WIT AND WISDOM (SORTA) FROM DVD COMMENTARIES
It Came From The Sound Booth
Article by Matteo Molinari
Don’t get me wrong: I love DVDs. I really do. I own a lot of them. And I mean a lot. And I love them all. Individually, one by one, as if they were my own children – well, all right, maybe not so much “Son of the Pink Panther”, but let’s not go there now. When I buy a new one, I tend to watch everything (but I have an excellent excuse: I am a sick idiot. There! Top that!), and to listen to everything – yes, I’m talking about the Audio Commentaries. Sometimes I wonder: Who does take the time out of their busy life to listen to people rambling on and on and on about something they don’t even seem to be interested in, to begin with? Well, me!
See, it’s appalling how members of a production who carefully planned a feature for months (if not years), trying to foresee every possible problem before the shooting began, and single-handedly brought the whole production to a successful conclusion, suddenly can’t scribble on a 3 x 5 card half a dozen bits of remotely interesting information, anecdotes or trivia about a movie they worked on for so long and apparently so passionately. Instead, they all turn into a mass of babbling klutzes with the I.Q. of a beet, who seem to have a gigantic problem in assembling two subject-verb-object sentences without using “you know,” “like,” and “I love.”
[Quick Digression: Before I go any further: there’s plenty of great Audio Commentaries, informative and entertaining. Roger Ebert’s; Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker’s; Frank Oz’s (all right, he slipped on “The Stepford Wives”, but even the best teachers might have a day off); Kevin Smith’s; “Weird Al” Yankovic and Jay Levey’s; all the Disney and/or Pixar animators’… The list goes on. Unfortunately, for every one good Audio Commentary, there are at least one hundred duds that are a humongous waste of time]
Aside from the value of the movie itself, did mankind as we know it really need two Commentaries for Jennifer Garner’s “13 Going on 30”? Since the director says on his track the same dull things that the three producers say on theirs, instead of two moronic Commentaries, why not team up and give us just a lame one?
Has anyone understood at least one tenth of what’s said during the Commentary of “You Got Served”? And, if anyone did, has their life changed?
Why four, count them, four Commentaries for “Hostel”? And six for “Fight Club”?
But allow me to present you a few samples of what goes on behind a microphone…
Let’s start with Angela Robinson, the writer-director-editor of “D.E.B.S.” (2004), who enlightens us at the very beginning of her Commentary with something we are now grateful to know: “All right, here’s the beginning of the movie.”
At the very beginning of the Commentary for “Snakes on a Train” (2006), Count Mallachi (one of the two alleged brothers-directors of this straight-to-video flick), graces us with this invaluable lesson of cinema: “During the first cut of the movie, which was a helluva lot longer than this 90 minutes version, this [scene] went on for… For quite a while, but now it’s shorter, so the end result is a shorter scene.”
Shawn Levy, the director of “Night at the Museum”, helps us navigate the features of the Digital Versatile Disc with a, “You’ll see some of the deleted scenes on the deleted-scenes section of the DVD.” Just in case you got lost, and you were trying to watch them using the “Rinse” button of your washing machine.
The Commentary to “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” (2004) is provided by actors Sienna Guillory, Oded Fehr and a very hungry Milla Jovovich. How can we tell that she’s hungry? Well… CRUNCH! “That’s still me eating the sandwich. That’s not actually happening in the movie. This whole scene is silent.” To which Sienna replies with a circumstantial, “Right.” And then she adds, “For tension, they decided to play this whole scene silently.” And Oded Fehr interjects with, “You know, we must be able to say a little more—” CRUNCH! “Sorry, that was just a really a good bite.” “––I’m saying we must be able to say more than just, ‘Eating a sandwich.’” At least he realized that.
Donna Arkoff Roth, Susan Arnold, and Gina Matthews, the producers of “13 Going on 30” (2004), on the importance of wardrobe at a young age:
“Maybe it was only me who stuffed their bra– Who didn’t stuff their bra?”
“I definitely stuffed my bra.”
