Showgirls: 15th Anniversary Sinsational Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - MGM Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (8th October 2010).
The Film

I don’t quite know how, but I’ve managed to avoid seeing Paul Verhoeven’s trashy, notorious Vegas masterpiece “Showgirls” (1995) for these last 15 years. It wasn’t for lack of awareness – I can still recall the publicity and controversy surrounding the film way back when due to its nearly-endless nude scenes, NC-17 rating and, most importantly, star Elizabeth Berkley. I grew up right in the thick of the “Saved By the Bell” (1989-1993) era, and it was a big deal to see Jessie Spano going from being one of the most recognizable geeks on TV to spending almost 2 hours topless in a film assembled by the duo behind “Basic Instinct” (1992). Of course, I was always more of a Kelly Kapowski guy myself, so maybe that’s why I didn’t do my damndest to sneak into a theater when it opened. In any case, the film came out and was (expectedly) savaged by the critics, but it still managed to eke out over $20 million at the box office to become the highest-grossing NC-17 film of all-time, a record which still stands today. But those scathing reviews surely aided in securing it the dubious achievement of receiving a record 13 nominations at that year’s Golden Raspberry (Razzie) awards. As with most infamous films that have a rabid cult following and have avoided my eyes for a number of years, I found the hype built up in my head didn’t exactly match up with what I saw on the screen.

The film centers on Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley), a dancer looking to hitch a ride out to Las Vegas to make it big. She gets picked up by a greaser in a pickup (who looks a lot like Joshua Homme from Queens of the Stone Age) who offers her a lift and a potential job, but he ducks out and steals her suitcase almost as soon as they arrive. Stranded, and with nothing but the clothes on her back, Nomi has a total meltdown and is almost hit by a car before Molly (Gina Rivera) pulls her to safety and the two soon form a friendship. Cut to a few weeks later and Nomi is working at Cheetah’s Topless Club, a seedy dump where she gets paid to dance and occasionally “play nice” with the clientele. She seems content with the money she’s making here until one night she accompanies Molly to her job at the Stardust, where she works on the elaborate stage show “Goddess”. Nomi sees the dancers in costume, meets the star of the show, Cristal Connors (Gina Gershon) and knows right then and there that’s where she belongs. She and Molly go out dancing and, while grinding on the dance floor, she meets James (Glenn Plummer), a bouncer who recognizes that she has talented moves but needs more training. Nomi takes offense to this and kicks James in a place that women need to learn is off limits to that sort of activity, but when Cristal and the producer of “Goddess”, Zach (Kyle MacLachlan), stop by Cheetah’s for a lap dance, Nomi soon finds herself auditioning for the big show at Stardust. The remainder of the picture is full of boobs, backstabbing, drugs, rape, sex, boobs, catfights, boobs, assault, scandal, lies, treachery, lesbianism, brutality and one of the most bizarre sex scenes not performed by someone who actually has epileptic seizures.

Jessie Spano is far, far removed from her days of being “so excited” (someone will get that reference) on “Saved By the Bell”. It should be plainly obvious why she took this role. I’m willing to bet that every role she received since “Saved By the Bell” went off the air was for the character archetype that she was perceived to only be capable of playing. What better way to stick it to that conventional wisdom than to have crazed director Paul Verhoeven direct you in a film about every possible debaucherous act known to man. I can’t say it put her career on a better path because I think she was banished to the realm of television soon after the release of “Showgirls”, and I can’t think of a single theatrical film she’s done since. But she graced us with this gem – a 2-hour plus Hallmark card to her fantastic breasts. So, I have to thank her for that. Not helping matters for her future potential is the simple fact that Ms. Berkley is a terrible actress. I could submit her dialogue as testament to this, but I think no moment in the film best exemplifies her complete lack of acting abilities better than the outrageous sex scene in Zach’s pool. Berkley flails like a college student who’s just been tasered by campus police, making it look less like she’s having wild, passionate sex and more like she’s trying to use her Kegel exercises to rip off MacLachlan’s manhood. I don’t know how the action in Vegas works behind the scenes, but I have a hard time believing Nomi would have made it big in such a short amount of time. She has “living at the Motel 6 and smoking speed with 4 kids on welfare” written all over her, so the opportunities she is afforded seem unlikely. Plus, she has got one of the worst attitudes I’ve encountered since my ex-girlfriend. I can’t see why anyone would want to spend time with her – she’s a complete bitch, thankless, rude, classless, and she doesn’t even put out half the time. Maybe that’s why the men kept giving her a shot, hoping they could get some action. Writer Joe Eszterhas doesn’t do a lot to prove he isn’t a total misogynist when he writes his leading female characters like THIS.

