Judge Brett Cullum would like to do your nails right after he's done coming up naked out of a volcano.
"I'm gettin' a little too old for that whore-y look."—Cristal Connors
How can I even begin to do justice to the awesome badness that is the "worst film of the 1990s" and quite possibly one of the silliest sex films ever made? And yet, I unapologetically embrace this movie as one of the most fun cinematic experiences I've ever witnessed. It's the Star Wars of erotic trash or The Godfather of tits and ass on parade. Schlocky sexploitation never felt this good, because it's never been this laughable or campy. You'll never see anything remotely like it ever again from Hollywood. Little more than a multimillion dollar soft core send-up of All About Eve, Showgirls takes a classic plot and adds constant nudity with inane conversations about nails and doggy chow to bring it down to a whole new level of aberrant sleaze. The thrills are endless: Gina Gershon exploding naked out of a volcano, Elizabeth Berkley licking a metal pole, a pool sex scene that looks like an epileptic seizure, some of the most bizarre topless dance numbers ever conceived, monkeys, and a half naked kung fu revenge fight scene for a malicious rape. We know it is salaciously bad. But the real question in front of us, can Blu-ray make all of this even more exciting? Last chance for ice! I'm erect, so why aren't you?
Facts of the Case
Simple girl Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley, Saved by the Bell) hitchhikes her way to Las Vegas because she wants to be a dancer. She ends up as a stripper in a sleazy joint called the Cheetah, but she dreams of so much more. Nomi moves on up the show biz ladder to become a dancing chorus member of a topless revue running at the Stardust called "Goddess." It stars Cristal Connors (Gina Gershon, Bound) who likes to torture poor Nomi by revealing that she still thinks they are all whores for starring in a show where they run around naked next to a volcano.
In the lexicon of pop culture history "Showgirls bad" has come to mean so unintentionally hilarious that it becomes an instant cult classic. Showgirls is a film that does absolutely nothing right with anything it sets out to accomplish. It isn't sexy, there's not much drama, and it never comes close to being the real life of a Vegas dancer. No, these girls seem to be some sort of pleasure robots cooked up in the mind of screenwriter Joe Eszterhas. They only live to lose their clothes and say the most inappropriate things at the worst time. Not a single beat of dialogue works without registering an unintentional laugh, and that's what makes the movie pure nitrous oxide for me. It's tough to believe that Paul Verhoeven thought this would be his best follow-up to Basic Instinct, or that Elizabeth Berkley, Gina Gershon, and Kyle McLachlan thought this would advance their careers in any way other than down the toilet. Only Gershon seemed to emerge unscathed, and that is because she played her role like a drag queen on crystal meth. For some insane reason that read better than anybody else who took this tripe seriously. It is all so gleefully vulgar you can't stop watching, and it's serious fun because it is so off-kilter as to be entertaining. You probably know what you're in for if you've made it this far, but how does it all fare on Blu-ray?
Showgirls has appeared on the DVD format on three separate occasions before this release. Despite the major theatrical flop at the box office, it is one of MGM's best-selling home video offerings of all time. It makes sense they are now looking to cash in on a new format, and nobody can blame them. There's only one problem, they're not offering anything new outside of the promise of the film with a higher resolution and more active contrast. The Blu-ray is basically the Showgirls: V.I.P. Edition visually coded up a notch to be in high definition. You need look no further than the DVD copy included next to the Blu-ray which has all the same extras, and nearly the same transfer.
The supplements remain the same on both DVD and Blu-ray and include:
• A Showgirls Diary: Offers behind the scenes looks at filming certain scenes with the raw footage contrasted with script and story board pages. Amazingly it serves as documented proof that not one line of dialogue or gesture was improvised by the actors. Every single "f bomb" is on the page. And we see director Paul Verhoeven explicitly asking actors to go over the top at every moment.
• The Greatest Movie Ever Made: A campy commentary from David Schmader, who has no connection with the feature at all. He merely made a name for himself by hosting late night screenings in Seattle. He was free, and the studio did not want to pay the $2,500 Elizabeth Berkley was asking for. As commentaries go, this one is entertaining but not all that informative outside of the fact this guy has done some homework. It's a shame not to have anybody connected with this bomb to testify about what went wrong.
• Pop Up Trivia: Blurbs are ported over from the DVD; however, they are now in a different font. Is that supposed to fool us into thinking they are new?
• Lap Dance Tutorial: From the girls of New York City's Scores. Basically we get strippers teaching us standard moves to use on someone in a chair. It is useless. The only connection Scores has to the film is that it is where Elizabeth Berkley studied stripping, as well as Demi Moore, who did her research there for Striptease.
• Pole Dancing: Finding Your Inner Stripper: Yet another tutorial on how to be awesomely slutty to amaze your friends and family over the holidays.
Something strange happens with Showgirls on a technical level. Amazingly, with each incarnation of the film on home video we lose a little more of the picture. The first bare bones release of Showgirls on DVD had a weaker transfer but less cropping of all the images out there, every frame of that edition has the most visual information. When they released the VIP edition a little bit of the top and bottom of the screen were chopped off. Now with this Blu-ray even more of the picture is cropped making it the most narrow transfer out of all three. This truly effects the scenes of Vegas where parts of the famous hotels along the skyline are no longer visible in some shots. Although, considering the pedigree of the film, perhaps many casinos asked to have their logos and building spires trimmed.
Another difference in the Blu-ray transfer is there is generally a bluer tinge to the images. I wouldn't call the skin tones natural, but given the amount of spray tans and neon lighting I don't think we can fault the video quality. The colors pop a lot more and they are far more garish, which is probably exactly what Verhoeven was going for. Of the three transfers this one has the best contrast levels and color saturation, so it does benefit from being in high definition.
The audio on the Blu-ray is clear and quite punchy. Like the colors, it's all about the contrasts. Dialogue is a little low, and then the crazy music kicks in. The speakers shake and rumble all through the big dance production numbers, and there is a real improvement in dynamic range of everything. They certainly went the extra mile with the sound on this one.
In the end the ridiculous is sublime, and everybody seems to have come to terms with their legacy in the film. Showgirls swept the 1996 Razzie Awards, and Paul Verhoeven became the first director ever to show up to pick up the trophy in person for his achievement. Showgirls and Battlefield Earth tied for the most Razzies in one year until I Know Who Killed Me took one more statue than either of them. Verhoeven still maintains the film was misunderstood, but he readily admits his fault in the proceedings. Joe Eszterhas put in a line in his Burn, Hollywood, Burn film that spoke of Showgirls as "terrible." Elizabeth Berkley now seems to handle her infamy from the role just fine, and even jokes about it good naturedly in interviews. Gina Gershon loves her part in it enough to express interest in starring in a big budget Broadway version of the film. The characters live on in the realms of Facebook where people pose as "Cristal Connors," "Zack," and of course "Nomi Malone" using status updates to pretend these characters are still kicking around Vegas and taunting each other with verbal barbs on the Internet. Showgirls just won't ever go away, and now we have the high definition version to enjoy.
Guilty as sin, Showgirls is a jaw dropper in bad taste.
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
Review content copyright © 2010 Brett Cullum; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.