That’s Entertainment: Complete Collection
- Street Date:
- December 18th, 2007
- Reviewed by:
- Peter Bracke
- Review Date: 1
- January 4th, 2008
- Movie Release Year:
- Warner Home Video
- 378 Minutes
- MPAA Rating:
- Rated G
- Release Country
- United States
Editor's NotesNon-format-specific portions of this review also appear in our Blu-ray review of 'That's Entertainment! The Complete Collection.'
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Back before the age of home video, the idea of "owning" a movie was simply inconceivable. The only place you could see a movie was in the theater –- or years later, on network TV (at which point it would be chopped to bits by censors and commercial breaks). It was this limited ability to re-view movies that led to a short-lived trend dubbed the "montage movie." Essentially edited film clip reels padded out with (often cheesy) narration, patchwork flicks like 'Terror in the Aisles' (horror), 'It Came From Hollywood' (sci-fi) and 'That's Entertainment!' (musicals), managed to find box office success for a period of time in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
By far the best entry in the montage movie craze, the original 'That's Entertainment!' was released in 1974 by MGM. Part documentary, part extended trailer, part fawning (and self-aggrandizing) star vehicle, there's nothing in 'That's Entertainment!' that we haven't seen a million times since on TV or on DVD supplements, but back in the early '70s, this was all fresh, and audiences loved it.
All of the elements of the now tried and true formula are fully on display in 'That's Entertainment!,' which features extended sequences from many classic musicals, introduced by some of the genre's biggest stars. Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds, Liza Minelli, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly are just a few of the illustrious names who gaze into the camera, reciting narration that wouldn't be out of place on an Oscar telecast. There is a story underneath all of this showboating, however, with the film’s clips (culled from more than sixty classic musicals) painting a portrait of MGM as it rose to become Hollywood's premiere musical factory. The film is a bit less successful when it detours into tributes to such stars as the late Ethel Merman and FredAstaire & Ginger Rogers -- not because they don't deserve it, because it distracts from the film’s main narrative.
After the original 'That's Entertainment!' turned out to be a smash at the 1974 box office, the studio rushed out a sequel, and by 1976 we had 'That's Entertainment! II.' Things start off promisingly enough, with Astaire and Rogers reunited onscreen for the first time in decades as the film's de-facto co-hosts (they even do a little song and dance number), but unfortunately that's pretty much the end of 'II's ingenuity. With no real story to tell, all we get are more tributes to big stars (such as Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn), plus some tabloid-y gossip about Marlene Dietrich and other "difficult performers." As with the first 'That's Entertainment!,' the raw material in 'II' is certainly terrific, but that’s pretty much all this one has going for it, and perhaps as a result, it was unable to recapture the box office glory of its predecessor.
It took MGM almost twenty years to pump out another installment in the series. Although it saw a limited theatrical release, 1994’s 'That's Entertainment! III' was pretty much intended to go direct to video, but that’s not a bad thing in this case. Neither a documentary nor one long trailer, 'III' is really just an excuse to raid the MGM vaults for unseen performances and outtakes that even diehard musical fans never knew existed. MGM reported that no fewer than 135 sequences from various movies had been kept under wraps, with the studio "stockpiling" them in hopes of utilizing them for later use. There are some real finds here, from a trio of fantastic Judy Garland numbers, to sequences that were snipped from their respective films for being too "racy," to even a side-by-side comparison of the Fred Astaire number "The Belle of New York" that was re-shot due to the famous perfectionist being unhappy with his original performance.
Taken as a trilogy, 'That's Entertainment!' is the rare release that’s actually more than the sum of its parts. It's easier to forgive the weak second chapter in particular for its lack of originality, while the third film is so chock-full of revelatory deleted material that it almost functions as a supplement to the original movie. Indeed, a franchise like 'That's Entertainment!' really is tailor-made for home video, where you can replay the parts you love, fast-forward through the ones you don't, and make your way through the hours of musical memories at your own pace. The "montage movie" may no longer be necessary, but 'That's Entertainment!' remains a very entertaining trip well worth taking for musical fans.
