The newly recorded interviews with director Joel Schumacher on this Blu-ray reveal that most studios were afraid to make this movie. Producer and one-time Sony Pictures Entertainment chairwoman Amy Pascal found Hollywood rebel Schumacher the perfect fit for this seedy, boundary pushing material, and Columbia pictures allowed him to make this mid-budget, R-rated thriller with minimal studio interference. Workingman Nicolas Cage stars as private investigator Tom Welles, who is contacted by wealthy widow Mrs. Christian (Myra Carter) after she discovers an apparent snuff film among her late husband's possessions that appears to show a young woman being murdered. Welles's investigation takes him into the dark underground of illegal pornography, and Joaquin Phoenix proves an affable guide as porn-shop employee Max California. Entertaining and well shot, 8MM is a solidly sordid thriller.
Welles meets Mrs. Christian and her attorney, Daniel Longdale (Anthony Heald), at the family mansion, where she reveals that he uncovered an 8mm film reel among the late Mr. Christian's possessions. Welles views the movie, and witnesses an S&M scene that is interrupted by a brutal slashing. The detective is promised a hefty salary if he can authenticate the movie, as Mrs. Christian wants to know whether or not her late husband's memory has been tarnished. He discovers the woman on the video is Mary Ann Matthews (Jenny Powell), who left her single mother, Janet (Amy Morton), with the dream of moving to Hollywood to become an actress. His search soon turns to an underworld rife with illegal pornography depicting rape, violence and underage sex. A talent scout (James Gandolfini) reveals the leather-clad man in the reel is known as "Machine," and is often directed by avant-garde pornography Dino Velvet (Peter Stormare). Welles and California dive into this subculture, where violence, sex and power collide, as Welles becomes obsessed with revealing the mystery of Mary Ann Matthews..
For such a pulpy subject matter, 8MM is remarkably grounded by the straight-laced performance from Cage, the humor of Phoenix and the emotion of Catherine Keener, who plays Welles's wife, Amy. A major theme of 8MM is whether someone, in this case Janet, would want to know a horrible truth or live in uncertainty. Janet chooses the truth, and Welles's search has a devastating emotional impact on Janet and his own family. The controversy here is the underground world into which 8MM dives headfirst. The film had issues with the MPAA, and Schumacher had to make several trims to secure an R rating. Schumacher reveals in his accompanying interview that three thrusts is apparently the limit for sanctioned MPAA sex. The illegal pornography circuit is unsurprisingly stocked with characters who also will commit violent acts to protect their livelihood, and this puts Welles and his family in immediate danger.
Cage purposely plays a dutiful, restrained character, so do not expect any of his trademark gonzo freak-outs here. He does a nice job with this performance, and lends emotional heft to the material. Phoenix and Gandolfini are similarly strong in supporting roles, as is Swedish actor Stormare, who is believably skeezy as the artsy pornographer. There is plenty of squeamish suspense here, and the human drama is largely effective. The who's and why's surrounding the film reel are not necessarily groundbreaking, but 8MM proves most effective when asking questions about truth and how humans behave behind masks and in the shadows. I have always considered Schumacher an underrated director, and this 20-year-old thriller still provides timely, gripping entertainment for the digital age.
This Shout! Factory release includes a 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image that is largely impressive. The HD image supports the shadowy proceedings with inky blacks, good shadow detail and appropriate contrast. Fine-object detail and texture are strong, and wide shots are largely crisp and clear. The grain structure is filmic, and only a few shots sport a softer appearance. The color scheme is restrained but accurately presented, and the image is pleasantly free of digital tinkering.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is also competent, with good atmospheric effects and clean dialogue. The score is weighty and balanced appropriately with effects and dialogue, and the action-oriented effects offer involving sound pans and LFE support. An English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio stereo mix is also included, as are English SDH subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single-disc release is packed in a standard Blu-ray case. Extras include a new featurette, 8MM in 35mm: An Interview with Producer/Director Joel Schumacher (21:08/HD), which offers interesting, candid insight from the filmmaker. You also get an older Commentary by Schumacher; a Vintage Behind-the-Scenes Featurette (5:07/HD); a Theatrical Trailer (2:35/HD); TV Spots (1:04/HD); and a Still Gallery (6:38/HD).
This Joel Schumacher-directed thriller remains engaging two decades after release. 8MM offers a surprisingly restrained Nicolas Cage performance, and dives into the underground world of illegal pornography. The film offers effective drama and suspense, and Shout! Factory's new release is Highly Recommended.