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Idealistic producer Jack Horner has always dreamed of elevating his films into an art form. When he discovers young actor Eddie Adams, 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?
For more about Boogie Nights and the Boogie Nights Blu-ray release, see Boogie Nights Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on December 18, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, Rico Bueno, John C. Reilly, Nicole Ari Parker
» See full cast & crew
Boogie Nights Blu-ray Review
P.T. Anderson's 1997 classic gets a well-endowed Blu-ray release.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, December 18, 2009
"Everyone is blessed with one special thing," says Mark Wahlberg as Boogie Nights' Dirk Diggler, a rising star in the pre-AIDS heyday of 1970s porno. And Dirk's special thing is his special thing. That is—and there's no way to put this politely—his massive member, heroically proportioned and always at the ready. Director P.T. Anderson's second, breakthrough feature film, after the well-received but barely seen Hard Eight, is constructed around the literal and symbolic use of Dirk's legendary, uh, dirk, in much the same way that the nation's capital emanates outwardly from the proudly phallic obelisk of the Washington Monument. But Boogie Nights isn't some tribute to masculinity. Alfred Hitchcock had his MacGuffin—that unimportant object that nevertheless drives the plot—and that's essentially how Anderson uses Dirk's "diggler." It's central and marginal; it means everything and nothing. And ultimately, it's nothing special.
Before he transforms into Dirk Diggler, Mark Wahlberg stars as Eddie Adams, an enormously endowed high school dropout, nightclub dishwasher, and small-time prostitute who gets discovered by adult film director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds). Leaving home after a fight with his mother, Eddie takes up with Jack's stable of cast and crew members, who form a kind of makeshift family that's less dysfunctional—on the surface, and for a time, anyway—than the one he just left. Leading lady Amber Waves (a brilliant Julianne Moore) is the nurturer of the group, and she lovingly tells Eddie what to do—and when and where to do it—when they have their first sex scene together. It's Oedipal and bizarrely touching, as honest as it is non-pejorative. Soon, the newly christened Dirk is the talk of smut society, winning awards and starring in a series of porno-cum-action movies—but perhaps that's too literal—that combine Chuck Norris-style martial arts with the, shall we say, marital arts of John Holmes, whose own tragic life is pilfered for plot points here. As the 1970s go out with a literal bang, and the 1980s usher in an era of excess, both Dirk's career and the tool of his trade go limp under the strains of cocaine. After a blow up with Jack, who has become a stand-in father figure, Dirk sets out on his own, failing as a rock star, participating in a drug deal gone bad that mirrors the infamous Wonderland murders, and ending up right where he started: getting paid a few measly bucks to touch himself while some lonely pervert watches.
And yet this is only the core strand of a multi-character, Robert Altman-esque narrative that prefigures the complexity of Anderson's following film, Magnolia. The personalities that surround Dirk aren't just window dressing; they're convincing as people, with fears and aspirations all their own. John C. Reilly is Dirk's best friend Reed Rothchild, a fellow porn actor and wannabe magician. William H. Macy inspires pity as the tragically cuckolded assistant director who constantly finds his porn star wife in bed—or even out in the driveway, surrounded by onlookers —with other men. Don Cheadle's Buck Swope dresses like Cleavon Little from Blazing Saddles and wants to get out of the porn game for good. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is brilliant as a gay boom operator who has a thing for Dirk, and Heather Graham is terrifically brave playing Rollergirl, a porn actress who never removes her skates, and who desperately needs a mom. Rather than handily resorting to stock 1970s stereotypes, Anderson populates Boogie Nights with true characters, convincing oddballs that seem realer than real but stranger than fiction.
The very act of choosing the world of 1970s porno as subject matter may have temporarily earned P.T. Anderson a reputation as an agent provocateur—a label he's since shed with the offbeat comedy Punch Drunk Love and his sophisticated study of greed, There Will Be Blood—but there's nothing mindlessly obscene or gratuitous about Boogie Nights. In fact, the film isn't really about sex any more than There Will Be Blood is about oil. Of course, sex is almost omnipresent, though less as a physical act, and more in the sensual, carefree abandon of the 1970s, a spirit that would morph into an ugly hedonism with the turn of the decade. This is reflected in the changing of the medium on which porn was shot. Burt Reynolds' Jack Horner is somewhat of a porno auteur, and when he explains his credo to the young Eddie, he says that he wants to make a porn film with a story that "just sucks 'em in," so that "when they spurt out that joy juice, they just gotta sit in it. They can't move until they find out how the story ends." Jack may not be an artist or a visionary, but he's got a modest vision nonetheless, to create titillating material that's entertaining and crafted to the best of his ability. And Reynolds—doing some of the best work of his career—plays him, without a hint of winking irony, as a showman who's genuinely enthusiastic about the quality of his product. With the advent of VHS, cheap video cameras, home viewing, and the fast-forward button, however, any pretense at an actual story becomes irrelevant. Enter the age of instant gratification.
