on 25 May 2013
ABBA: THE MOVIE  [Blu-ray] It Seemed the Ovation Would Never End! Music Never Looked or Sounded So Good!
"ABBAMANIA" that was the name given to the hysterical worship of the four Swedes that enthralled Australia during an intense period in the mid-1970s. This phenomenon reached its high-point as ABBA conducted an enormously successful tour "down-under" in March 1997.
The feverish madness of the tour was captured on film by director Lasse Hallström's `ABBA: The Movie,' which remains as one of the precious few "OPPORTUNITIES TO EXPERIENCE ABBA LIVE ON STAGE." In the film, we follow radio disc jockey Ashley Wallace as he tries to hunt down the group for an exclusive in-depth interview. Will he make it or not . . . ?
Experience the excitement of ABBA's music and the mania that surrounded them in this very first Blu-ray release of `ABBA: The Movie.' The film has been fully restored and comes with a re-mastered surround sound.
Cast: Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Agnetha Fältskog, Robert Hughes, Tom Oliver (Bodyguard / Bartender / Taxi driver), Bruce Barry, Stig Anderson, Michael Mansson, Sandy Mansson, Lena Andersson, Lena-Maria Gårdenäs-Lawton, Maritza Horn, Ulf Andersson, Ola Brunkert, Lars Carlsson, Anders Eljas, Wojciech Ernest, Malando Gassama, Rutger Gunnarsson, Finn Sjöberg, Lars Wellander, Wes Denbaum (uncredited), David Etherton (uncredited) and Richard Norton (bodyguard and fitness trainer) (uncredited)
Director: Lasse Hallström
Producers: Reg Grundy and Stig Anderson
Screenplay: Lasse Hallström and Robert Caswell
Composers: Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Stig Anderson
Cinematography: Jack Churchill and Paul Onorato
Video Resolution: 1080i
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 [Panavision]
Audio: English: 5.1 LPCM Surround Sound and English: 2.0 LPCM Stereo
Subtitles: Swedish, English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese and Japanese
Running Time: 142 minutes
Region: All Regions
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Polar / Universal Music
Andrew's Blu-ray Review: ‘ABBA: The Movie’ is a playful concoction that mixes actual concert footage of ABBA performing around Australia in March of 1977 with a thin narrative that follows a disc jockey by the name of Ashley Wallace [Robert Hughes], who later worked in various Australian TV shows, is working against the clock to secure an interview with the band. Ashley Wallace's desperation is fuelled by the fact that his job is at stake, and also due to his efforts being repeatedly foiled. The film does a few interesting things, beginning with a cramped flat presentation which introduces us to Ashley that is soon thereafter stretched open to reveal a Panavision wide-screen format to introduce ABBA and preceding a similar motif by Douglas Trumbull, used in ‘Brainstorm’ , where he would switch between different film formats to punch up desired moments. There is also an abundant use of the split screen, made popular in ‘Woodstock’ , and there are even some fantasy and dream sequences tossed in for good measure. While these attempts to spice up the proceedings will do little to convince non-fans that ABBA could rise above a bland stage show that was carried mostly by pleasant vocals and, secondly, by some measure of gloss and frilly white costumes, the overall effect does serve to pump up the seventies time-capsule vibe that saw ABBA at the peak of its career.
The film has a very thin plot, which is no more than a vehicle to link together the concert footage. It concerns the adventures of Ashley Wallace [Robert Hughes], a naïve DJ on Radio 2TW, who normally presents a through-the-night country and western-themed show. In spite of this, he is sent by station's Radio Station Manager boss Bruce Barry to get an in-depth interview, "Not an interview, a dialogue", demands his boss, with the group, whose fame and stature neither he nor Ashley Wallace have the first clue about, which is to be aired on the day ABBA leave Australia. Needless to say, Ashley Wallace, who has never done an interview before, singularly fails, mainly because he has forgotten to pack his press card, although the fact that he is unable to buy a ticket doesn't help matters either. Armed with his trusty reel-to-reel tape recorder, Ashley Wallace is forced to follow the group all over Australia, beginning in Sydney, and then travelling, in order, to Perth, Adelaide, and Melbourne, experiencing repeated run-ins with the group's very protective bodyguard [Tom Oliver], as well as his increasingly exasperated boss. Throughout the movie, we see Ashley interviewing members of the public, asking them if and why they like ABBA and of course most of their comments are positive. But will Ashley Wallace eventually get that lucky chance encounter with ABBA and that personal interview? If Ashley Wallace does get that most eager interview, will he be able to edit the reel-to-reel tape interview in time and get it broadcast on the slotted time on Radio 2TW? Well you will have to purchase this brilliant Blu-ray disc to find out and you will not be disappointed and you will also get a warm glow of happiness when the credits roll up the screen.
