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All auteurs have their "moment" movie - the cinematic statement that acknowledges they have finally arrived. For David Lynch, it was Blue Velvet, for Hitchcock, it was Vertigo (or, frankly, any one of his previous masterworks). In the case of Paul Thomas Anderson, he had hoped Sydney would be his ticket to notice and name value. Instead, the studio in charge eviscerated his cut, renamed the movie Hard Eight, and sent it out into the marketplace on a whimper and a prayer. Realizing he never wanted to go through that again, Anderson warned the suits behind his next project of the two issues he would not compromise on. First, he intended to make a three hour movie about the porn business, and second, it would be rated NC-17. New Line came back with a counteroffer - the running time was fine, the commercially unfriendly rating was not. Anderson agreed, and eventually delivered the definitive Boogie Nights. One of the great films of the 90s, it now arrives on Blu-ray in a version that confirms this director's status as one of the artform's guiding forces.
Our main plot point centers on Eddie Adams (Mark Walhberg) a teenage valley kid who is notoriously well hung. This captures the attention of Me Decade adult filmmaker Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) who is looking for a new 'angle' in his ever-present desire to be respected. Along with girlfriend Amber (Julianne Moore) and featured starlet Rollergirl (Heather Graham), he convinces Eddie to try a career having sex for the camera. Soon, under the name "Dirk Diggler", our hero is the hottest thing in porn. He is as integral to Jack's empire as other dominating forces, including production manager "Little" Bill (William H. Macy), cameraman Kurt Longjohn (Ricky Jay), crewmember Scotty J (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and actors Becky Barnett (Nicole Ari Parker), Buck Swope (Don Cheadle), and Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly). But as the innocence of the '70s gives way to the cutthroat realities of the '80s, drugs and personal demons take over. Soon - everyone's life is in turmoil.
Boogie Nights is Goodfellas with pop shots (inferred). It's a directorial tour de force by a filmmaker so self-aware that even he recognizes when he's borrowing from the best. It's the best Quentin Tarantino comedy the video store enfant terrible never made and it's such a stunning cinematic statement that, at times, it almost levitates off the screen. Crafted by Paul Thomas Anderson as a balls-out (wink) response to the disaster that was Sydney/Hard Eight, Nights has gone on to become one of the lesser films in the artist's oeuvre (recently, several critics and critical groups picked his last effort, There Will Be Blood, as the best film of the last ten years) and yet it stands as one of the most significant efforts of the late '90s. Indeed, what Anderson managed to accomplish with a stellar cast, expert screenplay, and visionary work behind the camera is a collective reflection on the entire movie business - not just those making a buck off the f... Boogie Nights is the standard rags to riches, 42nd Street, "hey kids, let's put on a show" kind of Tinseltown tragedy, except in this case, the characters bare more than just their souls.
The previous reference to the Scorsese masterpiece is more than valid. Like the story of Henry Hill and his rise (and fall) as part of organized crime, Eddie Adams' unusual physical gifts set him up for a first act initiation into the porn biz, a second section collection of achievements and omens, and a finale full of fire, brimstone, guns, and regrets. Sure, you could subtitled each section "the '70s", "the '80s", and "the '90s", or you could even go with "film", "video", and "Internet", but the results would be the same. Anderson has clearly followed the three step method, using situation as a means of managing character and visa versa. There is also a lot of truth here. The script is full of nods to famous adult stars of the past (most noticeably, John Holmes) and infamy within the industry (the Wonderland murders). But Anderson also avoids one of the major myths of XXX stardom - the eventual personal collapse - to show that, in most cases, people don't disintegrate from taking off their clothes and f*cking. Instead, all the horror comes form individual flaws: bad family life; addiction; low self esteem; social awkwardness; and the undeniable connection between the fabulousness of fame and the haunting death of losing it.
