Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Boogie Nights: Double Platinum Series (1997)
Studio Line: New Line Cinema - Everyone has one special thing.

From writer/director P.T. Anderson comes the turbulent behind the scenes story of an extended family of filmmakers who set out to revolutionize the adult entertainment industry in the seventies.

Idealistic producer Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) has always dreamed of elevating his films into an art form. When he discovers young actor Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), Jack begins to turn his dreams into reality. Under the stage name of Dirk Diggler, Eddie soon gives the adult entertainment world a star the likes of which it has never seen. But the rise to fame has its costs, and soon Dirk finds himself sliding down the slippery slope of sex, drugs and violence. The only question: can he get himself back together before it's too late?

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, Luis Guzman, Don Cheadle, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Heather Graham, Thomas Jane, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly
Academy Awards: Nominated for Best Screenplay; Best Supporting Actor-Burt Reynolds; Best Supporting Actress-Julianne Moore, 1998.
Box Office: Budget: $15 million. Opening Weekend: $4.681 million (907 screens). Gross: $26.384 million.
DVD: 2-Disc set; widescreen 2.40:1/16x9; audio English DD 5.1 & Dolby Surround, French DD 5.1; subtitles English, Spanish, French; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 47 chapters; rated R; 155 min.; $29.98; street date 8/29/00.
Supplements: The John C. Reilly Files; 2 Expanded Feature Length Commentaries with Writer/Director P.T. Anderson and Actors Don Cheadle, Heather Graham, Luis Guzman, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Mark Wahlberg and Melora Walters; 10 Deleted Scenes; Michael Penn Music Video "Try"; Outtakes.
Purchase: DVD | Script - Paul Thomas Anderson | Music soundtrack - Various Artists | More Music soundtrack - Various Artists | Poster

Picture/Sound/Extras: A-/B+/A-

No matter how many times I see Boogie Nights, I can't help but automatically compare it to Martin Scorsese's GoodFellas. That was my initial reaction when I saw the movie theatrically in 1997, and that's how I feel upon my fourth screening of the film almost three years later; director Paul Thomas Anderson really was channeling that Scorsese mojo when he made BN, his second feature film.

The similarities between the two films were simply too striking to ignore: the editing styles, plots, and active use of music both came pretty close to each other. It was really pretty spooky. Despite the similarities between the two pictures, I think BN remains a successful and surprisingly individual film on its own; it never feels like a rip-off of Scorsese's work as Anderson makes the movie seem creative and compelling from start to finish.

The truth is that while Boogie Nights doesn't approach the heights reached by the brilliant Scorsese film - it's hard to imagine a film that seems so self-assured and confident - I feel it does surpass GoodFellas in one area: it's simply more fun.

I'm not sure why, but "fun" seems to be the best word I can find to describe Boogie Nights, even though much of the film is very dark. Even when events on-screen turn nasty and terrible things are happening to the characters, the movie remains a churning mess of a rollercoaster ride.

"Mess" is probably the second best word to use to describe Boogie Nights. "Tight" and "coherent" are not phrases that come to mind as I watch it. As you discover if you listen to his terrific audio commentary - which is also sloppy and rambling - Anderson basically wrote this film as a present to himself, and a lot of the scenes were inserted simply because he wanted to see them; for example, he frequently mentions scenes that probably should have been deleted but were retained because he liked them so much. I've listened to a lot of audio commentaries, and when directors discuss deleted scenes they normally refer to material that was left out because it slowed down the film. Not Anderson; he talks about scenes that he left in despite the fact they slowed down the film. Actors must love this guy because he seems to care more about what makes them look good than what moves along the picture.

Overall, Boogie Nights epitomizes the concept of a flawed but terrific film. It's Anderson's second movie, and it looks that way: it's loud, brash, and self-indulgent. However, somehow it manages to overcome all of those issues and work well nonetheless.

Part of the reason the film turned out as nicely as it did stems from the acting. Across the board, the performances are top-notch. The weakest link might actually be the lead, Mark Wahlberg (who'll always remain Marky Mark to me). He's really very good, much better than I would expect; he shows a personality range for his character that I found surprising. However, he's not in a class with the rest of the cast, a disparity that shows from time to time.

