DVDs: Bonus Points Movies

'Xanadu': Its Neon Lights Still Shine

By JEN CHANEY
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What I am about to write will undoubtedly elicit mockery and ridicule for weeks, if not months, to come. But I have to speak the truth: I love "Xanadu."

I love that the plot of this 1980 musical is thinner than the finest slice of deli-variety Swiss cheese. I love that Gene Kelly, in his final role in a theatrical film, is forced to wear some ridiculous pastel-colored costumes, and that he does so without losing a shred of his dignity. I love that the movie allows Olivia Newton-John to roller-skate, wear legwarmers, quote poetry by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and sing that "you have to believe we are magic," and that she sometimes accomplishes more than one of these things in the same scene.

For all those reasons and more, today's arrival of the "Xanadu: Magical, Music Edition" DVD ($19.98) could not be more welcome, and I suspect at least a few others share the same sentiment. Even though "Xanadu" was a box-office flop, it yielded several undeniably catchy top-40 hits by Newton-John and E.L.O. and, in the decades that followed, developed a cult following. The film even launched a Broadway show, which was nominated this year for four Tony Awards, including Best Musical. And really, why not? Doesn't everyone love the classic story of boy-meets-Greek-muse-who-helps-him-open-a-roller-disco?

The movie has been remastered in widescreen format, which means that "Xanadu's" neon lights shine as brightly as ever. But here's the bad news: The DVD doesn't come with nearly as many retro delights as it should. Devotees who don't already own the movie's soundtrack on CD will be pleased to know that it comes with the package.

But as far as extras go, all we get are a lousy photo gallery and "Going Back to 'Xanadu'," a decent 27-minute documentary that traces the movie's history with help from such luminaries as director Robert Greenwald; choreographer Kenny Ortega (he went on to orchestrate dance scenes in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and "Dirty Dancing," as well as direct a little movie called "High School Musical"); a smattering of minor cast members; and a couple of fans. The anecdotes are all great fun and, dare I say, even occasionally educational. But it's hard to forget to that something important -- specifically, someone with the initials O, N and J -- is missing from the proceedings.

Still, given the relatively low price of the set, most longtime lovers of this celebration of big dreams and even bigger '80s musical numbers probably won't mind. Because, as fan Heather Huban explains during the documentary, "Underneath that campiness, there is an underlying genius." Amen, my sister. Amen.

Most Surprising Bonus Point: Marc Reid Rubel, one of the "Xanadu" screenwriters, reveals that he based the movie's protagonist, Sonny Malone, on one of his friends. That friend? Brian Grazer, the esteemed producer of films like "A Beautiful Mind," TV's "24" and a guy who worked with Rubel and producer Joel Silver to develop the "Xanadu" concept.

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Also Available This Week

The family fantasy "The Spiderwick Chronicles," debuts today in both standard and two-disc special editions. For more options, check out this full list of today's DVD debuts.

Coming Next Week

The "Heathers: 20th High School Reunion Edition" -- yes, nearly two decades have passed since this dark teen comedy was released -- arrives on DVD next week. For a full calendar of what's coming in the weeks ahead, click here.

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PHOTOS: 'Xanadu' -- Universal; 'Spiderwick Chronicles' -- Paramount

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