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November 9, 2009 2:13 AM   Subscribe

Just curious: What DVD commentaries absolutely enhance the movie they're attached to?

Thanks for your concern, but I've already seen these two previouslys.

As an aspiring screenwriter (maybe, one day, filmmaker? -- but then, who isn't?), I'm particularly interested in the craft of storytelling and the art of filming (how shots are composed, chosen, etc.). So, while I can't lie that it's funny that X and Y tell hilarious jokes in Z's commentary, I'm more curious from a technical standpoint.

Since this was last done in 2004, maybe skewing this towards DVDs released since then would make this a more timely question, as well.

Thanks, MeFi <4
posted by the NATURAL to Media & Arts (30 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
i enjoyed the commentary for ocean's eleven
posted by edmcbride at 2:44 AM on November 9, 2009

Shortbus (or maybe it was a separate making-of track)
posted by acidic at 2:47 AM on November 9, 2009

Yeah, I'll ignore the previouslies as well, and just dump what I see on my shelves over there into the thread. Some overlap of course.

Most of those I like most are by the films' directors, which isn't very surprising I guess. Sidney Lumet's commentary to Dog Day Afternoon taught me many things, as did Coppola's talk over Godfather I and II, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner and Gilliam's 12 Monkeys. Scott also did a great Alien commentary. The Aliens one is a group effort by James Cameron and a whole lot of other people that's pretty interesting at times. Aronofsky's Pi includes a lot about lighting and framing, and his Requiem for a Dream commentary follows up on that with some neat cinematographic stories. There's another track with Hubert Selby Jr. that is pretty interesting as well.

Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie do a great tag-team on The Usual Suspects, which is often cited as a 'film class in a box'. Fincher's commentary on his Seven is similar.

I also love McQuarrie's commentary on Way of the Gun, especially since it came after the film was a giant box office disaster. McQuarrie spends half the running time talking about mistakes and regrets from directing his first film. He's pretty hard on himself, but it's still great commentary.

Roger Ebert did a couple of very nice ones on classic films before losing his voice. Casablanca and Citizen Kane are the only two I have handy, but I believe there are others, probably worth seeking out. I know William Goldman has done a few but I can't find them on my shelves now.

For odd but interesting, Apollo 13 has a commentary track by one of the real Apollo astronauts (I forget which) that is half testimony to the accuracy of the film's details and half amusing stories that didn't make the film. Not much about filmmaking in there, but fascinating anyway.

The Chinatown Special Anniversary release last month had some interesting new commentary tracks, including one by Robert Towne and David Fincher (sic) that was pretty interesting. Still on top of my TV.

The best DVD commentary of all time, of course, won't teach you anything about film at all. That's This is Spinal Tap, of course, which features a 'straight' commentary track from the actors and Rob Reiner, but also another from the band, done in character for the entire film (overall, they feel they have been unfairly represented).

Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer do a similar "we don't care what's on the screen, we have things we need to say" spin on the Venture Bros DVDs that force you to watch the damn episodes two or three times each. I can't wait to see what they do with the mindfuckery that was the Season 4 debut episode.
posted by rokusan at 3:02 AM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Emma Thompson's commentary on Sense and Sensibility is both very interesting and incredibly entertaining. It took her 4 years and 14 drafts to write the screenplay, for which she won an Oscar, and she discusses the many challenges of adapting the story for the screen. You both learn and laugh a lot.
posted by Kirjava at 3:09 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ebert did a commentary track on the original Dark City DVD that was excellent. The film itself is extraordinary, but the commentary somehow manages to make it even better.
posted by secret about box at 3:46 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oops, that was mentioned in both previous threads. My bad, yo. Still, it's something you should watch. He really dissects the film and its story.
posted by secret about box at 3:48 AM on November 9, 2009

The review of the Primer DVD says:

You may never read this again in any DVD review, but Carruth's solo director's commentary is far more interesting than the film itself. Talking a mile a minute, he gives a 77-minute MFA course in ultra-low-budget filmmaking ($7,000), probably the best such course since Robert Rodriguez wrote Rebel without a Crew about the making of El Mariachi. Humble, and eager to admit all the mistakes he made, Carruth points out every flaw and laughs at himself, an endearing characteristic in a man who is responsible for the entire film. Against what one might expect, Carruth is an engaging speaker, and he talks in fairly plain language. Any technical references are film-related, not engineering-related.
posted by Beautiful Screaming Lady at 4:07 AM on November 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

