In the wake of Seven's runaway success, Hollywood was eager to purchase any screenplay from writer Andrew Kevin Walker. Columbia Pictures bought 8MM, a story about a snuff film. It deserved a director like David Fincher who wasn't afraid to fully delve into the intense darkness of that premise. Instead, they gave it to Joel Schumacher, an inherently more restrained filmmaker. That resigned 8MM to poor reviews and middling box office.
Then a funny thing happened. Over time, the movie built an audience of people who wanted something just a little bit dark, yet not so dark that it became genuinely disturbing. They embraced 8MM, keeping its legacy alive over the last twenty years. Those fans will undoubtedly be excited by Scream Factory's new Blu-ray release.
Nicolas Cage plays Tom Welles, a private investigator hired by a wealthy widow. After her husband's death, she found what appears to be a snuff film in his safe and wants him to find out whether the young woman in it was really murdered. The trail leads Welles to Hollywood, where he hires adult video store worker Max California (Joaquin Phoenix) to be his guide into the world of less socially-acceptable pornography. James Gandolfini plays Eddie Poole, a sleazebag talent scout, Peter Stormare is the awesomely-named porn director Dino Velvet, and Chris Bauer is "Machine," the masked figure seen onscreen with the girl.
The point of 8MM is that Tom Welles is a good and decent family man forced to stare into the most perverse, debauched aspects of sexual stimulation. What he sees changes him. He can no longer pretend that the world is a safe place, because he knows what people like Eddie, Dino, and Machine are capable of. That's compelling, but Schumacher fails to give the movie the sense of pervasive, overwhelming dread that Fincher brought to Seven. The film stops well short of showing what Welles witnesses. Not that it needs to be excessively graphic, but it's hard to swallow the horror of it when we only get brief glimpses. 8MM similarly pulls its punches when our hero ventures into underground porn markets and other prurient places. We don't feel the darkness he's entering.
On the other hand, the movie makes up for that somewhat in other regards. James Gandolfini is excellent as Poole, giving the character a real sense of menace. Stormare is great, too, generating unease whenever he comes onscreen. Phoenix supplies a nice bit of levity as Max, and Cage turns in an early version of the “insane” performances that are his trademark these days. Each of them provides effective characterization.
One also can't dismiss that 8MM is never boring. It has a quick pace and it deals with subject matter that holds your attention, even if it never frays your nerves as much as it could have.
Whatever your opinion on the feature itself, Scream Factory's Blu-ray comes with some decent bonus features that are worth checking out. There's a 21-minute interview with the always lively Schumacher, who additionally provides a full-length audio commentary. Most fascinatingly, he reveals that 8MM almost starred Russell Crowe, but the studio opted for a “bigger” production with Nicolas Cage in the lead. The director's anecdotes and observations are enjoyable.
Also included is a vintage making-of segment, the original theatrical trailer, three TV spots, and a still gallery. The picture and sound quality on the disc are excellent.
For more information on this and other great titles, please visit the Scream Factory website.
2.5 out of 4 (movie)
8MM is rated R for strong perverse sexuality and violence, and for strong language. The running time is 2 hours and 3 minutes.