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When one thinks of cult films Evil Dead and films of it’s ilk usually come to mind. You usually think of low budget horror and sci-fi films generally with lots of blood and gore and nudity. But there is another kind of cult film for another kind of person. That film is the absurd, surreal, bizarre, and laughably bad Xanadu and you’re either going to love it or you’re going to hate it.
Michael Beck (best known for his role as Swan in The Warriors) plays Sonny Malone. He’s a disgruntled painter who can only get work enlarging album covers. All that changes for him when he has a chance run in with the mysterious woman on roller skates who kisses him and disappears in a flash of light. This woman is Kira (Olivia Newton-John fresh off the set of Grease), a muse. In his search of her he meets Danny McGuire (Gene Kelly, sadly in his last feature role) a retired ’40s Jazz musician.
It turns out he had Kira as a muse back in the day and she’s back to inspire them both to open up a roller disco. Don’t the muses have anything better to do? Everything is going fine until Michael and Kira fall in love, which muses aren’t supposed to do.
Flush that out with some truly absurd song and dance numbers, mostly involving roller skates and one completely animated by Don Bluth, and you get the gist of Xanadu. The dialogue is laughable, the performances are dismal and the plot is fragile enough to destroy with a glance. In fact Xanadu is the film that inspired the Razzies and of six nominations including Worst Actor, Actress, Original Song, Picture and Screenplay, the only one it won was Worst director (Robert Greenwald).
The best thing the film has going for it is the Electric Light Orchestra Soundtrack. And interestingly enough, unlike most musicals, all the numbers are not sung by the characters. The songs are simply played and the cast dance around throughout them. This film also contains the most absurd musical sequence ever filmed where Michael and Danny are trying to decide which musical direction to go with the roller disco. Danny wants ’40s big band jazz and Michael wants ’80s rock and roll. We see the contrast off both styles, although the rock and roll band that sounds kind of metal looks very new wave and the look and sound clash horribly. Anyway, at the end of the sequence the two styles come together and the ’40s dancers and the ’80s dancers are mixing it up. The mesh is so outlandish that it almost hurts your brain.
However, it is easy to see how this utterly absurd film became a cult favorite. It’s got a catchy soundtrack half provided by Electric Light Orchestra, which offers the best talent in the film, it’s got wonderfully horrible special effects and much of the scenes are so ridiculous and pointless it’s hard not to laugh. Watching the film it is very easy to imagine a midnight audience of drunken fans singing along and having a good time. It’s no Rocky Horror Picture Show or Showgirls, but it certainly has earned its cult status. This film is just so over the top that it comes back around and tops it again.
The film is presented in widescreen 1.85:1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 and French 2.0 stereo surround. English, French and Spanish subtitles. The transfer looks pretty good. The film itself doesn’t look all that special and even pretty bad at times, but if you’re into the film that just adds to the charm.
Going Back To Xanadu: (27 min.) A retrospective with cast and crew about the making of the film. These people seem pretty happy with the work they’ve done here which is kind of sad, cause this film is really bad. But they cover just about ever aspect of the making of the film from the making of it, to the initial bad review to the launching of the cult status.
Complete Soundtrack: On a second disc you get the whole 10 song soundtrack, 5 from Olivia and 5 from ELO.
It’s hard to seriously recommend this film to anyone, as most people will mostly likely hate it. If you’re a fan of this film then you already own it and this review is just superfluous for you. If you are even remotely curious, I recommend renting it first before shelling out the cash to buy it. However, at a price of $20 and the complete soundtrack included, it’s a pretty good deal.
Universal presents Xanadu: Magical Music Edition. Directed by Robert Greenwald. Starring Olivia Newton-John, Gene Kelly and Michael Beck. Written by Richard Christian Danus and Marc Reid Rubel. Running time: 96 minutes. Rated PG. Released on DVD: June 24, 2008. Originally released in 1980. Available at Amazon.com.