|By Joshua Zyber
November 12, 2004
I have a theory about Showgirls that is, to my mind, the only viable explanation for why the movie turned out the way it did. The way I see it, screenwriter Joe Eszterhas sat down to write what he firmly believed would be his magnum opus, a scathing expose of the dark side of fame and the American obsession with sex, a picture that would be the first truly adult and mature blockbuster success released with an NC-17 rating. Joe Eszterhas is, it goes without saying, a total fucking idiot. Enter Paul Verhoeven, his Basic Instinct collaborator and a certifiable nutcase (and quite possibly genius to boot), who read the finished script, instantly recognized it for the moronic gutter trash that it was, and decided that the best way to approach this project was to camp the hell out of it. The resulting product is by all objective or rational standards a complete piece of garbage, widely reviled as one of the worst movies ever made, but is also a garish, low-brow masterpiece of misplaced intentions. Surely, to qualify as a truly "bad" movie a picture must have no redeeming virtues whatsoever. That certainly doesn't describe Showgirls, a movie that is if nothing else crazily entertaining and downright hilarious. That's got to count for something.
Some would argue that the movie is unintentionally funny. I don't buy it. I believe that Verhoeven knew perfectly well what he was doing. How else to explain the casting of Saved by the Bell starlet Elizabeth Berkley in the lead role, an actress who is neither remotely talented nor even particularly attractive? Sure, she's got a fabulous stripper body, but also a horse face that has no business on movie posters. This girl wasn't cast because she was best for the part. She was cast solely for her background on a wholesomely innocuous kiddie TV series, and Verhoeven's lecherous desire to defile that image in front of millions of Americans. God bless that crazy Dutchman!
Berkley's character Nomi Malone is a rude, thoroughly unlikable bitch in every scene we see her. Throughout the movie, people constantly try to help or be nice to her, only to get spit on in return. Her supposed amazing talent as a dancer is repeatedly validated by everyone she meets, yet when we actually see her in action the best she can muster is some skeezy pole-dancing in a strip club. There is meant to be a great revelation of irony when Nomi finally makes it to the big leagues and is cast in a "classy" Las Vegas stage show called Goddess that things there really aren't very different from the low-rent strip joint she came from. You see, everybody in show business is a whore, get it? Except that you'd have to be a real half-wit (as Nomi is) to ever believe that a topless Vegas dance revue is some sort of pinnacle of artistic achievement. Those girls actually are strippers too, just higher priced ones than those getting dollar bills stuffed into their G-strings, and everybody who goes to see the show knows this. Nomi is apparently the only one who doesn't get it. That's not irony; it's just Nomi being a dumbass. Maybe if the whole movie were set in a respectable ballet troupe or something that would be different, but of course there wouldn't be nearly as much nudity at the ballet.
Verhoeven is in directorial overdrive the entire picture, making each new scene bigger, gaudier, and more obnoxious than the last. The major set-pieces on the Goddess stage, with its fake volcano and army of topless dancers writhing in choreographed unison, must be seen to be believed. Nudity is in abundance, and the notorious sex scenes that earned an NC-17 rating look, far from sexy, just kind of silly and uncomfortable. No two human beings have ever had sex the way that Verhoeven stages some of these scenes, and I think he is well aware of that. The Eszterhas script is as idiotic as expected, filled with horrendous dialogue like, "You fuck 'em without fuckin' 'em", or this timeless gem: "Must be weird not having anybody cum on ya." Both of those are uttered by poor Robert Davi, in profound career depression. Also embarrassing himself in the cast is Kyle MacLachlan as one of the many smarmy jackasses who attempts to seduce and use our heroine. The only one seeming to have any fun is Gina Gershon, vamping it up as the star of Goddess and reveling in the utter trashiness of the entire production (both the stage show and the movie itself).
The movie was a huge flop upon theatrical release, earning back less than half of its $45 million budget, even after MGM attempted to promote it to the midnight screening circuit as a new camp classic. Cult popularity it did eventually earn, however, primarily on home video. To that end, it was released on laserdisc in the United States with a letterboxed transfer and a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (back when such was still relatively rare), plus a short making-of featurette. The same transfer and content were later released on DVD.
Someone in Japan must have really liked the movie, because one of its most notable video releases was the "Squeeze LD" from Pioneer Japan, which came packaged in a fancy gatefold jacket with a wild cover art image of Elizabeth Berkley doing a topless somersault (her nipples are unfortunately blurred out). Squeeze discs were a famous experiment to bring the added resolution of 16:9 enhancement to the laserdisc format, and only 11 movie discs were ever released (Please see the Reference Section for more information on Squeeze LDs).
The movie is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. The level of detail is noticably better than your average laserdisc, but still only rates as good-to-mediocre in comparison to a typical DVD. Some of the bright scenes are a little noisy, and there is problematic edge enhancement in many scenes, but overall it's a fine-looking laserdisc, if not quite in the same league as some of the truly reference transfers such as Austin Powers or The Fifth Element. The movie makes gaudy use of popping neon colors in much of its production design, which are reproduced with suitable vibrancy, though flesh-tones look a little pallid and flat. Deep reds do exhibit chroma bleed, as is a common composite video artifact. The source elements are fairly clean, except for visible reel change markers, indicating that a theatrical print was used for the transfer rather than an internegative or interpositive source.
Japanese subtitles appear within the movie image, which is particularly annoying given that they could have easily been fit in the lower letterbox bar and still been visible on 16:9 widescreen televisions for Japanese viewers. Even more irritating is the fact that the disc is optically censored in a few scenes, in accordance with Japanese regulations barring the display of genital nudity. Breasts and butts are all fine, and appear in great volume undisturbed. Even pubic hair makes several appearances, but on the rare occassion that a stripper kicks up her leg and shows you that naughty patch of flesh between, a blur spot pops on screen to cover it up. I counted five instances of this, all brief, and for what it's worth the blurring is precisely targeted and relatively discrete (some older Japanese laserdiscs such as The Baby of Mâcon have giant oily smears covering much of the screen).
The disc also features an explosive Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack with throbbing bass and plenty of active split surround separations. Although not officially credited as an EX mix, if decoded with Dolby Digital-EX processing the back soundstage matrixes fairly effectively into a rear center channel without collapsing into the middle. The track has lots of body and depth, and reminds me why laserdisc sound quality is so often regarded as superior to DVD. In addition to is great dynamic range (the difference between the highest high and the lowest low), the mid-range of the signal does not sound compressed as often happens to DVD mixes, and the whole soundtrack exhibits perfect clarity even at lower volumes (too many DVDs require you to crank the volume to get any life out of them). The PCM soundtrack on the digital sound channels also sounds great, but the Dolby Digital is more fun with its directional surrounds.
The disc has no supplements at all, not even the trailer or the short making-of piece that appeared on the American laserdisc. The movie is split to three sides in the CLV format. The side breaks are well chosen and not obtrusive, though the last side has barely 10 minutes of content, including credits.
The Showgirls Squeeze LD is of course more of a
laserdisc collectible than a reference edition of the movie. Although for
quite some time it was the only anamorphic widescreen video release (the
initial DVD recycled the non-anamorphic American laserdisc transfer), it
has since been superceded by the superior video transfer of the V.I.P.
Edition DVD box set, which also includes a bunch of cheesy bonus features
in keeping with the tone of the movie. So a genuine Showgirls fan,
unless they're a completely wacko completist, should just go for the new
DVD. On the other hand, a laserdisc collector with a desire to own one
of the rare Squeeze LDs, and hopefully also a high tolerance for schlocky
movies, might find a lot more value in it.
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Disc jacket inner gatefold spread
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