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Originally labelled one of the worst films of its era, and rightfully partially blamed for the major studio rejection of the NC-17 rating, Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls has seen a rather unsurprising rise in popularity thanks to a healthy, video-born cult following. Like many cult items most fans seem to enjoy Showgirls for supposedly ironic reasons, but I’ve never been convinced that Verhoeven had anything but intentional comedy on his mind while making the film, whether his cast and crew knew it or not. Verhovan’s most successful American films, Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers, are satirical comedies disguised so cleverly as sci-fi/action movies the audience is not required to understand the subtext to enjoy the experience. Basic Instinct saw the director playing the game with a slightly straighter face, but there’s a sense of expressive, over-the-top glee inherit found even in Verhoeven’s more seriously minded Dutch films. Because I assume Showgirls’ camp excesses were created with the full intent of making an audience howl with laughter, I tend to judge the film on its success as a comedy, with no ironic or post-modern slant to my opinions.

Showgirls: 15th Anniversary Sinsational Edition
If we’re assuming it’s a comedy Showgirls does have its merits. As a satire of Hollywood’s ridiculous obsession with the underdog Nomi is a laugh riot. Elizabeth Berkley’s presents Nomi as pure emotion, with no room for in-betweens. The character turns on a dime from one emotional extreme to another with all the subtly of a child in need of a nap. It’s striking to realize how hateful the character is. There’s no reason to root for her, become concerned when she ‘forgets herself’, or feel sorry for her when things go to hell. To the contrary, I can’t imagine someone not rooting for the other shoe to drop. The overall acting follows Berkley’s lead, though everyone else appears to know they’re playing one-dimensional super-villains, and seem to be enjoying the experience. There’s one genuinely good person in the entire cast, Nomi’s roommate and friend Molly (Gina Ravera), and she’s gang-raped and beaten nearly to death in a scene so out of sync with the rest of the film it’s easy to mistake for brilliant subversion.

Still, all things considered, Showgirls is still more of a chore than a joy. The original critical bad rap is earned not in how genuinely bad the film is, but in how unfairly long and repetitive it is. There’s not enough plot here to fill ninety minutes, let alone one hundred and thirty, and the story abruptly ends right when something interesting finally happens. The sudden introduction of a vengeful, violent Nomi, one truly worthy of the title of Femme Fatale, leads me to wonder what could’ve been. Instead of a theoretically vulgar underdog story Showgirls might have been Verhoeven’s unapologetic, big budget version of Ms. 45 (audiences had to wait for Neil Jordon and Jodi Foster to make their ‘highbrow’ version instead). And it’s not as if the script is overflowing with ideas, it’s just those final minutes that introduce something new to the formula that went stale almost an hour before. One wonders if anyone at MGM even read Joe Eszterhas script before putting green-lighting the project, because the meandering and lack of focus likely appeared downright avant garde on paper.

Showgirls: 15th Anniversary Sinsational Edition
Despite being an unmistakable talent when it comes to creating genuinely arousing screen sex (see any of his non-American films for proof), Verhoeven manages to bore with his sea of waggling breasts and G-string clasped asses. The garish look is more amusing than arousing, and the hideous costumes and make-up (partially the fault of the film’s age, I’ll admit) create an air of anti-eroticism so distinct and determined I’m convinced Verhoeven was making some kind of statement on filmed sex. I don’t know what the statement is, but I can’t imagine the director of such subtext-laced, surprise comedies as Robocop and Starship Troopers didn’t have something up his sleeve. Perhaps it’s just my wishful thinking as a fan that has only genuinely disliked one other of the director’s films, the entirely unforgivably stupid Hollow Man. Watching the film again I’m noticing how tame it is. Sure, there’s a lot of nudity on display here, mostly bare breasts, but there isn’t any really graphic sex, or even a lot of sex period. The one rape scene certainly shocks, and earns the NC-17 by the violence shunning mid-‘90s standards, but Berkley and MacLachlan’s notorious wiggle-fest isn’t even shocking enough to delete when the film plays on television (Berkley’s boobs are blurred, and that’s it).

