Wonderland (2003)

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Released 10-May-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Mystery Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Deleted Scenes
Featurette-Crime Scene Investigation
Featurette-Court TV: Hollywood At Large
Interviews-Cast
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2003
Running Time 100:14
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (82:02) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By James Cox
Studio
Distributor

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Kate Bosworth
Carrie Fisher
Val Kilmer
Kim Marriner
Dylan McDermott
Michael Pitt
Alexis Dziena
Karen LaKritz
Steve Cox
Josh Lucas
Louis Lombardi
Franky G
Ted Levine
Case ?
RPI $39.95 Music Michael A. Levine
Cliff Martinez


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes, extensive drug smoking
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Every now and again, I hear about a film with an intriguing basic premise and look forward to watching it. In the meantime, I read reviews in magazines or on the Internet which state that the film is over-hyped, under-acted or just plain bad. Wonderland is a recreation of what happened to John Holmes (aka Johnny Wadd - the world's most famous male porn actor) after he left the adult film industry, and before he died from AIDS-related complications. With a great ensemble cast led by (the admittedly patchy) Val Kilmer (Top Gun and Batman Forever) and a plot promising a seedy combination of crime, sex and drugs, I was sure that Wonderland would have something to offer in the way of vicarious entertainment. The reviews, however, were rather mixed - some fairly scathing in fact. The film was accused of being confusingly told, poorly structured and well...rather boring. Much to my delight I found the film to be just as intriguing, titillating and entertaining as I had hoped. It is certainly the best performance Kilmer has delivered since his stellar turn in The Doors.

    After having allegedly slept with over 14,000 women, and starring in 1,000 pornographic films, the John Holmes of 1981 appears as a drug-addicted loser who is rapidly running out of both friends, fame and fortune. In tow is his 19 year old girlfriend Dawn Schiller (Kate Bosworth, Blue Crush), hopelessly in love with the long since faded "star" and in his wake is his Christian wife Sharon (Lisa Kudrow, Friends). Holmes' life seems to consist of a never-ending search for his next line of cocaine, and he seems willing to double-cross the most dangerous of characters if it will provide his next hit.

    Holmes still has a couple of contacts - in the shape of two groups of low-lifes at opposite ends of the social spectrum. The first group consists of a gang of petty criminals and drug-dealers, who operate from a house on Wonderland Avenue. Amongst the denizens of the house are the psychotic Ron Launius (Josh Lucas, When Strangers Appear and Hulk) and his biker "business" partner David Lind (Dylan McDermott, The Practice). They are looking for someone to fence a collection of valuable antique firearms to finance their next drug buy and they are sure that Holmes will know someone who is able to cough up the required funds.

    As it happens, at the other end of Holmes' list of social contacts is one Eddie Nash (Eric Bogosian, Talk Radio and Igby Goes Down), who is one of the wealthiest night club owners in Los Angeles. He also happens to be a prolific "baser" (someone who smokes cocaine) and is a dedicated fan of John Holmes' artistic endeavours. In what seems to be a fortuitous twist of fate, Holmes is charged with taking the guns to Nash and returning with a handsome fee. Unfortunately, Holmes is unable to secure a reasonable price for the pistols and the Wonderland Avenue boys are furious with him. To make good, Holmes tells Launius and Lind about the vast quantities of drugs and money which Nash keeps at home...

    The bulk of the film focuses on the devastating results of Holmes' revelation. (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) The Wonderland Avenue gang rob Nash's home and are ecstatic to find they have netted over one million dollars worth of jewellery, drugs and cash. Understandably, Nash is not going to take this affront lying down and retribution is inevitable. The retribution comes in the form of a violent assault, under cover of darkness, which leaves five people at the Wonderland Avenue house dead or dying - their skulls crushed by lead pipes. The story is related through a number of parallel re-tellings of the same story from different characters' perspectives. Each of the unlikeable and untrustworthy characters tells a convincing story - but which one is telling the truth...?

    I cannot help feeling that the frequent comparisons to Boogie Nights are unfair and unwarranted. This movie has nothing to do with the pornographic film industry - the only link is that one of the main characters was previously a major player in that field. Those who complain that it does not explore the character of John Holmes in enough depth are missing the point - it does not set out to be a biography of "The Elvis of Porn", instead it is a crime drama, set in 1981, and populated by a range of junkies and crooks involved in the grisly Wonderland Murders. It tells a complex (and still unresolved) story in an entertaining and stylish way. The acting is of a very high standard throughout - Kilmer is at his very best, Lucas is utterly believable as the drug-fuelled psychotic Launius and McDermott is impressive (and virtually unrecognisable) as the vicious Lind. The period feel is well evoked and the set design is very impressive - one of the extras shows footage of the original crime scene, and I would challenge you to tell it apart from the set used in the movie. There is also frequent use of split-screen effects, newspaper photograph-to-live-action transitions, and fast-motion which all fit the frenetic and hyper-real feel of the film admirably.

    Wonderland is a movie which requires you to pay some attention, but is nowhere near as confusing as some reviews would lead you to expect. I found the film to be a riveting watch and can highly recommend it to fans of crime dramas - just don't expect it to be about the porn industry and you will be in for a couple of hours of solid entertainment.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The overall video transfer of this film is very good.