Stir of Echoes has a surprisingly entertaining and informative commentary from the director. Worth it for the safety pin explanation if nothing else.
posted by arruns at 4:30 AM on November 9, 2009

This is Spinal Tap...already hilarious, even more so with the commentary. Plus you realize things you might not have otherwise, like how Mike McKean is American even though he does a pitch-perfect accent
posted by randomstriker at 5:23 AM on November 9, 2009

Schizopolis is a movie that was written, directed and starred Steven Soderbergh that he made starring real life friends as the other characters. It's almost a metamovie at points that comments on it's own movieness and dialogue. The Criterion Collection DVD of the movie includes a commentary track where Steven Soderbergh interviews himself about the movie. I highly recommend it.
posted by jefeweiss at 5:46 AM on November 9, 2009

Hot Fuzz. For one of the commentary tracks, they have the Police consultants that checked the script for accuracy, who point out how the characters are following standard police procedure, life as a village constable, etc.

Once Were Warriors has an informative track by director Lee Tamahori where he goes into details about constructing the script, designing scenes, characters, etc. The best movie he's ever made, and it really shows the love he gave it.
posted by WhackyparseThis at 5:51 AM on November 9, 2009

Ronin has a fantastic John Frankenheimer audio soundtrack, and he spends nearly all of it talking about various technical things in the shots you're watching - lighting, interesting notes about the background players, where cuts are happening, stunt scenes, and so on.

The secondary track on the Criterion edition of Seven Samurai is also really good - lots of cultural notes, along with some technical stuff. Mostly cultural, though.
posted by jquinby at 5:53 AM on November 9, 2009

Hot Fuzz. For one of the commentary tracks

Just to note ya gots to get the BD or multi-dvd set to get these. If you pick up or rent the single-DVD US edition, you get only one commentary track (that repeatedly refers to the existence of the others -- let's talk about this interesting thing, no we'll do that on the other track).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:15 AM on November 9, 2009

The Blu-Ray for Crank 2 has a fantastic picture-in-picture video commentary with behind the scenes footage of how the each scene was filmed, running concurrently with the actual movie. You can hit a button on your remote to show full-screen commentary with p-i-p movie, or vice versa. Maybe not the best movie to be learning filmmaking skills from, but it's entertaining, and a fantastic use of Blu-Ray technology.
posted by Gortuk at 6:38 AM on November 9, 2009

Oliver Stone's "W" ... everything Stone says is interesting (on this movie)
posted by bunny hugger at 6:45 AM on November 9, 2009

Here is another thread about DVD commentaries from 2005.

Ridley Scott on Blade Runner and Tony Scott on Man on Fire are good. Also check out Michael Mann on Heat and Collateral.
posted by puritycontrol at 6:50 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

All of the Robert Rodriguez commentaries I have seen are really good, and he spends a lot of time talking about how and why he did things, both technically and "techniquely." He throws in the occasional funny story, but he mostly focuses on the craft.

I am pretty fond of the commentary track for Bones, an OK horror film staring Snoop Dogg. The track is very nice with the director and writer discussing what they were trying to do and what they thought worked and didn't. It is a great antidote for the idea that the creators of average product weren't trying -- these guys put a lot of thought and effort into the film, but the results are only so-so. Mr. Dogg is also on the track, but usually lost in thought rather than participating.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:00 AM on November 9, 2009

Thirteen Days, about the Cuban Missle Crisis has commentary two commentaries, one with the filmmakers that talks a lot about the effort to make things historically accurate, and another that is recorded interviews with JFK and Khrushchev's son and other historical figures discussing the actions that are being shown on screen. very interesting addition.

The Man Who Fell To Earth has interesting discussions about the meetings that resulted in the film being made, which I suppose are as much about the craft of filmmaking as discussion about lighting and angle techniques.

Network is the commentary for discussion about lighting techniques and a pretty interesting one at that.

