I got a feeling that behind those jeans is something wonderful just waiting to get out.
Nominated for three 1997 Academy Awards, Boogie Nights is writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson's sprawling look at the porn industry in Southern California in the late '70s and early '80s.
For this two disc re-release, New Line has pulled out all the stops, presenting the definitive home video edition of this modern classic.
Facts of the Case
Loosely based on the life and times of porn superstar John Holmes and his onscreen character, Johnny Wadd, the movie is set in the tail end of the so-called golden age of porn and leads into the early days of the video age. At the film's core is Burt Reynolds (The Longest Yard, Deliverance, Hooper), as Jack Horner, a longtime adult film director with an eye for the new kids on the block. Momma Bear to Horner's father is Julianne Moore (Hannibal, Magnolia, The Lost World), as Amber Waves, porn star diva. Daughter and Son respectfully are Heather Graham (Bowfinger, Lost In Space, Swingers) as Rollergirl and Mark Wahlberg (Three Kings, The Perfect Storm, The Big Hit), as Eddie Adams AKA Dirk Diggler.
In a world where we all have to be good at something, Diggler has the biggest penis in porndom. With his tool leading the way, the movie traces Diggler's rise, fall and eventual semi-redemption.
Well, no one can ever accuse Paul Thomas Anderson of working small. Boogie Nights has eighty speaking roles, twelve of which could be called main characters. Needless to say, this is one ambitious movie. From the opening scene with its brazen tracking shot to the coup de cinema with which Anderson ends his tale, everything about the film is like one big blast out of the darkness. There is so much confidence and audacity in the making of this movie that after experiencing it several times I still found myself shaking my head in disbelief. Say what you will about Anderson but the man has balls! There is nobody out there who makes movies quite like him and for that I am very grateful.
In spite of its constant display of sex, violence, and excess, Boogie Nights is, at its core, about family and the ties we create for ourselves. It is about the homes we make and about the decisions we are forced to live with. It is about love and rejection. It is about self worth and finding honor where it is least expected. It is, in the end, about life and living.
The film takes characters that, under normal circumstances, would barely rate as banal and uses them to spin a tale that is operatic in size, length and scope.
Movies like this don't get made alone and Anderson has some skilled people helping him to achieve his vision. Not the least of which is the Cinematography of Robert Elswit. Elswit provides Anderson with so many visual flourishes and such style that the imagery becomes almost a character in its own right. Boogie Nights' razor sharp editing comes from Dylan Tichenor and his work lets the entire film breathe and become an organic viewing experience.
To capture the feeling and look of the late '70s and early '80s, Anderson's production team also turns in outstanding work. From the set decoration by Sandy Struth to the funky costume designs of Mark Bridges and the art direction by Ted Berner, Boogie Nights achieves a definite sense of both time and place. Like the visuals, the physical production values give Anderson another bullet in his arsenal, letting him create a real space for his movie to exist and grow.
By Anderson's own admission Adams/Diggler is an idiot. However with the care of Anderson's pen and camera this character is not looked down upon or ridiculed. Like everyone else in the movie, Anderson refuses to judge Diggler and with such treatment the character is allowed to become a true tragic figure.
As Diggler, Mark Wahlberg turns in what I'm pretty sure will be considered the work of his life. The movie could not survive without him and he climbs on top of every task thrown his way. From seventeen year old kid with an unstable mother to his rise as a porn god to his fall from grace, Wahlberg is there every step of the way. It is impressive and mature work.
For as good as Wahlberg is in Boogie Nights, it is hard to ignore the presence of Burt Reynolds as father figure and porn director, Jack Horner. If Wahlberg gives the movie its energy and forward motion, Reynolds gives the film its soul. I have always been someone who thought Reynolds was a better actor than people gave him credit for. With his work in Boogie Nights, Hollywood finally took notice. As a man, as an actor Reynolds gives Horner the sense that he really has seen it all, with Diggler's breakdown and betrayal an almost forgone conclusion. Horner is also a man who truly believes in his life and his work. When he comments to his DP that, "this is the one I'll be remembered for," he means it. It's a complex, difficult role that only Burt Reynolds could have played. He really is that good here and it was a shame he did not win the Oscar. Now if only he would build on his success from this movie and stop doing stuff like The Crew.
As Amber Waves, Julianne Moore entered the P.T. Anderson acting company. Like Reynolds and Wahlberg, the movie could not survive without her work. The love, desperation and sadness she projects throughout the film is simply heartbreaking. The look on her face in her final scene sums up the entire movie with shattering finality. It is an expression of such resignation that it never fails to leave me shaken.
I could continue to talk for hours about all the great work that goes on in front of the cameras but in the name of brevity let me just highlight a few other performances.
In the role that was originally offered to Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle (Traffic, Mission To Mars, Out Of Sight), once more proves that he is one of the best actors working today. He brings the movie a much needed sense of humanity, of decency and of hope. For as good as everyone in Boogie Nights is, the movie is even better when he is onscreen. This being a P.T. Anderson movie you can count on Philip Baker Hall (Hard Eight, Rush Hour, The Insider), the wonderful Melora Walters (Magnolia, Eraser) and John C. Reilly (For The Love Of The Game, Georgia, Days Of Thunder) being around and sure enough, here they are. Reilly in particular is given a lot of the spotlight with a truly comic performance that never fails to lighten the mood of the movie.
