While most people buy a DVD or Blu-ray and first watch the movie, some go straight for the commentaries. This may sound strange to you, but once you start listening to the directors, actors, and producers speak about their film, you get a chance to not only learn about the filmmaking process, but have a few laughs as well.
Considering many of you may be in the dark about this wonderful gem hidden in the depths (just change the audio track) of your DVD or Blu-ray, I’m here to enlighten you as you continue on your path of movie-watching greatness. So, let’s take a look at my ten favorite commentary tracks that I think you have to hear.
10) Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Brad Pitt – Ocean’s 11
What makes this commentary special is Brad Pitt’s undying desire to embarrass George Clooney. But there’s a good chunk of inside info the guys share in conversation like cut dialogue, homages to other films, and co-stars’ on-set personalities. What’s nice is they talk a good bit, but not so much you never hear anything from the actual movie itself. You feel like you are actually just watching the movie with some cool actors, instead of being told what you should know. Check out some snippets of Pitt’s Clooney-bashing, starting with the very first lines of the entire commentary track:
“I’d just like to say this is the greatest movie I’ve ever seen, even with Clooney.”
“The whole opening shot stays on our hero, Clooney. If you can call Clooney a hero.”
“George is a natural leader. Works so well here. Charismatic with the speeches. I’d buy his religion.”
Matt Damon provides most of the information worth sharing about the film and has a great eye for content and creativity. It’s clear he started as a film lover and not just an actor. Damon’s critique of the performances and what director Steven Soderbergh aimed to accomplish is the most respectable aspect of the commentary.
9) Zack Snyder – Watchmen
The reason this is “all the way down” at #9 is because it is only available on Blu-ray and I have been informed by top secret sources that not everybody has a Blu-ray player (it’s worth it). Having said that, Zack Snyder’s “In-Movie Experience” commentary is one of the most unique and in-depth looks at a movie ever made. I’ll let the director speak for it by quoting his introduction over the film’s opening credits just moments after walking into frame.
“Hi, I’m Zach Snyder, director of Watchmen, and I wanted to welcome you to this ultimate movie experience on Blu-ray. Some of the things you’re going to see are director walk-ons like this, picture-in-picture video with perspective on the film from cast and crew, as well as comic comparisons where we compare frames from the graphic novel to frames from the movie. There’s also a timeline that shows the difference between our world and the Watchmen world. Oh yeah, there’s focus point video, which is super cool and stills galleries with behind the scenes images and artwork, plus you can also see my storyboards. So all that’s left for you to do now is sit back and enjoy it.”
Will do, Zack. Thanks. Just after he finishes, the minimized box with the actual movie enlarges to full screen. From time to time, Snyder returns with more information, but a majority of the features embed themselves in the film. Snyder is ridiculously informative and opens up the entire production to the fans, creating yet another way to experience Watchmen. We warned you of this awesomeness just over a year ago, so don’t act so surprised.
8 ) Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer, Michael McKean – This Is Spinal Tap
On the DVD, viewers are granted the second best in-character commentary ever made. Only this time, everybody is in-character. On one hand, that is fantastic and endlessly hilarious. I actually think it’s better than the movie itself most of the time. But it also provides absolutely no information of the filmmaking process or anything close to it. It is quite simply the characters in the mockumentary watching the mockumentary.
You essentially get a sequel starring Nigel Tufnel, David St. Hubbins, and Derek Smalls, portrayed by the actual men listed up top. Instead of talking movies, the rockers constantly argue and discuss moments shown in the film. But the best parts are when they accuse director Marti DiBergi (Rob Reiner) of making them look bad because he couldn’t be one of them. IMDb even quoted part of it:
Derek Smalls: He doesn’t look Italian, does he?
Nigel Tufnel: I think his real last name is DiBergarmo.
David St. Hubbins: No!
Derek Smalls: No, his real last name is DiBergowitz
Nigel Tufnel: Yeah! DiBergowitz
David St. Hubbins: No! He’s like one of those…
Derek Smalls: Yeah, he is one of those. Check it out: DiBergowitz!
7) Francis Ford Coppola – Apocalypse Now
Much of what you may know about Apocalypse Now has either come from the Hearts of Darkness documentary on the film’s process or this commentary. Right off the bat, Coppola gets into describing the creation of his Vietnam epic. He goes on to describe how the opening sequence was an accident and consisted of unused footage.
This is basically the same as the amazing Hearts of Darkness, but over the film itself. If you haven’t seen the documentary, it’s worth a look, and some redundant info shouldn’t go without mentioning. For instance, Francis Ford Coppola talks about how he let Martin Sheen continue during the hotel room scene even though the actor seriously cut his hand. If there is one fault, it is the inability for the eccentric director to stop talking and enjoy at least one full moment in the film.