Bubba Ho-Tep has a commentary track by Elvis, who is unhappy with how Bruce Campbell portrayed him in the film. He's also unsure why everyone thinks he's dead and gives old family recipes for Momma's PB&B sammiches.
posted by jrishel at 7:40 AM on November 9, 2009

Amelie has an interesting commentary, most of it details the obsessiveness of the director.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:03 AM on November 9, 2009

Just last night I enjoyed watching Sunshine with the commentary from Dr. Brian Cox from the University of Manchester. He worked as the primary science consultant for the movie and had some great insights about how physicists view life, the universe, and everything. I also enjoyed his explanations of the backstories of some of the characters and his admissions of the movie's scientific mistakes or dramatic fudgings. I haven't yet listened to the director's (Danny Boyle's) commentary on the same DVD, but in my opinion the movie's a technical work of art… so I expect that's pretty great too.

I've also heard that Hot Fuzz, as mentioned above has a pretty legendary commentary (it's also just a very well-made movie in general) but I have yet to hear it myself. It's on the list, so to speak.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 8:04 AM on November 9, 2009

The director's commentary for Flesh Gordon is hilarious and far far better than the film... it's basically him relating the amazing and scandalous story of how the film got made without much reference to what's on screen: "So then we all arrested, again... " "At this point we ran out of money so my wife went back to stripping... " "I decided to steal the negative...." "This is how we were ripped off out of an Oscar..."
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:08 AM on November 9, 2009

Another more recent previously
posted by sararah at 8:10 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

The absolute best commentary I've ever heard (and one that made the movie watchable) was for "Brother Bear"...
posted by jkaczor at 8:13 AM on November 9, 2009

John Carpenter and Kurt Russell's comments for The Thing are tremendously entertaining and informative. Totally worth it for the cackling at the "You've gotta be fucking kidding me" scene.
posted by Scoo at 8:24 AM on November 9, 2009

Haven't listened to the the commentary track on The Thing, but the commentary on Big Trouble in Little China was just Russell and Carpenter shooting the shit. At one point, they start talking about Carpenter's kid's soccer game. Not at all useful to an aspiring filmmaker.
posted by roger ackroyd at 8:50 AM on November 9, 2009

Stephen Prince's commentary for the OOP Criterion release of Straw Dogs is pretty mindblowing, especially after you've watched the film several times without it.
posted by Neilopolis at 9:45 AM on November 9, 2009

I have a copy of Conan the Barbarian with a totally awesome commentary including the Governator himself. Hilarious.
posted by Gainesvillain at 1:53 PM on November 9, 2009

For screenwriting, I'd recommend the Panic Room commentary with Koepp and William Goldman.

Also, email dobbs about the MP3 for the Criterion commentary for the Graduate that's mentioned in previous threads. I know he sent it to a few MeFites--I also heard it thanks to him. He thinks it's the best commentary ever and it's certainly one of my favorites.

Lem Dobbs does a commentary on Double Indemnity that's great but then everything that guy says is fascinating (he's on multiple commentaries on The Limey).

Also, the commentaries on Fight Club are interesting because it becomes painfully obvious to anyone who listens to the Fincher/Pitt/Norton commentary and the Pahlaniuk/Uhls commentary that Uhls didn't really write the script. FP&N make multiple allusions to writer Andrew Kevin Walker who apparently did an uncredited rewrite (he lost credit credit in arbitration) and Fincher makes up for it by noting that in the credits, three security guards in a row are named Andrew, Kevin, and Walker. Palahniuk repeatedly asks Uhls questions like, "how did you think of this?" and "why did you change this from the book?" and Uhls doesn't have a substantial answer to any of the questions: "Um... I don't really remember. I guess it just came to me. Heh."

Bruce Block also has a good commentary on The Apartment. He's written a few books about "visual filmmaking" and is also interviewed on the Graduate DVD.

I'll second the Straw Dogs commentary on the Criterion disc and add L'Avventura and the commentaries that Soderbergh does on non-Soderbergh films (Keane, Sea Biscuit, Point Blank, Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe).
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 8:28 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thirding Robert Rodriguez's stuff. Because he likes to talk about the craft itself and he tends to be very hands on in all aspects of film-making. So in a single DVD, he will talk about his experiences with lighting, sound, directing, editing, and camerawork all from a first person perspective.

He also usually includes a "10 minute film school" short on each of his DVDs which are revelatory to say the least.
posted by quin at 10:36 AM on November 10, 2009

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