Unfortunately, the material they are given is somewhat thin. This is a film of scenarios and events, not one of characters. On the surface, it seems like a character-based film. After all, it's not about a bunch of people trying to stop some bad guys or something like that; there's really nothing to advance the story other than its focus on the lives of its participants. However, these characters are rarely active; on the contrary, they tend to spend their time reacting to the world around them.

Part of the problem with the characters also revolves around the fact that they're mostly pathetic and/or buffoons. This is especially true of the males. Really, only Julianne Moore's Amber Waves comes across as a fully-realized person to me, though Burt Reynolds' Jack Horner comes close; everyone else seems like a cartoon. I don't fault the actors for this; I think there was only so much they could do.

Moore truly does make the most of her role. I found myself more impressed than ever with her work in BN during this recent screening, as the depth she adds to Amber is just amazing. I don't want to go into specifics, but there are a few scenes I just can't imagine anyone else pulling off so well.

By the way, I've read other reviews that question whether someone of Moore's bodily dimensions could have become such a successful porn actress. Today, these opinions would be correct, as silicone rules the world, but in the mid-Seventies, there were plenty of popular porn actresses who possessed fairly average looks. Marilyn Chambers was very skinny and bland, and Linda Lovelace wasn't exactly hot stuff herself, yet both are legends in the field. As such, I feel BN is well within historical correctness to feature Amber as a porn star.

Whatever the case, Boogie Nights remains a glorious mess of a film. It may lack coherence and tightness, but it more than makes up for those flaws with energy, spark and fervor. Boogie Nights is a terrific movie that still holds up well after repeated viewings.

The DVD:

Boogie Nights appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. There's been a little controversy about whether or not this DVD is actually dual-layered. Those kinds of DVDs generally look gold on the side without artwork, whereas single-layered discs are silver. Since BN is silver, many have concluded that it must be single-layered.

This is a mistake. For one, there are a few dual-layered DVDs that look silver, and this is one of them; most are gold, but not all. Simple logic dictates that BN is dual-layered. A single-layered DVD holds roughly 133 minutes of video unless the information is severely compressed. Since BN runs 155 minutes, either it's dual-layered or New Line have found the greatest compression technique known to man, for the image looks far too good to be smashed into a single-layered disc. The picture doesn't seem flawless, but it certainly offers a very fine visual experience.

Sharpness remains rock-solid from start to finish; I noted no instances of softness at any point during the movie. Moiré effects appear occasionally, and I also detected moderate artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. Print flaws seemed almost completely absent. I saw a couple of specks of black grit, but that was it; I discerned no grain, white speckles, scratches, hairs or other defects.

Colors are probably what BN does best, and they look absolutely spectacular throughout the movie. Hues always seem solid and neatly-saturated, with no signs of noise or bleeding. This film provides some of the brightest and boldest colors I've seen on DVD, and they appear simply wonderful throughout the movie. Black levels were very deep and dark, and shadow detail seemed appropriately thick without any excessive opacity. Overall, it's a very fine image.

This Boogie Nights DVD apparently offers a different transfer than the one found on the 1998 release, but I frankly don't see any real differences. The old disc may have offered slightly brighter colors, but these hues remain awfully strong. Other than that, I really don't detect any dissimilarities; both look terrific.

I also heard no differences between the two Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks, but since that aspect wasn't supposed to change, this makes sense. BN features a soundfield that's oriented heavily toward the forward channels. The forward speakers provide excellent stereo separation for the music, and general ambiance seems decent but not very broad. The rears are mostly used for some minor reinforcement of the front channels - such as light applause during the award banquets - and don't get much of a workout.

That said, I'm not complaining about the mix because it fits the film. BN probably could have benefited from a little extra depth, but this isn't a movie that requires an explosive surround track. Sound is extremely important to the picture, but mainly in the quality domain, and the audio seems very well-produced overall.