For those of you too young to remember, or old enough to want to forget, there was a time in the mid- to late-1970s when the biggest group in the world was not the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, or KISS. In fact, it wasn't even some dirty, rebellious rock group, but a band of four utterly wholesome, polyester-clad Swedes named Agnetha, Björn, Benny, and Anni-Frid, that became ABBA. These two then-happily married couples sang sickly sweet if meticulously crafted pop tunes about dancing queens and soldiers named Fernando. The boys wrote the songs, which shrewdly mined everything from classic European schlager music to Beethoven to Bee Gees-type disco kitsch, while the girls brought luminous multi-octave harmonies wrapped up in sanitized sexiness. Together, they created one of the most immediately identifiable pop packages in the history of modern music, and though the critics may have hated it, by the end of the decade the juggernaut known as ABBA had sold over 200 million albums worldwide.
Today, Sweden's one-time biggest cultural export, they even topped Volvo, and remains an institution. Though the group never officially disbanded, they simply stopped recording in 1982 and, to their eternal credit, have refused to do the reunion circuit, the beat goes on thanks to numerous compilation albums, most notably the mega-selling "ABBA Gold," appearances on tons of film soundtracks, and a live touring cover band “Bjorn Again” that routinely sells out arenas worldwide and most sickeningly of all is the stage presentation of 'Mamma Mia!' that has as you know, been turned into a ghastly awful film, with actors who cannot sing and are as flat as a pancake, so please just stick to your day jobs, please, as that lot were a total embarrassment. Also if you have a penchant at the sight of ABBA, especially in one of their many now classic music video camp-fests, warbling forlornly about "Fernando,” on some mountaintop in Sweden, while wearing giant fur coats makes their unstoppable success now utterly preposterous, if not incomprehensible, there's really nothing you or anyone else can do about it. ABBA is an essential part of music history, just like The Beatles... so deal with it.
Directed by Lasse Hallström, 'ABBA: The Movie' was largely shot during the band's now-famous visit to Australia in 1977, when the group's grip over the nation was so intense it literally bordered on pandemonium. Lasse Hallström was granted "all access" to the band's jaunt Down Under, though the "gruelling" tour schedule only lasted like, a week and a half, and the footage he captured, displaying the way the group's hundreds of thousands of, mostly prepubescent fans, who behaved in a staggering spectacle. Screaming, crying, throwing themselves at limos or practically trampling each other to claw their way over a near-collapsing fence to touch their idols, its herd mentality at its most jaw-dropping. In fact, charges of Swedish mind control no longer seem out of line when Lasse Hallström takes his cameras to various Australian grade schools, and we meet kids being taught all about ABBA "One of us! One of us!" you can almost hear them chanting, or when he interviews parents who discuss the band's music and appeal as if they were being market-tested a brand of toothpaste.
Unfortunately, this fan frenzy material is only a portion of 'ABBA: The Movie,' and the film is far more wobbly when Lasse Hallström attempts to graft a "story" into the footage. Played by Australian personality Robert Hughes [Ashley Wallace] is a rock DJ assigned to nab the impossible assignment to get an interview with ABBA personally. Designed as a "framing device," it's an abysmal attempt at comedic relief, with the admittedly likeable Robert Hughes stumbling around backstage and sticking his microphone in the faces of anyone who'll listen, or most painfully, falling into a "dream interlude" where he imagines himself frolicking with the happy ABBA to the strains of "The Name of the Game."