Showgirls: 15th Anniversary Sinsational Edition

Video


It appears that Fox doesn’t treat its terrible cult movie releases with any less respect than its award-winning favourites, though I suppose Showgirls’ multi-million dollar home video legacy is nothing to shrug at. This isn’t the best transfer of its kind by any stretch of the imagination, but it steps well above my expectations, which were admittedly low based on my opinion of the product. There’s no mistaking the fact that Showgirls was shot on film, so there’s plenty of grain, and even a few minor flecks of print damage. The grain increases predictably based on lighting, but remains consistent in terms of coverage. Verhoeven doesn’t shoot the film with an eye for sharp contrasts or small details (Robert Davi’s pock marks notwithstanding), but he fills his 2.40:1 frame with so much acrylic and neon coloured stuff standard definition falls to its knees and cries. This disc’s producers perhaps could’ve put the film through one more cleaning, but they haven’t done anything to compress these unforgiving hues, which besides the grain, are not hampered by any blocking or artefacting. The edges are never razor sharp, but the hues don’t bleed into each other, and the deep blacks help create a solid sense of depth and separation. Kudos to Fox and MGM for avoiding DNR smoothing, which might have actually fit the film, but is never an ideal practice.

Showgirls: 15th Anniversary Sinsational Edition

Audio


This lossless DTS-HD Master Audio track is also pretty damn impressive, at least based on my aforementioned incredibly low expectations. The mix isn’t among the better period 5.1 sets (it doesn’t compare to other early digital mixes, like Jurassic Park or Batman Returns), and features some really awkward divisions of centred, on-set sound, and stereo/surround effects, but the music is brash, and effective in terms of immersive sound. The big stage scenes are the obvious highlights. These are still run by terrible music, but they really blast throughout the various channels, including some effective surround support, and a few LFE shattering set pieces (mostly volcanoes). Though they usually don’t make the most spatial sense, the surround crowd noise is clean, and the Las Vegas tourist traffic envelopes the viewer with a myriad of jingling slot machines.

Showgirls: 15th Anniversary Sinsational Edition

Extras


This 15th Anniversary release is surprisingly light on extras, though I suppose no lighter than any other release. Things start with a ‘Greatest Movie Ever Made’ commentary track with super-fan David Schmader. Schmader gives us the jest on his attachment to the film (he toured with it for years), then yammers off a bunch of sarcastic comments that grow annoying rather quickly. It’s clear Schmader has a pretty deep knowledge of the film, and when he stops mocking the inanity of the onscreen action his commentary is the closest this extras collection gets to informative. Schmader’s recollections of Verhoeven’s essays on the subject reveal an apparently serious intent on the director’s part, which craps right in the face of my ‘intended comedy’ theory. The commentary is augmented with a series of pop-up facts, which can only be turned on via the main menu system. The trivia follows a similar path to the commentary, and overlaps quite a bit, but does feature a few informative nuggets of its own.

‘Pole Dancing: Find Your Inner Stripper’ (12:00, HD) is a barely related look at a real life pole dancing class. This particular class places the emphasis on the technique and fitness of the process, rather than the whole being naked thing. ‘Lap Dance Tutorial from the Girls of Scores’ (04:50, SD) is an incredibly silly and straight-faced lesson on the lap dancing process. The steps are hilariously obvious, the girls are not very good public speakers, and the tone is, well, kind of boring. ‘A Showgirl’s Diary’ (11:00, SD) is a four part behind the scenes look at a few specific scenes, including storyboard and script to film comparisons, and raw, on-set footage. Things end with a trailer. This collection also features a DVD copy of the film, with a behind the scenes EPK.

Showgirls: 15th Anniversary Sinsational Edition

Overall


So is Showgirls the most misunderstood cult classic of all time, or the worst film of the ‘90s? I vote for something with a little less hyperbole myself, like ‘genuinely bad movie that’s pretty funny, but way too damn long’. I look forward to not sitting through this mess again anytime soon, and shall cleanse my pallet with a back to back to back viewing of Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers. Fans should be very happy with this vibrant high definition transfer, and the loud DTS-HD Master Audio sound, but will likely be disappointed at the lack of indelible new extras. I’d personally like to see an in depth documentary on the subject, and I don’t even like the movie.

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.


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