It is also tough to not mention the contributions of William H. Macy (Fargo, Magnolia) and Luis Guzman (Out Of Sight, The Bone Collector). As always both actors turn in solid work that is grounded in reality, making their performances both vital and very immediate.
Boogie Nights also marked the final film for Anderson family friend and longtime character actor, Robert Ridgely (The Ref, Philadelphia, Melvin And Howard) as The Colonel James. Ridgely was the original Jack Horner in Anderson's short film, The Dirk Diggler Story, and as the doomed James in this version he is quite good. Anderson obviously felt great love and affection for the actor when he sums it up in his commentary track by saying that Ridgely would have loved that the final shot of him on film is his being beaten by a large black man behind bars.
In a truly special Special Edition, New Line takes a second crack at Boogie Nights by improving both the transfer and the extras from the movie's original "Platinum Series" release.
Anderson was reportedly unhappy with the first transfer of the movie, so New Line went back and did a brand new High-Def master. Presented in anamorphic widescreen while maintaining the film's 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio, on the first pass it is difficult to tell the difference between the two versions of the movie. Only after careful examination did I find that, while black levels were solid in both discs, colors were a little more subdued, giving the image a warmer, more natural appearance. Resolution on the new disc also seems a bit stronger, with the downside being a slight decrease in shadow detail and clarity. Overall the second version is indeed stronger and it goes without saying that the source material used is in pristine shape with hardly an imperfection to be seen.
On the sound front, I could make out no real differences between the two discs. The 5.1 mix is a well balanced and mixed soundtrack that incorporates dialogue, Michael Penn's score, and all those well chosen '70s and '80s tunes to good effect. During the party and club scenes, the surrounds are pretty active but are otherwise fairly quiet. Also included is an English 2.0 Surround mix, as well as a French 5.1 mix. Like the picture, the sound is free from any kind of distortions, with no hiss or pop lurking around to pull one away from the presentation. It is the kind of picture and sound that New Line has built their reputation on.
Like the acting in Boogie Nights, the disc offers an embarrassment of riches. From the original release of the DVD is Anderson's scene specific commentary track, and man does this guy know his stuff. Always engaging and informative, Anderson knows how to give good commentary. There are very few pauses and he offers a lot of background information that enriched my enjoyment of the movie.
For as good as the first track is, his group commentary is even better. I could be mistaken, but I believe this was the track that was recorded for the movie's Criterion Edition laserdisc. Normally, Laserdisc would be the only medium we could have heard the track, but Anderson produced the supplements himself, so here they are. But I digress. For as much detail as there is in Anderson's solo track, this one just seems like a party. Anderson is a big student of the film commentary and he did his homework here. He keeps everything moving and the thing is well edited together. While not as funny or outrageous as say, the Mallrats track, this is still a lot of fun. I got a real sense of the actors in Boogie Nights and most of them seem like real fun beer drinking buddies. I don't know about anyone else, but for me, that is pretty high praise.
After you knock back the almost six hours of commentary discussion, you can make your way to the second disc's ten deleted scenes. None of your usual throwaway scenes here, all have merit on their own with no dogs in the lot and, of course, all of the sequences are available with or without director commentary. My favorite of the bunch is the New Year's Eve sequence that finishes off with John C. Reilly cracking up one of the great stone faces, not to mention magicians, of our time, Ricky Jay with some really lame magic tricks.
Next up is another series of outtake footage that is simply called "The John C. Reilly Files" and they are really funny as well. As is the case with most deleted and outtake footage, the quality varies wildly. Still it is better to have them than not.
The disc also has the P.T. Anderson directed music video of Composer Michael Penn's song, "Try." This too has optional commentary.
Things are closed out by Cast and Crew Biographies, as well as Color Bars to calibrate your system with. If you feel like it, stick around through the entire test and you will have the question of, "is it his penis or not," answered for you. Movie magic revealed courtesy of New Line.
A great package of extras from New Line, hats off again.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Boogie Nights is not for everybody. I'm sure there are many who will find the subject matter distasteful with little entertainment value. To those people, be aware of what this movie is and what it is about. If you are easily offended, stay away.
Speaking for myself, I am not one of those people. I have nothing to complain about with either film or disc. The best picture of 1997, Boogie Nights is a movie I will return to on a regular basis.
A great film with spectacular picture and sound, New Line has outdone themselves with this double disc that is loaded with extras. It offers great value for the serious DVD collector and the lover of film.
Boogie Nights gets my highest possible recommendation and stands as one of the best DVD releases of Y2K.
Miss it at your own peril.
New Line, P.T. Anderson, and the entire cast of Boogie Nights are released from this courtroom with all charges dismissed.
This court now stands in recess. Thank you all and good day.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
• Scene Specific Commentary Track with Writer/Director P. T. Anderson
Review content copyright © 2000 Harold Gervais; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.