teachers are tough, as well. And yet, "Center Stage" chooses to go towards a mix of romantic drama and the story at hand, which revolves around the main group of girls who are working their way through ballet school.
The characters aren't terribly well developed, but the performers (who are mostly newcomers) engage us with their energy in not only the dance numbers but in the general scenes and material. All the more impressive, considering that the dialogue succeeds often, but also occasionally is unintentionally funny - but not in a good way. In fact, "Center Stage" sometimes reminded me of another film that involved dancing in a much different fashion - "Coyote Ugly". Although that film was a bit of a mess all-around, "Center Stage" has a similar problem that when it focuses on dancing, it's fantastically energetic and entertaining. It doesn't say anything during some of these moments - and it doesn't need to. When it leaves the dance floor, the audience's attention begins to leave a bit as well. That's mainly because these characters aren't really well-defined enough to hold our attention through some rather thin romantic scenes.
Strangely though, it works overall, and doesn't let its flaws drag it too far down into the abyss. Lead Amanda Schull's first performance is strong, and helps her character to stand out among a legion of characters that are a bit too similar for their own good. The dance scenes are very well performed and a pleasure to watch - again, they stand out as the highlights of the movie, especially some of the scenes that end off the film.
All-in-all, "Center Stage" is sometimes frustrating because I liked many scenes on their own and part of the plot would have made for a great story on its own. There are things here that don't work in the screenplay with some of the dialogue, and a little bit of editing could have helped the film's pace in the middle. It holds up as entertainment, but it's not going to be the film about the art of ballet dancing.
VIDEO: Tristar presents "Center Stage" in the film's original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and like 99.9% of Columbia's presentations, it's anamorphic. After a few small bumps in the form of some print flaws early on, this is another excellent effort from the studio. Slightly off-topic, I liked that the character-driven picture was filmed in 2.35:1, and it works well here, really capturing the beauty of the dancing scenes. Sharpness is usually very good throughout the film, aside from a couple of moments where it seems to drift slightly into a bit of a soft look. Detail is very pleasing, and the picture displays pleasing depth and clarity.
Colors are natural and pleasing, looking well-saturated and bold, with the exception of some scenes such as the class sequences which use a more subdued color palette. There are some minor print flaws that I spotted during the early moments of the movie, but after that, the print remained clean and clear of problems. A tiny trace of pixelation and shimmer appears as well, but these flaws are not very distracting. Black level is strong and flesh tones of the dancers remain accurate and natural throughout. Another solid presentation from Tristar that, aside from a few minor faults, presents a very enjoyable image that holds up to the usual great standards of the studio. The layer change is at 1:09:12.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 audio delivers what one might expect from a movie like this one. The majority of the running time is a dialogue-driven effort that has the great majority fo the sound from the front. Only when the music really comes in does the room fill with sound. Surrounds again, mainly are used for the music but otherwise, they stay silent. The music is really what gives the film its energy, and it sounds strong here - dynamic, crisp and clear throughout the movie, and some of the more intense songs are powerful here.
Overall, the audio here does a good job at doing what it set out to present in a film like this one, where the dialogue and music are, essentially, center stage.
MENUS:: Although only the main menu is animated (with background music), thought obviously went into the menus in general and their nicely done "Broadway" theme.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Nicholas Hytner, who provides a fairly enjoyable and informative commentary track, providing the usual details about the production, talking about working with a lot of the actresses, whose performance in "Center Stage" is their first. During the track, he also discusses his thoughts on dance and ballet, and how best to capture that on film in this movie - Hytner doesn't seem like an expert, but someone who simply appreciates the art that's on display in the movie.
The only problem here is that there are some definite pauses throughout the commentary track where Hytner doesn't chat about the movie. Luckily, the sound for the movie comes back in quite well during these periods. Those who are interested in the movie may enjoy taking a listen to this commentary, but I only found it to be moderately entertaining (such as when Hytner talks about the obstacle of shooting the class scenes with the big mirror in the room) to listen to with the director's sometimes limited comments.
Featurette: Although it's a bit too promotional in nature and filled out with clips from the movie, there are some mildly interesting interviews that tell the viewer about the lengths that these students really have to go through to achieve their dreams of being a dancer. 6 Minutes.
Deleted Scenes: Along with 3 extended dance sequences ("Swan Lake", "Romeo and Juliet", "Stars and Stripes"), we get 2 deleted scenes from the movie. Although the scenes are fairly enjoyable, they really don't add much to the movie and we're rightly taken out.
Also: Mandy Moore's music video for "I Just Wanna Be With You", talent files and theatrical trailers for "Dance with Me" and "Center Stage"(Dolby Digital 5.1)
Final Thoughts: "Center Stage" manages to be an entertaining picture, but doesn't always choose the right path in its story. Tristar's presentation is nothing unusual from the studio, offering solid audio and video quality with some extras. In this case, the extras aren't always the best, but I appreciate the effort that went into including them.
The Film C+
Video 89/B+ = (356/400 possible points)
Audio: 86/B = (344/400 possible points)
Extras: 80/B- = (240/300 possible points)
Menus: 80/B- = (160/200 possible points)
Value: 83/B = (249/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: C+
DVD GRADE: B