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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 5/7/99

The Jazz Singer
1980 (1999) - Republic Pictures (Artisan Entertainment)

review by Todd Doogan, special to The Digital Bits

The Jazz Singer Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C-, C-, C-

Specs and Features

111 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1 - listed as 4:3 widescreen on the case), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, song access, film-themed menu screens, scene access (36 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none, Closed Captioned

"Love on the rocks/Ain't no big surprise/Just pour me a drink/and I tell you some lies..."

My parents had the soundtrack tape for this flick in the family car, and on long trips, my mother would be sure to pop the damn thing in. To this day, I can't get the "today!" part of (They're Coming To) America out of my head.

This version of the The Jazz Singer is a very loose adaptation of a successful Broadway play (done in 1925) that went on to become one of the first "talking pictures" released in Hollywood. The original featured vaudevillian Al Jolson, and was a huge success. The newest incarnation stars pop icon Neil Diamond as Jess Robins (his stage name), a wannabe songwriter who becomes a huge success at the cost of his family and his heritage. You see, Jess is a strict Jew, and his father (played by Laurence Olivier - "I haf no son!") wants him to continue the family position of cantor. There wouldn't be a movie unless Jess had bigger hopes and dreams -- so when an offer for him to supervise the recording of his song Love On The Rocks comes through, he leaves his wife, father and life behind to pursue his dream. He finally achieves those dreams and becomes a success. But at what cost when, everything important to him falls away?

Let's get this out of the way -- the movie is just okay. It's not bad, it's not good -- it's something in-between. Maybe I remember it so fondly, that it became a smooth piece of Velveeta cheese in my mind's eye. I could break this film apart in so many ways, but what for? It's fun to watch, even if it is cliché-ridden. It's also neat to watch through new, older and more educated eyes. When I was a kid, and knew nothing about vaudeville, the homage to the original film blew right past me. Maybe you'll catch it -- you'll have to see it to find out.

The disc is not very good, and I can't cut it any slack. The video portion pretty much sucks. I don't think the digital compression and authoring is at fault -- it looks more like the print they used. But that's bad enough. The picture is faded and spotty, with really bad color. There are no digital artifacts that I could see, but still it looks like shit. Artisan didn't go out of their way to fix the soundtrack either. You'd think they might remaster some of those songs, and put a DD 5.1 soundtrack on this thing. Nope -- it's a 2.0 track and not a very good one at that. The one and only extra included, is that you can skip instantly to each and every individual song in the film. It's set-up like scene access -- you highlight the song title and voila... you're there. Big whoop. Maybe I'd be more excited if the songs sounded at least as good as my CD -- but they don't.

Overall, I'd have to say that if you really want this disc, pick it up. It is watchable and makes for an average DVD. The source material is the problem here, but that problem looks like it could have been fixed, so that's where the anger is coming from. Alas, you don't have to see the movie to enjoy the cheese. Just go out and pick up the soundtrack -- it's musical Alfredo.

Todd Doogan
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