Release Date(s)1995 (September 10, 2021)
Studio(s)MGM/UA (Umbrella Entertainment – Sensual Sinema #1)
- Film/Program Grade: D+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A-
[Editor’s Note: This is a REGION-FREE Australian Blu-ray import.]
Landing in controversy even before it hit theaters, 1995’s Showgirls proved that even Paul Verhoeven was not immune to poor word of mouth. Though it helped usher NC-17 films into the mainstream (to a degree), Showgirls was a box office failure, as well as a critical piñata leading up to its release and long after it left theaters. It destroyed Elizabeth Berkley’s career, was nominated and won several Razzie awards, and was censored severely all around the world. In the aftermath, the film was a huge success on home video, released in both its NC-17-rated version and a specially prepared R-rated version, becoming a cult favorite years later.
Nomi Malone (Berkley) heads for Las Vegas with a dream of being on top, no matter what she has to do to get there. That’s the long and short of the plot. But as per usual with Paul Verhoeven’s work, Showgirls is a film about extremes. Some people understand that, and some don’t. To this day, many don’t realize that RoboCop is actually a satire, and not a meant-to-be-taken-seriously science fiction action film. In the case of Showgirls, the satire is not simply bursting at the seams, it’s completely blown open… to the point that critics the world over didn’t (and still don’t) understand it, let alone audiences of all demographics.
Showgirls is also not without fault (few films are). It’s well-composed, but it’s like a roller-coaster ride that you can’t get off of. There’s very little time for reflection and character development is limited to Nomi climbing the fame ladder by whatever means necessary. That’s an interesting idea in a character study kind of way, but there’s nothing that an audience can relate to, on any level. You never really understand Nomi because she’s such a complicated human being, and through a Paul Verhoeven filter, she’s so over the top that it winds up being funny. Because of this, the film can be hard to take, especially on a first viewing. The comedy also doesn’t fully jibe with the sporadic moments of violence, including an extremely graphic gang rape scene. It’s interesting that Nomi sees herself as a goddess, and others see her as a goddess, but the film never treats her like one.
The film is rampant with sexism and racism at every turn, but how much was intended or not is unclear. Verhoeven has spoken publicly about his intentions to make a film that was “more Las Vegas than Las Vegas.” As such, every facet of the story is completely excessive in nearly every category, and not just in the sex and nudity department. Showgirls also didn’t come in a male-led, action-packed package. Whether anyone will acknowledge it or not, Showgirls wasn’t accepted because it was about an abundantly complex woman in extreme situations who was fully comfortable showing off as much of her body as the script required. Talk in recent years about Verhoeven’s possible influence on his female actors to perhaps do things that they wouldn’t have ordinarily done because of his position of power have been called into question, but even if that’s the case, Elizabeth Berkley’s Nomi Malone isn’t Douglas Quaid, Alex Murphy, or Catherine Tramell. She’s a stripper, a hooker, a dancer, and generally horrible to everybody she meet. Most audiences find that repellent, whether or not they pick up on the intended satire, or notice the unintentional comedy of it all.
Between the general public not accepting a film about a woman doing anything to climb her way to the top, the heaping amounts of nudity, Elizabeth Berkley shedding her feminist Saved by the Bell image, and an NC-17-rated film getting such a big release, it’s no wonder that Showgirls failed. It’s by no means an unsung masterpiece, but did it deserve the scorn that it received upon release? Of course not. In fact, it deserves a more appreciative audience than it currently has. Most folks laugh just when you say the title of the film, and that’s a pity. For all intents and purposes, this is a well-made film that’s definitely not for everyone, but it’s by no means “bad.” It’s just complicated.
Showgirls was shot by cinematographers Jost Vacano on 35 mm film using Arriflex 35 BL4 and MovieCam Compact cameras with Zeiss lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 2.39:1. Umbrella Entertainment brings the NC-17 version of the film to Region-Free Blu-ray as the debut entry in their Sensual Sinema line of titles. This is the same Pathé! 4K restoration of the film from the original camera negative that was performed in 2015 under the supervision of Paul Verhoeven (the French text and Pathe! logo at the start of the film confirms this). As such, the presentation is definitely more in line with the French Region B Blu-ray release. It’s not quite as candy-coated as the MGM Blu-ray, meaning that neon lights and other Vegas hues are now less vivid. The overall color palette is more natural than stylized, with contrast that isn't dialed nearly as high. Excellent fine detail and deep blacks are on display, and everything appears stable and clean. Grain can be slightly blotchy on occasion, which is likely more noticeable on larger panels and during projection, but it resolves nicely enough due to a generous encode. Interestingly, the more natural palette gives the film a starker, grittier feel, which is perhaps what Paul Verhoeven intended. In any case, it’s a fine presentation of the film, but fans of the look of the MGM Blu-ray release with more aggressive saturation should beware.
