8MM – Blu-ray Review
Film Title: 8MM
Release Date: 1999
Runtime: 96 minutes
Region Coding: Region A
Studio: Scream Factory (Shout! Factory)
Audio Format: DTS-HD MA 5.1 & 2.0
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Formats Available: Blu-ray
Version Reviewed: Blu-ray Disc
Blu-ray Release Date: 01/08/19
Director: Joel Schumacher
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Joaquin Phoenix, James Gandolfini, Peter Stormare, Catherine Keener
“8MM” a.k.a. “Eight Millimeter” was a 1999 mystery thriller directed by Joel Schumacher. Schumacher is best known for directing such films as “St. Elmo’s Fire” (1985), “The Lost Boys” (1987), “Flatliners” (1990), “Falling Down” (1993), “The Client” (1994), “A Time to Kill” (1996), “Phone Booth” (2002), “The Phantom of the Opera” (2004), and “The Number 23” (2007). The screenplay to 8MM was written by Andrew Kevin Walker, best known for also writing the screenplays for the films “Brainscan” (1994), “Seven” (1995), “Hideaway” (1995), and “Sleepy Hollow” (1999).
The story here is a very dark one, be warned, of a detective named “Tom Welles” (Nicolas Cage). It’s worth noting that as we first are introduced to the character he’s doing more traditional detective work for a Senator. He later returns home from work to his wife “Amy” (Catherine Keener) and his newborn daughter. His biggest concern at this point is hiding his cigarette smoking from his wife until he gets his next case which will lead to more smoking.
Welles is hired by a wealthy widow to consult on a serious matter regarding one specific item left by her late husband in his safe: an 8MM film. The film in question she claims seems very convincing that a young girl was murdered in the process of making this film. After watching this disgusting recording Welles reports back to the widow, “Mrs. Christian” (Myra Carter). He comes to the conclusion that this is what is often referred to as a snuff film, something way beyond the form of pornography that borderlines into recording illegal acts such as murder. Tom promises Mrs. Christian and her lawyer (Anthony Heald) that he will investigate this further and try to track down the girl, or at least find out what happened to her. The widow just promises that he finds out if the girl really was murdered or not, and so sets up the film.
Along the way Welles will do some excellent detective work, scanning frames of the 8MM film digitally to his computer and printing out the photo of the girl. He uses the photo to look through missing person records trying to find a similar match. It’s not a spoiler to tell you that he does find a lead and eventually makes his way to Los Angeles to do some further investigation. Our detective will frequent pornography shops and try to make some sort of contact to ask around about snuff films. That’s where our friendly and well-read cashier “Max” (Joaquin Phoenix) comes into the mix. Welles hires him to help track down people who make these types of films.
This film is really dark, as mentioned upfront, and that is just something that goes with the terror and territory of this type of story. 8MM features some great supporting performances by Peter Stormare and the late James Gandolfini. It’s one of those films like “Falling Down” that really sets itself apart from director Joel Schumacher’s other work. The film received some bad reviews from critics during its theatrical run, but don’t take those too much to heart. I don’t think some critics and perhaps even filmgoers fully understood this film the first time around, hence it becoming successful once it came to home video.
Movie Rating: 4 (out of 5)
“8MM” is presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, as it was shown theatrically. The movie was shot primarily on Super 35MM film using Panavision cameras. It is definitely worth noting that it was even shot on Super 8MM film for the 8MM scenes, using the Beaulieu Cine 8 camera.
This transfer comes with its share of occasional visual imperfections or slight damage to the film print, namely tiny specks of dirt and even some vertical tearing. It’s not a constant thing, so it doesn’t prove to be all that bothersome, and it actually adds to the film’s rough gritty visual style. The black level isn’t completely solid here, that just seems to be because of the film print and quality that it is in.
For the most part the film is very dark and subdued in terms of the color palette, however 41 minutes in during an outdoor daytime scene featuring Joaquin Phoenix you’ll notice the color become a little bolder and things really brighten up, for just a tad bit. Scenes like that can really show off the detail of being shot on Super 35MM film. The flesh tones appear to be accurate here, and all throughout the film. It just took finally seeing some shots in bright daytime to fully know.