“Donna, you didn’t?”
“I stuffed my bra.”
“Donna apparently didn’t need to.”
“I didn’t need to.”
“No, I bought– I wore a bra long before I needed to wear a bra.”
We interrupt this article for a pearl of acumen.
One of the silly and pointless extras for the silly and pointless movie “House of Wax” (2005) is a featurette that shows, on the bottom part of the screen, a series of images from the movie set that look like the video your drunk Uncle Roy shot at some distant relative’s wedding after quaffing a whole bottle of gin; and on the upper part of the screen is a couch with the Amiability Team itself! Four of the stars of the movie at their likeably best: Chad Michael Murray, Paris Hilton, Elisha Cuthbert and Jared Padalecki.
The affable quartet rambles on camera for some interminable 22 minutes, giving us at the same time a sublime lesson on how NOT to speak in public (especially when you’ve been taped), and how you would appear if ever forced on a couch with three people you apparently despise. The wisdom they share with us is priceless.
In this case, they give us a lesson in Special Effects:
“How are they turning on the lights?”
“Dude, they have those buttons outside.”
We now return to this article already in progress.
The Commentary of “Across the Universe” (2007) is voiced by Julie Taymor, the writer/director of the film, and Elliot Goldenthal, the composer of the original music. At the end of the song Come Together, the director tells us, “First time Jo-Jo sings.” [Jo-Jo was played by actor Martin Luther McCoy, by the way] And at the end of the song Oh, Darling, the director again tells us, “And now you hear Jo-Jo sing for the first time.” Hmm. Provocative. Was she even on the set when they were shooting the movie?
James Franco gives us a nice commentary for one of his first directorial efforts, “The Ape” (2005), beginning with a nice, “Hi, I’m – uh – James Franco, I directed this film and I play Harry Osborne and I’m here with–” He’s quickly interrupted and corrected by Vince Jolivette, the producer of the movie. “Harry… Walker.” You see, it was the wrong animal movie. James Franco played Harry Osborne in Spider-Man (2002).
CLARITY, THY NAME IS COMMENTARY
Sir Roger Moore opens his Commentary to “For Your Eyes Only” (1981) (and any other Bond Commentary he made, for all it matters) telling us exactly like it is: “During these commentaries, which I would rather look upon as a conversation rather than a commentary – a one-sided conversation, of course. You can’t answer back. But it’s not so much sort of what actually happened during the shooting of the film in a chronological order, because I quite honestly do not remember after this number of years that have passed since I made Bond.” Gotcha. Thanks.
Renny Harlin, in his Commentary for “The Covenant” (2006), explains that he shot some scenes early in preproduction “when I was trying to determine the look of the movie” that he wanted to make very dark. And he stresses that “I didn’t want it to look similar to all the other dark movies that we’ve seen over the years,” referring to that bluish glow that many horror-related movies tend to have. The solution? “I wanted to do a bleach-bypass process to the film. Which means that you basically develop the negative in a different way, and accentuate the silver tones in the film and desaturate the colors, and give it a more contrast and a little bit more grainy look.” Good idea, Renny. Original. But then he continues: “And there are lots of movies that have been done like this. Movies that Ridley Scott or Tony Scott or David Fincher have directed. So you’ve seen this look in other movies.” So… Uh… Does it or doesn’t it look similar to other movies? I’m confused.
Milla Jovovich, from “Ultraviolet” (2006), tells us something that… I’m not sure, I have the sneaky suspicion that it’s unbelievable – but I might be wrong. I’ve been before: “The architecture in Shanghai, which is where this scene is shot, is unbelievable. Like, you see the reflection up there of that building. It’s the business centre of Shanghai, and it’s unbelievable for their modern architecture. It’s just these buildings like you’ve never seen. I mean, it’s really something out of “Star Trek”. It’s unbelievable.” And yet, I believe it.
