The First Word: Winner of 19 adult video awards, including best video, best director, and best actress, Euphoria is a very slick and captivating movie blessed with a very good script. It comes to DVD packaged in a two-disc collector's edition that is simply the best adult DVD released to date.
What's It About?: Euphoria is a sci-fi, post-apocalyptic feature set about 30 years in the future. In this new post-nuclear war age, consumerism is the new world order, the birth rate has been dropping due to sexual disinterest, and those who are in debt (a punishable offense) are willing to do almost anything to avoid three-year public service sentences.
All of those factors come together at the labs of Koresh-Hyde Pharmaceuticals (KHP), where the lure of debt forgiveness brings in potential test subjects for their new drugs. Melina Taylor (Sydnee Steele) is one who volunteers to test a new sexual stimulant drug called U-4 that promises to do to the libido what Viagra did for the "hydraulics." She catches the eye of research scientist Dr. Baron (Mike Horner) and Vice President Smith-Sorayama (Ava Vincent) and is selected for the U-4 trials.
Melina finds herself outside of her childhood home in Philadelphia, now a barren wasteland. She's met at the door by a whore played by Bridgette Kerkove, who tells her that the abandoned house is now under the ownership of the Baron, a local drug dealer. As they go in and try to cut in the line to see the Baron, a confrontation ensues. Bridgette ends up distracting one of the mutant freaks in line (Lee Stone) with a blowjob and some fucking that ends with a multi-angle pop shot.
Meanwhile, Melina meets Baron Shakes, an alter-ego of Dr. Baron (played in make-up by Mike Horner) who offers Melina her "usual" dose of drugs. He advises her to go down to the basement, where some "friends" are wating. The friends turn out to be the whore, Bridgette, and Slam (Cheyne Collins), who was her ex-boyfriend from her days as a stripper. Now he's a "stream junkie" -- someone who is addicted to the virtual reality simulations. By hacking into the network, he programs the popular VR stars into having sex with him. One of the stars is Ai (played by a platinum-blonde Asia Carerra), and she and Slam have futuristic virtual sex.
Once reunited, Melina and Slam begin arguing as we discover that Melina's debt problems were caused by Slam's VR addiction and that addition was caused by his jealousy of Melina's job as a stripper. Bridgette encourages them to kiss & make up, and thanks to the Baron's dose of U-4, Melina has no problem getting into the mood. As Bridgette watches and masturbates, Melina and Slam become reacquainted by way of some hot action, including some great finger fucking and a nice handjob/blowjob action with plenty of eye contact. Later, as Melina is fucked in the ass, Bridgette manages to insert four fingers -- each capped with painfully long nails) into her own butt. At the conclusion of the scene, Melina gets the shakes from the U-4 and passes out.
She wakes up on a hill in Australia, where two strange figures, Meta (Dillon Day) and Karma (Inari Vachs) are there to let her know that this metaphysical place exists to provide an escape from the reality-altering drug that she's under the influence even now. As Meta cautions her not to reveal the existence of "Australia," it is revealed that Melina is strapped in a chair in the KHP labs as the first day of the U-4 trial ends.
Later, Dr. Baron and Smith-Sorayama argue over the high financial cost of the U-4 project. In face of her assertions that she, not he, controls the fate of the project, he reminds her that he has known her since she began at the company. She coolly replies that most people with her power would hire assassins to take care of sexual harassers like him. But now that the tables have been turned, she uses the opportunity to play the dominatrix. Baron obliges by assuming the role of the submissive. The sex that follows is full of dirty talk and verbal domination,. The highlight of the scene is the great blowjob/handjob combo that Ava Vincent deliver's on Mike Horner's cock. I also like it that Ava remains mostly dressed throughout the scene -- all the way to the cum shot over her pubes and corset.
As the second day of the trials begin, we find out that her ex-boyfriend Slam has been informing KHP of Melina's past so that they can tailor the experiments. Melina, now under the influence of U-4 once more, arrives at an elegant mansion. There she is greeted by two maids (Devinn Lane & Felicia) dressed in red latex maid's uniforms. She's introduced to the mistress of the House of Indigo, the alter-ego of Smith-Sorayama.
One of the hottest scenes in the movie comes as Melina (now wearing a red spiked collar & leash) is dominated by Indigo, who looks stunning in an, well, indigo outfit and blue painted nipples. It's pretty nasty and intense as Ava Vincent keeps up the dirty talk through the scene. Fans of spitting, multi-fingered penetration, and dildo action will not be disappointed.
