Best DVD commentaries?
January 29, 2013 5:01 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking of doing a free trial of Netflix's DVD program. I love listening to commentary tracks. What are some of your favorite commentaries on film/tv show dvds (specific seasons, please!)?

There are a couple questions on this already, but none I could find since 2008, so I think this warrants a re-ask.
posted by litnerd to Media & Arts (37 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
The Limey. The back-and-forth between the director and the screenwriter is really fun to listen to, because they so often disagree.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:20 AM on January 29, 2013

The Memento one is well known because it randomly picks one of four tracks for the final segment of the film.

I always enjoy commentaries from Joss Whedon and the casts of Arrested Development and Community.
posted by gerryblog at 5:20 AM on January 29, 2013

I might just be unlucky but the movies I get from Netflix always seem to be the stripped down versions with no extras. I'm not sure you can tell from their website what's on the DVD but just a datapoint to consider.
posted by victoriab at 5:27 AM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Seconding that Netflix DVDs are often just the movie. No commentaries or other special features.
posted by supercres at 5:28 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Joss Whedon tracks are good, he usually does the Buffy/Angel episodes he wrote and directed. Otherwise I love most of my favourite series with (sometimes multiple) commentaries for each episode, The Simpsons/Futurama, Freaks and Geeks, I seem to recall the Battlestar Galactica ones being decent...

And on preview seconding victoriab, don't count on getting stuff just for the commentary. Especially in recent years studios have been releasing bare-bones rental versions of movies to make purchasing more attractive. Not sure if that applies to TV shows.
posted by yellowbinder at 5:29 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not just commentaries, but all of the extras on the Breaking Bad season DVDs are really good. I'd say Season Three is when it gets really good, but then I haven't looked at the Season Four DVDs.
posted by Mothlight at 5:34 AM on January 29, 2013

The commentary tracks for The Simpsons are pretty entertaining/interesting (for about the first 7 seasons or so -especially the Conan O'Brien ones).
posted by littlesq at 5:51 AM on January 29, 2013

Response by poster: Very disappointed about this news re: bare-bones dvds! Surely earlier releases might not be this way...

Which Buffy/Angel commentaries specifically should I check out?
posted by litnerd at 5:59 AM on January 29, 2013

The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China, both of which consist of John Carpenter and Kurt Russell getting uber-stoned and shooting the shit. Mostly about the movie, or at least about Hollwood. Ghosts of Mars is in the same boat but with Natasha Henstridge, who doesn't get (audibly) high with him.


The various Lord of the Rings movieses

Frank Herbert's Dune (ie, the miniseries on SciFi from ~2000, not the David Lynch movie)

The Black Hawk Down commentary from some of the people involved (conspicuously excludes Somalians)

Terminator 2 (one of the few Cameron commentaries, w/ a writer. Highlight: "Wow, that effect of the helicopter flying under the overpass is great, how did you do that? We paid a guy to fly a helicopter under the overpass.")

Alien box set w/ "ensemble" commentaries -- not the first set, but I think everything after that has these commentaries
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:12 AM on January 29, 2013

For movies: two that I really liked - John Frankenheimer's commentary on Ronin - he walks through lighting, composition, editing of what you're looking at, all sorts of great director-type minutiae. Another great one is the commentary on Seven Samurai - several film scholars explain what we're looking at - historical framing of certain scenes, etc. Great stuff.
posted by jquinby at 6:15 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Speaking of "getting uber-stoned and shooting the shit," I cannot recommend enough the commentary track on the original Conan the Barbarian. Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Milius basically describe the movie in terms of swords, fighting, and laydeez.

"Then I break his arm. Just the pounding him in his head and then breaking his head. Now I'm enjoying it already." Gold.
posted by gone2croatan at 6:21 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed Julian Fellowes' commentary on the Gosford Park DVD; he talks about the story and script, but also about the research that went into building the upstairs/downstairs world of the manor house, explaining the intricacies of the social structure and whatnot.
posted by theatro at 6:24 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Roger Ebert's commentary on Citizen Kane.

