When P.T. Anderson's Boogie Nights was released it was criticized on the grounds that it was overly long and suffered from slow pacing. Anderson, many critics said, never filmed a scene he didn't like and could benefit from a little more self-control. Fans had the last word though and the movie was a resounding success.
Anderson's latest film Magnolia offers little to defuse the above mentioned critics' points of contention. It clocks in at just over three hours and follows a steady and even pace from the first scene to the last. Economy of storytelling is a term that could never be applied to Magnolia but unlike Boogie Nights, the length and pace of this film seems justified.
Magnolia features a massive ensemble cast including Tom Cruse, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore, Jason Robards and a host of others. Each actor is placed in the center of a unique story strand and set in motion through a set of very personal crises. The first quarter of the film is a little disjointed as the story strands are established in a series of alternating set pieces and we're introduced to each character's situation and motivation. As the narrative progresses subtle relationships develop between each story line until they begin to wrap tighter and tighter around one another. Eventually the story strands are wound together into a single taut cable that snaps in one of the most memorable movie endings of the last several years.
Rather than give you a synopsis of the various stories I leave it to you to discover them in the watching of this extraordinary film. Suffice it to say that Magnolia features fantastic performances by each and every actor on screen. Behind the camera P.T. Anderson employs numerous innovations in terms of storytelling and scripting that result in a challenging experience that's unlike the typical Hollywood drama. Magnolia requires you to bring along your own sensibilities and perceptions so don't watch this one when all you want is a little mindless entertainment.
New Line has given Magnolia one of the most remarkable transfers I've seen this year. The film fluctuates between brightly-lit scenes and scenes that take place in almost total darkness. In each case the picture is exemplary with beautifully saturated colors, fine shadow detail and rich deep blacks. The overall impression is very filmic. The elements used for the transfer are completely free from dust and scratches and there isn't even the slightest hint of digital artifacting or edge enhancement effects. Magnolia's video elements are reference quality and should serve as an example to all other studios seeking to produce high quality DVD releases.
Magnolia's audio track is a little problematic. In the main the 5.1 mix is satisfying and balanced. This is a primarily dialogue driven film so there isn't a lot of audio panning. Voices stay in the center of the sound stage for the most part. The music score drifts pleasantly across the mains and surrounds for a very enveloping feel but the sound effects are limited to the fronts with only occasional surround activity. My main complaint with the sound track is that the music obscures the dialogue from time to time. I didn't see Magnolia in the theater so I don't know if this was the director's intent but I found myself clicking on the subtitle track from time to time in order to pick up plot points. Luckily these flaws are few and far between and shouldn't sway your opinion of the disc.
New Line's Platinum series discs just keep getting better and better. The first thing you'll notice about Magnolia is the attractive packaging. The discs (there are two, one with the movie and another with supplements) are housed in an embossed paper box. Opening the box reveals a three-fold paper holder with tastefully designed graphics taken from the film and its theatrical poster. Though beautiful the paper box is a little delicate and could have benefited from the use of a plastic material like Criterion used in its Brazil box set.
Okay, the color bars aren't exactly a special feature but what comes after sure is. After the ubiquitous color strips leave the screen we're treated to a great collection of out takes and unused footage. There's some very funny stuff here so don't miss it.
Frank T.J. Mackey Seminar
This section is an extended cut of Frank Mackey's 'motivational' seminar. It's an interesting study in filmmaking and bears comparison with the final version. I enjoyed the humor of this section but could easily see why Anderson chose to recut the sequence.
This is the video source used for the infomercial that runs on TVs in the background of several scenes in Magnolia. It's a very funny segment and a nice inclusion on the disc.
There are a total of ten television spots in this section. They show the marketing engine at work hyping the film as it won various awards. Of particular note is the tenth spot that is an unreleased advertisement exclusive to this DVD.
Magnolia Diary is the heart of the extra content on this disc. The 72-minute presentation is a video documentary that covers the film's production from development through shooting, editing, scoring and release. There's no narration and the piece doesn't need it. The editors of Magnolia Diary were careful to piece together only the most relevant and revealing footage available to them and the result is both enlightening and enjoyable. Watching the diary will give viewers a good impression of the atmosphere surrounding Magnolia's production and shed light on the complexity of making such an extraordinary film.
Additional extra content includes a music video, the theatrical trailer and a short teaser trailer.
To my way of thinking Magnolia is the kind of film that Hollywood should have been making all along. It's deep, moving and thought provoking while retaining a good deal of surface entertainment value. Magnolia is wordy and long so it won't be to everyone's taste but if you appreciate fully rendered characters, intelligent dialogue, challenging situations and cinema as pure art you'll want this outstanding special edition in your collection. The only thing I miss in New Line's presentation is a commentary track from Mr. Anderson but it's my understanding that he intentionally chose to forgo such a track and let the movie stand on its own merit. I respect him for that decision and give Magnolia a Highly Recomended rating.