Audio is included in English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English. The 5.1 track is robust, pulsating with music and sound effects all around the soundstage. There’s precise prioritization for the various elements, including dialogue. The stereo track is also good, and likely how most people experienced it in theaters, but it’s a tighter experience comparatively.
The Blu-ray disc of Showgirls sits inside a clear amaray case with the film’s Japanese poster on the front of the insert, a still of Elizabeth Berkley and Gina Gershon on the back, and stills of Berkeley with a set of the film’s credits on the reverse. Everything is housed in a slipcover featuring the film’s US theatrical artwork, signifying that this is the “uncut” version of the film. The following extras are included on the disc:
- The Greatest Movie Ever Made: Audio Commentary with David Schmader
- You Don’t Nomi (HD – 91:34)
- Showgirls: More Vegas Than Vegas (HD – 23:40)
- Animated Storyboard-to-Film Comparison – Scene #7/8 (Upscaled SD – 2:50)
- Animated Storyboard-to-Film Comparison – Scene #19 (Upscaled SD – 2:24)
- Animated Storyboard-to-Film Comparison – Scene #30 (Upscaled SD – 3:27)
- Speech by Paul Verhoeven at the Razzie Awards (Upscaled SD – 1:33)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:55)
David Schmader provides an audio commentary on the film, which was originally recorded for the film’s DVD release in 2004, and has carried over to other releases since. As a host of screenings of the film in Seattle where he made annotated comments during those screenings, Schmader is a die-hard fan of the film, and makes that clear many times—often speaking about how much he loves the film, stopping to occasionally watch specific scenes. The additional video commentary from the DVD release by the Scores girls is unfortunately absent. You Don’t Nomi is an excellent documentary on the film and its cult appeal, but more than that, it recontextualizes the film and examines many facets of it, why it was failure, and how it gained a following in the interim. More Vegas Than Vegas (titled on-screen as Plus Vegas, Que Vegas) features an excellent recent interview with Paul Verhoeven, which was included on the French Pathé! Region B Blu-ray release of the film. In it, he reflects on the career decisions that led to Showgirls, his thoughts on the criticisms of the film, how they relate to the real world, his playful acceptance of the Worst Director prize at the Razzie awards, and his thoughts on the film today. The Storyboard-to-Film Comparisons are brief, although oddly enough, one of them is missing from the previous releases of the film. Another great extra is footage of Paul Verhoeven accepting the aforementioned Worst Director prize at the Razzies. Last is the theatrical trailer.
Aside from the additional Showgirls Diary (Scene #43) featurette and video commentary, there are a few extras from other releases of the film around the world that aren’t present here. They include a brief making-of featurette; b-roll footage; additional interviews with Paul Verhoeven, Jost Vacano, Joe Eszterhas, Alan Marshall, Elizabeth Berkley, Gina Gershon, Kyle MacLachlan, Gina Ravera, Marguerite Pomerhn-Derricks, David A. Stewart, and Allan Cameron; the featurettes Pole Dancing: Finding Your Inner Stripper and Lap Dance Tutorial Featuring the World-Famous Girls of Scores; and a Showgirls Fact-Up subtitle trivia track. There was also a smattering of swag for the V.I.P Edition of the film on DVD if one cares about having such things.
For most viewers, Showgirls is a film that’s hard to love and easy to hate, and taken far too literately. Regardless, Umbrella’s Sensual Sinema release of the film offers a fine video presentation and excellent bonus materials. Is it the definitive release on Blu-ray? It’s certainly close with the addition of the first-rate You Don’t Nomi documentary, but it’s still missing a couple of things. Otherwise, it’s a very nice package.
- Tim Salmons