(The "no extras" rental discs are usually for new/recent movies. Disney is particularly egregious here -- their discs have the extras menu but every item goes to a "buy the DVD or BluRay to enjoy this feature" page. Hrrumph.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 6:30 AM on January 29, 2013

Two stand-outs: Roger Ebert's running commentary on "Dark City," and "This is Spinal Tap," in which the band comments on the movie in-character.
posted by jbickers at 6:40 AM on January 29, 2013

I love Eugene Levy and Christopher Guest's commentaries on Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind.

There's a great commentary track on Ocean's 11 with Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, and Andy Garcia. Basically three guys who had a great time making a movie having a great time talking about making the movie. I don't know if the other Ocean's movies have similarly good tracks.

Oh, and the commentary track on The Mummy Returns was surprisingly good - pointed out lots of goofy things like how whenever the actors are outside in one scene it stops raining, but as soon as they get in a car or building it's raining again, because no one wanted to have to mess around with wet hair and clothes, and how whenever you see a flaming torch it's only onscreen for about three seconds because that's how long those torches can stay lit. I don't remember if I also liked the commentary for The Mummy.
posted by mskyle at 6:50 AM on January 29, 2013

All three Godfather movies with commentary by Coppola are fantastic, as is Apocalypse Now. (Commentary for Apocalypse now is only available in later versions, though.) Coppola is fascinating to listen to. He is very honest about the process of movie making, dealing with the studio, and the realities of getting the movie made. He is also very introspective and self-aware about his own failings, but overall you can tell from the minute he starts talking how passionate he is about his craft.

Also by Coppola: The Conversation is excellent with great commentary.
posted by The Deej at 6:53 AM on January 29, 2013

Definitely "This Is Spinal Tap". The members of the band complain about the hack job that Marty diBergi ("that's not even a real beard. It's fake. He wore a fake beard") did.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 6:53 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

There was a great post on the blue awhile back that linked to a site that reviews and comments on film commentary tracks. Lots of people commented in the thread with their own favorites as well.
posted by msbubbaclees at 7:00 AM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

The Futurama DVD commentaries are pretty great (at least through season 5; dunno about later ones). David X Cohen really loved that show, and it comes through in his commentaries!
posted by barnacles at 7:14 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Three commentary tracks that immediately spring to mind all involve Soderbergh:

Schizopolis: Soderbergh interviews himself for the commentary.

Solaris: Soderbergh battles with producer James Cameron, and while things are generally cordial, you get a good sense of the tension between the two. Apparently, Cameron wanted a very different film (more explosions! more guns!) than what was made, and Soderbergh had to fight tooth and nail to make the film he wanted to make.

Catch-22: Director Mike Nichols and Soderbergh watch the film and just kinda have a dialogue about it. It feels very loose, and Soderbergh is quick to point out things that he really admired.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:42 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Last Starfighter has a commentary that is entertaining, but not great. It's basically Nick Castle (director) and Ron Cobb (production designer) reliving the movie, and towards the end, they're just saying the lines at the same time or a bit after the actors say them on screen. Film School Rejects suggest "clocking out around the 50-minute mark and then jump back in for the ending credits" because of that.

Time Bandits commentary sucked me and my friend back into the movie, even though we had just watched it for the first time, and it was already midnight when the movie ended. We thought "let's see what the commentary is like," and an hour later we realized we should go to bed. It's really interesting, talking about a TON of little details that you can easily miss, making us appreciate the movie even more.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:54 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

And if Netflix fails you, you can always check your local library. They tend to carry retail DVDs, so you won't get those annoying "buy the DVD/BluRay for extra features."
posted by filthy light thief at 7:56 AM on January 29, 2013

The Futurama DVD commentaries are pretty great (at least through season 5; dunno about later ones). David X Cohen really loved that show, and it comes through in his commentaries!