As a writer, Anderson handles this cultural shift with deftness, and when his characters begin drowning in the changing tide, he shows an uncommon empathy, withholding judgment and simply letting the various tragedies take place as natural consequences. These are characters that Anderson is rooting for, and we do too, hoping they find some kind of balance between their idealism and the crushing weight of reality. I have conflicted feelings, though, on the arguably forced optimism of the ending, which sees Dirk, as the prodigal son, returning to his surrogate parents and re-forming their bizarre funhouse mirror reflection of a nuclear family. It seems overly machinated and artificial, but it's also oddly satisfying, and I'm glad that Anderson shrewdly avoids the grim death-by-AIDS scenario met by John Holmes and other real-life porn actors in the 1980s. For all that Dirk Diggler is a tragic character, he's also earnest and mostly well- intentioned. When he asks, "Did it look sexy?" after his first scene with Amber, any intimation of cockiness, if that's the right word, is lost in how simply eager to please he appears. And full credit goes to the former Marky Mark. After his turn as a Calvin Klein underwear model, this could've been a disastrously self-parodying role for Mark Wahlberg, but his performance firmly established him as an actor capable of handling complex and challenging material.
Now, about that penis. It's clearly Dirk's guiding compass, a divining rod that leads him from upstart stud to burned-out cokehead, and Anderson treats it like a monster wisely withheld from sight in a horror movie. Just as we only see the reaction of the crow when the witch transforms in Disney's Snow White, Anderson refuses to give us the thing itself, choosing instead to show us the widened eyes of others, their impressed stares, lustful gazes, and jealous looks. Until, that is, the very last shot, when Dirk stands up to see himself in the mirror, unzips his pants, and lets it all hang out in what is perhaps one of the most purposefully underwhelming "money shots" in all of cinema. (It's a prosthesis, by the way.) After all that build up, you'd almost expect Dirk's moneymaker to shoot fireworks or sing show-tunes in Esperanto. But no, it's just a big old floppy human penis—an awkward piece of evolutionary engineering by anyone's estimation—longer than most, sure, but otherwise unremarkable. And that's precisely the point.
Boogie Nights Blu-ray, Video Quality
Picture quality fetishists should have no trouble getting it up, so to speak, for Boogie Nights' exceptionally sexy 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer. If you've seen the film before, you'll know that it's soaked with SoCal sunshine and bold 1970s colors, and when compared to the film's DVD release, everything here looks deeper, tighter, and more vivid. See the blue, green, and pink lights inside the Hot Traxx nightclub, Dirk's burgundy leisure suit, and the intensely red blood hemorrhaging from the nose of an underage coke whore. Examine the poolside party scene, which is extremely bright but never washed out, still sporting strong aquamarines and expertly reproducing the multi-hued bathing suits on display. Aside from a few darker shots that look just slightly grayish, black levels are as inky as they could be without the danger of crushed shadow detail, and contrast is right on the money. Some of the scenes—like the hot tub sequence—are remarkably dimensional and lifelike. Basically, everything looks exactly as it should, and I'd be surprised if this transfer didn't meet P.T. Anderson's exacting specifications. Of course, there's a lot of handheld camerawork in the film—scattered in amongst Anderson's long, sweeping, highly orchestrated dolly movements—so the focus isn't always precise, but this really lends to the beauty and feeling of the film. In general, though, Boogie Nights boasts an impressive sense of clarity on Blu-ray, with lots of fine texture apparent in faces and newfound detail in the wacky 1970s costumes. Grain levels fluctuate—there are times when grain is superfine, almost conspicuously absent even, and others when it buzzes and pulses onscreen—but there are no distractions here and I saw no evidence of any detail-obliterating smearing or waxiness. One final thought, which I feel almost obligated to mention: In high definition, the "prosthesis" we glimpse briefly at the end of the film, for good or ill, looks much more fake than it ever did in 480p. Just sayin'.
Boogie Nights Blu-ray, Audio Quality
"This is hi-fi, okay? High fidelity. You know what that means? That means this is the highest quality fidelity. Hi-fi. Two very important things in a stereo system...I have this very unit in my home, but I got it modified with the TK-421, which kicks it up another three or four quads per channel. But that's just technical talk, that doesn't concern you."
