The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents April 2010 Return to Table of Contents
Alice in Wonderland
Presidents Desk
Sundance 2010
Production Slate
DVD Playback
Boogie Nights
ASC Close-Up
Boogie Nights (1997)
Blu-ray Edition
2.40:1 (High Definition 1080p)
Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Warner Home Video/New Line, $28.99

Fever has fallen on California’s San Fernando Valley this particular Saturday night in 1977. Like moths to the flame, randy crowds of feather-haired, high-heeled disco dolls and V-necked, polyester-clad studs move by foot, by car and even by bus toward the dizzying, multicolored pyrotechnics of the dance club Hot Traxx to put on boogie shoes and “get down.” Amid the gaudy neon and strobe lights, film producer Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) holds court with his actress wife, Amber Waves (Julianne Moore), while other stars of his films — Reed Rothchild (John C. Riley), Rollergirl (Heather Graham), Becky Burnett (Nicole Ari Parker) and Buck Swope (Don Cheadle) — party the night away on the dance floor.  

It’s a typical Saturday night for Jack and his crew, until the director exchanges a meaningful glance with a shy, young busboy. Always on the prowl for new “talent,”  Jack follows the busboy into the kitchen and asks him his name. Nervous but rather shrewd, Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) introduces himself, and then politely asks Jack if he is willing to pay to see Eddie show off his famous endowment. Seeing dollar signs in front of him, the amused Jack explains he makes adult, “exotic” pictures, and asks Eddie to come join him and his friends. “You’re a 17-year-old piece of gold, Eddie,” Jack coaxes, “and I’ve got the feeling that beneath those jeans, there’s something wonderful waiting to get out.”   

So begins the lucrative partnership between the producer and his new star, Dirk Diggler.  Eddie eagerly swaps his unhappy suburban home life for the easy glamour and allure of Jack’s  “family,” and he quickly becomes immersed in the insular, decadent world of making pornographic movies. Eventually blinded by fast money, instant fame and accolades, Dirk fails to recognize his growing troubles with cocaine, not to mention the problem looming for the porn industry: the transition from film to videotape. All parties must come to an end, and videotape is quickly displacing the industry’s biggest and most expensive stars.

Boogie Nights, director/writer Paul Thomas Anderson’s vibrant, multi-character tapestry about the rise and fall of a porn actor (loosely based on the story of John Holmes), has a wild, “open-all-night” feel during its first half and a darker, more ominous second half, when doors begin to close for the characters. To bring Dirk’s story to life, Anderson re-teamed with director of photography Robert Elswit, ASC, with whom he had worked on his first feature, Sydney a.k.a. Hard Eight (1996). Elswit heightened a wide range of decadent primary colors and sharp, grainy blacks to recreate the period — 1977 to 1984 — and highlight the narrative’s seductive and seedy qualities. Working in the anamorphic format, the filmmakers rely heavily on movement to convey a sense of Dirk’s larger-than-life world and his eventual isolation within it.   

Through New Line Inc., Warner Home Video has finally released Boogie Nights on Blu-ray. Although the film has had an excellent home-video life, beginning with a Criterion Laserdisc package in 1998 that was followed by two solid standard-definition DVDs, its color-drenched canvas finally feels right on the 1080p HD screen. This image transfer is very appealing, offering excellent, eye-popping color reproductions and incredible sharpness. There is also solid detail within blacks and shadows. The disc’s True HD 5.1 audio mix is alive with heavy bass and solid surround activity, particularly when the film’s music soundtrack is racing.  

The supplements, all borrowed from the 2004 standard-def DVD, are generally informative and interesting, if at times indulgent. The first of two commentary tracks is an edited mix featuring Anderson and numerous cast members who have stopped by his home for drinks and reminiscences, and the second features Anderson speaking candidly, mostly about the writing and casting of the film. There are also 15 minutes of deleted scenes with Riley, 30 minutes of feature outtakes accompanied by Anderson’s optional commentary, a music video, and the theatrical trailer. (All of these are standard-def.)   

Boogie Nights captures a particular time in the history of pornography, the film industry’s bastard child, and although the film is not for all tastes, it is immensely entertaining.  Longtime fans will quickly want to trade in their standard-def DVDs for this truly impressive image upgrade.

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