    The movie is presented in a 16x9 enhanced aspect ratio of 1.85:1, which is the original theatrical aspect ratio.

    There is some quite significant grain present at times but I am certain this was deliberately added to provide a suitably gritty and contemporary feel to the movie. It works - it often feels like a documentary in its delivery of some scenes. Aside from the deliberate grain, the transfer is acceptably sharp and well focussed - there is a little bit of pixelization present in some backgrounds, but not enough to become a distraction.

    Shadow detail is usually very good and black levels are deep with only an occasional instance of low level noise, which never becomes distracting. Colours are well rendered, albeit with some deliberate shifts into the yellow end of the spectrum and a notable tendency to desaturation, which lends a suitably faded feel to the movie. There are some nice transitions from newspaper photographs into live action colour which are used at several points during the film. Skin tones are perfectly acceptable throughout.

    The transfer has no major MPEG artefacts. I noticed no instances of aliasing on my (progressive scan) system and it was also pleasing to note no instances of edge enhancement.

    Unsurprisingly given its recent vintage, this is a clean transfer although there are one or two instances of film artefacts which are not distracting but can be found if you look hard enough (for example around 82:00 or 89:30).

    Disappointingly, there is no subtitle track present.

    This is a single sided, dual layered (RSDL) disc with the layer change perfectly located at 82:02. This occurs during a fade-to-black and is so subtle it is unlikely to be noticed on most systems.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The audio quality of this disc is technically very good. Whilst it will not be used as a demonstration track for your surround system, it delivers a clean, solid performance throughout.

    There is a solitary English audio track available which is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 stereo encoded at 448 kbps, and is delivered without any significant defects in the way of hiss, clicks and dropouts.

    Dialogue was clear throughout - given that junkies do tend to mumble occasionally! I noticed no significant lapses in audio sync.

    The musical score is quite a treat, with numerous sound bites from contemporary pop songs cropping up from the likes of Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Marc Bolan and The Cars. The songs are generally well chosen and they add to the feel of the film very well - sometimes contrasting and at other times almost narrating the on-screen action.

    The soundstage is often quite frontal, with the dialogue nicely anchored in the centre speaker and some nice stereo spread across the front soundstage. There are reasonable front soundstage panning effects on show from time to time.

    The surround speakers are frequently used to provide a subtle supporting ambience (for example during the various party scenes) and also in a very lively way to provide an enveloping musical presence when the pop kicks in - for example around 32:55. The subwoofer is subtly used to support the bass beat of the musical tracks and also to contribute occasional LFE support for some of the more dramatic or violent sequences.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There are a reasonable number of extras present.

Menu

    The main menu is an animated sequence of clips from the film accompanied by a highly appropriate loop of Shooting Star by Bad Company. It allows the options of playing the feature, selecting one of twenty-eight chapter stops, or viewing the following extras:

Deleted Scenes

    The following deleted scenes are available, presented letterboxed at 1.78:1 (not 16x9 enhanced) with a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack encoded at 224 kbps:

Cast Interviews

    The following short interviews are available, presented not 16x9 enhanced at 1.33:1 with a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack encoded at 224 kbps, and running for a total of 4:53:

Crime Scene Investigation

    This is harrowing footage - be warned! This is the original police video footage of the Wonderland Avenue crime scene. Remarkable for being one of the first times such evidence was used in a trial in the USA, it is not for the weak of stomach as it presents close-ups of the victims. It is presented at 1.33:1 with a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack encoded at 224 kbps, and runs for a gory 26:28.

Court TV: Hollywood At Large

    This footage contains clips from the film, interviews with some of the stars and bits of a documentary TV show. Whilst interesting, it is brief, running for only 6:06 and is presented at 1.33:1 (with letterboxed inserts) with a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack encoded at 224 kbps.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 release of this movie is part of a two-disc set. It contains everything that is present on our release plus a couple of major additional extras:

    The Region 4 release misses out on the following additional features:

    If you just want to see the film, then the Region 4 release will probably suffice. If you intend on buying the Wadd documentary separately, then the Region 1 two-disc set is a clear winner.

Summary

    Wonderland is a badly under-rated piece of work. The seedy story of drugs and greed in the 80s is fascinating and very well acted. The direction is stylish and nowhere near as confusing as the cynics would have you believe. This is a good film with a strong story, good acting and a groovy soundtrack to boot. Highly recommended for fans of gritty, realistic crime flicks. Heed my warning about the original crime scene footage however - it may prove too disturbing for some viewers.

    The video quality is very good.

    The audio quality is very good.

    The extras are generally worthwhile - particularly the gruesome original crime scene footage, which is definitely not for the squeamish.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Daniel O'Donoghue (You think my bio is funny? Funny how?)
Saturday, April 24, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDHarmony DVD Video/Audio PAL Progressive, using Component output
DisplaySanyo PLV-Z2 WXGA projector. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR600 with DD-EX and DTS-ES
SpeakersJensenSPX-9 fronts, Jensen SPX-13 Centre, Jensen SPX-5 surrounds, Jensen SPX-17 subwoofer

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Terry K

Comments (Add)
great review - Johnny Wadd (i am bionic) REPLY POSTED
Wadd Loses a Wad of Extras - REPLY POSTED
2 disc US set is limited edition -