The HD DVD Set: The Vital Stats
Coming on the heels of Warner’s recently released 'Harry Potter Years 1-5' and 'Blade Runner' box sets, the physical presentation of 'That's Entertainment! The Complete Collection' is a decidedly low-key affair. The package is simply a single cardboard box that houses all three films, each in their own individual keepcase. That's it -- no special packaging, no nifty collectibles.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Since the 'That's Entertainment!' series is essentially a six-hour "greatest hits" of vintage musicals, the video quality is predictably hit or miss. In fact, just about the only truly consistent aspect of this entire set is that Warner has provided identical 1080p/VC-1 encodes for all three films. Otherwise, brace yourself for a true hodgepodge of film stocks, photography styles, aspect ratios and color palettes that really run the gamut of every conceivable type of film-based presentation.
Some purists have made a fuss over the years over the varying aspect ratios of the 'That's Entertainment!' flicks. The filmmakers have chosen to sometimes recompose some footage, usually lopping off heads and tails to digitally matte 1.33:1 full-frame material to a more widescreen-friendly 1.78:1. However, other footage is left intact at 1.33:1, or 2.35:1 (a few clips even go as wide as 2.55:1). Personally, I’ve never found this to be much of a problem. I quickly got used to the changing aspect ratios, and as for the actual recomposed scenes, they generally only occur during montage sequences (where varying aspect ratios would be particularly distracting). In any case, the 'That's Entertainment!' series is clearly a "greatest hits" showcase, so what's the big deal, really?
As for the actual video quality, it varies wildly. Faring the best are excerpts from the more high-profile classics, such as 'Singin' in the Rain' and 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game,' both Technicolor wonders that enjoy a nice boost over standard-def. Color saturation is nice and bright, if not completely free of some noise and smearing. However, since all three 'That's Entertainment!' films were completed long before the extensive digital preservation work Warner began on films like 'Rain' in the later '90s, there are clear registration problems with the Technicolor material, as well as other print flaws. Indeed, most of the footage used suffers from dropouts, dirt and heavy grain (the older '20s and '30s B&W films are quite noticeable in this regard).
The highly inconsistent source prints notwithstanding, even the interview and narration material shot specifically for the 'That's Entertainment!' flicks looks surprisingly worn. Both parts 'I' and 'II' suffer the most -- the material is grainy, sometimes dirty and a bit soft. 'III' is the best-looking transfer of the bunch, but that’s no surprise since it was produced nearly twenty years after the first two installments. As far as the VC-1 encodes, Warner has done a respectable job, with some jaggies and moire patterns visible at times, but no major compression artifacts such as macroblocking.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Warner surprises by providing new Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround (48kHz/16-bit) soundtracks for all three 'That's Entertainment!' films, but sadly the high-res encoding offers almost no benefit. In fact, I didn't detect any audio emanating from the rear speakers. Granted, the vast majority of the films featured were recorded in mono, but still -- when I see Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround on the label, I expect at least something coming from the surrounds. That aside, like the video, the audio quality is again all over the place. Much of the older material suffers from noticeable hiss and compression. Low bass rarely moves the subwoofer, and dynamics are generally weak. The newly-recorded interview and narration material sounds fine on 'III,' though parts 'I' and 'II' are quite flat and lackluster. Despite the musical nature of the material, don't expect much from the audio here.
Note that there are also optional English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps) and Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (192kbps) dubs on all three films, though oddly, only 'That's Entertainment!' and 'That's Entertainment! II' get French Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (192kbps) tracks -- poor 'That's Entertainment! III' is left high and dry.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
The 'That's Entertainment!' series has already been released on standard-def DVD, and happily all of the materials from those earlier releases have found their way to this HD DVD. Surprising in its heft, there are hours of bonus features to enjoy, including some rare additional musical performances that rival anything seen in the films themselves. To be sure, these goodies are no mere afterthought (although sadly, Warner has not upgraded any of the material above 480p/i/MPEG-2 video).
