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Blu-ray Review: Boogie Nights

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The Film

From its impeccably conceived three-minute long Steadicam opening to its final shot featuring one memorable member, Boogie Nights signaled the rising of a new talent in American cinema in a big way. Those who had missed Paul Thomas Anderson’s impressive debut feature Sydney (or Hard Eight, as the studio execs preferred it) the previous year would have to try really hard to ignore his sophomore effort, a stunningly confident saga of a close-knit group of people working in the pornography industry in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

It’s easy to think about Boogie Nights in terms of its photography — Anderson’s constantly moving camera is nothing short of virtuosic — or its pitch perfect evocation of several eras, but perhaps even more impressive is Anderson’s deft handling of a massive cast, shifting characters in and out at just the right moments to give each its due and create a cohesive whole. Anderson would do something similar with his next feature, Magnolia, but I’m not sure he was able to improve on what he’d done in Boogie Nights.

At the center of the film is Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg in his breakout role), an earnest and naïve L.A. kid who’s determined to make something of himself despite his humble circumstances. The archetype is familiar, but an early scene where Eddie runs away from home, browbeaten by his mother’s cruelty, is one of the film’s few concessions to cliché.

Working at a nightclub, Eddie finds himself the object of porn director Jack Horner’s (Burt Reynolds) attention, and soon, he’s become part of Horner’s “family,” a group of hard-living porn stars that includes Amber Waves (Julianne Moore), Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly), Rollergirl (Heather Graham), Buck Swope (Don Cheadle), Becky Barnett (Nicole Ari Parker), and Robert Ridgely in his final role as porn godfather The Colonel. Typically excellent supporting performances from Anderson regulars Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Luis Guzmán, Melora Walters, Ricky Jay, and Philip Baker Hall round out the cast.

The rise and fall of Eddie — who takes on the name Dirk Diggler — is at the center of the film, but Anderson resists abandoning his other characters for efficiency or simplicity’s sake, with all members of the family having a stake in the wonderfully paced and balanced script. At two and a half hours-plus, the film could seem bloated in lesser hands, but it's far too kinetic to ever feel that way. Even after the film appears to have run its course, Anderson tosses in a late scene featuring Alfred Molina in glorious scenery-chewing mode that is absolutely riveting and truly subverts our expectations about what kind of film this is.

It’s hard to believe Anderson was a mere 26 years old during the shooting of Boogie Nights. It’s an early career masterpiece for an auteur who’s gone on to carve out quite a filmography for himself.

The Blu-ray Disc

Boogie Nights
is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. Anderson’s textured photography looks positively breathtaking here, with a presentation that is deep, rich, and vivid. Anderson’s excellent ’70s set pieces — check out the neon-fueled nightclub or Horner’s massive outdoor pool parties for some great examples — seethe with color. Even the 16mm interludes in the film are impressive, with a heavy grain structure and deep color palette that evokes the era perfectly. Skin tones are consistent throughout, and sharpness and clarity never wavers. With the source material Anderson provided, anything less than a superb Blu-ray transition would disappoint. It doesn’t disappoint.

The audio is presented in Dolby 5.1 TrueHD, and the nearly wall-to-wall soundtrack of ’70s hits ensures it gets plenty of opportunity to prove its mettle. Dialogue, which occasionally overlaps a la Robert Altman (an obvious Anderson touchstone), remains clear and distinct even with multiple voices at the same time. The great sound design work present in the film is presented here wonderfully courtesy of frequent and crisp ambient sound.

Special Features

All the extras are ported over from the previous DVD release, and while it’s not too impressive of a roster, they do offer some nice additional glimpses. Two commentary tracks are included — one with Anderson and one with cast members, including Cheadle, Graham, Guzmán, Macy, Moore, Reilly, Wahlberg, and Walters.

The disc’s chief extras consist of deleted and extended scenes. Several are included in a feature titled “The John C. Reilly Files,” which provide an opportunity to see the actor’s love for improvisation, but are unfortunately of terrible picture quality. Other deleted scenes — about 30 minutes worth — are much clearer and include optional commentary by Anderson. A music video by Michael Penn with Anderson commentary and the theatrical trailer are also included. All extras are in standard def.

The Bottom Line

P.T. Anderson is a treasure in modern American cinema, and he was already such after his first two films. With its beautiful Blu-ray presentation, Boogie Nights is an easy recommendation.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.