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In the days before everyone owned a camcorder and shot home videos, people would make their home movies on film in a format known as 8mm (eight millimeter). Of course, 8mm refers to the gage of the film, which is small, relatively inexpensive, unlike the 35mm film and 70mm formats, which Hollywood uses for motion picture production and distribution. Since people were using 8mm projectors in their homes to view their home movies, other forms of entertainment also found modest distribution on 8mm. Of course, the most notorious form of entertainment distributed on 8mm film were stag movies, otherwise known as pornography.

8MM ($30) is a film about another film- one that was shot on 8mm film stock. In 8MM, Nicolas Cage portrays private investigator Tom Welles. Welles' has made his reputation by providing very discrete undercover work for relatively upscale clientele. Welles' latest case takes him to the home of the recently widowed wife of a rich industrialist. It seems that the elderly woman discovered an 8mm film amongst her husband's personal possessions. What one would assume to be just a stag reel, turns out to be the worst kind of pornography- a snuff movie. At his client's request, Welles' views the film and is shock and disgusted by its depiction a young girl being brutally murdered. Since the film is so realistic in nature, Welles' elderly client requests that he determine the authenticity of the 8mm movie.

Welles begins his investigation within the legitimate porn industry, where he encounters Max California (Joaquin Phoenix). Max is a porn shop clerk who introduces Welles to the darkest recesses of moral decay that exists beneath mainstream pornography. Eventually, Welles is able to resolve all questions about the 8mm film, but not without paying a price. Ultimately, 8MM is about how Welles is forever changed by his decision to accept a case that takes him on a journey down into the horrifying depths of man's own inhumanity. Nicolas Cage does a very good job, with a very difficult role. 8MM doesn't offer appealing subject matter for the audience, so Cage has to carry the film on the strength of his performance. Fortunately, director Joel Schumacher offers only fleeting glimpses into world that Cage's character must descend, preventing the audience from being completely turned off by 8MM. But then again, showing anymore than what is already depicted in 8MM would have garnered the film the dreaded NC-17 rating. The cast of 8MM also includes James Gandolfini, Peter Stormare, Anthony Heald, Chris Bauer, Catherine Keener, Myra Carter, Amy Morton and Jenny Powell.

Columbia TriStar Home Video has made 8MM available on DVD in both full screen and 16:9 enhanced wide screen versions on opposite sides of the disc. The film's 2.35:1 theatrical framing is restored by an excellent wide screen transfer that reproduces the film's intentionally dark cinematography quite admirably. Blacks are true black, plus the image offers very good contrast from the darkest sequences to those shot in full sunlight. Detail is consistently excellent throughout the presentation, including shadow detail. Additionally, there is very little noticeable film grain in the film's darker sequences. Color reproduction offers fully saturated hues and no evidence of chroma noise or distortion. Flesh tones remain natural in appearance througout the film, despite some very difficult lighting situations. Solid DVD authoring camouflaged all traces of digital compression artifacts.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack has an impressive mix that features a very wide forward soundstage and excellent dialogue reproduction. Sound effects effortlessly pan around the front and occasionally into the surround channels, creating an immersive environment. Ambient effects are also handled in the surround channels, plus Mychael Danna's musical score is allowed additional sonic breathing room by taking advantage of the rear soundstage. Bass reproduction proves to be quite good on those occasions when the low frequency channel snaps to life. An English Dolby Surround soundtrack has also been encoded onto the DVD, along with English subtitles.

The interactive menus are fairly basic, however they provide the standard scene and set up features. Supplements are also accessible through the menu system. The chief supplement is director Joel Schumacher's informative and thoughtful audio commentary. A Making-Of featurette, plus a theatrical trailer and cast biographies/filmographies fill out the DVD's supplements.


8MM (1999)


DVD reviews are Copyright 1999 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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