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.