6) Philosophers, Critics – The Matrix Trilogy
The Ultimate Matrix Collection is the most comprehensive assembly of information and footage of any home video release. Amongst all the awesome features are two commentary tracks on each of the films of the trilogy. One is from a pair of philosophers (Dr. Cornel West and Ken Wilber) and the other from three critics (Todd McCarthy, John Powers, David Thompson).
What’s nice is the difference between both commentary tracks. While the philosophers gush over every aspect of the trilogy, even when you know they should back off, the critics have a much more visceral eye for content. I’m not amongst those who think Reloaded and Revolutions are wasted films. In fact, I like them, just not as much as the first, which is tough to beat.
The philosophers give an unprecedented discussion on the meaning of every moment in the films and while sometimes it can get wordy, they are easy to follow. The critics do what critics do; they talk. There is a heck of a lot of criticism, but it all sounds justified and they know how to defend a point. It’s worth a listen, especially after the philosophers.
5) Ridley Scott, Russell Crowe – Gladiator
I should start off by letting you know Gladiator is my favorite film of all time. Regardless of that, the commentary here is profoundly informative and instructive. On the extended DVD release and the Sapphire Series Blu-ray, Ridley Scott explores his creative process while Russell Crowe plays the comedic relief. But instead of just being funny, Crowe does most of the talking. He shares on-set stories and points out mistakes for the public to know.
You hear a lot about Crowe being a terror on film sets, but from all the outtakes and documentaries and commentaries I’ve heard him on, the man seems like a cool guy. The commentary is laid back, but gets into the grit of filming on location and in the heat of Europe. There are plenty of memorable snippets and the comedic aspect keeps it well-rounded and lively.
The two teamed up again for Robin Hood, which releases May 14, 2010.
4) Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Milius – Conan the Barbarian
“I was getting laid a lot in this movie, ah? It was amazing.”
You may be wondering how Conan the Barbarian made this list. Well, you’re just going to have to trust me. This is the second funniest commentary you’ll ever hear. And it’s hardly on purpose. Not only does Arnold Schwarzenegger’s voice always evoke laughter from me, but he may very well be on some drugs. The first lines of this commentary provide reason enough to give this DVD a chance. There’s even a drinking game to enjoy throughout. I actually bought it solely for the director and actor audio track. If buying it isn’t part of your idea of a good time, simply watch this collection of moments:
3) Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens – Lord of the Rings trilogy
The director and two producer/writers keep the energy bearable and the information fascinating over 683 minutes of the trilogy discussing the incredible five-year production. From selling the scripts to casting decisions, a 15-month shoot to revolutionizing the art of motion capture, and a handful of visual effects discussions, these three know everything you need to know about the fantasy tale. And I mean everything.
While The Matrix provides the most comprehensive special features in a box set to date, this commentary is the most all-inclusive in its own right. And it would make sense for one of the most cherished and important film franchises ever.
2) Quentin Tarantino – True Romance
Some people like to give Quentin Tarantino a tough time for his eccentricity and hyperactive nerd personality. Personally, I think he is the most entertaining and knowledgeable person in the entire entertainment industry. When you listen to him talk movies, there is no way to get distracted. He requires complete focus and intent to learn when he speaks. Naturally, when Tarantino talks throughout a film he wrote, you’re going to get a lot of good stuff.
Not only is he one of the most proud filmmakers out there, but this is (at the time of recording) his own best work. During the famous Christopher Walken/Dennis Hopper conversation scene, he goes off about how that story came about and why it is so great. he then proceeds to stop talking and watch the scene.
According to Tarantino, this is the most personal script he wrote. There is more of him in it than any other he wrote and he would have sold it for the lowest possible amount just to prove to himself he was a real writer. It’s fascinating to listen to one of the most impressive and enjoyable filmmakers gush about himself only moments after bashing his ability.
1) Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black, Ben Stiller- Tropic Thunder
There is just no question about it, this is the greatest commentary track ever recorded. Not only does director/actor Ben Stiller provide a heavy amount of detailed information on the production, but Jack Black acts as the ball bouncing back and forth between informative and comedic.
Most importantly, Robert Downey Jr. provides a second act to his performance as Sgt. Lincoln Osiris that puts the This Is Spinal Tap commentary in the gutter. Downey constantly refers to situations on set as the actor playing the dude disguised as the other dude, staying true to that acting dude’s in-movie remark that he doesn’t drop character until after the DVD commentary.
I laughed quite a lot in the actual movie, but the laughter was almost non-stop in the commentary, ultimately leading to watery eyes and a confused neighbor who knocked on my door asking what’s so funny. If you still need a reason to rent or buy Tropic Thunder, the commentary is absolutely it.
Well, that’s it. Hopefully one of these will get you to the store and buying a new DVD or maybe searching through some you already own. Have you got any favorite DVD commentaries? Disagree with the list above? Let us know in the comments section below.