Dialogue always comes across as crisp and well-defined, with no edginess or concerns related to intelligibility. Effects are clear and realistic, and I noted no signs of distortion. Although speech is a major aspect of the film, I think music may actually be more important, as the mix of pop tunes and Michael Penn's score add tremendously to the mood and pacing of the movie. Happily, the track reproduces them cleanly and strongly, with clear highs and some solid bass. Surprisingly, I didn't detect any usage of the LFE channel; I glanced at the indicator on my receiver at many logical points but never saw it twitch. Nonetheless, the low end seems nicely rich and deep, and the track as a whole works well for the movie.

When a studio re-issues a DVD, it usually occurs because the original release included few or no supplemental features. That wasn't the case with Boogie Nights; although the 1998 DVD wasn't absolutely packed, it tossed in a nice array of extras, all of which are duplicated here. In addition, this two-disc set adds a few choice features.

We find two excellent audio commentaries. The first is the same one that appeared on the original New Line DVD, and it comes from director Paul Thomas Anderson. Since the first DVD came out two years ago, Anderson's remarks have inspired an array of reactions, but the opinions strongly tend to be "love it or hate it."

Put me in the former category, as I think Anderson's track is totally captivating and entertaining. Paul's a chatty boy, and he fills almost every moment of this commentary with insightful, fresh, frank and compelling statements. He's clearly not afraid to say what he thinks, which not only means that we hear lots of negative remarks about the movie but also it makes his praise more meaningful. These commentaries are so frequently filled with non-stop happy talk that I can't take any of it seriously; since Anderson is willing to criticize parts of the film, I found his praise more credible as well.

Some of Anderson's detractors have knocked the commentary due to his frequently profane remarks. Frankly, I don't understand this apparent prudishness. Have any of these people actually seen Boogie Nights? It ain't Barney, and it seems odd that someone who sat through two and half hours of BN would then blanch due to P.T.'s potty-mouth. Ultimately, his candor, hyper attitude and high level of detail make this track a total winner.

Equally good - and maybe even better - is the second commentary, which involves Anderson and a wide mix of actors; we hear from Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Don Cheadle, Melora Walters, John C. Reilly, Luis Guzman, William H. Macy, and Heather Graham. All included Anderson, and most were recorded alone with P.T.; Macy and Graham came as a package, as did Cheadle and Reilly. The commentary was originally created for Criterion's 1998 laserdisc.

As with most Criterion commentaries, this one culls a big group of remarks and edits them into one coherent piece. Or semi-coherent, in this case, but it's gloriously sloppy. It's a hard track to describe, but it adds a lot of new information about the film and is almost insanely entertaining. From Anderson's continual queries of cast members about Guzman's sobriety during the shoot to Wahlberg's frequently begging to be allowed to leave to... well, just about everything else, it's a hum-dinger.

Once again, this commentary isn't for the faint of heart, as quite a lot of graphic statements appear and we also get tons of profanity from Anderson and some of the others (usually Wahlberg). Once again, I wonder how this could offend someone who liked Boogie Nights. In any case, the second track is one of the greats and will certainly inspire repeated listenings.

Although the audio commentaries seem to be the only supplemental features on DVD one, that's not quite true. For one, there's also an option to jump ahead to each of the movie's song selections; called "Music from the Film", it doesn't isolate the music in any way, but it is a nice way to check out each of the tunes (and it helps let you know the names of all of them).

Next is a "hidden" bonus. Go to the "set-up" menu and click on the "color bars". Wait through 20 seconds of these bars and you'll encounter two minutes and 50 seconds of outtakes. Actually, we only find two different segments; one shot offers some improvised dialogue from Robert Ridgely during the awards banquet, and the other provides a lot of silent test footage of the prosthetic penis. Hey, if you didn't get enough of that johnson during the movie, these outtakes are the place for you! I was a bit disappointed by these clips just because Magnolia's outtakes lasted five minutes longer and were more interesting. Nonetheless, they make for a nice little extra.

That finishes the first disc, so we now move on to DVD two, where many of the supplements lie. Actually, most of the material here duplicates the information found on the original BN DVD, but there are a few notable additions.

