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Posted at 3:35 PM ET, 06/ 7/2010

'Grease' is the word ... unless it's dirty

By Jen Chaney

The fine people at the Guardian's Film Blog recently stumbled onto something alarming. And when I use the word "alarming," what I actually mean is "alarming to people who still harbor an obsession with Rydell High."

Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta, still smoking in "Grease." (Paramount)

While reviewing the trailer for the "Grease Sing-A-Long" -- an upcoming reissue of the beloved musical that still stars twenty- and thirty-somethings pretending to be high-schoolers, but now comes with lyrics conveniently printed on the screen in case the words to "Summer Nights" are not permanently burned into your brain -- writer Stuart Heritage noticed some striking alterations. For starters, the cigarette that dangles from the mouth of John Travolta in the opening scene, making Danny Zuko seem that much more sexy and dangerous? Gone from the teaser clip. And even more disturbingly, some of the lyrics printed on the screen during snippets of "Greased Lightnin'" have been changed. Instead of the somewhat vulgar "The chick'll cream," the line now reads: "The chicks'll scream."

I immediately took a closer look at the entire trailer and not only confirmed those modifications, but found another: the cigarette Olivia Newton-John holds, then discards, right before she launches into "You're the One That I Want"? Also conspicuously missing!

Was Paramount planning to release a "Grease Sing-A-Long" stripped of anything vaguely offensive that appeared in the 1978 original? And if so, what did that mean? Would they excise the scenes where Marty inappropriately hits on Vince Fontaine? Lose the entire plot line about Rizzo's pregnancy scare? Fail to let a new generation of "Grease" viewers learn that a hickey from Kenickie is, in fact, like a Hallmark card?

As a veteran reporter on the Olivia Newton-John beat, I had no option but to investigate. Here's what I found out.

A Paramount spokeswoman confirmed that the cigarettes were intentionally digitally removed from the trailer. But that's because the Motion Picture Association doesn't allow depictions of cigarette smoking in trailers aimed at general audiences; the nicotine sticks will remain, untouched, in the movie itself. This was a huge relief. I mean, Sandy can't start wearing leather pants, turning all slutty and saying things like "Tell me about it, stud" without a cigarette in her hand. It just wouldn't work.

As for the lyrics, the studio will leave the audio intact, but will change some of the dicier terms that appear onscreen. So Travolta will still say "cream," for example, but the word guiding sing-a-longers will read "scream." Similarly, when he gets to the point in the song where he refers to his soon-to-be-refurbished automobile as "a real pussywagon," that word will be replaced onscreen by a cheeky image of a kitty-cat saying "Meow." And when he blurts out two nearly back-to-back terms that both rhyme with quit, the line that includes them will now read: "You know that ain't no x#@&!, we'll be getting lots of [replaced with an animated cow standing up] in Greased Lightnin'."

No, I am not kidding.

The Paramount rep assured me that, while some pop-up lyrics have been modified to keep things as family-friendly and appropriate as possible, everything else about the movie will remain just as we all remember from our approximately 378 viewings of it. Notably, the studio is resubmitting the film to the MPAA for rating-approval; in 1978, before the PG-13 era, it was rated PG, but it's possible that could change.

Of course, there was no sing-a-long version of "Grease" when I first fell in love with it decades ago. And I'm pretty sure I crooned right along with "Greased Lightnin'" when Travolta used all those semi-profanities.

I'm guessing that plenty of kids will do exactly the same thing when this more P.C. "Grease" arrives in select cities on July 8, regardless of what the subtitles say. (If you want it in your town, by the way, you have to make it happen the "Paranormal Activity" way and demand it.)

But Paramount has to play it safe because most parents, understandably, don't want to encourage their kids to use foul language. At the same time, if they learn a naughty word or two from a movie musical, let's face it: There are worse things they could do.

By Jen Chaney  | June 7, 2010; 3:35 PM ET
Categories:  Movies, Pop Culture  | Tags:  Movies, Summer Movies  
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Seriously???? And what did they do to Rizzo's version of Sandra Dee? With suggestive moves included. I blew my grandfather's mind when I sang that song.

Posted by: epjd | June 7, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

BOOOOOOOOO! So ridiculous. Like you said, there are far worse things portrayed in the movie than a couple of semi-dirty words. Isn't sneaking out of the house & drinking worse than 'chick'll cream'?? Argh.

Posted by: blahblah6b | June 7, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Dumb, but still I hope it comes to DC... Almost six years ago I went to a fabulous "Sound of Music" sing-along at the Lisner, I hope they bring it back, it was one of the funnest things I've ever done.

Posted by: JJBooknut | June 7, 2010 7:02 PM | Report abuse

The first thing I said when I saw the commercial for the sing-a-long was "Anyone who loves that movie enough to pay to see it in theaters again isn't going to need the lyrics to sing along." And then I thought "why are they distracting from the beauty that is 1978 John Travolta?"

Posted by: Aloe9678 | June 7, 2010 9:40 PM | Report abuse

it could be worse... the texas board of education could have been involved... give it another decade - our farenheit 451 firemen are coming soon...

Posted by: quintiliusvarus | June 8, 2010 12:27 AM | Report abuse

Crazy and foolish, this sanitizing. I watched a high school production of this recently and not a single person in the audience was offended, shocked or otherwise harmed. And they did the real version, though the program did have a disclaimer. (As though school administrator would encourage smoking, drinking, vandalism, teen pregnancy and the wearing of tight leather pants.)

Posted by: cfow1 | June 8, 2010 9:35 AM | Report abuse

Ugh, I hate this. I refused to see the re-hacked ET, with walkie-talkies replacing guns. And now this! Forget it.

Posted by: DCCubefarm | June 8, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

Oh, and in my book, Han will always shoot first.

Posted by: DCCubefarm | June 8, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Kids should say all their swear words at school where such language belongs.

Posted by: lolyla | June 8, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

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