Indigo is the hostess of an elegant sex ball, i.e. an 11-person orgy shot in the grand staircase/entryway of the House of Indigo. As orgies go, it's well-edited, avoiding the all-too-frequent practice of hyperactively cutting from performer to performer. While I wasn't that impressed with the lighting of the scene, there are some nice penetration shots nonetheless. The orgy finishes with a few decent cumshots in multi-angle glory.
Melina finds herself back in Australia, where Meta warns her that Nokiyama, the parent corporation of KHP, is trying to do more than just create a sexual stimulant with U-4. However, Melina is frustrated with his subtle warnings. But before he can explain, a KHP security program detects their presence. Back in the "real world" Dr. Baron shuts down experiment as the computers go haywire. Smith-Sorayama dismisses the possibility that this could be the work of the infamous Winston Jones of the rebel group, the Digital Rebel Front. Apparently Jones rebuilt the Internet after the war into what's now known as "The Stream" but when he saw what the corporations intended to use it for, he disappeared to form the DRF.
While in her cell for the evening Melina is visited by Ai, the virtual reality pop singer that Slam slammed earlier in the movie. She, like Meta, reveals that her destiny is close at hand. Once Melina falls asleep, she dreams that she's back to her days as a sex show performer at the New Flesh Club (Brad Armstrong intentionally reuses the set from the KHP labs, just dressed differently). We see that it's a hardcore sex club, where in addition to the floor show, the patrons are serviced too. I loved the girl-girl show, where Shay Sweet gets DP'ed with a vaginal speculum and a metal anal probe by Tanya Danielle.
Melina argues with Slam when she learns that he will be performing with her and another girl on stage. But once she's hopped up on U-4, she ends up in a threesome with Slam and... Karma (Inari). After the fuck scene, she returns to the dressing room to find Karma and Meta waiting for her. Joined by Ai, they explain that Nokiyama is grooming U-4 to brainwash the world's population since the drug has the ability to expand brain pathways and increase psychic abilities. They want to use Melina to attack KHP's computer systems, using Ai's consciousness channeled through Melina's body.
After the combined Melina/Ai attacks Dr. Baron and Smith-Sorayama and breaks free from the KHP lab, the group retreats to the safety of Australia, where Melina meets the real Winston Jones who was masquerading as the prophet Meta. In the final threesome between Meta, Karma, and Melina, our hardcore program ends with the highlights of a nice double blowjob, Inari taking Dillon up the butt, and Sydnee nastily lapping up his seed in the climax.
I won't give away the plot ending, but I'm happy to see that Brad Armstrong and screenwriter David Aaron Clark did not do the story equivalent of running to the shower after sex by tying up the plot in a lame way. Rather, it's a satisfying and somewhat dark ending to one of the more memorable adult movies in recent years.
What I liked: Solid story and acting: While it's not The Matrix, Euphoria definitely has a similar feel, thanks to the well-written script and decent acting. Of course, you still have the occasional flubbed line or the extra who delivers the dialogue in a completely unconvincing manner, but I was very impressed with the acting abilities of Sydnee, Ava, and Mike.
Polish: Watching the behind-the-scenes material, it's pretty clear that Brad Armstrong tried his best to do everything as well as he could given the circumstances. After all, this is not like a Hollywood movie where the shooting schedule is a month or two -- in Euphoria, the shooting was a little more than a week. Plus, the budget he had to work with, while enormous for an adult movie, was only a fraction of a mainstream production. Despite that, the locations, costumes, set design, visual effects, and DVD packaging are absolutely top notch. It an industry where you often have to sacrifice one aspect of the production for another, it's surprising that Euphoria doesn't appear to sacrifice much in any regard.
Hair - Good lord, it's amazing what a difference a wig can make. I think Ava Vincent looks smokin' with black hair. And Asia, while always looking great, is awesome in her platinum blonde wig. In porn it's so easy to get burned out with someone's looks when they appear in hundreds of videos -- I'm really surprised that more directors aren't more daring. Speaking of daring, what about April's bald head? I hate to say it, but that's strangely erotic too...
What I didn't like: No raincoat required: While Euphoria has a great story and visuals for an adult movie, it slightly misses the mark sexually. I found some of the sex scenes to be visually boring and lacking chemistry. That's not to say that none of the scenes could get a rise out of me, but it's not an ultra hardcore fuckfest as a whole. I think this would be a perfect couple's movie but probably somewhat boring to the jaded porn fan. If you look to the European or gonzo styles of adult videos, then you probably will think this movie is lacking in nasty action and gynecological detail. But even so, I think the plot of the movie is entertaining enough to sit through even if that describes you. It's definitely better than a lot of the sci-fi movies I see on mainstream cable.