Recently, director Paul Verhoeven was a special guest at a local theatre in Santa Monica, CA to discuss his films during a screening of “Starship Troopers” (1997). Now, I wasn’t able to attend but a friend of mine who went posted on his Facebook account the following quote from Verhoeven: “Showgirls is the greatest film I’ve ever made.” Let it sink in for a second that this is being said by the man who made “Robocop” (1987) and “Total Recall” (1990) and you’ll understand when I say that is a very bold statement. I’ve been wracking my brain since reading that, trying to find some justification for that assessment by the man himself, but I can’t for the life of me understand why he thinks that. But Verhoeven also strikes me as a man who is very sexual and slightly crazy, so if you take that into consideration it makes that reality a bit easier to swallow. He and Eszterhas crafted this universe in which women are these primal, naked creatures that screw anything that comes their way and undulate their bodies incessantly whenever they aren’t speaking. I don’t find much of that so hard to believe, though. Sex sells, and in Las Vegas that currency is likely as valuable as the hard cash casinos are rolling in. One thing you can always say about most of Verhoeven’s films is that they push limits, whether it's the X-rated death of James Murphy (Peter Weller) in “Robocop” or the universally known shot of Sharon Stone’s leg cross in “Basic Instinct”. The man likes to see how far he can take his art, and often times he ends up crafting films which are memorable for doing so. “Showgirls” might be terrible, but it also falls into that category of “so bad it’s good”. As I said, the film managed an unremarkable $20 million in theaters, but reports have shown that it’s generated over $100 million since arriving on home video, making it one of MGM’s top-selling titles of all-time. There’s something to be said about that, although I think the thing to say is that younger generations have discovered how awfully awesome the film is and it’s become one of those films “you just have to see at least once”.

I’m beginning to wonder if Eszterhas intentionally made the supporting characters of the film disposable so that the focus was always on Nomi because it seems like many of them could easily be cut out and the story would go unaffected. The most egregious offender is easily James, the bouncer with an eye for “talent”. His storyline with Nomi goes nowhere and he doesn’t further her career in any way. Of course, we learn that James tells every nubile young white woman that she’s “the best he’s ever seen”, but he appears to exist solely to try banging Nomi… and he fails. Then we’ve got… eh, you know what? I don’t even know why I’m trying to break this film down on a critical level. I’m trying to make sense of the fringe characters populating the “Showgirls” universe when it’s already been made transparent that even the leads of the film are all over the map. In all honesty, the star(s) of the film are Berkley’s luscious sweater puppies; the rest of her should have received supporting billing. You’re going to watch this film, presumably with a group of friends, to get drunk and poke fun at everything on screen. And there’s a lot to make fun of. But once the credits roll, you’ll realize that for such a lurid, lascivious, trashy pulp slice of cinema, the film isn’t nearly as much of a turkey as you’ve probably been led to believe.

Video

This is Vegas, baby! You had better believe this picture needs to pop off the screen like Nomi’s iced-down nipples… and it does. The 2.40:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image is a marvelously colorful sight to behold. The mis-en-scene works to literally fill each frame with eye-popping sights of neon lights, flashing signs, flashy cars and the sensory-overload scenery of the Vegas strip. Particularly impressive is the “Goddess” show at the Stardust, where dancers in garish outfits writhe around on stage while a multitude of colors invade the picture culminating in a volcanic explosion which births a topless Gina Gershon – it is a thing of beauty. Film grain enthusiasts will be pleased as punch to see that the integrity of the grain structure has remained untouched – no DNR to be found here, folks. There was the occasionally weak nighttime scene where black levels had a slightly anodyne look to them, but this occurred very sporadically. I was actually quite surprised by how well the darker scenes held up in contrast to the flashier shots. Fine detail is exquisite – just check out the sequins and embroidery on the many costumes featured throughout. All flash and all trash, the picture here is a solid one.