Don't worry, you won't have to modify your home theater system with the TK-421 to experience everything that Boogie Nights' Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track has to offer (though it might be helpful to have a system capable of handling the tight bass this track puts out). While not as immediately appreciable as the film's stunning high definition upgrade in picture quality, this audio track handles everything that director P.T. Anderson throws its way with clarity, presence, and oomph. And what does he throw, exactly, you ask? Basically, non-stop top-40 fastballs from the 1960s and 70s, like Three Dog Nights' "Mama Told Me (Not to Come)" and The Beach Boys' "God Only Knows," plus a few curveballs like the orgasmic squealing of The Chakachas' "Jungle Fever." And let's not forget Dirk Diggler's fist-pumping anthem, "The Touch." There's rarely a moment when there isn't a song playing, and the music sounds impressively full- bodied and detailed, with an especially potent low-end. The sound effects are equally crisp—hear sausage frying and coffee pouring, the clinking of ice falling into a whisky glass and the brisk snort of a coke line—and dialogue is easily understood throughout, except in scenes, like the opening in the club, when it's intentionally hard to hear. The track is nicely balanced throughout, but it is somewhat front-heavy. You'll hear the music panned into the rears, some occasional ambience, and a few sound effects, like the bubbling of water in the swimming pool, but there are stretches when the surround channels fall into silence. Also, my ears perked up at a slight but noticeable hiss that runs for a few minutes during the first third of the film. Not sure what the cause of this could be, but it was brief, at least, and not too distracting. Overall, though, this track is white-hot and red-blooded.
Do note that there's an error on the back of the case, which claims the disc also includes Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes in English, German, Latin Spanish, and Castilian Spanish. The only audio options available on the disc, however, are the English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix and the two commentary tracks.
Boogie Nights Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Commentary by Director Paul Thomas Anderson
P.T. Anderson begins by admitting how indebted he is to director commentaries, which taught him a lot about how to rip off movies. And he's not ashamed to point out his influences, ranging from 1970s porno to Scorsese and Truffaut. This track is sometimes dry, and sometimes quiet, but it really is intelligent and wildly informative. A great listen.
Commentary by P.T. Anderson and Cast Members Mark Wahlberg, John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle, Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, and Heather Graham
If P.T.'s solo track is the smart and quiet one, this one is wilder, looser, and by the sound of things, slightly booze-fueled at times. Anderson invited the actors over to his home, individually or in pairs, recorded some off-the-cuff Q&A, and then patched it together later. While I initially would've preferred a big, everyone-together-in-the-room-style commentary, this patchwork track is pretty entertaining.
The John C. Reilly Files (SD, 15:10 total)
In these outtakes and longer cuts of existing scenes, everybody's favorite Step Brother gets to let loose a little and have some fun improvising. Three scenes are included: "Swim Trunks," "Waiting for Todd," and "Mixing with Nick."
Deleted Scenes (SD, 29:28)
There's a wealth of deleted material here—ten clips total—from relatively short cuts to long improvisatory scenes where director Paul Thomas Anderson simply let the camera roll. Anderson also supplies optional commentary for each of the scenes, explaining their contexts and the reasons why they were cut.
Music Video: "Try" by Michael Penn (SD, 3:11)
P.T. Anderson directed this impressive single-shot music video, which is "set in the longest hallway in North America," according to Anderson's optional commentary.
Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2:24)
Boogie Nights Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
One of the best films of the 1990s, Boogie Nights is intelligent, impassioned, and stylistically assured, showing the nascent talent of director P.T. Anderson warming up for even greater feats, like 2007's brilliant There Will Be Blood. Making its Blu-ray debut, the film looks gorgeous in 1080p, and the soundtrack will most definitely get your stereo system pumping, even if you don't have that TK-421 modification, which kicks it up another three to four quads per channel. But that's just technical talk. If you're a fan of the film, you'll want to trade in your DVD copy and pick up this Blu-ray right away. The material isn't for everyone's tastes, however, so for newcomers I'd suggest a rental first. Highly Recommended.
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Boogie Nights Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Boogie Nights Blu-ray Gets Wide Release - January 12, 2010
Warner Home Video has announced that the Blu-ray edition of the New Line movie 'Boogie Nights' –Paul Thomas Anderson's exploration of the milieu of adult cinema in the 1970s–, which had been released as a Best Buy exclusive, will be available to buy from all retailers ...
• Magnolia BD in January 2010, Then Boogie Nights - September 22, 2009
Warner Home Video, in conjunction with New Line Home Entertainment, has officially announced the Blu-ray edition of Paul Thomas Anderson's acclaimed film 'Magnolia', which will hit store shelves on January 19, 2010. PT Anderson's previous movie, 'Boogie Nights', ...
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