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review added: 9/7/00



Magnolia
Platinum Series - 1999 (2000) - New Line

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Magnolia: Platinum Series Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A+/B/A+

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Film
188 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.40:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:41:42, in chapter 8), dual-disc custom slipcase/gatefold packaging, color bars test pattern (hiding outtake loop Easter Egg), film-themed menu screens, scene access (12 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 and 2.0), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Special Edition Content
NR, single-sided, dual-layered, That Moment: Magnolia Diary October 1998 - March 2000 documentary, Seduce and Destroy infomercial, seminar outtake, music video for Save Me by Aimee Mann, color bars test pattern (hiding outtake loop Easter Egg), 2 theatrical trailers, 9 TV spots, film-themed menu screens, scene access (12 chapters for documentary), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none


Writer/director P.T. Anderson has been called many things by many people: a genius, the next Scorsese, the next Altman, a punk. I tend to think he's all of those things rolled into one. He's a master of taking previous films and referencing them to make them new again. A lot of people consider some of his homages to be sparks of genius, which maybe they are. But then again... maybe they aren't. It's hard to watch a film like Boogie Nights and consider it brilliant, when you can see in it all the things Anderson took and made new. It's like considering Frankenstein's Monster one of People's 50 Most Beautiful People. It isn't going to happen. There are just too many scars, too many limbs longer than the other, and that flat-top head is only good for setting down drinks. However, Anderson is also a master of getting actors to do exactly what he sees in his head, which is no small task. After three films of the caliber we've seen from him, and knowing that Anderson is still a babe in the woods career-wise, imagine what he'll do in a few years when he's left solely to his own (and after he's depleted all the references he has left). Based on what he's given us as a whole, and not singling any one film out as "brilliant", I sincerely think that Anderson is one of the most talented filmmakers to come out of the 90s. I can't wait to see what else he has scrambling around inside his head.

I'm not the biggest fan of Boogie Nights in terms of filmmaking. I like the story, and I think there are a few great things hiding inside. But it's not a perfect film in any way. Neither is Magnolia. Magnolia is, however, a nice step away from Boogie Nights, in that it's less about reference and more about the inner workings of Anderson himself. It's about death and life, love and forgiveness. It's about the one moment we've all have had, where whatever was going on in the world seemed to pale in comparison to what was going on in our own life. I think that's what the whole movie is about. Forget the whole coincidence theme introduced at the beginning of the film. The truth is, Magnolia is about looking at the weirdness of life and thinking to yourself, "Yeah, that's weird... but I can accept it based on this other bullshit going on here." Have you ever asked yourself what kind of God can allow human suffering and still be considered good? I think God allows that suffering to go on because suffering makes us all better people. There can be no good without evil, and if you can pull away from the suffering and still accept God, then the lesson is learned and redemption is yours. These are the types of questions that Anderson seems to be asking with this film. Whether or not he gets an answer is for you to decide.

Magnolia follows the lives of people who all seem to be connected somehow - six degrees of separation if you will. Except here, there only seems to be one or two degrees difference. We have game show host Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall), his daughter Claudia (Melora Waters) and his wife Rose (Melinda Dillion). There's also Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly), a lonely cop who talks to himself a la Cops, Earl Partridge (Jason Robards), who is Jimmy's producer that's dying of cancer, his wife Linda (Julianne Moore), his caretaker Phil (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his son Frank "T.J." Mackey, an infomercial host (played by Golden Globe-winner Tom Cruise). Rounding out the main cast is Donnie Smith (William H. Macy), a former quiz-kid genius and child star of Gator's game show (who's now a pale shadow of himself) and the new quiz-kid champ Stanley (Jeremy Blackman). Also making appearances are Anderson mainstays Ricky Jay, as a TV producer, and Alfred Molina, as Donnie's boss. About all this film does is to follow the lives of these characters as they bump into, around and off of each other. And with a cast like that, how can you go wrong? Well... it depends on your attention span. Magnolia is a very long film, with a pace all its own. It moves along at an almost conversational speed, and the real pay-off doesn't come until the end. It's a good thing and a bad thing.

The good thing is that you get to know these really well-drawn characters. You understand their motivations perfectly, and you can understand where they're coming from. Because Anderson doesn't piddle around with them, we get exactly what we need. It just takes a long time to get to it. The bad thing is, it's really easy to see why people complain about the film being overly long. But since this is DVD, we don't care. Turn it off and come back to it later if you can't deal.

The video quality on this DVD edition is incredibly good. I mean, because this is such a long film, I had no idea how the hell they were going to fit the whole thing onto one side of one disc. But they did, and it looks beautiful. The colors are well rendered and the blacks are very deep. There are even some light tricks that come off incredibly well. This is a near perfect video presentation and it's anamorphic to boot. God bless the Platinum series.

The sound is also pretty good, but for a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, it's awfully centered up front. The music and dialogue are fine, but there's not much action in the surround speakers. We do hear some things come out here and there, but only when Anderson feels playful. In any case, dialogue is clear and the music is full and vibrant sounding.

Here's where we get into a tricky arena: the extras. The second disc of this set is all about bonus material. And I've heard some people complain about the lack of extras on this disc - most notably, the lack of a commentary or "real" deleted scenes. Pashaw on that. What we have here is a beautiful portrait of the making of a film and that's all we need. Mark Rance's That Moment is everything you need to see to enjoy the film better. Anderson invited Rance to document the production in day-by-day, diary form. We get interviews and lots more. Anderson simply didn't need to comment on the film scene-by-scene, because if you look between the lines on this documentary, you can see everything he had to say on the subject. Watch his body, his comments about people and situations and listen to the cast's stories - it's all there. You just have to pay attention. So as far as I'm concerned, there is a commentary track and it's one of the best of the year. Within this documentary, we also see some deleted scenes in production and get a hint as to why they didn't work. There are also bits of humor and some frustrations expressed. All in all, this documentary is almost the most brilliant thing I've ever seen in conjunction with a movie on DVD.

In terms of other supplements, we also get Mackey's infomercial (that plays through the film) isolated by itself, along with some excised flashback material from the Search and Destroy seminar. There's Aimee Mann's haunted Save Me video (which was directed by Anderson), a teaser trailer, the theatrical trailer, TV spots (including one never released) and a loop of outtakes hidden in the color bar section (which is the same on both discs). Right there, with all that, this 2-disc set has got everything I would ever expect from this film. And it's so well done, I watched all of it twice. I'd actually like to thank everyone involved with this disc for NOT including a commentary, because it would have been redundant. And knowing Anderson's past commentary work, there would probably have been two or three separate tracks and I don't know if I, as a reviewer, could find the time to watch a three hour film four times over. ;-)

Magnolia is going to be something different for everyone. For Anderson, it might have been a way of dealing with his father's death. For me, it might be an exercise in character development. For you, it might be a creative way of hearing the "F" word repeated in new and exciting ways. Whatever it is, Magnolia is a good film that means something more than it is. And this DVD really helps bang that point across. After you watch the documentary, you will understand the film that much more. Do yourself a favor and check it out. You just might be surprised.

Todd Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com




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