After the meteoric financial success of “Basic Instinct,” carte blanche was given to writer Joe Eszterhas and director Paul Verhoeven; after empirical and arms-length “research” in Las Vegas, Esterhas sequestered himself in Hawaii and wrote his $2 million masterpiece (allegedly under the influence of Mary Jane, according to DVD commentator David Schmader), while Verhoeven sacrificed a big budget opportunity to direct “Moby Dick” for a darker, phallic-friendly foray into the raw, uninhibited world of a passionate Vegas dancer.
Verhoeven's first film, “Business Is Business,” dealt quite humorously with a pair of prostitutes going independent in Amsterdam, and while the nudity in his subsequent film, “Turkish Delight,” reflected the outrageous conduct of the main characters, both movies contain a mix of bizarre, vulgar, yet familiar Verhoevian moments.
When “Showgirls” failed to gain the critics fickle favor or become a major cash cow, MGM decided to change the film's lurid campaign (with a brilliantly simplistic poster design), and re-market the Razzie Award-winning drama as a kind of “Rocky Horror Show” for a new generation.
MGM's boxed set includes a number of functional toys designed for closet fans that live too far from (or perhaps are too afraid) to attend public theatrical screenings. To his own admitted surprise, Schmader was recruited by MGM to essentially record the live commentary that he provided during the film's camp-festival screenings.
The set's PR text makes it seem as though Schmader's a delusional nutter who believes this is a scorned masterpiece of good cinema, but his dry, soft-spoken thoughts clarify things pretty fast: “Showgirls” is a kind of art… made by creative people plagued with an erring crystallization of bad ideas.
An optional Trivia Track (appropriately ignobling) offers pop-up factoids that can play alongside Schmader's commentary (thereby reducing a 3rd run-through of Elizabeth Berkley 's big-screen debut. (The pop-ups, incidentally, are also handy when Schmader grows silent, due to an admitted state of awe during his favorite scenes.)
For those who grew up watching Berkley on TV's tween sitcom, “Saved By The Bell,” “Showgirls” has maintained a certain perverted appeal (something Schmader and the pop-ups also address), and her striptease and full-frontal lap-dance sequences (earning the actress a paltry $100,000) are given an optional secondary commentary (accessible via an onscreen icon) that's provided by dancers from the “Scores” adult entertainment chain. (Note: this feature may not work on some players.)
The “Scores” ladies also provide a lap-dance video tutorial with film clips, brushing over steps like stretching, clothing, hair, use of a comfy sofa, music, and champagne (with onscreen captions, in case your writing hand has developed a sudden case of carpal tunnel syndrome).
Drinking games are provided on the back of each still in this set - all featuring Berkley in nasty poses (there goes nine years of Liz beating the old typecasting pickle); and the faux velvety box includes various props: 2 monogrammed shot glasses, a poster, booby tassels, deck of monogrammed cards, and blindfold (if the need to be Berkley goes beyond pure voyeurism).
MGM's transfer is first-rate, preserving the stylized lighting of Jost Vacano's neon cinematography, and the digital sound mix almost manages to recreate the over-cranked bombast of the film's music mix (including an underscore by Eurythmic's David A. Stewart).
Some rare behind-the footage (taken from a 1995 TV special) is coupled with four edited scenes in “A Showgirls Diary,” preserving moments of Verhoeven's minimalist direction, and some rehearsal footage of the strip-dance. (A vintage making-of featurette with cast and main crew remains unique to the original 2000 DVD release.)
Admittedly, the set's tone is to amuse, but what really would have made this release near-perfect is to have included two key materials Schmader describes: the film's deleted scenes from an early script draft; and Verhoeven's outrageously essays that appeared in a licensed coffee table book, dissecting the film's Themes, Messages, Artistic Visions, and Ezsterhas' Feminist Characters.
A third goodie would have been the inclusion of filmmakers' appearance on CNN, where they defended the film's 'pro-fesmnist' message, and encouraged under-age filmgoers to empower themselves by seeing the film.
A classic of Verhoevian excess, structured in true-blue Ester-bad.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan