DVD director's commentary
I've been using streaming rather than DVDs for awhile, but I just watched a DVD with a director's commentary, and realized how interesting that can be.
Have you found a particular DVD commentary more than unusually informative? What's the most educational one you've heard?
I really liked the commentary on Mr. & Mrs Smith. The scene where Brad Pitt character is chasing his wife through the neighborhood and ends up tripping on a fence and almost shooting her in the head is one of the best parts of the movie. The original script called for them to have this elaborate car chase scene. The studio pulled the budget and said figure something else out. The end result is a scene that better help tells the story and how Mr. Smith feels about his wife even though things haven't been working out. It is a good lesson to us as creatives to look for solutions in situations where it feels like there might not be a good one.
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The director commentary tracks in the BMW 'The Hire" series with Clive Owen are all astounding.
I haven't listened to an audio commentary track in a while, but I used to years ago. However, outside of The Lord of the Rings extended trilogy, which was easily the most informative 11 hour commentary I've ever listened to, I tended to just listen to comedy movie commentaries. Movies in which people around here might go, "why would I ever listen to that commentary?". Just a few I remember off the top of my head:
The Cable Guy - with commentary by Ben Stiller (director), Judd Apatow (producer) and Jim Carrey, this is of note because I believe this is the *only* movie Jim Carrey has ever done commentary on. He's a weird guy. And it's pretty entertaining. Also, this is one of the most underrated comedies of all time.
Tropic Thunder commentary (with Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Robert Downey Jr) is also very good and very funny, which is great because it features Robert Downey Jr still in character as the Australian guy who had cosmetic surgery to be black.
Cannibal the Musical is a great obscure commentary track, which if you're unfamiliar, was the movie Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park made while they were students at University of Colorado. They recorded the commentary years later, after they became famous, and proceed to get drunk throughout the track and Trey Parker eventually starts weeping over his ex-girlfriend. Orgazmo is another good commentary track in the same vein, because I think Cannibal and Orgazmo are the only two feature length projects Parker and Stone have ever done commentary for. Long story short, if you're fascinated by the (mostly hidden) lives of Parker and Stone, these are great listens.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - I know I listened to this once, years ago, and I barely remember what they actually said on it, but there is a commentary on the Criterion Collection DVD with Hunter S. Thompson being asked questions by Terry Gilliam for two hours. I remember it having some nice crazy moments. Thompson yells incoherent babble loudly out of nowhere a handful of times.
Evil Dead 2 also has some good informative filmmaking commentary (from Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell) about making a low budget horror movie. So does Cabin Fever, with Eli Roth. That's the one and only time I've ever listened to an Eli Roth commentary, though. I swear!
That's all I can remember!
Scott, you bring up a good point. I thought UHF is a funny movie and if you haven't seen it be sure to watch it late at night when you are a little tired and things are even funnier. Weird Al's commentary is really funny. There is an ad for a place called Spatula City in the movie. There is a scene with a family driving past a Spatula City billboard. To film it they placed an ad on a real billboard. The billboard company wasn't able to sell that board so the Spatula City ad stayed up for months. I guess people would get off on the next exit to find the place that was just a joke.
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[Scott Roberts] "outside of The Lord of the Rings extended trilogy, which was easily the most informative 11 hour commentary I've ever listened to"
Dude, you blew through one of the most important achievements in film history two dependent clauses. 😂 This has to be shouted from the highest mountaintops: as remarkable as the films in that trilogy are, the commentaries are maybe even better.
To be specific, three of the four commentaries. The track with Peter Jackson, co-writer/producer Fran Walsh and co-writer Philippa Boyens is the best insight into the process of adaptation and direction that you'll ever encounter. Jackson certainly covers a lot of other ground, including actors, logistics, VFX, and especially art design (perhaps my favorite aspect of this), and Fran Walsh is certainly right there with him. It's clear that she had a MASSIVE role in shaping all of these decisions, but it's quite remarkable to hear them and Philippa (the Keeper of the Flame of Tolkien) talk about the whole enterprise in the context of a broader understanding of literature.
But here are two more that are nearly every bit as priceless:
Audio Commentary 2: The Design Team
Richard Taylor (WETA Workshop Creative Supervisor)
Tania Rodger (WETA Workshop Manager)
Grant Major (Production Designer)
Ngila Dickson (Costume Designer)
Alan Lee (Conceptual Designer)
John Howe (Conceptual Designer)
Dan Hennah (Supervising Art Director/Set Decorator)
Chris Hennah (Art Department Manager)
Audio Commentary 3: The Production/Post-Production Team
Barrie Osborne (Producer)
Mark Ordesky (Executive Producer)
Andrew Lesnie (Director of Photography)
Mike Horton and Jabez Olssen (Editors)
Rick Porras (Co-Producer)
Howard Shore (Composer)
Jim Rygiel (Visual Effects Supervisor)
Joe Letteri (WETA Digital Effects Supervisor)
Ethan Van der Ryn (Supervising Sound Editor/Co-Designer)
Mike Hopkins (Supervising Sound Editor)
Randy Cook (WETA Animation Designer & Supervisor)
Christian Rivers (WETA VFX Art Director)
Brian Van't Hull (WETA VFX Cinematographer)
Alex Funke (Miniatures Director of Photography)
The actor's commentary for Fellowship of the Ring is okaaaay, but really, they were kind of winging it, and it showed. They get stale fast, imo.