You may have noticed that I haven't mentioned the music in 'ABBA: The Movie' at all. That's because, if you've read this far already, you've certainly long ago made up your mind about the Swedish Group. I will say that I always thought ABBA was a totally terrific awesome singles group. For every class-A single like "Dancing Queen," "Knowing Me, Knowing You" or "SOS," there is a couple of not so good tracks sandwiched in-between like "I Am the Tiger" or "Dum Dum Diddle." This makes the live cuts featured in 'ABBA: The Movie' a definite mixed bag, as the 1977 tour was still only about midway in the band's lifecycle and they hadn't yet matured into the more sophisticated pop group they would later become with more literate CD Album's like "Super Trouper" and the vastly underrated and brilliant "The Visitors." There are still plenty of big hits to enjoy on this Blu-ray 'ABBA: The Movie,' but there's also a lot of filler as well.
None of this matters of course, especially if you are a massive ABBA fan like me. However silly they may seem to people who are not bothered with ABBA, the band does possess a great deal of charm as individuals and their broken English and all, which is ultimately the most compelling reason to see 'ABBA: The Movie.' Lasse Hallström also makes fine use of the 2.35:1 Panavision dimensions and employs some restrained editing tricks, particularly the split-screen footage in the concert sequences, that really gives a very nice widescreen splendour to the proceedings, which far exceed most rock concert movies of the era. 'ABBA: The Movie' is certainly not Oscar winning material, but it has some brilliant fun parts, particularly if you're skilled with the fast-forward button, and as a document of the height of ABBA-mania, it's oddly riveting.
Aside from the concert footage and back-stage snippets afforded by the film, ABBA fans have another reason to seek out this particular film according to another website titled "The Secret Guide to ABBA: The Movie": Many ABBA books over the years (starting with ABBA for the Record in 1980) have listed three mysterious instrumental songs that are supposed to be heard in ‘ABBA: The Movie,’ “Johan pa snippen,” “Polkan gar” and “Stoned.” They have often been described as "traditional" tunes. “Johan pa snippen” is the Swedish "polka" tune played in the backstage dressing room, and “Polkan gar” is heard very quietly in the background of the very next scene, and also “Stoned” is heard very quietly during the scene when ABBA are in the hotel room in "Perth" reading the reviews of the Sydney concert.
ABBA is an acronym derived from the first names of its members Agnetha Faltskog, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. Agnetha and Bjorn were married in July of 1971 and divorced in 1979), while Benny and Anni-Frid were married in October of 1978 and divorced in 1981. Their initial collaboration began in 1970 with a cabaret act called “Festfolk” a word whose double-meaning could be interpreted as either "party people" or "engaged couples." As the group climbed its way up the ladder and changed its name a few other times it finally got to the 1973 Swedish selections for the Eurovision Song Contest, where their song "Ring Ring" garnered third place. The next year they officially took on ABBA as their name and their song "Waterloo" took them all the way to the Eurovision finals. According to "ABBA – The Site," a good internet repository for band info, "ABBA was also the name of a Swedish canned fish company, which luckily agreed to lending their name to a pop group. The Eurovision Song Contest on April 6, 1974 turned out to be the most famous moment in ABBA history, when the group won the international juries over with 'Waterloo'." And the rest, as they say, is history.
