Boogie Nights Review

Gary Couzens has reviewed the Region 1 release of Boogie Nights, Paul Thomas Anderson’s impressive epic set in the 70s/80s porn industry. This New Line Platinum Series disk has a very good picture and sound and generally well-thought-out and informative extras.

San Fernando Valley, California, 1977. Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) is a none-too-bright young man working in a nightclub when he is discovered by porn producer Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds). With his good looks and large endowment, Eddie becomes porn star Dirk Diggler.

Boogie Nights, Paul Thomas Anderson’s second feature (after Hard Eight) is a sprawling and highly impressive epic tracing the rise and decline of the porn industry over six years. It’s a film in two halves, the tone changing symbolically at a New Year party ushering in the 80s. At first for Jack, Dirk and all the people who surround him, life is a huge party, where drugs and sex are plentiful. But if the 70s are the high, the 80s are the comedown, and many of the characters pay a high price. Anderson’s achievement is to take characters and a milieu that many may find repugnant and show the humanity at its heart. Jack’s company is a surrogate family: the mother figure is Amber (Julianne Moore), a woman forcibly separated from her real son, who lavishes her considerable maternal feelings on Dirk, in many ways a second son. She also has a pseudo-daughter in Rollergirl (Heather Graham), a beautiful, permanently roller-skated ex-College student turned porn actress.

The opening hour of this movie, which covers the events of a single year, is quite brilliant, fast paced, with many memorable scenes and very well played by a first-rate cast. As the narrative moves into the 80s it becomes somewhat fragmented, though a sequence involving Alfred Molina as drug dealer Rahad Jackson is one of the best-directed scenes of recent years, using the soundtrack in particular to build up tension. It’s difficult to pick out individual performances, but the film represents career high points for many of them. Needless to say, this is not a film for the easily offended, though the sexual content is much less than you might expect; there are some violent scenes towards the end.

On this evidence, Anderson has talent to burn. However, at this stage he’s still very clearly the sum of his influences. The Scorsese of Goodfellas is writ very large over Boogie Nights, as Robert Altman is over the even more sprawling and ambitious Magnolia. The now-notorious final scene is a direct homage to the end of Raging Bull. (Another influence, which Anderson mentions in his commentary, is less obvious at first: Jonathan Demme.) That’s not to say that Scorsese, Altman and Demme don’t have their own influences – they do – but over time they absorbed those influences into their own distinctive style. Anderson hasn’t yet reached that stage.

At the beginning of his commentary, Anderson says: “You’re listening to a guy who learned a lot about ripping off movies from watching laserdiscs with director commentaries.” Needless to say any budding director would do well to listen to Anderson’s commentary here, which is relaxed, often funny, sometimes moving (hear his voice crack as he remembers Robert Ridgely, who plays The Colonel and who died during editing, a day after Anderson’s father) and very informative. Would you believe that Leonardo DiCaprio was first choice for Dirk Diggler? A word of warning: don’t listen to the commentary if you haven’t seen the film before, as Anderson gives away at least one key plot event before we see it happen. Anderson provides commentaries for nine deleted scenes, which are very interesting even if you can see why they were removed from what is already a lengthy film. The music video “Try” by Michael Penn (who wrote the film’s score), directed by Anderson, is a surprising choice, but Anderson’s commentary justifies it. It was shot in one elaborate steadicam shot (lasting 3:20), and several of the cast of Boogie Nights make brief appearances.

The feature is correctly framed at 2.35:1, showing off Anderson’s compositions to good advantage. The transfer is anamorphic, good and colourful, with strong blacks and an emphasis on eye-popping reds, and with only minor shimmering artefacts. The soundtrack is not the most elaborate one around, but the dialogue is clear and there are good occasional use of directional effects, but there’s an odd static crackle in a couple of scenes. The deleted scenes and the music video are also in 2.35:1 but are non-anamorphic. The cast biographies and filmographies are of less use: the former lifted from the production notes and the latter all-too-obviously derived from the Internet Movie Database at the time of production of the DVD, complete with gaps and errors. (Heather Graham is listed as appearing in Bofinger’s [sic] Big Thing, which of course we all now know as Bowfinger.) The character biographies are simply a gimmick that could have been dispensed with, and the package surprisingly omits any trailers.

This DVD is part of the New Line Platinum Series, and it’s discs like this one which give people the impression that Region 1 is always superior to Region 2. I can’t comment on the picture or audio quality of Entertainment’s R2 disc, but it’s in the wrong ratio (16:9, which for this film is not good news) and the only extras are cast interviews. Despite some minor shortcomings, there’s simply no contest.

[Since this review was written, New Line have released a two-disc edition in their Platinum Series, reviewed by Steve Wilkinson here. Both editions are still available, as of June 2002.]


Updated: Feb 27, 1999

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