Granted, what would you expect from a show called “Weeds” (2006)? Anyways, during his Commentary for an episode, Craig X explains, “Yeah, I’ll tell you, the first time I made pot brownies, I was in college. I was growing some pot, allegedly, and I had a lot of shake that I decided to make into butter. And how you make medical marijuana edibles, you have to bake the pot into butter. Put it on a stove on a low flame until your butter turns really green for a long time. You strain out the weed product and you’re left with this stony green butter.” Bobby Flay, eat your heart out!
In “Ultraviolet” (2006), Milla Jovovich gives us some news about what Chinese stuntmen do that is different from American stuntmen: “It’s unbelievable. I mean, the stunt guys in China are… You don’t fool around with them. They’re for real. Like, they jump off buildings for real and stuff. It’s, like, no joke.” Why, do American stuntmen just pretend to jump off buildings?
Let’s go back to “D.E.B.S.” (2004) and its Commentary provided by actors Jordana Brewster, Jill Ritchie, Meagan Good, and Sara Foster. Why?, you may ask. Well, because it’s time for us to learn the difference between doing comedy and doing drama: “I just think it’s… You feel a lot more self-conscious when you’re supposed to be funny, because it’s, like, an instant response. It’s like you either completely hit or completely miss. If you’re doing drama, it’s more subjective, and someone can go: ‘Well, she was– I related to her.’ Someone else will think you suck for a completely different reason, but there’s more– But as long as it’s true to the heart, it’ll be okay. It is subjective.” Class dismissed.
Probably it’s better to be flat-out honest: in his bizarre beginning of the Commentary for “The Girl Next Door” (2004), director Luke Greenfield saves his behind by saying, “Hey, it’s Luke. Thanks for tuning in. You know, I’ve been excited to do this commentary for a long time now. And it kind of sucks because I have to do it a second time here in spots because I legally was not allowed to say certain things.”
From his commentary in “The Hidden” (1987), director Jack Sholder makes this peculiar comment, “And now the scene where they wake him up, this… This is—This is one of the hazards of low-budget filming, which is… It’s hard to get good, like, really minor characters, and… The fella who plays the doctor and the woman who plays the nurse are just atrociously bad actors, I mean, it’s like… Horribly B-type actors. At this point, whatever I was doing, I would not accept actors of that quality.” A comment like this would make an actor SAG — what an amazing and dreadful joke! [Oh, by the way: the actors he referred to are Marc Siegler and Charlene White]
Lorenzo Semple, Jr., in his Commentary for “Batman” (1966), talks about the stars of the movie, Adam West and Burt Ward. “Adam West was sensational. He really– He was– He was the part, inside to out. And he was a very– At the time, the series was so successful, it really—It’s hard to remember or believe, but he would be mobbed in the street when he went out. People would– Grown-ups and children would pop around him. And he was wonderful throughout. He gave autographs, he always retained his balance. He was a wonderful guy. Burt was, well, not quite that.”
Director Eli Roth of “Hostel: Part II” (2007), mentions a question that a lot of people allegedly keep on asking him, and then gives his answer: “They’d say, ‘How can you put such violence in a movie?’ I’d say, ‘How can you support the Bush administration who kills people in Iraq for oil, and Dick Cheney and Halliburton, all of his buddies, get rich off of it?’ And that’s effectively what “Hostel: Part II” is about. “Hostel: Part II” really is my disgust with the Bush administration with the fact that these oil guys are getting rich off the death of Americans. And you can see it. I mean, look at Hurricane Katrina. For five days, the U.S Government did nothing. I mean, nothing happened. What did Bush say? ‘We dodged a bullet’? I won’t turn this into Bush bashing, I don’t wanna make this political, but actually, Hostel: Part II is a very politically charged film. And these are things that I think of, and these are things that upset me.” I must have dozed off during the movie. I just thought that “Hostel: Part II” was the story of three female tourists who become the victims of rich, bored men. My obvious mistake.
Well, so far the list ends here. But there are A LOT of other Commentaries, and I don’t expect for you to listen to all of them. Me, on the other hand, I have a lot of free time in my hand – and I also have insomnia. Stay tuned.