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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Wonderland
Wonderland
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // February 10, 2004
List Price: $26.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted February 6, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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The Movie:

Val Kilmer plays late porn superstar John Holmes (a role originally devised for Matt Dillon) in this film based on actual events in which Holmes may or may not have been involved. It's this involvement that the film focuses on, rather than Holmes' illustrious film career and eventual death from AIDS, but it still makes for very compelling viewing.

A biker named David Lind (expertly played by an almost unrecognizable Dylan McDermott from TV's The Practice) hears of the murder of four people at 8763 Wonderland Ave while sitting in a bar. He goes to the police and tells them his story.

Lind was involved with the people who were killed. Ron Launius (Josh Locus), Billy Deverell (Tim Blake Nelson), Joy Miller (Janeane Garofalo) and Barbara Lee Richardson (Natasha Gregson Wagner) were all found dead with their heads smashed in. Someone had taken a lead pipe to each and every one of them. A fifth victim, Susan Launius (Christina Applegate) survived, but just barely.

It seems that porn star John Holmes, who was a regular around the home for the sole reason of feeding his insane cocaine habit, told them about an Arab he knew with a massive stash of money, drugs and jewelry in his home. Holmes figured he could get into the house easily enough, as he knew the Arab so well that he referred to him as 'brother.' Once in the home, he'd leave the kitchen door unlocked so that the rest of the guys could come in and rob the place.

Well, the Arab was a man known as Eddie Nash - a local crime lord with a huge drug habit and a nasty temper. Nash figures out it was Holmes who let the thieves in and threatens to kill everyone he knows if he doesn't return the favor by letting him and his thugs into their pad to that he can get his revenge.

Depending on who's side of the story you believe.

When Holmes was taken into custody, his story, that covered the same events, was very different from Lind's tale. Both men were drug addicts. Both men had some giant sized skeletons in their closed. And Holmes was known to be a compulsive liar.

Holmes claimed that he was against the idea from the start. That he warned the group about going after Nash's drugs and money because he'd find out they were responsible and have them killed. He also claimed he had nothing to do with the murders besides letting Nash and his cohorts into the crime scene – despite the fact that his finger prints were discovered on the bed post next to where one of the victims lay. Holmes had been in the place many times – maybe he had touched the bedpost earlier that day on an unrelated visit. Or maybe he held down the victim while someone smashed her head in. Or maybe he was bracing himself there while he was actually smashing her head in.

Wonderland is a stylishly directed, fast paced grim proverb about just how low the human race is able to stoop. There are no redeeming characters at all in the film (though most of them do have a sympathetic moment or two in the film, reminding us that they are human). Kilmer is in fine form as Holmes – a man who kept an underage teenage mistress (played quite well by Kate Bosworth) despite being legally married to his first wife, Sharon (Lisa Kudrow who does a fine job in a role about as far removed from Phoebe of Friends as one can get).

Cox does an admirable job directing the whole ordeal. What could have easily turned out a convoluted mess instead evolves at a nice pace into a tightly scripted and slick looking production that presents both sides of the story in an almost seamless transition that doesn't feel forced, or take sides.

The DVD

Video:

Lion's Gate gives Wonderland an anamorphic 1.85.1 widescreen transfer that looks pretty good. Some of the blacks break up just ever so slightly in a few of the darker scenes, and there's a little bit of print damage that surprisingly rears its head towards the end of the film, but other than that, the movie looks really solid. Colors are reproduced very nicely, flesh tones look dead on, and there aren't any serious issues with the transfer worth noting.

Sound:

The impressive Dolby Digital 5.1 compliments the movie perfectly. Particularly worth noting is just how well the soundtrack sounds on this mix. When the music kicks in, and it does quite frequently, it envelops you and sucks you in. There's no hiss or distortion at all, and the lower end of the mix will give your subwoofer a decent kick in the pants. Channel separation is clear and distinct, dialogue is easy to understand (except in a few scenes where certain lines are intentionally muffled) and sound effects are realistic and, during the murder scene, sufficiently brutal sounding.