DVD Extras: From the moment you load the first disc of the set in your player, you realize that Euphoria is going to be an outstanding DVD experience. Following the standard compliance and safe sex disclaimers, there are four short trailers: the Macrovision copy protection logo, the Dolby Digital "Broadway" trailer, the DTS "The Digital Experience" trailer, and Wicked's own DVD logo. All will breathe life into your home theater system (or if you don't have one, it will definitely fill up your stereo headphones or TV speakers).
After the trailers, there's a very slick "play on load" video introduction to the DVD that's shows a flyover of some sand dunes in the background as dreamy images of the major actresses float in and out. The picture begins breaking up into static and computer images before a digtal explosion, followed by a reveal of Sydnee in a drug-induced episode and strapped in a laboratory chair. I'm pretty jaded when it comes to trailers, but this is truly a first-class example of video editing and effects.
From there, it's a little bit of a disappointment to see the 3-D interface for the DVD menus. I would compare them in quality to Vivid's much ballyhooed "virtual reality" interface. In this case, Wicked has replicated the KHP lab set on disc one and the sex club set on the second DVD. Compared to the other extras and the look of the movie overall, this is one of the weakest parts of the DVD. But don't get me wrong, it's much more ambitious and difficult to try to do a 3-D model with rotation and flyovers than a standard feature main menu. Compared to say, Wicked's own Dream Quest, Euphoria's menu system is on a whole other level. I'm sure a lot of work went into it, but the menus still look very artificial to me.
The non 3-D menus are quite nice and functional. The full-motion video chapter selection menu is clean and easy to navigate. There's also a very slick settings menu that appears when you play the feature, allowing you to choose the audio track and whether the multiple angle indicator will appear on screen. It's a feature that should belong on every DVD, mainstream or adult, when there are multiple configuration options.
Now, moving on to the meat of the DVD supplements, on the first disc you can look forward to Wicked's well-regarded audio biographies and a plethora of still photos of the stars, the film, and behind-the-scenes candids. There's also a trailer for Euphoria, DVD-ROM casino game, a lot of information about Wicked via their company profile and comprehensive list of all awards and nominations they've received, as well as an electronic press kit, which includes text interviews, quotes, and press releases about the movie.
To accompany the feature, several scenes have multi-angle cumshots, where the pop is shown from up to five different camera angles. However, I didn't see a lot of different angles -- most of the cameras were in nearly the same position. It would have been nice to see a behind-the-scenes wide shot or a POV angle. In any event, thankfully we're given the option to turn off the multi-angle indicator because it is really ugly. I wish someone would come up with a cool-looking, unobtrusive multi-angle icon, rather than these hideous, blocky icons. Perhaps that has to do with using the subtitle track to display the icon, but there has to be a better way.
Finally, the biggest special feature on disc one is the audio commentary track with director Brad Armstrong, Sydnee Steele, and Ava Vincent. It's a good overall commentary, with a decent mix of behind-the-scenes stories, reactions, and laughs. If you are familiar with Brad Armstrong's other commentaries, you'll probably agree that it's better when Brad is joined by other commentators -- since he doesn't feel forced to fill the air with a lot of minute production details. While there are still some awkward silent moments, between the three of them they keep the commentary moving.
Moving on to the second disc, the main extra is the 1-hour documentary, All Access: The Making of Euphoria. It's a chronological look at the production of the movie. No one does these documentaries better than Wicked -- I would guess that they shoot a lot more video of the behind-the-scenes process than what actually goes into the can as production footage. It's both entertaining and educational, especially if you don't know everything it takes to make a porno. By itself, this mix of behind the camera footage, interviews, candid moments, outtakes, and movie clips could have gotten this DVD a 5-star rating in the extras category.
The Pre-Production videos total 22 minutes and show much of the work that went into the production before any filming took place. The seven sequences cover everything from the script to wardrobe and makeup to location scouting.
Bad Luck on Euphoria is a 10-minute chronicle of many of the things that went wrong on the shoot, including a car wreck, trucks getting stuck in the sand, and falling set lights. The highlight of the video is Evan Stone pretending to be an on-the-scene news reporter investigating the "attempts on the director's life" -- pretty funny!
Behind the FX of Euphoria runs 19 minutes with Brad Armstrong narrating the special effects process Wicked used to create four of the special effects shots. The reel goes into step-by-step detail, and is an excellent tutorial on visual effects -- easily on par with any mainstream DVD special effects supplement.