- TV Special: "That's Entertainment! 50 Years of MGM" (SD, 66 minutes) - Originally produced to promote the film at the time of its original theatrical release in 1974 and hosted by George Hamilton and his then-wife Alana, this is primarily an extended interview show, featuring chats with stars Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds and Liza Minnelli. The special is capped by an 8-minute montage of additional clips from the movie.
- Featurette: "Just One More Time" (SD, 8 minutes) - The 1974 equivalent of an EPK, this short piece has cheesy narration, and more (very poor quality) clips from the flick.
- Newsreel: "MGM's 25th Anniversary Luncheon Newsreel" (SD, 11 minutes) - A longer look at the famed MGM luncheon glimpsed in the film. Makes a great trivia game of "spot the star."
- Theatrical Trailer (SD) - The original 1974 trailer for 'That's Entertainment!,' looking a bit ragged.
That's Entertainment! II
- Documentary: "The Masters Behind the Musicals" (SD, 38 minutes) - An excellent piece dedicated to the many talented (and often unsung) filmmakers who made the musicals highlighted in 'That's Entertainment!' possible. Actually produced in 2004, many directors, producers, musical conductors, arrangers and choreographers are interviewed. This could have easily been two hours, and it still wouldn't have been long enough.
- TV Special: "A Mike Douglas Show Excerpt" (SD, 21 minutes) - Originally filmed in 1976, Douglas hosts a roundtable of big musical names to talk about the 'That's Entertainment!' films, including Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Ann Miller and Janis Paige.
- Featurette: "The Lion Roars Again" (SD, 4 minutes) - More of a promo reel, this highlights MGM's entire 1976 line-up of film releases, of which 'That's Entertainment! II' was one of only six.
- Theatrical Trailer (HD) - Another dated looking trailer.
That's Entertainment! III
- Vintage Documentary: "Behind the Screen" (SD, 53 minutes) - I love that Warner calls this 1994 documentary "vintage." It's actually the best of the making-of docs here, as it balances out the fluff and film clips with some insightful interviews with the filmmakers, who scoured through over one hundred unused musical numbers in the MGM vaults to choose the best selections for the film. There’s also some behind-the-scenes footage of the stars recording their "interstitial" interviews used throughout the movie, which is another treat.
- Musical Outtake Jukebox (SD, 50 minutes) - A fabulous extra, this contains 16 unexpurgated "lost" musical numbers only excerpted in the film. Among the finds is Judy Garland singing "Mr. Monotony," Fred Astaire and Frank Sinatra doing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," and other great clips including "Pagan Love Song," "I Love Melvin" and "The Harvey Girls."
Note that each of the three discs also include an introduction from American Movie Classics spokesman and film historian Robert Osbourne, running 4 minutes a piece.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
There are no high-def exclusives.
'That's Entertainment! The Complete Collection' is a must for any musical fan. These tributes to the golden age of the genre are lovingly assembled and always entertaining, particularly for those who may be less knowledgeable students of the form. Warner has done a fair job on the video and audio for all three films (though none appear to have enjoyed a full-fledged remaster), and this box set does retain all of the extras included on the previous DVD releases of the series. Sure, there’s nothing terribly unique about this HD DVD set in terms of packaging (it's just three keepcases stuck in a box), but it's still nice to have the entire 'That's Entertainment!' trilogy in one easy-to-enjoy collection. While not an all-out win for musical devotees, this set is at least worth a look.
- HD DVD
- HD-30 Dual-Layer Discs
- Three-Disc Set
- 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only)
- English Dolby True HD 5.1 Surround (48kHz/16-bit)
- English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround (640kbps)
- French Dolby Digital-Plus 2.0 Stereo (192kbps)
- Spanish Dolby Digital-Plus 1.0 Mono (192kbps)
- English SDH
- French Subtitles
- Spanish Subtitles
- TV Specials
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