This is why you go to the movies.
You go to see a big beautiful widescreen image projected. You go for the clarity and depth of a soundtrack played loud. And you go to tap into the energy of 200 other other people who are all having the same electric experience, who have created that elusive and magical audience mindmeld, where everybody in the theater is there together, whether you know each other or not.
That’s what’s at the heart of the Grease Sing-A-Long. Forget about 3D movies, the real savior of theatrical moviegoing has to be something that allows audiences to come together in ways that they no longer do at theaters. There’s a joyous energy when everyone in the room gets to their feet to sing Greased Lightning along with the movie, an energy that no special effect or fad presentation can match. It’s the energy of of shared experience.
It helps that Grease is a great movie. Last year I put Grease on a list of ‘Perfect Movies’ and rewatching it on the big screen only solidified that position. As I said in that article, Grease is far from flawless, but sometimes it’s a movie’s weird flaws and problems that make it so great. The film is episodic and shaggy and I’m sure it’s a structural mess, but as an experience – that word again! – it works. The shagginess of the film allows each of the kids to get their moments, and a modern streamlined version of Grease would probably cut out songs like Beauty School Drop Out, which gives an awful lot of time to a tertiary character.
But it’s the film’s willingness to spend that time that makes it so warm and makes you feel like you’re getting to actually know these Rydell High School hooligans. I love the way the film celebrates the chaos and anarchy and energy of youth, never apologizing for these kids being delinquents and jerks but rather allowing them to subtly grow up and out of it. The movie dances on a fine line of being sort of ironic about all the 50s stuff but also very serious about the kids, and that ends up being part of the charm.
Watching the film on the big screen (for the first time in my case) reminds why John Travolta was such a huge star at one time. Has any other actor crashed and burned so hard and so fast and been such an actual loss? Travolta is incredible in Grease, filled with charisma and charm and loaded with talent. He moves with an old school grace and has a new school attitude. He has great comic timing and isn’t afraid to be a little bit silly. And he’s a fine singer. It’s hard to reconcile this Travolta with the bloated joke who works today – where has the glimmer and the magic and the sexuality gone?
The new version of Grease isn’t edited in any way, despite cigarettes being removed and lyrics changed for a green band trailer. What’s different is that Paramount has put animated lyrics on screen, as well as some other little cartoony flourishes; to me, someone who has seen Grease a whole bunch of times, this was refreshing. The animated lyrics are usually stylistically connected to the song, so when Danny sings Alone at A Drive-In, there are hot dogs and buns and popsicles telling you which words to sing (trust me, it’s actually well done and very cute). First timers might find this stuff intrusive, especially as the cartoons will occasionally take up half the screen or will be added to comment on actions, but for old timers it’s a fun addition.
Of course with the right crowd you barely need those lyrics on screen. There are plenty of people who can sing You’re the One That I Want without looking at a single word. Not every song in Grease is a killer, but there are more showstoppers per pound than in most musicals made after the golden age of the form. Even the biggest curmudgeon will feel moved to at least mouth some of the clever (and often filthy) lyrics, and the Glee generation will be up on their feet. Weirdly the Barry Gibb song Grease doesn’t get lyrics onscreen. I imagine it’s because Grease plays over the credits, and they didn’t want to hog up the screen.
There’s another miraculous aspect of the Grease Sing-A-Long: it almost guarantees no Grease remake. If the film is a hit it can be rereleased into theaters for years to come, and if it doesn’t do well Paramount will think nobody wants to see a new Grease. It’s the best possible solution, one where the original film is respected and we’re spared Justin Bieber as Kenickie.
I do hope it does well. It’s a beautiful idea, executed very well. Even if you’re not into the sing-a-long aspect Grease has never looked better; the colors have been sweetened and the film has always been a big, widescreen picture. It needs to be played on a huge screen, and this is a chance to see it in pristine condition. Seeing movies like this in theaters is always a new experience, and this is about the best such experience you could hope for.
One last thought: I have read some folks online saying that a sing-a-long would be just giving folks a license to talk and behave badly throughout the movie. When I saw Grease Sing-A-Long that wasn’t the case. I’m sure there was slightly more chatter than at a regular screening, but the whole vibe was less uptight than a regular screening. Many of the people in the theater were saying great lines with the characters, which is a lot of fun. Seeing the Grease Sing-A-Long is like going to a big party. If you’re open to the idea of going to the movies and having real, demonstrable fun, you’re going to love this movie. It’s probably the best possible theatrical experience you’ll have this summer.
Grease Sing-A-Long is playing in select theaters starting July 8th. To find out if it’s near you, or to ‘demand’ that it comes to your town, click here.
Behind every great book adaptation is a forgettable first try. — By Ryan Covey