Brad Armstrong introduces two non-sex deleted scenes and explains why they were cut from the movie. The first is a longer version of the Smith-Sorayama speech to the test subjects and lasts 5 minutes. The second is a set-up scene to Melina's meeting with Bridgette Kerkove's character in the "Soul Kitchen" house in post-war Philly (2 min 30 sec). As is typical with deleted scenes, neither sequence was needed in the movie and therefore ended up on the cutting room floor.
There are three extended scenes -- the first is a 10-minute version of one of the three parts of the New Flesh Club orgy scene, which is the girl-girl between Tanya Danielle and Shay Sweet. The second is the second part of that scene featuring the bald-headed April, Bridgette Kerkove, and Evan Stone (4 min 30 sec). The last part is the 2-on-1 involving Billy Glide, Pat Myne, and Charlene Aspen (6 min 30 sec).
The Sydnee Steele photo shoot is a four-minute, stylized video showing Sydnee in various costumes and locales, obviously for the pretty girl photos that accompany the movie's publicity. I would compare it to the style of a Playboy video centerfold or Sports Illustrated swimsuit video.
There's the complete Ai "Cosmic Dance" music video that was supposed to be featured in the movie. Fans of Asia Carerra should get a kick out of her dancing and lip-synching in cosmic go-go boots. Similar to the Sydnee Steele photo shoot video, the 7-minute long Girls of Euphoria shows a behind-the-scenes glimpse at all of the pretty girl photo shoots, including Sydnee's. Next, there are over six minutes of bloopers, mostly of flubbed lines, unintentional crackups, and a couple of asides during sex. There are about 38 minutes worth of interviews with cast members Sydnee Steele, Mike Horner, Ava Vincent, Lee Stone, and Bridgette Kerkove.
Finally, to add icing to the cake, there are 12 short video easter eggs hidden across the two discs (see the sidebar to the right for a complete listing). They are pretty easy to watch if you use your DVD player or DVD-ROM to access the individual titles on the discs, but it's difficult to find where they are linked from if you want to locate them without "cheating." They aren't outstanding clips -- if they were, I'm sure they would have appeared in the "visible" extras -- but they are still fun anyway, especially the clip of Mark Webb.
It took me two weeks to get through all of the material and to write this review. That should give you an indication how much is included in this set.
A/V Quality: This is a DVDphiles' wet dream: Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS feature soundtracks and anamorphic widescreen video (more about anamorphic video). Euphoria is one of the first adult anamorphic titles -- enhanced for 16 x 9 widescreen televisions and DVD-ROM equipped computers. On conventional (4:3 aspect ratio) televisions, the video is letterboxed to 1.66:1 and is quite viewable since not a lot of screen real estate is taken up by the dreaded "black bars." In addition to the feature being presented anamorphically, all of the extras produced for this DVD are presented that way too. I remember a couple of years ago when we were wistful about porn someday being letterboxed, let alone enhanced for 16 x 9! Anyway, I spotted no visible flaws in the video feature, which doesn't surprise me given Wicked's DVD track record. The extras, on the other hand, have sections of highly pixelated video but only because all of the pre-production video was stolen during a burglary of Wicked's offices. They only had low-resolution copies stored digitally, so that's what they had to use for the DVD.
The audio mix, presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1, is true 6-channel and was professionally done. Since this is mostly a dialogue movie, there's not a lot of frequency range or use of the LFE channel. But the musical soundtrack is enveloping, the dialogue track is clean and doesn't have a trace of echo (echo is a problem with many adult soundtracks), and no one channel draws attention to itself. The commentary and extras are presented a two-channel stereo mix that is quite adequate for such purposes and unremarkable.
The Last Word: I'll approach my last words from two directions. The movie itself definitely keeps Brad Armstrong's movie-over-movie growth in terms of scope and presentation. I can't recall a more intelligent, developed script in recent years, nor an ensemble cast that could pull off such an ambitious acting project so well. It's not perfect by any means, nor is it among the hottest porn that Wicked has ever shot, but that shouldn't take away from the fact that it's completely watchable adult video from start to finish. If all porn was like this, you'd see little need for a FFWD button on remotes.
As far as the set itself, I think I will be bold enough to say that this is the best adult DVD produced to date (Sept. 2002), and there are only a handful of porn discs that can even come close to the content and polish that Euphoria possesses. Wicked definitely should be proud of producing what will probably be known as one of the landmark adult productions of this new century. In case you couldn't figure it out, Euphoria gets my highest recommendation, and only the fifth five-star overall rating that I've given.