First up is the "Deleted Scenes" section, which features 10 unused clips. Each of these runs between 40 seconds and five minutes, 55 seconds, with a total time of a little less than 24 minutes. The vast majority of these are actually extended versions of existing scenes; for example, we see more of the van ride early in the movie, and there's also more "coke talk" between Reed, Dirk and Todd. All of these snippets can be screened with their original audio or with commentary from Anderson, and they're fun either way. While many cut scenes are quite dull, most of these are very entertaining, and Anderson fills us in nicely on why he eliminated them.

The first nine of these segments appeared on the first BN DVD; only the tenth, which involves Becky Barnett's post-wedding life, didn't make that prior edition. It's inclusion here is very welcome. One of my few criticisms of the old DVD came from its omission; since Anderson discussed it during his commentary, it seemed odd to not be able to see it. Happily, we find it in all almost six minutes of glory, along with new commentary from Anderson about it (reluctant commentary, he states, though he doesn't explain why).

More cut scenes appear in "The John C. Reilly Files", which offers 14 minutes and 40 seconds of deleted footage. Not surprisingly, all of it features Reilly. Three segments are here. The first, which lasts three minutes and 10 seconds, expands upon the first meeting of Reed and Eddie; only the last 70 seconds of this clip provide new material. Next is another two minutes and 40 seconds of coked-out rambling from Reed, which the final eight minutes and 50 seconds show additional shots of Reed interacting with Nick the sound engineer during Dirk's recording sessions. None of these are vital, but all are fun and worth a look; I'm not quite as enamored with Reilly as is Anderson, but he's consistently entertaining. "The John C. Reilly Files" are new to this DVD.

The remainder of the features all originally appeared on the first DVD. Michael Penn's Anderson-directed music video for "Try" shows up here, and it 's a solid piece; some cameos from BN cast members add to the fun. Anderson also discusses the video during an optional commentary track.

Cast and crew biographies can be found on the disc. As with the first DVD, these offer a unique twist. The listings for 16 actors and Anderson are all quite bland; they just provide filmographies, albeit very detailed (and updated for 2000) ones. However, the real fun comes from the fact that we find biographies for 16 of the film's characters. I thought this was insanely cool two years ago, and my opinion hasn't changed; these fake-ographies offer some of the most entertaining text found on any DVD. I also was pleased to see that each actor is depicted with a cartoon rendering ala the case's cover art; this added yet another nice touch to a winning set.

Some interesting liner notes from journalist Chuck Stephens complete this solid package. Unfortunately, a few notable omissions remain. I found the lack of trailer on the first DVD confusing, and I still wonder why one doesn 't appear. More disappointing though more understandable is the absence of any clips from Exhausted, a documentary about porn star John Holmes. These excerpts were supposed to appear on the DVD and actually made it onto early review copies (not mine, darn it!) but were cut at the last minute due to rights problems. It's too bad that they didn't make it, but I can't blame New Line for their omission.

One other piece it would have been fun to find is "The Dirk Diggler Story", Anderson's early telling of the tale. This part of his youth would make a nice addition, but it ain't here, and I doubt Anderson will ever let it see the widespread light of day, unfortunately.

Although those extras would have made this a better set, there's no question it remains a tremendously solid package. Boogie Nights is a flawed masterpiece, but it's a gem nonetheless; I like this movie more every time I see it, although its problems are impossible to ignore. The DVD provides very strong picture and sound plus some excellent supplements. For anyone who doesn't have the prior DVD, it borders on "must have" status, as the whole package is so winning.

Current BN owners will have to decide how much they like extras to determine if re-purchase seems worthwhile. For me, I'd grab the new DVD just to get the second audio commentary; the added deleted scenes were simply gravy. However, if you're not interested in supplements, the original DVD should remain sufficient, as I think it offers a presentation of equal quality. The picture looks slightly different at most, and I see no compelling reason for folks who don't like audio commentaries or other supplements to take the plunge. Fans who value solid extras will be pleased, however; the additions aren't massive in number, but they made the "upgrade" worthwhile for me.

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