Some shots like close-ups can offer a nice amount of detail, while others can seem pretty lackluster. Admittedly, it’s not quite solid but it is a pretty decent HD video presentation. For the type of dark subject material like this, it’s fitting that you get this decent but rough around the edges straight up transfer. It could obviously (someday) use some cleaning up and whatnot, but we should be happy to be finally getting this 1999 film 20 years later for the first time on Blu-ray.
Video Quality Rating: 3.75 (out of 5)
Audio here is presented in both DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio surround and DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio Stereo. I chose to first go with the 5.1 lossless mix and will focus for the most part on that.
From the very start, there’s a nice amount of rear channel presence, and this remains throughout the film. I love how the sound of the projector flickering can come from the rear channels very early on in the film, much like how it would be physically behind you in real life. It’s the attention to little details like that early on I found to be pretty nice. Dialogue is key in this film and I’m happy to report that it’s delivered distinctly from primarily the center channel speaker. No volume adjustments will need to be made here, for dialogue or anything else.
There isn’t really a lot of bass in the 5.1 mix that translates so much into subwoofer action until 43 minutes in when the music with drum beats and such make some decent use of the sub. This can again be the case during some more intense scenes later on in the film. The first third of the film can be a bit heavily dialogue driven to the point there’s not that much music or a large number of sound effects. This changes during the second act of sorts around the time mentioned above. At this point, things start to get a bit more intense from time to time, and more so as the ending builds up.
The mix here actually is pretty impressive at times and packs a bit more oomph now with a lossless format to take advantage of. The consistent amount of rear channel use throughout makes for a decent mix, and even comes with a nice amount of bass during the latter parts of the film. Both the 5.1 and the Stereo lossless mix are impressive and prove to be effective. I personally think this sounds best in the Stereo configuration, but that’s just my opinion, and I’m thankful we get a choice.
Audio Quality Rating: 4.25 (out of 5)
Bonus materials on this release are presented HD (high definition) video with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo sound. They include the following:
Audio Commentary with Producer/Director Joel Schumacher
NEW Interview with Producer/Director Joel Schumacher (21:08 – HD) was made by Shout! Factory in association with Samuelson Studios. This interview is an absolutely informative experience and adds more than the already excellent audio commentary had all those years before. Schumacher reflects back on making this film, and you can tell takes pride in it just as much as his other films like “Falling Down” – which he does mention. He claims films like this and it would probably not get made today, and I think he’s right. One great bit of trivia you learn here is that originally Schumacher wanted to make the film with Russell Crowe in the leading role for a smaller budget, but the studio thought Nicolas Cage was worth doing it for a larger budget.
Vintage Making-Of Featurettes (5:07 – HD) comes in the form of your typical EPK (electronic press kit) style ‘making of’ with narration, on set footage, scenes from the film, and interviews with Nicolas Cage (“Tom Welles”), Joaquin Phoenix (“Max”), and Joel Schumacher (Director). This gives you a nice glimpse at what making the film was like, but it’s short and to the point. The interviews with Cage and Phoenix about their characters are very good, and not to be missed.
Theatrical Trailer (2:35 – HD) is sadly formatted incorrectly with black bars on the top, bottom, and both sides – in a frame. This is one of the saddest things to see when actually widescreen material has lost its original aspect ratio and can no longer even be presented correctly without losing quality.
TV Spots (1:04 – HD) come from a VHS source. That being said, they do not look or sound that great, but that’s to be expected. They do however prove to bring back memories.
Still Gallery (6:39 – HD) plays on its own as a slideshow. This includes a lot of shots just from the film, as well as promotional photography, on set photos, as well as obviously the film’s posters and home video release covers over the years in all different regions of the world.
Overall the bonus materials here are pretty decent, as you get some new content and even the older DVD extras ported over. The audio commentary with the film’s director actually appeared on the original 1999 DVD, in fact so did the ‘making of’ EPK style featurette and trailer. The gallery of images and TV spots are new, as is the interview with Joel Schumacher. His interview proves to be just as insightful and entertaining as that original 1999 audio commentary and is totally worth giving a watch.
Bonus Materials Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)
“8MM” was a very dark and disturbing film, but only because of the subject matter and not so much anything we have to witness (as the viewer). However, it was pretty much disliked by the critics and even most moviegoers at first during its original theatrical release. The interesting thing is that it really started to develop a following when it was released that very same year  to home video [on DVD].
In terms of Blu-ray release, this gets:
3.75 (out of 5) for video quality
4.25 (out of 5) for audio quality
2.5 (out of 5) for bonus materials