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'Xanadu' skimps on extras, not fun

June 28, 2008|Jen Chaney | Washington Post

What I am about to write will undoubtedly elicit mockery and ridicule for weeks 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 leg warmers, 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, this week's arrival of the "Xanadu: Magical Music Edition" DVD ($20) 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 ELO 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 its neon lights shine as brightly as ever. But 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 even occasionally educational. But it's hard to forget 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: 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, esteemed producer of such films as "A Beautiful Mind" and TV's "24."

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