Crime Week, Day 3: Wonderland and Boogie Nights

Today, we have two very different films about the same crime.  James Cox's 2003 Wonderland tells the story of 70s porn star John Holmes, particularly the murders he was involved with.  And 1997's Boogie Nights is about a fictional group of porn stars, and while Mark Wahlberg's character is largely based on Holmes, this film doesn't pretend to be a non-fiction biography of Holmes or anyone else, instead taking moments and inspiration from all of writer/ director P.T. Anderson's memories of porn from that era.  It does, however, roughly depict its own version of the Wonderland murders, with Alfred Molina's character clearly based on the real Eddie Nash, who was played by Eric Bogosian in Wonderland.
But despite covering some of the same ground, these two films easily stand on their own.  If you ever felt "I've already seen Boogie Nights, so why do I need to bother with Wonderland?"  You're missing out.  These films have completely different goals, tones, styles...  They're completely unique artistic expressions, which both happen to have amazing, jam-packed casts.  Wonderland fits in very much with the two previous crime films we've looked at, grim excavations of humanity at its less admirable points.  On the other hand, Boogie Nights is an expansive ensemble piece, attempting to tell the story of the porn industry as it passed through the 70s into the 80s, with Holmes' story being just one (major) portion.  It transitions from an upbeat comedy to a bleak tragedy.  It's also the only film of the two with a musical number.
Lions Gate released Wonderland as a new release DVD in early 2004.  Copies with a sticker on the shrink denoting that it was a "limited edition" came with a second bonus disc.  The 2-disc version was released as a non-limited version in 2007.  And in 2010, they released it on blu-ray with, yes, all the content from both discs.
1) 2004 Lions Gate DVD; 2) 2010 Lions Gate BD.
Both releases present Wonderland in 1.78:1 (the first set of shots has some letterboxing, but that's unique for that particular split-screen shot in the film), even though I would guess - and IMDB agrees, for whatever that's worth - that this should be in 1.85.  This is clearly the same master being used for both, with identical framing, color-timing, etc.  But there's a considerable boost in clarity on the blu.  The DVD looks smooth enough that I suspect they applied a little DNR to combat the grain, so there's more room for the BD to grow.  Look how the grain on Ted Levine's forehead have been seemingly wiped away on the DVD.  Like Monster, this is an old blu so the grain is barely captured; it looks more like digital noise.  On the other hand, this movie has clearly gone through a lot of creative filtering and processing as part of its post-production, so it's hard to say how much better this film could look with a new master even if it got one.  Maybe a new blu could blow this one away, or maybe it is what it is.  At any rate, it's a satisfying jump forward from the DVD.

For the DVD's audio, we get a choice between Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 surround mixes, with optional English and Spanish subtitles.  The blu-ray drops the 2.0 mix and bumps the 5.1 up to DTS-HD, which is all good news in my book.  It also adds an English SDH subtitle track in addition to the standard English and Spanish ones.
Wonderland has a pretty satisfying bonus package.  Cox provides a smart and informative audio commentary along with co-writer Captain Mauzner.  There's a small collection of deleted scenes, some of which are pretty interesting, and a brief Court TV segment about the real story.  There are also some very (1-2 minutes each) with several of the cast members, which are basically just EPK soundbites, but better than nothing.  The DVD has the trailer, which the BD surprisingly dropped in favor of some annoying commercials for Lions Gate blu-rays in general.  And the most surprising extra is the almost 25-minute complete and unedited real police tape of the gruesome crime scene - is this supposed to be viewable by the public?  😳
1) 2004 Lions Gate DVD; 2) 2010 Lions Gate BD.
The sole feature on disc 2 is the feature-length documentary Wadd: The Life & Times of John C. Holmes, from 1998.  And the blu-ray includes the same fullscreen (1.31:1), interlaced SD transfer.  I'm not too mad at that, though, since the film seems to have been shot on video with all its faults baked in.  One little disappointment, though, is that the DVD included optional English and Spanish subtitles for the doc, while the blu leaves them off.  It's worth noting that this version of Wadd, on both the DVD and blu, briefly censors some hardcore footage of Holmes' real porn.  A separate DVD release of the doc from VCA Interactive is uncut and also includes unique special features (for the doc) including deleted scenes and director's commentary.  So if you're seriously interested in this film, you'll need to track that down.  But just as an excellent special feature that illuminates the fact behind Wonderland's dramatization, the version on either the Wonderland DVD or BD is beyond sufficient.
Boogie Nights debuted on DVD back in 1998 as a single disc edition from New Line.  It was an anamorphic widescreen edition with a healthy collection of special features, but that didn't stop them from issuing a 2-disc double-dip set in under two years.  That 2-disc set became the definitive edition, though, until it was time for an HD replacement; and in 2009, New Line released the first and only US blu-ray release in conjunction with Warner Bros.
1) 1998 New Line DVD; 2) 2000 New Line DVD; 3) 2009 Warners BD.
I left the negative space around the first set of shots to clarify a distinction between the two DVD transfers, specifically that the first disc is slightly windowboxed, while the other two versions are letterboxed.  The aspect ratio shifts from 2.35:1 to 2.39:1.  You'll notice the colors are different, too, going from flat and chromatic to more subdued and natural.  The brights are also flared out on the old disc, which interestingly, is labeled as a "film to tape transfer" on the back of the case.  So the 2000 2-disc set wasn't just a re-release with all new extras; it was an all new and improved picture.  The BD keeps the colors and brightness of the remastered DVD, though it widens the image out a pinch to 2.40:1.  It has the enhanced clarity and sharpness you'd expect from the boost to HD, and while the grain is soft, it's more naturally captured and rendered than we saw with Wonderland and Monster.  It's an old blu, too, but it holds up better, perhaps thanks to Warner Bros' higher standards.

Anyway, Boogie's original DVD came with English and French 5.1 mixes, with English, French and Spanish subtitles.  The 2-disc set added an additional stereo track the preexisting options.  The blu-ray drops the alternate tracks and just pares things down to the one 5.1 mix, now in TrueHD.  And the subtitle options have shifted to English, German, Latin and Castilian.
Boogie Nights got its start in the Criterion Collection, back in the laserdisc era.  But despite originally being advertised as included, the DVD dropped the vintage documentary Exhausted: John C. Holmes, the Real Story, which also had an audio commentary by Anderson.  It also replaced the audio commentary that teamed Anderson up with many of the film's leads, replacing it with a new solo commentary.  The deleted scenes with optional commentaries and a music video Anderson directed are the only extras the original DVD kept.

The 2-disc set and the BD went back and rescued the original Criterion commentary (in addition to, not in stead of, the new one), but Exhausted remains MIA.  They've also added some extended outtakes and improvisations with John C Reilly.  The blu-ray also adds the trailer, which had been conspicuously absent from the DVDs.
Wonderland wasn't a widely received film, so this blu is probably the best we'll get.  Luckily, it'll do.  Boogie Nights was a huge hit, though, so I have higher hopes for that one.  If there's ever an update (i.e. a 4k UHD, hint hint), I hope Exhausted finds its way back to the special features corner.  I also wouldn't mind seeing his original short film from 1988, The Dirk Diggler Story, on there.

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