But I'm a Cheerleader (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Rick Curzon (29th May 2021).
The Film

This whimsically edgy comedy, directed by Jamie Babbit, follows teenager Megan (Natasha Lyonne), whose suburban existence filled with friends, cheerleading, and all-American fun is upended when her straight-laced parents suspect she may be a lesbian. In a panic, they send her to True Directions, a "rehabilitation" camp run by the strict and prudish Mary (Cathy Moriarty), to mount an intervention led by counselor Mike (RuPaul Charles). Megan dutifully follows the program - until she develops feelings for another camper (Clea DuVall) in this timeless, satirical romantic-comedy about self-acceptance and love, also co-starring Eddie Cibrian, Melanie Lynskey, and Michelle Williams.

Video

Jamie Babbitt's cult comedy-drama about the trials and tribulations of a gay young woman in high school gets a BD release of the director's cut in the UK from Lionsgate Entertainment (there's also a simultaneous US release from the same company with we assume identical specifications).

This is a punchy, candy-coloured film that has vivid production design and cinematography. It's a bright looking film and contrast is pretty sweet with no blown out highlights that I could detect. This films loves it's pink! Delineation of the colours is very good and black levels are deep and rich working in concert to create a solid image. The dim, dark cast of the DVD releases (see DVD Beaver) is a thing of the past; those muddy-looking discs can be consigned to the charity shops! Flesh tones are warm and pinkish.

However, this seems to have been taken from a dated master, or at the least has had some digital tinkering. Faces are a little waxy due to some DNR; I would expect much more fine detail in a transfer as bright and as vividly shot as this. Grain is not strong which it ought to be given this was shot on 35mm photochemical film and presented in the soft matte aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Encoding is adequate.

Disappointing considering the bright, vivid-looking source but this is still almost certainly the best visual presentation of this film on home video this far ... until someone like a boutique label gets it's hands on it and does a fresh scan off the OCN. Someone like Powerhouse Films or Arrow would allow the more organic properties of this film to shine through. Instead, we get this punchy presentation that lacks filmic qualities.

1080/24p / AVC MPEG-4 / 1.85:1 / 90:40

Audio

English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
Subtitles: English HoH

An unimpressive, lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 basic stereo mix that hasn't been encoded for surround. In order to get the full effect you need to switch in Dolby ProLogic II or something similar like Neo:6 Cinema or HD-D.C.S. Studio (avoid Theatre or Dynamic as they just add effects). The sound design is pretty standard for the period and for the kind of comedy-drama film under discussion with dialogue front and centre and scor and ambiance being the main benefactors of the surround channels. Unfortunately Lionsgate has decided to grace this release with a lossy Dolby Digital track and it's also recorded at a lower volume. When I compare it to the recent DVD release of the Pet Shop Boys: Discovery (1995) which has an uncompressed LPCM 2.0 surround track recorded at a louder volume, But I'm a Cheerleader sounds anaemic by comparison ... and I had to massively increase the volume to almost double normal to come close to the same robust quality.

There's no distortion and fidelity is decent but why would you release a BD in 2021 with a lossy soundtrack? Thankfully, there are subtitles for the hearing impaired and for the short sections I looked at they seemed pretty comprehensive.

Extras

Audio commentary with director Jamie Babbit, costume designer Alix Friedberg and production designer Rachel Kamerman (2020)

Newly recorded audio commentary in lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. Everyone is very knowledgable and filled with warm reminiscences of working on this film back in 1998-99. The volume level is more robust than the film itself.

"But I'm a Cheerleader Class Reunion" 2020 featurette (20:47)

2020 reunion featurette involving several members of the cast recorded via Zoom (or similar) during lockdown so everyone sounds a little tinny. Image is 1080/24p 1.78:1 and looks decent for what it is. Alas, the sound is in lossy Dolby Digital but not only that, in 2.0 mono. An odd choice because the other two featurettes are in 2.0 stereo.

"Making 'But I'm a Cheerleader ... IN 1999'" 2020 featurette (8:17)

Brief, superficial retrospective on making the film features a mixture of upscaled standard definition clips taken from video shot on the set and HD clips from the film itself. These clips although shot in 1.33:1 are presented approximately 1.5:1 within the 1.78:1 frame with garish coloured pillarboxed bars. The vintage video is soft, fuzzy and indistinct compounded by the zooming; why not present that footage in the original 1.33:1? Sound is lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo that will play in surround when channelled through ProLogic II (et al).

"But I'm a Composer ... a Chat with *Pat Irwin*" 2020 featurette (5:27)

Brief Zoom chat between director Jamie Babbitt and composer Irwin that discusses his approach to the film. 1080/24p 1.78:1 with HD clips from the film presented in 1.78:1. Sound is lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo that plays in surround via ones's amp set to ProLogic II (et al).

"Discharge" short film (2:59)

Brief, bizarre student short film from circa 1989-90 about a girl being tormented by a jerk in the street looks to have been originally shot in monochrome on 16mm film, transferred to standard definition video and then upscaled to 1080/24p. The image is soft, and indistinct with a mild green bias; presented in 1.33:1 pillarboxed within the 1.78:1 frame with lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound that plays in surround when channelled via an amp through ProLogic II (et al).

Packaging

Standard blue BD Keepcase.

Overall

The late '90s cult gay comedy-drama But I'm a Cheerleader gets a Blu-ray special edition from Lionsgate in the UK (and almost simultaneously in the USA). Image is from a solid but dated master that was probably used for the DVDs and features little grain and has some DNR baked in methinks. Soaund is disappointing being both lossy Dolby Digital and low in volume. Extras are solid if unremarkable and technically a little shoddy. An adequate, rather uninspired release, alas. Still, the best home video version of this title yet; the DVDs all suffered from dark transfers and the longer pre-release cut was badly zoomboxed on the old UK DVD.

Which brings me to the point of versions. The US DVD was the 85 minute theatrical release version; the UK DVD was the 93 minute pre-release version. The 2021 BD releases are of a "Director's Cut" which runs 91 minutes. It's not clear if the pre-release version is a different version with more logos (not unheard of) or if this director's cut is a whole new cut. Fans will want to compare and if anyone gets a definitive take on this issue please let us know via the forums.

The Film: C- Video: B- Audio: D+ Extras: B- Overall: C

 


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