New Line // 1997 // 155 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // January 20th, 2010
Everyone has one special thing
Imagine the scene: You're a young director with a single film (critically well received but not seen by many) to your credit. For your second feature you decide to make an epic examination of the porn industry's transition from film to video, mixing in a healthy dose of John Holmes history with the typical trappings of the rise and fall of the American Dream. If that weren't enough, you cast Mark Wahlberg as the lead (when he was still known more as Marky Mark with his Funky Bunch) opposite Burt Reynolds (who many people saw as over-the-hill after his "Bandit" heyday) and fill out the rest of the cast with a bunch of character actors who most people would recognize but few could name. Boogie Nights sounds like career suicide to me, but Paul Thomas Anderson not only attempted such a bold move, he succeeded in just about every significant way and set the stage for his magnificent Magnolia. New Line has seen fit to repackage its previously excellent DVD in a new hi-def release. Boogie Nights (Blu-ray) makes significant gains on the standard-def picture and sound.
It's 1977, and young Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg, The Departed) is a young man with a huge talent. It's his huge talent that gets him noticed by porn director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds, Smokey and the Bandit), and Eddie Adams becomes Dirk Diggler. As Dirk he is thrust into an eclectic family of porn stars, directors, and crew where the good times definitely roll. As his fame grows, Dirk becomes more and more alienated and involved with drugs in this tale of the classic rise and fall of the American dream.
Some directors love telling stories, others like controlling actors, while still more just seem to want a paycheck. Occasionally, though, a director will come along who is so intoxicated with the magic of cinema it's contagious. Whether it's Jean-Luc Godard, Quentin Tarantino, or Paul Thomas Anderson, these directors wear their love of the moving picture on their sleeve. Boogie Nights is a prime example. From the opening single take that evokes Orson Welles to the occasional cinematic touches like Dirk Diggler's name in blue neon, Anderson is in complete control of his medium and positively drunk on the power. It was a brilliant decision to pair his heady talents behind the lens with the anything-goes hedonism of the late-'70s porn renaissance. Together Anderson and his material paint a compelling portrait of a group of misfit friends that feels both epic and intimate.
Paul Thomas Anderson's love of cinema is also obvious in his casting choices. For the most part he eschews big-name stars, instead working in a host of familiar faces (many of whom went on to greater success after this picture). From those actors, like John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle, and William H. Macy, Anderson pulls nuanced performances. After the film's entire two-and-a-half hours, the audience is left with the feeling that any one of these characters could have sustained a movie on their own. From the more well-known faces, Anderson pulls out all the stops, getting amazing performances from the likes of the aging Reynolds. It's not at all surprising that the director would choose to work with many of these individuals again on Magnolia.
Boogie Nights has had an odd life on home video. It was first released by Criterion on laserdisc, and then New Line gave it a perfunctory release on the fledgling DVD format. However, it wasn't until the Platinum Series release that the film really hit its stride on disc. Now that Platinum disc has been transferred over to hi-def, and the results are pretty remarkable. P. T. Anderson knows how to utilize a widescreen frame, and that's totally apparent in this transfer. Detail is consistently high, with strong color saturation and appropriately film-like grain throughout. Blacks were especially strong throughout many of the darker scenes. To keep pace with the visuals, the DTS-HD surround track works overtime, balancing the thumping pop and rock tunes with clearly audible dialogue.
Pretty much all the extras seem to have been ported over from the previous two-disc DVD. They start with two commentaries, one by Anderson and the other featuring cast members Don Cheadle, Heather Graham, Luis Guzman, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Mark Wahlberg, and Melora Walters. I definitely enjoyed Anderson's track more as he discussed where the project started for him (a teenage short film) and how it came to be a two-and-a-half-hour film starring Burt Reynolds. The cast commentary has its moments, but I didn't find it as consistently interesting as Anderson's track. There are also some ten additional scenes that flesh out various storylines, as well as "The John C. Reilly Files" which include extended bits with John C. Reilly. His fans will probably finds these bits funny, but I found them hit-or-miss. The discs rounds out with an Anderson-directed music video for Michael Penn's "Try" and the film's theatrical trailer.
Well, Boogie Nights is about the porn industry, so if cursing, nudity, and drug use aren't your thing, then this is a film to avoid.
As for the film, I think my only serious criticism is that the scene where Dirk hits rock-bottom runs a bit long -- no doubt Alfred Molina is firing on all cylinders, but it just takes too long to get the eventual reconciliation.
On the Blu-ray front, I have to say that this release doesn't feel as special or as substantial as the Platinum Series discs did. That release's bright-orange fold-out digipak was replaced with a standard Blu-ray case that doesn't have the same vibe that earlier release did.
Boogie Nights is a classic American film from a young director who is still showing he has tricks up his sleeve with later films like Punch-Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood. This film shows his early talent blossoming, and there's nothing of substance to complain about with this Blu-ray release. Upgrading is going to be a personal decision: the audio and video are upgraded here, but they're the only things new about this release. I can't find fault with the audiovisual upgrade, it's probably not enough to entice fans to double or triple dip on this release.
Boogie Nights can keep on partyin'! Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (German)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish, Castilian)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish, Latin)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 155 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Music Video