Magnolia (1999)
New Line Home Entertainment
Cast: Tom Cruise, Jason Robards, Julianne Moore, William H. Macy
Extras: Documentary, Frank T. J. Mackey Seminar, ’Seduce And Destroy’ Informercial, Music Video, Trailers

In the world of Hollywood commercialism where every movie is "artificially designed" to appeal to audiences rather than be a true expression of a filmmakers’ vision, it is rare to find films these days that are noticeably extroverted and almost philosophical in nature. Unless the film bears the name of Martin Scorcese that is who has made the science of extroverted cinema a commercial art form. With New Line’s protege Paul Thomas Anderson, the director behind the surprise hit "Boogie Nights, " it appears as if we see another strong force of visual, philosophical filmmaking reach the ranks of bigger public recognition. His latest film "Magnolia" which is now coming to DVD through New Line Home Video is a movie that is as academic as it is operatic, and most importantly it manages to remain accessible and highly entertaining at any given time.

Do you believe in coincidences? If not, "Magnolia" may be able to convert you otherwise. Take this for example, a series of coincidences that open the movie and set the mood for the rest of the picture. A man leaps off the roof of a house, trying to kill himself. While he is flying past a window a shotgun is fired, hitting the man in the chest, killing him while his mangled body hits a safety net that would have otherwise saved his life. The crux is that the gun was fired by his own mother in an attempt to kill his father – both unaware that the gun was loaded. The dead man himself had armed it days earlier, hopeful it would put an end to his parent’s constant fighting. Coincidence enough, or just accidental fatalism?

"Magnolia" is an assortment of different threads that are woven together like a tapestry. Different people lead entirely different lives, and yet, somehow they interconnect at certain points by seemingly random coincidence. There is Jason Robards, playing a media tycoon on his death bed and his wife (Julianne Moore) who never loved him. William H. Macy plays a hopeless loser and former quiz show prodigy, who would do anything, including wearing braces, to impress the bartender in his favorite bar, while Tom Cruise plays a rhetorical super-macho giving small time seminars about the sexual superiority of men over women. Philip Baker Hall plays a television quiz show host on his last breath whose final confessions drive his wife away from him during his last hours. But we also witness Samaritans at work in the form of Philip Seymour Hoffman playing a nurse or John C. Reilly, a shy, simple cop who is unaware that he has fallen in love with a drug addict. And so on. The vignettes and characters depicted in "Magnolia" are as rich and colorful as they are extreme and poignant. And they are all connected. Somehow their lines cross in the supermarket, the hospital, on the job, at the traffic light, the gas station or by watching each other on TV.

While watching "Magnolia" is was first amused by the alliteration of coincidences described in the opening. Amused and interested I kept watching. About 30 minutes into this 3 hour movie I realized that there is no real plot. Like a voyeur I was watching the lives of these people unfold in front of my eyes, and I was enjoying it, while my emotional attachment to each of them grew. When the finale of the movie dawned I was entirely engrossed by the dramatic intensity these separate plots had created. The ultimate pay-off during the film’s finale is another perfect example with what unconventional measures director Anderson has managed to keep the audience under his spell. I will not spoil the film’s ending here, but it is so absurd – maybe I should say coincidental – you have to see it to believe it!

Masterfully written and beautifully staged, "Magnolia" is one of those rare movies that is so radically different and stands out of the crowd while at the same time manages to remain captivating and entertaining. The magnificent camera work in the film is a feast for the eye, as the camera follows one person, only set its sights on another person as their paths cross, only to follow yet another person as their paths cross at another point. Long, uninterrupted shots that are perfectly timed, absolutely smooth and masterfully staged define the movie’s striking visual style, further emphasizing the almost intangible split-second connections people make throughout their existences.

"Magnolia" comes as a 2-disc special edition from New Line Home Video and as expected the release reveals itself in top-notch quality. The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio in a transfer that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> television sets. Absolutely free of any defects or blemishes, the presentation shows once again that New Line is on top of the game when it comes to high quality DVD transfers. Clean, clear and highly detailed, the picture quality is immaculate without the slightest problems. Colors are powerful and rich, with deep, solid blacks. Edges are well-defined but there are no signs of edge-enhancement evident in the transfer. The compression is flawless and maintains every bit of detail in the transfer. The definition is superb and the lack of any compression artifacts makes "Magnolia" once again one of the best-looking DVDs in the market. Interestingly however, the film has only 12 chapter stops, which can make it a little tedious to navigate through this 3-hour movie if you have to pick up watching anywhere in between.

The DVD contains an aggressive <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> mix. Very wide and spatial, the track has very good dynamics and a remarkably natural frequency response. As with most other New Line releases, the track has been optimized for home theaters, ensuring that dialogues are always clear and understandable, never drowning them out by the music of sound effects. The spatial integration is perfect, creating a wide sound stage in the front and discrete surround channels that sometimes bombard the viewer with sound from all directions. "Magnolia" is certainly not an action movie where you would expect such aggressive use of surrounds, which is perfectly complemented by nice and subtler ambient effects when the film demands it. Crystal clear and without distortion, the audio presented on this disc is a charmer that perfectly adds to the overall experience of this rather unique film.

On the second disc of the set, which comes as a sleeve/fold-out packaging much like 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment’s "Fight Club," you will find a series of exciting supplements. First there is the "Frank T. J. Mackey Seminar" which gives you a chance to revisit Tom Cruise’s ballroom seminar scene with a little added spice, as he explains his "reinforcement techniques."
The "Seduce And Destroy" informercial can also be found here. It is the commercial that can be seen in part during the movie as it flickers across television screens. Well, here is the real deal, the full footage, uncut and raw.

The highlight on this disc is the 70-minute documentary "Magnolia Diaries." It gives viewers an in-depth look at the entire development process of the film from the initial idea all the way to the honors it received. This is definitely not your off-the-mill publicity featurette, but a very sincere documentary that sheds light on every aspect of the production. Starting out with a short interview with director Paul Thomas Anderson we get to see footage from collaborative brainstorm sessions, production meetings, the backstage trivia quiz contests, the screenings of material that Anderson wants his crew to use as inspiration and so forth. There is not a single aspect missing from this documentary and with the many interview segments and the wealth of intimate and true behind-the-scenes footage, this documentary is almost as entertaining as the movie. At the same time, I think it gives viewers a very good understanding of and appreciation for the wealth of decisions a director has to make on and off the set in order to pull off a project like "Magnolia."
Aimee Mann’s music video "Save Me" can also be found on this second disc of the set, as well as the movie’s teaser and theatrical trailer.

Praise goes out to New Line on many levels. While this is another stellar DVD release from Hollywood’s leading independent studios, the faith to have this film done in the first place deserves recognition and acclaim. Further going out of their way to present such a content rich Special Edition of the movie with such intimate contents as many of the scenes found in the documentary adds an edge to this release that is hard to beat, although I was sorely missing an <$commentary,audio commentary> by the director for additional excursion in his working style and thought process. New Line Home Video has done it again. The studio brings us one of the best-looking DVDs, larded with some phenomenal bonus materials. If you consider yourself a real film lover, you have to see "Magnolia" on this DVD with all the behind-the-scenes material!