In a way, it's not even fair to call these "Director's Commentaries", since obviously so many more people participate, but here's the process we undertook:
1) Watch the movies. The extended editions are ALL MUCH BETTER. This is ESPECIALLY true for the third movie, which was excruciatingly long in the theater, but still disjointed and clearly missing pieces. I found myself thinking, "omg, what have I do so wrong in my life to merit such punishment as this -- and I can't wait for the extended version so that I can finally enjoy it." 😂 Really truly would have been better as 2 movies imo. Anyway:
2) Director/writer/producer's commentary
3) Design commentary
4) Production/post commentary
5) Actor's commentary
6) Watch the 2 sets of appendices:
DISC 3: "From Book to Vision":
DISC 4: "From Vision to Reality":
7) WATCH THE MOVIE AGAIN.
We actually did this a number of times, with all three of the movies. The whole megillah is most rewarding with the first one, which, in a way, remains the most satisfying as a WHOLE movie, because the fellowship comes together. That said, my favorite part of the trilogy is in Rohan in the second movie, and the best BTS feature of all of them is in the one about the horses in the film series, with as many as 250 being used at a time for some scenes.
But even if you take the coward's way out and just watch Peter, Fran, and Philippa's commentary for Fellowship of the Rings, you'll have one of the most moving experiences of your movie-watching life, I guarantee. But please don't stop there!
I'll talk about my other favorites in a separate post. 😎
Howzabout commentaries NOT by the director. 😎 Roger Ebert did a half-dozen or so commentaries over his career, and I'll put his commentaries for Citizen Kane, Casablanca, and Dark City on any commentary fan's Must List.
I'll put Roger's Kane commentary on top of the list for any fan of film in general. Absolutely revelatory, and a delight.
Also, the Spinal Tap commentary performed in character by Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer is fantastic.
On to actual director's commentaries!
1) Encounters at the End of the World, Werner Herzog. You might think that a Werner Herzog documentary where he's speaking almost non-stop would be the LAST thing that needs commentary, but you'd be wrong. The only one of his films nominated for an Oscar, it's a real gem, one of my all-time favorites by anyone, but the commentary takes it to entirely different dimension. I can't recommend this highly enough. There are few directors who take directing more seriously, and themselves less seriously, than Herzog...although you could argue that he wields his self-deprecation like a weapon, which is part of what takes it to another dimension. In any case, his commentary is an example of death-defying artistry in itself.
2) Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola. For a long time, this is all we had on DVD, because Francis had blocked the distribution of Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, the documentary his wife Eleanor Coppola made during the production that I think is every bit as good as the original film. It's a little squirrely to hear Francis justify this during the Apocalypse Commentary (at least passive-aggressively), but given the grief that people laid at his feet during the production, its understandable. They really did descend into madness, and Coppola's commitment to finishing the film at all costs did indeed come at a heavy price. Your heart will be in your throat a couple of times when you listen to this.
3) El Mariachi, Robert Rodriguez. Now entered into legend as a film using only $7000 of its $9000 budget, raised almost entirely by Robert selling his body for medical science testing, the commentary is priceless. In fact, the commentary was so compelling, it led to a book! Rebel Without a Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker with $7,000 Became a H.... The commentary is more fun. It's a kick to see him point out how outlandish some of their workarounds were, and his glee at the film's continuity errors is infectious. It's easy to see how his enthusiasm, creativity, intelligence, and wit led to a major career after a debut that can only generously be called "inauspicious". 😂
4) Hot Fuzz, by Edgar Wright and Quentin Tarantino. Do I need to say anything more? Bring something to write with. They talk about a LOT of movies you're going to want to see.
5) Escape from New York, John Carpenter and Kurt Russell. Kurt is a GAS talking about movies. I've seen him at festivals doing stories and Q&A, too, and you should never pass up a chance to hear him do it.
6) The Island, by Michael Bay. An underrated pic by all involved (including actors Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson), but a lot of fun, and what can I say? A cracking good commentary from a fellow who loves making movies, whether or not you personally love most of them. 😂
7) Se7en, by David Fincher, et al.. I didn't put this one higher because I'm not nuts about the movie -- the only of Fincher's movies that's 100% satisfying to me is Fight Club -- but we're talking commentaries here, and Fincher, who's a true fan of commentaries, comes through with flying colors on FOUR of them:
1) Fincher with Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. What's not to love?
2) Fincher with Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker, film editor Richard Francis-Bruce, professor of film studies Richard Dyer, New Line Cinema's president of production Michael DeLuca
3) Fincher with DP Darius Khondji, production designer Arthur Max, professor of film studies Richard Dyer, editor Richard Francis-Bruce
4) Fincher with Sound designer Ren Klyce, composer Howard Shore, and Professor Dyer again.
These get (generally) progressively nerdier, but we're nerds, and there's lots to love here. Remarkably, I can only remember one story getting repeated, and it's in the first two commentaries, that Fincher overheard a woman at one of the screenings saying, "Whoever made this film should be shot." 😂
On one level of course, it's impossible to disagree with her. This movie is an abomination on a number of levels, hence me ranking this below Hot Fuzz and Michael Bay...but I think Fincher has an exceptional film mind, and recommend all four of these more highly than the movie itself, which, having said all that other stuff, I do not mean as faint praise at all.
I know that I'm going to be thinking of more of these, but for now, these are the ones at the top of my mind.
Great topic though! Everybody be sure to forward this thread to your nerd pals, and let's see how many others we can collect!
My favorite commentaries are from Spielberg. He really takes you inside the world of film and provides lots of interesting knowledge to the film buff.