Blu-ray Video Quality – 'ABBA: The Movie' was shot in 2.35:1 Panavision, and its visual largesse is the film's greatest cinematic attribute. There is a classy, polished look to both the documentary and the narrative elements that is far better than you'd expect for something like this, and this is a very nice 1080i encoded image to boot. The encoded 1080i image (with a window boxed opening) presentation is hampered by limited concert coverage and cruddy stage lighting, yet the basic cinematic experience is preserved with the presence of mild grain and a crisp read of Panavision boundaries. While some flicker and banding are detected, along with some print debris, the viewing experience is satisfactory without ever being truly remarkable, with issues of crush robbing difficult stage shots of depth, watching backgrounds and dark textures thicken. Fine detail is adequate for a softly shot feature that employs numerous filters to acquire a dreamy appearance, with bright exteriors bringing out the feel of clothing, the rush of sweaty anxiety, and the throngs of undulating fans gathered outside hotels and airports. Amusing particulars are found during street scenes as well, providing a crisp look at merchandise and the quirks of interviewees. Colours are a little on the faded side, but hold up fine, delivering costuming opulence as intended.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – Polar / Universal Music offers English and Swedish uncompressed LPCM options for 'ABBA: The Movie,' in 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo. It's a very listenable and often quite dynamic audio re-mastered, if one that doesn't always quite surmount the limitations of its source. The 5.1 LPCM surround sound mix is a volatile blend of interviews and comedy, while concert sequences create immediate immersion into the music. Highs are a touch on the shrill side, falling in line with recording equipment of the era, while a healthy low-end lays a convincing foundation of bass and percussion, helping to even out the tunes. Surrounds are inviting for group gatherings and concert mania, while the soundtrack retains crisp musicianship and personality, with comfortable separation and placement without any real sweeping directional movement. Human moments return to a frontal position, navigating accents and exasperation easily. With a movie like this, bigness counts for something, and the Blu-ray disc delivers on that evocative challenge, bringing concert sensations to life. A more refined balance between the highs and the lows is missing, but rarely mourned.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
Special Feature Documentary: Looking Back [480i] [40:00] ABBA members Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson are joined by director Lasse Hallström, for an amusing chat and to understand what they are saying you have to put bring up the subtitles, as they talk all the time in Swedish. To give credit to Lasse Hallström, he could easily have been embarrassed by his ABBA past, in addition to 'ABBA: The Movie,' he shot most of their cheesy promo videos, too, but here he comes off as very bemused, but very grateful for the experience with his association with the band allowed. Björn Ulvaeus and Lasse Andersson have also been the most vocal members of the band over the past couple of decades, and they are typically lauding of Lasse Hallström's efforts if hardly critical of the flaws of the film. "Looking Back" is certainly more wistful nostalgia than hard-hitting documentary. Still it is a great deal of fun to watch. Happy viewing!
Special Feature: Interactive Tour Souvenir Program Gallery [408i] This nice feature comes with reprints of their entire 1977 tour book in all its full-colour glory. However, I'm not sure about the "interactive" hyperbole, as the manual controls are pretty standard.
Special Feature: Interactive Memorabilia Gallery [480i] As with the above gallery, this one is nicely presented, and shows off some of the fabulously tacky ABBA tour merchandise of the era, including some cool iron-on T-shirts. Oh, how I miss the 1970s.
Special feature: Promo Materials [480i] Our magical mystery tour of all things 'ABBA: The Movie' ends with the film's theatrical trailer, plus two TV commercials for the 'ABBA: The Album,' which 'The Movie' was partly designed to promote at the time.
Finally, if you hate ABBA everything that relates to their kitsch contrived music stands for, you will undoubtedly hate this film. But if like me, you can appreciate some of the classic pop gems they created as well as the fascinating impact of their global success, 'ABBA: The Movie' is really worth checking out. This is a very fine Blu-ray too, with strong video and audio and a couple of entertaining supplements. This is a must-have for any ABBA fans out, and a great piece of kitsch for the rest of us, to bring back the golden days of ABBA. Despite a lot of criticism of this film, I can't get enough of ‘ABBA: The Movie' as it has all the hallmarks of making you have a wonderful nostalgic time in soaking up the "ABBAMANIA," so turn off the mobile phone, get the popcorn in and sit down and relax to a whole 142 minutes and find out why ABBA was so popular, especially if you was not around to enjoy the madness euphoria that went with ABBA phenomenon, so I say, "bring it on ABBA, you are the best" and that it is a great honour to add this to my Blu-ray Collection and I just wish they would release ‘ABBA In Concert,' onto the Blu-ray format, which at the present time, is only available on an inferior PAL DVD, as this was another totally brilliant aspect of why ABBA was such a massive success at the time. Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Fan
Le Cinema Paradiso
WARE, United Kingdom