We all know that one of the main reasons for buying a DVD is to listen to the commentaries. And we all know that most DVD commentaries are pretty much not worth listening to more than once. But occasionally you get some DVD commentaries that are almost as good as the movie itself. Heck, sometimes you come across one that’s actually better than the movie.
Such is the case with Brother Bear. Brother Bear is a Disney animated feature that is never going to be realistically included as part of their Masterpiece Collection. But then again, some non-masterpieces have slipped in. While Brother Bear is not as good as, say, Lilo & Stitch, it’s at least as entertaining Hercules and almost on the same level as The Emperor’s New Groove. Almost. But when it comes to the commentary, Brother Bear blows even The Lion King or The Little Mermaid away.
That’s because the commentary is done by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, who voice the two moose in the story. That alone would probably make for a good DVD commentary, but here’s the kicker. Moranis and Thomas voice the two moose by basically doing their Great White North characters from SCTV. And it is as the moose that they do commentary. It’s like a 90 minute long Bob and Doug MacKenzie sketch, eh. And it is hilarious. In fact, it’s so good that I recommend you watch it with the commentary first and then, if you’ve got time, watch the movie, you hoser.
Quite similar is the commentary for This is Spinal Tap. The commentary on this DVD is done in character by the actors who play the members of the band. Obviously, a movie like This is Spinal Tap, which was largely improvised, though probably not quite as much as the makers would have believe, has to have fodder for some interesting background information. But who cares when you’ve got Chris Guest, Harry Shearer and Michael McKean in character bashing the Rob Reiner character for doing a hatchet job on them. These two are shining examples of how creative commentaries can be.
But sometimes you just want to learn more about your favorite film. Unbelievably, it took 25 years for a DVD of Raging Bull actually worth purchasing to be released. Thankfully, it comes with a fascinating commentary featuring not only the once-great Martin Scorsese, but the most overlooked editor in film history, Thelma Schoonmaker. It is only apt that Schoonmaker join Scorsese in this DVD commentary since her editing is so instrumental to this film. Ironically, while Scorsese was overlooked for an Oscar for directing Raging Bull, Schoonmaker won for Best Editing. That director and editor worked so closely together is another indication of just how meaningless the Academy Awards are.
There are so many interesting bits of information provided by Scorsese and Schoonmaker during their commentary that you’ll want to go back and listen to it again. Anyone who has ever watched this film closely knows that the fight scenes contain almost subliminal sounds and images that heighten their meaning and the commentary provides a lot of insight into how they did the things they did.
Also featured on the special edition DVD of Raging Bull is a separate commentary track featuring several cast members, criminally underappreciated cinematographer Michael Chapman, and even more criminally overlooked sound effects editor Frank Warner. As if that weren’t enough, there is yet another commentary track featuring screenwriters Mardik Martin and Paul Schrader, along with the real life Jake LaMotta.
The king of multiple audio commentary tracks is Fight Club, of course. The special edition DVD of Fight Club features no less than four different commentaries. Director David Fincher appears on two of the commentaries, one solo and the other, better one with stars Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. While the commentary featuring the author of the novel on which the film is based, along with the screenwriter, is fascinating in its own way, it is the banter and easy chemistry between the director and his two stars that stands out. They are obviously having fun, but they also have some incisive comments to make about the film’s themes.
Some movies make you want to look forward to a director’s commentary so you can figure out what’s really going on. The Usual Suspects is a popular commentary for that reason. The commentary on the original, non-director’s cut of Donnie Darko serves the same purpose. Some people will be put off by the commentary from director Richard Kelly because-much like his later director’s cut version-it gives away too much and takes away some room for interpretation. Others, of course, will be very glad to hear what really happened because the original version is too open-ended and there is too much room for interpretation.
I’m happy to hear the commentary and listen to what Kelly says really happened, but being of the Foucault school that says that authorial intent is no indication of actual interpretation, I can take or leave what he says, as interesting as it is. The director’s cut is for those who only want to judge the film based on what Kelly says happens.
If you want to know what he thinks, but still want to be able to interpret the mysteries of Donnie Darko’s bizarre 28 days on your own, then stick with the original. Besides, the original version opens with a song sung by Echo and the BUNNYMEN. (Too perfect!) Why on earth Kelly thought it would improve by exchanging that song for one sung by INXS is an even bigger mystery than anything that takes place in the film.