Sunday, December 11, 2005

DVD Extras

When I first hooked up our DVD player, I was giddy with anticipation. I'd purchased The Filth & The Fury: A Sex Pistols Film - the latest flick to tickle my brain - and was keen to tap into all the extras listed on the menu.

Everyone with a DVD player already knows the end of this particular story: BE SURE TO DRINK YOUR OVALTINE. The extras were a soul-draining waste of my time, especially the director's commentary, which was pedestrian ("What I was trying to do was capture...") and repetitious. This was a terrible let-down: the film is energetic, beguiling, thrilling and repulsive, confused in its messages, but resolute in its passion ... pretty much like the punk scene itself. When I saw it for the first time, it was as if I'd seen punk for the first time. It brought back a host of memories of that era, and served as the mythical flight to London that all the cool kids at Pyramid Records were hoping to score. The extras, on the other hand, actually detracted from the experience. (For the record, I wasn't much of a punk. I hung around the fringes with my mullet, my second-hand clothes and my wrap-around sunglasses, but the truth is I preferred the cheerful vapidity of The Knack to the spittle of The Sex Pistols).

Consequently, it's a rare DVD package that can entice me to tap into its extra features. I keep my ear to the ground, and if someone recommends an extra I'll give it a look. Ron Howard's Cinderella Man has one such feature: a bit of informed musing from Norman Mailer, following three rounds of the actual Braddock/Baer fight. Several revelations shine through in the black & white footage. Baer lopes into the ring, and the first thing you notice is the bright Star of David stitched onto his trunks. Clearly, staying true to this particular historical detail would have added a complexity to the film that Howard was not prepared to explore. Also, the final round isn't as dramatically compelling as the movie makes it - you've basically got two big louts, spent and ineffectual, propping each other up. And Mailer remains a lucid commentator on "the sweet science".

For my money, though, the extras that have entertained me most are the ones that come with the Star Trek movies (the "special editions" are absolutely loaded with goodies). Since I'm a Trekkie, and most people aren't, here are some highlights.

Commentary by Nicholas Meyer. Meyer directed ST2: The Wrath of Khan and ST6: The Undiscovered Country. Khan is generally considered the best of the ST movies, a stature I'll reluctantly concede. I was thrilled with it at the time of its release, but 20 years later, it's an unmistakable platter of ham. Meyer doesn't see it that way, though. He seems content with what he accomplished on an astonishingly tight budget, and he offers insight (working with Shatner is a bit of a trick, he says, because Shatner is intent on being The Actor of every scene he's in. Thankfully, says Meyer, Shatner also gets bored quickly, so Meyer's strategy was to do the scene four or five times until Shatner got played out, then film it on the sixth. What treasures were lost in the first take? The mind reels!) and dish (that really is Ricardo Montalban's chest on display).

His commentary on ST6 doesn't have quite the same novelty. He is joined by writer Denny Martin Flinn, who makes it clear why Meyer thinks he was so well-suited to the task of writing for Star Trek: Flinn glad-hands Meyer every chance he gets. Flinn does make some astute comments though, and quite rightly credits Meyer for saving the franchise. ST1 all but tanked at the box-office, for clothing the Enterprise crew in flannel PJs and then putting the audience to sleep. Unfortunately, this hewed all too closely to creator Gene Roddenberry's vision of Star Trek. Meyer re-introduced martial themes, conflict, and genuine energy to the mix, and - viola - the franchise got legs. (25 years later those legs have buckled, but that's another story.)

Those are some of my favourite extras. Any you'd like to share?


DarkoV said...

Jerry Seinfeld's "The Comedian". This movie is pure acid test. You'll love it or you'll hate it.
Once you've crossed that first hurdle and opted to watch the whole movie, the bonuses are almost better than the movie.
1) Running commentary by Colin Quinn and Seinfeld druing the film. Side jokes are absolutely hilarious; Quinn's especially so.
2) Deleted scenes, especially Seinfeld's description of how he weans a joke along.
3) Jimmy Glick's "interviews" with Seinfled.

But a warning, if you don't like the movie, the extras will just make you a bigger sourpuss.

Whisky Prajer said...

I'm certainly in the "love it" category, but hadn't given the bonuses any consideration. Sounds very good, indeed.

Bleak Mouse said...

I generally avoid any and all extras, which run to tedium, inanity, and vacuous preening -- and I'm especially wary of those "two-disc collectors' editions" that include alternate endings, the released version, the often ill-advised "director's cut" (they pay editors for these things for a reason), the "unrated" version, a documentary or two, interviews with everyone from ex-lovers to caterers, and voiceover commentaries reiterating the painfully obvious -- "Here's the big explosion scene" -- to the useless -- "She wouldn't get into the hot tub unless we went out for hemhorroid cream." I like previews, though -- expecially of coming attractions of movies you really won't need to see, because the preview IS the best cut.

The best recent extras I've enjoyed have been copmmentaries. Tim Lucas's well-prepared(!) and nicely-delivered(!) remarks bring remarkable (if not entirely plausible) depth to the Italian B-classic, Black Sunday. And the commentary tracks for the films in the recently-released Val Lewton collection are actually interesting, with very little dead air and "um"s.

Worst commentary I've experienced recently was film critic Richard Schickel's for Fellini's La Dolce Vita. I'd thought to learn something, but as it turns out Mr Schickel has a keen sense of the obvious, and thinks it necessary to summarize the plot in detail to the film we've just watched. I could bear only to listen to maybe a half hour of his droning inconsequentiality before I just watched the movie again. The Criterion Collection gets $40. for this crap -- although they may have made up for it on the second disc, which I didn't see.

Does anyone remember the wag who renamed "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" on its release "Star Tek: The Motionless Picture"? It was all you needed to know.

Whisky Prajer said...

"Motionless" almost sounds like Kael in a very bad mood (that was the movie to do it, alright). I'm surprised at the pairing of Schickel and Fellini -- S. is not a man prone to either depth or whimsy (he's consistently raved about the films of Clint Eastwood, fer cryin' out loud!). Seems to me you'd need some capacity for both to do Fellini any sort of justice. But Black Sunday, Mr. Bleak? As always, you surprise.

Bleak Mouse said...

Oh, I have shallows yet unplumbed when it comes to B movies, especially but hardly confined to trashy horror.

Trent Reimer said...

In retrospect it makes one wonder what exactly it was we thought we might see in that shiny new "Extras" menu?

Note to producers: try inciting your egomaniac cast members against each other in a spontaneous bare knuckles match and then one or two cameras roll...

F.C. Bearded said...

The only DVD "extra" I've ever really enjoyed was the "Commentary" on "This is Spinal Tap", which is done completely in-character.

Whisky Prajer said...

TR - actually, the commentary to Stephen Soderbergh's The Limey comes pretty close. He and his writer take turns musing on the whole process, but it's clear from the very beginning the writer has a HUGE chip on his shoulder. SS is mostly bemused by this, but there are moments when the exchanges between them get amusingly tense.

FCB - Spinal Tap: Yes! It's almost the equivalent of watching a whole new Spinal Tap movie. Very funny.