It's hard to believe that Magnolia was made about 12 years ago, now. One fellow film aficionado has made the case that 1999 was the best year ever for filmmaking, that the films made this year are like no other, and Magnolia could very well head the list. With three Academy Award nominations, the film is held up time and again as the premier example of multi-character story telling, a stunning work of writing by director Paul Thomas Anderson, and the film against which all other similar films would henceforth be judged. Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy -- the stellar cast list goes on and on. What initially began as a small concept project soon blossomed into a huge-budget three-hour film that deals with life, death, sex, drugs, money, guns, politics, and game shows. What more could you ask for?
Paul Thomas Anderson opens his film with several incidents that could be taken as mere coincidence but are too strangely constructed to simply be a bizarre twist of fate. Following these minor introductory events, we are introduced to our extended cast of characters and the events that link them together one by one, all of the stories taking place within the same area of Los Angeles. For fear of destroying the unique journey that is Magnolia, I will say as little about the plot as I can, for it is truly a modern classic, one of those films that simply must be seen. Tom Cruise is a motivational speaker of sorts, teaching men how to manipulate and control women. Julianne Moore is a grief-stricken wife, desperate for help. William H. Macy is a man who insists, with heartbreaking sincerity, that he just has so much love to give. John C. Reilly plays a law-abiding cop who's just trying to find that special someone out there. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is nurse to Jason Robards' dying old man. While the comparison to Robert Altman's Short Cuts is an obvious and easy one, there are many more stories and surprises ahead.
Every now and then Blu-ray strikes the viewer as a little strange, especially since you notice that the image is without any of the spots and flecks, it takes on a rather strange, lifelike quality. Is it possible that we have reached a place where the image quality is too good? Never. The transfer is crisp, clear, and beautiful, providing the ultimate viewing experience. The image is 1080p high-definition and is shown in widescreen 16x9. The sound is Dolby TrueHD English 5.1 and sounds spectacular, with remarkable foreground and background distinction, even when viewed on smaller television sets.
The special features on this edition include a lengthy Magnolia Video Diary, which is actually a fairly realistic look into the ins and outs of a commercial film shoot. The Magnolia shoot was unique in that each individual story was shot at one time in order to get the actors finished in a timely manner, and that the shoot spanned a lengthy 90 days. In this short time we only get a small glimpse at what director Paul Thomas Anderson is like as a writer and director, and it would have been nice to record a new audio commentary looking back at well over 10 years since Magnolia was released. But it is not to be found, sadly. The other special features are sparse, but do include the wildly strange and uncomfortable full-on Frank Mackey (Tom Cruise) "Seduce and Destroy" seminar, as well as the uncomfortable infomercial for the same product. There's also an Aimee Mann music video for the original song "Save Me." Jon Brion was the composer for the film, and was also dating Mann, so her inclusion on the soundtrack is only logical. Other than these few items, there are the original trailers as well as the TV spots.
If you've never seen Magnolia, there's no better time to continue your film education than now with this Blu-ray release. The story and visuals deserve the finest presentation available, as well as your apt attention. Magnolia is strange, heartbreaking, a little sad, sometimes funny, and always fascinating.
Magnolia is available now from New Line Cinema.