If you have even the slightest interest in films or TV programmes, it's likely that you'll receive at least one DVD this Christmas. And if on Boxing Day you find yourself overindulging in Christmas treats and watching said DVD, chances are your unwillingness to get up and turn it off will have you turning your attention to the commentary track. Although most people don't take the time to watch them, DVD commentaries can offer a fascinating insight into the production of a film or television series. However, in the wrong hand they can be unintentionally hilarious and sometimes just woefully bad.
By the wrong hands, I’m of course talking about the hands of California’s first ironically elected governor, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Recently, a YouTube video of highlights from Arnie’s audio commentary for Total Recall went viral. Seemingly confused by the concept of what a DVD commentary is, Schwarzenegger spends much of the video narrating what’s happening on screen.
If you enjoyed that clip, you’ll be pleased to hear that this isn’t his only DVD commentary. Arnie previously provided a similarly hilarious DVD commentary for Conan The Barbarian in which he struggled to contain himself after watching one character get violently booted in the nuts. “HA HA HA HA! HA HA HA HA! I forgot about dat!” he bellows, prompting his co-commentator (director John Milius) to muster an awkward courtesy laugh. “HAHAHA! Dat is funny!”
Arnie commentaries have inspired me to look at some of the best and worst DVD commentaries out there, starting with some of the worst/most baffling ones.
In the commentary for his film Outlaw, director Nick Love passionately expresses the insane belief that the film was met with a hostile reception due to the fact that the general public simply couldn’t grasp some of the film’s intellectual ideas. “It’s intricate,” he claims. “You’ve really got to study the film to keep up with it.”
Actor Danny Dyer, who also provides commentary, agrees, suggesting that the film requires multiple viewings before you can truly unwrap its rich tapestry. “Okay, there’s violence in it, but we’re doin’ proper stories and fuckin’ lives --“
Yes, proper stories. Outlaw is a film full of proper stories. All the stories, all the lives – they’re all in there! And much like a fine wine, the film matures well with age. Except, it’s not a wine because that would be poncey. It’s more like a fine bottle of White Ace – primarily enjoyed by bored, drunken teenagers and sociopaths.
Anyway, Love doesn’t really care if the public gets it or not. After all, some critics slated Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver when it was released. “1976 Taxi Driver came out -- got cunted,” he claims, as if he hasn’t just created a new word.
Love and Dyer then close the commentary by expressing their heterosexual love for each other, like two homophobes attempting to supress their hidden homocuriousity by bellowing “POWER!” during intercourse. “Love ya to death, son,” says Love. “Goodnight cunt!”
Twilight raised many troubling questions that, frankly, I wanted answering. But unfortunately, the Twilight DVD commentary is less about Twilight the movie and more an excuse to cram as much Robert Pattinson on the DVD as possible. Conversation occasionally trickles away, presumably because the commentators have forgotten what they were supposed to be talking about, or it simply collapses into weird, awkward laughing.
When the film is discussed, it rarely goes beyond what clothes the cast are wearing in various scenes.
Guy Ritchie is an artist, a visionary – a conjurer of profound ideas. Picasso chose to paint, Hemmingway chose to write and Ritchie chose to make Revolver, a psychologically charged tale of suspense, mystery and chess.
“One of my metaphors here is that, essentially, life is a chessboard,” Ritchie explains in his commentary for the film. “Everything's chess, chess is everything. I’ll talk more about the chessboard as we go along.”
And talk he does! "If you're in a game the game just keeps revolving,” he says nonchalantly, apparently unaware of how ridiculous he sounds, “until you realise that you're actually in a game, and then maybe you will start evolving."
This Is Spinal Tap
Actors Michael McKean (David St. Hubbins), Christopher Guest (Nigel Tufnel), and Harry Shearer (Derek Smalls), provide a hilarious in-character commentary about their experiences as documentary subjects in 1984’s This Is Spinal Tap. Highly recommended for fans of the film; the actors’ improvisational skills make this one hilarious commentary from start to finish.
Evil Dead II
A very funny, informative commentary, featuring director Sam Raimi and actor Bruce Campbell, this one does a great job at explaining what went into the making of the movie and some really great anecdotes are shared. Campbell is the main speaker here, and anybody who's read his book If Chins Could Kill will know how engaging he can be. Raimi expresses a few regrets about the film, having moved onto much more mainstream movies (most notable the Spider-Man movies), but his commentary is very tongue-in-cheek.
Mystery Science Theatre 3000 / RiffTrax
Comedy central’s Mystery Science Theatre 3000 (MST3K to fans) may have inadvertently helped to create the concept of DVD commentary back in the early 1990s. The show’s premise: a man and his two robot sidekicks are forced to watch bad low-budget B-movies. To keep their sanity, the characters provide a running commentary on the movies, making jokes about the events taking place on screen.
The makers of the MST3K now run RiffTrax, a website devoted to hilarious downloadable commentaries for films like Twilight, TheRoom and Roadhouse.
Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace
Similar in many ways to the Spinal Tap in-character commentary, the Darkplace commentary is almost as much fun as the actual show. Taking place in the present day, fictional actors Garth Marenghi, Dean Learner and Todd Rivers discuss the programme in typical Darkplace fashion and shed light on Todd Rivers’ fall from grace and subsequent drinking problem.
Various writers, animation directors, voice actors and guest stars provide their commentary on all of the classic episodes. These funny commentaries provide a fascinating insight into how a primetime animated show is made and is perfect for fans of the show, comedy writers, animators and anybody interested in how animated or comedy shows are made.
Also check out the similarly great Futurama commentaries.
Freaks & Geeks
Difficult to track down for UK audiences, but well worth the trouble, Freaks & Geeks is one of the finest teen TV shows ever produced, notable for giving rise to former Larry Sanders-writer Judd Apatow, and actors Seth Rogen, Jason Segal and James Franco. The excellent multiple commentaries make the DVD an absolute gem for fans.
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