Extras:

Off of the main menu, viewers will find an interesting assortment of supplemental material. First up are four interviews with come of the cast members. Each segment runs between one to two minutes, and to be quite honest, they're basically disposable. No one is given quite enough time to really get into much of interest. Val Kilmer, Tim Blake Nelson, Josh Lucas and Eric Bogosian are the four interviewees. Too bad more time wasn't given to these, as I'm sure hearing from each of them could have been interesting.

A handful of deleted scenes are included on the DVD as well, most of which are unimportant in the long run but may have added some slight characterization to a few of the key roles. Nothing major has been trimmed though, and most of these were probably cut to keep the running time down. There are a total of seven scenes altogether.

A five minutes segment from Court TV: Hollywood At Large follows the deleted scenes. This is an interesting piece that was done before the film was released and it features some more interview footage with the cast as well as some crime scene footage and clips from some newscasts about the murders that were broadcast back when they occurred in 1981.

A feature length commentary from co-producer/co-writer/director James Cox and co-writer/co-producer Captain Mauzner can also be found here. It covers the entire length of the film and lends some interesting insight into how the film was made, what the director was trying to accomplish, how it was working with some of the cast members, as well as their take on the actual events that inspired the film. If you enjoyed the movie or have any interest in the events that inspired it, this track is worth your time to sit down and listen to. Cox and Mauzner have a lot to say about their project, and more importantly, they're interesting to listen to.

The last extra on the disc took me by surprise. Part of the historical significance of the Wonderland case is that it was one of, if not the, first time that videotape was admitted as evidence in a United States Court Room. This changed the face of the justice system forever and set an interesting precedent. Lion's Gate has included the twenty-five minute police video that was taken when the police arrived on the scene. All four victims are shown in the state they were discovered in, with their heads bashed in and their blood covering the walls and furniture in the building. This is pretty grueling stuff and for those who are sensitive to actual footage of real murder victims, it may prove to be too much. It's not exploitative in the manner of the animal snuff from something like Cannibal Holocaust is – it's purely procedural, but that doesn't lessen the impact at all and I was quite honestly shocked to see a larger studio like Lion's Gate include this footage on a wide release title like this. Why is it there? Well, I'm not entirely sure. It's not something that I intend to watch over and over again, but at the same time, having sat through it, it did give me a better appreciation for the severity of the crime that was committed. Maybe that was the point.

Finally, as an Easter Egg, the trailer for the film and a commercial for the soundtrack can be found by highlighting the Lion's Gate logo off of the main menu.

Taking up the entire second disc is an 'unadvertised' extra feature - Wadd: The Life And Times Of John C. Holmes. This documentary about Holmes clocks in at roughly one hundred and five minutes and is the R-Rated cut of the film, shy of any hardcore footage. Plenty of people who knew Holmes personally are given the chance to speak candidly about him including his real life wife Sharon, his mistress Dawn, his second wife (porn star Misty Dawn) as well as plenty of people who knew him professionally as well, like Bob Chin, Ron Jeremy, Annette Haven, Kitten Natividad, Larry Flynt and Al Goldstein. For those uninitiated with just who John C. Holmes was and his impact on the world of adult filmmaking in the early 80s, this documentary does put his life and career in perspective quite nicely, providing almost a crash course of sorts. Although it does, in a sense, provide some spoilers for the feature film, it's still probably beneficial for those unfamiliar with his story to watch this first, as it will lend itself to a better appreciation of the feature. The sticker on the front of the keep case mentions that this is a two disc limited edition with the Wadd documentary and no mention of it is made on the back of the case where the rest of the supplements are listed, so I'm assuming the only way to be sure that you're getting the documentary is to make sure you get a package with the red sticker on the front.

Final Thoughts:

How this film failed to find a bigger crowd during its theatrical run is beyond me. It's stylishly directed, cleverly written, and very well acted and Lion's Gate brings Wonderland to DVD with style supplying very nice video, excellent audio, and some great extra features that serve to put the film into context. Highly recommended!

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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