Audio

Let’s blow the roof off this motherf*cker! The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track mixed at 48kHz/24-bit is a mammoth track – nothing at all what I was expecting. The sound design in Cheetah’s was so loud and convincing I had my wallet handy and was ready to start making it rain dolla dolla bills, y’all. The film does its best to visually assault you at every opportunity, so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that it attempts to do the same audibly. Much like our lead heroine, Nomi, the soundtrack doesn’t slow down or that things easy. Every club scene will literally suck you into the action making you feel like an observer rather than a viewer. Even louder still is the stage show, “Goddess”, which is absolutely thundering from the start. Surrounds never lie dormant, as they have a bevy of ambient sounds to fill out the track, from cars zipping down the strip to guests gambling away their money and the chatter of strippers complaining about their lives at Cheetah’s. The sound design strikes a harmonious balance between the dialogue level and the music levels, so that neither one outshines the other.
English, French and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo tracks are included as well. Subtitles are available in English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

It seems to be the norm these days that every MGM catalogue title is issued as a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. Hey, as long as they price isn’t affected by having a DVD included, I don’t mind so much. It also helps those who enjoy a wealth of bonus materials, as MGM typically doesn’t carry over everything from prior releases to their Blu-ray editions. “Showgirls” is such a combo pack, but thankfully the Blu-ray has a sufficient amount of supplements included. We get an audio commentary, a few featurettes, a trivia track and the film’s theatrical trailer. The included DVD also contains the same extras as on the Blu-ray.

DISC ONE: BLU-RAY

“The Greatest Movie Ever Made” audio commentary with David Schmader is an interesting inclusion. Schmader, a writer living in Seattle, explains that he had started to host screenings of the “greatest work of art from the 20th century” and he would provide live commentary during the screening. Well, MGM got wind of his endeavor and decided he’d be the perfect participant for this release. Of course, I’m sure we’d all much rather have been given a commentary with director Paul Verhoeven and writer Eszterhas, but this one has the benefit of Schmader’s sharp observations and humorous nature. He sure knows his stuff, that’s for sure. I’m generally not a fan of tracks that aren’t provided by a film’s cast or crew – this one gets a pass mostly because the film in question is so ridiculous.

“Pole Dancing: Finding Your Inner Stripper” (1080p) is a featurette which runs for 11 minutes and 54 seconds. I actually found this to be unintentionally humorous because the stripper who gives us a guide to the art of pole dancing makes it sound far more glamorous and beneficial than I ever would have imagined. Essentially, she compares stripping to some existential form of yoga. Whatever… just take your top off and collect your singles.

“Lap Dance Tutorial featuring the World-Famous Girls of Scores” (480p) is a featurette which runs for 4 minutes and 56 seconds. A few of the, um, esteemed employees of this notorious strip club provide 10 tips for performing a strip tease for your own man at home.

A “Showgirls Fact-Up” trivia track is a hilarious mix of Vegas facts, film information and plenty of jokes at the film’s expense. This works even better when paired with the audio commentary by Schmader.

“A Showgirls Diary” (480p) contains the following featurette, which are a mix of behind-the-scenes footage interspersed with director Paul Verhoeven’s annotated script pages and storyboards, and can be played all at once or separately:

- “Scene # 7/8” runs for 2 minutes and 50 seconds.
- “Scene #19” runs for 2 minutes and 26 seconds.
- “Scene #30” runs for 3 minutes and 27 seconds.
- “Scene #43” runs for 2 minutes and 10 seconds.

The film’s theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 1 minute and 59 seconds.

DISC TWO: DVD

Interestingly, the Blu-ray packaging says this DVD includes a “special behind-the-scenes featurette” which is nowhere to be seen. It does, however, one-up the Blu-ray by including the “Greatest Movie Ever Made” audio commentary with one major addition: a video commentary with the girls of Scores during the scenes at the Cheetahs Club. This can be accessed by pressing “enter” on your remote when the stripper icon pops up during any scenes in the club.

It also includes the “Lap Dance Tutorial” and “A Showgirls Diary” featurettes, trivia track and theatrical trailer which are found on the Blu-ray.

There are also bonus trailers included for the following MGM releases:

- “MGM Means Great Movies” promo runs for 1 minute and 13 seconds.
- “The Great Escape Collector’s Edition” runs for 50 seconds.
- “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Collector’s Edition” runs for 1 minute and 11 seconds.

Packaging

The 2-disc set comes housed in an eco-case with each disc housed on a hub opposite the other. A glitzy, sparkling slipcover is included.

Overall

This is likely to be some of the sleaziest, gutter-level fun you’ll have watching a film. Most viewers will need little more motivation to tune in than the knowledge that there are boobs a ‘plenty swinging from every chest in the house. Couple that with a solid transfer and a boomin’ audio track and you’ve got a surefire winner for the Blu-ray market. The extras are weak, and I wish they would’ve gotten some of the principal cast & crew to participate, but I can let that slide. This is a modestly priced catalog title that all fans of exploitation cinema should consider owning.

The Film: C- Video: B+ Audio: A- Extras: C Overall: C+

 


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