Perhaps the most satisfying thing about Boogie Nights is the complexity of the narrative. Everyone gets a viable story arc, from silly urban 'urban' cowboy Buck to suffering homosexual Scotty. Anderson adds little bits to everyone's dialogue, advancing their place in the big picture plotline without taking away from the others. It's a style he would repeat with his follow-up stunner Magnolia. Heavily influenced by Robert Altman (in fact, he acted as back-up for the aging maestro while making A Prairie Home Companion), some might see this as just another riff on Short Cuts - multiple individuals interlocking and interwoven. But as he would do with later titles like Punch-drunk Love and Blood, Anderson is really out to follow one main personality through all aspects of their life. In Eddie Adams, he finds the perfect foil, the plausible film star, and the patented fool. Trading on your talent is one thing. Using your gimmicky God's gift of a penis to push you forward only works in the stained sweat shops of XXX valley. It's the same for everyone he knows. Jack Horner has cobbled together a group of beautiful losers, liquidating their identities for the sake of some hardcore histrionics. There is nothing wrong with these Boogie Nights. It's the harsh reality of the days that truly define this movie's majesty.
Visually, Boogie Nights is a feast for the eyes. Anderson captures everything about the decades he is dealing with in perfect, picturesque imagery. So it goes without saying that a Blu-ray release would have a lot to live up to in recreating this director's detail-oriented, color-splashed vision. Thankfully, New Line knocks this release out of the park. Boogie Nights has never looked better - not even on the big screen (where projection issues and under-lighting remain a constant technical bugaboo). The various pigments plastered onto the screen sizzle, the playground patina of the '70s giving way to the dark and depressing depth of the '90s. The 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer is just terrific - vibrant and loaded with telling accents. Want to know how good this image is? Find a scene with the Oscar-nominated Reynolds and freeze-frame. Then check out his saucy salt and pepper hairpiece. It looks like carefully combed cake frosting. Maintaining Anderson's expert 2.40:1 framing and everything contained therein, this is what Blu-ray is all about.
Anderson is like Quentin Tarantino in another major way - he really knows how to use music in his movies. From obvious disco nods like The Emotions' "Best of My Love" to obscurities such as Apollo 100's "Joy" and Sniff and the Tears' "Driver's Seat", he delivers a defining soundtrack, and the new Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix brings it all to brilliant life. Your home theater system will soar as bass-heavy anthems mesh effortlessly with the dialogue and other ambient noises. The sound design here is excellent, conversations coming to the fore while the musical accompaniment falls into the back channels. Elsewhere, action scenes and other moments of movement are given a healthy directional spin. Be warned, however. The disc packaging swears there are other audio options available as well (standard 5.1 in English, Spanish and German). Unfortunately, this critic could not find said sonic variable on his copy.
This is really nothing more than the original Boogie Nights Special Edition DVD release from 2000 ported over to Blu-ray. There are no new extras or added content available. We are treated to Anderson's F-bomb laced commentary, a wild and crazy cast discussion that frequently falls into chaos, a selection of deleted scenes with director insights available, something called "The John C. Reilly Files" (some improvised outtakes) and a music video by Michael Penn. Add in a trailer and that's it - which is really too bad. A movie like Boogie Nights cries out for an updated digital package, especially when you consider have far the cast and creator have come since the movie was made.
As much as it breaks new ground visually and narratively, as much as it tries to put a new spin on an old storyline, Boogie Nights technically remains the rise and fall (and potential rebirth) of that age old archetype - the dreamer who believes he has something special to offer the world. The parallel to Anderson himself is undeniable. After making his first film, he knew he was capable of something much more significant (especially without sticky studio interference) and then had to struggle to see his ambition realized. The results were definitely worth the wait. While the movie deserves a score akin to the DVD Talk Collector's Series tag, the Blu-ray is a little less impressive (mostly because of the recycled bonus features). As a result, the overall product earns a respected and deserving Highly Recommended. It's nice to know that Anderson was not some one trick pony, only capable of realizing his aims in one particular setting before sagging into a career as a journeyman joke. With Magnolia, Punch-drunk Love, and There Will Be Blood, he's confirmed his place as one of America's most gifted auteurs - and Boogie Nights in the 'moment' when it all came together for the first time.
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