I first reviewed 'Showgirls' way back when it was released on the Laserdisc format. Looking back on that old review, and rewatching the movie again, I found that I captured my feelings pretty well the first time. There's very little that I'd like to say differently. As a result, portions of this article have been reprinted from that earlier review with permission (from myself).
A warning to readers: This article contains profanity. If you're likely to be offended by that, why are you reading a review of 'Showgirls' in the first place? Seriously, what's wrong with you?
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. It was to be a scathing exposé 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.
It should go without saying that Joe Eszterhas is a total idiot.
Enter Paul Verhoeven, his 'Basic Instinct' collaborator and a certifiable nutcase (and quite possibly genius to boot). The director 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 it's 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'. If nothing else, the movie is 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 can you explain the casting of 'Saved by the Bell' starlet Elizabeth Berkley in the lead role? As an actress, she's 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's 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'. 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 are strippers too, just higher priced than the ones with dollar bills stuffed into their G-strings. 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, that might be different. Of course, there wouldn't be nearly as much nudity at the ballet.
Verhoeven is in directorial overdrive the entire picture. He makes 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. (Hey, that's 'Dancing with the Stars' judge Carrie Ann Inaba half-naked over there! And that's 'So You Think You Can Dance' choreographer Tyce Diorio with his hands all over Nomi!)
Nudity is in abundance – full-frontal, full-backal, sideways and upside down. 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's well aware of that.
The Eszterhas script is as idiotic as expected. It's filled with horrendous dialogue like, "You f*ck 'em without f*ckin' 'em." Such insight! And don't forget this timeless gem: "Must be weird not having anybody cum on ya." Lovely. I'm disgusted just listening to it. That one's uttered by poor Robert Davi, in a profound career depression. Also embarrassing himself in the cast is Kyle MacLachlan as one of the many smarmy jackasses who attempt to seduce and use our heroine. His douchey haircut may be the most offensive thing in the film. The only one seeming to have any fun is Gina Gershon as 'Goddess' star Cristal Connors. She vamps it up and revels in the utter trashiness of the entire production (both the stage show and the movie itself).
Some other sources (including the commentary on this disc) may point to Paul Verhoeven taking this entire project very seriously, and investing great thought into its symbolism and mythic subtext. That story makes no sense to me, and I refuse to believe it. I simply cannot rationalize anything about this movie's existence except as I described it above.
The picture was a huge flop upon theatrical release. It earned 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. It did eventually earn cult popularity on home video, however. In 2004, the studio even released it as part of a ridiculously elaborate V.I.P. Edition box set that had red-velvet lining, a deck of playing cards, a blindfold, two shot glasses, and some drinking games. I have no idea how many copies that sold, but it truly warms my heart to know that it exists at all.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
As if that DVD box set weren't absurd enough, 'Showgirls' is now a Blu-ray too! Sadly, MGM Home Entertainment hasn't packaged the high-def disc up quite as elaborately. However, they have given us a 15th Anniversary Sinsational Edition that's pretty swell. The Blu-ray + DVD set has absolutely perfect cover art and a cardboard slipcover. This is a 2-disc set… stored in one of those keepcases with a disc on each opposing panel. Tell me that you already understand what artwork the studio has screened onto the discs themselves. Oh yeah, they really went there.
The Blu-ray disc thankfully has no forced trailers before the main menu. That menu has a Vegas slot machine theme with a very funny "Showgirls in 1 Minute" condensed recap of the movie playing on the front. (Pay attention to the way it's edited; it's brilliant.) Let it play uninterrupted for at least two cycles for a special appearance from a supporting character.
Honestly, it's almost disgraceful how good 'Showgirls' looks on Blu-ray. Yeah yeah, I know, the first question on everyone's mind is, "How crisp and clear does the nudity look in high definition?" The answer: pretty crisp and clear. The 2.40:1 picture is quite sharp and nicely detailed. There's plenty of opportunity to peruse the frame ogling the breasts on dancers writhing in the deep background of shots, among other things you pervs out there will enjoy.
Keeping in mind just how gaudy the movie is intended to look, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer has plenty of popping colors and sparkly contrasts. The image has an appropriate light veneer of grain. There's no obvious Digital Noise Reduction scrubbing, artificial sharpening, or other digital artifacts of note.
There's not much seriously wrong here. The picture appears to have undergone some contrast tweaking that leaves some scenes a little overly dark. That also has the effect of oversaturating some colors. Flesh tones occasionally veer too far into orange. This isn't a severe problem, however. Really, I doubt any 'Showgirls' fans out there will find much to complain about.
Released in 1995, 'Showgirls' was produced in the relatively early days of 5.1 digital surround sound. It was a time when many Hollywood sound designers went out of their ways to emphasize the format's advantages over older Dolby Stereo options. Consequently, the soundtrack has quite a bit of attention-grabbing split-directional surround activity. Right from the opening scene, as Nomi hitchhikes her way to Vegas, cars zip from one side of the room to the other through the rear channels.
The movie also has plenty of throbbing bass in the score and the big musical numbers on the 'Goddess' stage. This isn't an action movie, so you shouldn't expect any thunderous megaton explosions. Nevertheless, the mix is often surprisingly more aggressive than you'd expect a trashy movie about strippers to be.
The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track on the Blu-ray is broad and clear, and has very good fidelity. Dialogue is always discernable, even during the many chaotic backstage scenes with numerous naked girls running around screaming at one another. Would I pull this disc out when I'm looking for an audio demo? Maybe not. Does it suit 'Showgirls' perfectly well? Absolutely.
The Blu-ray's bonus features come from the V.I.P. Edition DVD released back in 2004. (That same DVD was also released outside of its box set for a Fully Exposed Edition in 2007.) Many of the supplements are jokey in nature. There's no direct participation from Paul Verhoeven or anyone actually associated with the production of the film. Presumably, they wanted to distance themselves from it after-the-fact.
The second disc in the set is a copy of that DVD. Unfortunately, the video commentary feature is only available on the DVD. Everything else can be accessed on either disc.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
The studio has also seen fit to throw in one new exclusive for the Blu-ray.
The Cutting Room Floor: What Didn't Make the Blu-ray?
Between the Blu-ray and DVD disc in the set, all of the video features from the most recent DVD edition are included. (Obviously. The second disc is just a copy of that DVD.) None of the physical paraphernalia from the box set (the shot glasses, blindfold, etc.) are here though, of course.
As mentioned above, let the main menu play for a couple minutes uninterrupted (don't toggle any options) for a silly gag.
That's right, I really just gave 'Showgirls' a higher star rating than I gave 'Avatar'. Deal with it. Frankly, I feel bad about giving it a score this low. While I recognize that, objectively, 'Showgirls' is a terrible movie, it's also an enormously entertaining terrible movie. It's vastly more entertaining than Jim Cameron's bloated and tedious Thundercats-in-outer-space adventure. I'll surely watch 'Showgirls' a dozen times more before I watch 'Avatar' again.
The Blu-ray looks and sounds surprisingly great. The bonus features are jokey, but the audio commentary is a blast, especially when paired up with the trivia track. And that trailer's a classic as well. Yes, this is strictly guilty pleasure material. But it's fantastic guilty pleasure material.