Seconding this.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:59 AM on January 29, 2013

The Criterion Collection has a reputation for excellent commentary. Doing a search for "Criterion" on Netflix gives you a decent list of films to choose from.
posted by 1367 at 8:35 AM on January 29, 2013

John Waters' commentary tracks on his own films are absolutely HILARIOUS.
posted by mdrew at 8:37 AM on January 29, 2013

I love Roger Moore's commentaries on the Ultimate Editions of his Bond films. It's very much like watching the film with him, while he natters on about things related to the film and not. The best moment is in "Octopussy" (possibly the only time that sentence has ever been written) when he's in the middle of an old actor's war story and the on-screen action makes him crack up.
posted by Devoidoid at 8:53 AM on January 29, 2013

The AV Club's Commentary Tracks of the Blessed.

tl;dr - Starship Troopers, Knightriders, Rounders, Almost Famous (Director's Cut), The Mack, Myra Breckenridge, Once Upon A Time in China, Sunday in the Park with George, Schizopolis.

I can personally vouch for Almost Famous. Best moment is possibly during the scene based on how Cameron Crowe lost his virginity, because his mother is also on the commentary.

I'm also partial to the commentary on Before Night Falls.
posted by Peevish at 9:27 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Pardon my self-linkage, but when I saw some shows with good commentaries, I posted quotes from them.

* The Lost episode, "A Tale Of Two Cities."
* Any Deadwood commentaries that Timothy Olyphant did.
* Talladega Nights.
* The entire DVD set of "Highlander: The Raven."
* Highlander, "Comes A Horseman," the funniest commentary I have ever heard to this day.

And I can say from recent watching that the TV show Haven has a lot of commentaries that are well done. Almost every episode in season 1 so far has them.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:30 AM on January 29, 2013

Incident at Loch Ness
posted by palegirl at 10:14 AM on January 29, 2013

As far as I can tell from the website, the "Other features" section of the DVD details page might be the key (and paying attention to audio tracks listed?). One example: Pitch Perfect's Amazon page lists two commentary tracks, while the Netflix page does not list them as features.

Regarding the original question, I'm seconding the Freaks and Geeks commentaries (for every episode!) (sometimes two!!), if you're into that show. Also, the commentary track on Temple Grandin with Temple herself was pretty excellent (and I did get it from Netflix).
posted by pitrified at 10:25 AM on January 29, 2013

If you're fan of the Coen brothers, the Blood Simple DVD (the 2001 release) has a hilarious mock commentary by "Kenneth Loring," allegedly the artistic director of "Forever Young Films" (actually a voice actor scripted by the Coens), who basically spews a bunch of intelligent-sounding BS through the entire thing. A great parody of bad commentary tracks.

Another offbeat one you might enjoy is for Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, which, along with a more conventional (and entertaining) cast-n-crew commentary, offers "Commentary! The Musical" which is, as you might guess, a musical commentary.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 12:18 PM on January 29, 2013

Infamous, the Truman Capote movie. We liked the movie but absolutely loved the director's commentary. Conan the Barbarian (the Arnold version) is pretty terrific as well - he and John Milius start throwing them back. "He fell in da soup!"
posted by Atom12 at 1:51 PM on January 29, 2013

The commentary for Atonement made me like the movie even more. Less about plot and more about film making than a lot of commentaries.
posted by Sukey Says at 5:06 PM on January 29, 2013

short but hilarious dept.:

the commentary for "dodgeball" is very funny, you can tell they sat down together for a few minutes before they started, came up with an idea to make the commentary funny, then ran with it.

on the commentary for "seeking a friend for the end of the world", patton oswalt shows up for about the first 40 minutes and just riffs his way through it with the other cast - he is clearly a guy who is just funny all the time.

RZA joins the commentary track on my friends copy of "enter the 36 chambers" and it is awesome.
posted by messiahwannabe at 9:50 PM on January 29, 2013

Best answer: Website has a commentary section, if you don't mind listening to the audio without watching the source material.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:50 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Rate That Commentary does what it says on the tin, and tells you where to find specific commentary tracks.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:03 PM on September 17, 2013

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