“But I think we pulled it off” and other DVD audio commentary inanities

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Brian Thibodeau, Jan 27, 2004.

  1. Brian Thibodeau

    Brian Thibodeau Supporting Actor

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    It’s a given that filmmakers often say stupid things on DVD audio commentaries. It’s also a given that a great many of them have so little to say, even when the picture at hand appears to have some depth, that they quickly devolve into narrators of their own films.

    Occasionally a commentary offers so little to enrich the experience that it makes your ears bleed. These commentaries usually feature actors.

    But in listening to these tracks for almost six months straight while I’m at the office (so more productive things can be done at home later on), I’ve come to dread the utterance of certain phrases such as the one posted in the header of this thread.

    I’m at work this morning, listening to yet another DVD audio commentary to make the day a little less sleepy. The movie is the Count of Monte Cristo, an entertaining but seriously bastardized adaptation of Alexandre Dumas novel. The speaker is Kevin Reynolds, who wouldn’t sound out of place calling a NASCAR race. About twenty minutes in, he recounts the inspirational tale of how he wasn’t feeling very good they day they shot some scene, really under the weather, you know? “But we managed to pull it off,” he says. Oh, the sacrifice these people make for our entertainment! What valour. What devotion. What balls to think that some insignificant little setback that forced them to work in adverse conditions might invoke our pity. A tornado hits and wipes out your sets? Okay, maybe. Leading actor dies half way through the production. How DID you manage to complete the film? But you woke up sick? Big deal, buddy. Tell me something important.

    Now the point of this is that I’ve ACTUALLY heard “But I think we pulled it off” in no less than FOUR audio comentaries in the last week-and-a-half. Don’t ask me to name them, ‘cause the irritation was a cumulative effect. And this isn’t the only line that seems to pop up ad nauseam. There are others, but I don’t have time to remember them right now.

    But it has got me to wondering if others have noticed any glaring cliches that filmmakers fall back on when yakking about themselves and how great they are (Kevin Reynolds actually thinks his film is BETTER than the novel!). Or does anyone have nominees for the worst or most useless commentaries ever to appear on DVD? Figured if anyone actaully listened to the damned things besides myself, they’d likely be haunting HTF.

    Please no comments about the good, informative commentaries, of which there are many, and on which I could expound for hours. I wanna know which ones to AVOID to save myself future suffering. As many of the film buffs here will attest, listening to the commentaries almost feels like it should be done to justify the cost of the disc (and in keeping with our completist mentalities), and many in other threads wonder if they’ll ever have the time (take ‘em to work if you can, I say!). Granted, I don’t listen to ALL of them, and rarely listen to them at home unless they’re subbed, but I find nothing makes a work day go faster than listening to two or three of them throughout the day. Sometimes the bad ones are worth a laugh, though.

    Off the top of my head, one that immediately comes to mind is the audio commentary for Resident Evil, featuring Paul Anderson, Milla Jovovich and Michele Rodriguez. Paul at least scores points for ATTEMPTING to discuss the film they’re watching, while the two vaccuous harpies seated next to him discuss what parties they’re going to, how good they look, how “gross” or “cool” the gore is on-screen and contribute utterly NOTHING to the experience while frequently cutting off Anderson mid-sentence, from which he never recovers his thoughts. You can only imagine the low-class caterwauling that occurs when Milla’s crotch flashes across the screen at the film's, ahem, climax. Avoid this track at all costs!

    Any others I should know about?
     
  2. Scott_F_S

    Scott_F_S Second Unit

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    What kind of a job do you have that you can listen to a couple or three commentaries during the workday?
     
  3. Jeff Jacobson

    Jeff Jacobson Cinematographer

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    What is your job? Why are you listening to audio commentaries at work?
     
  4. Vince Maskeeper

    Vince Maskeeper Lead Actor

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    I have loaded the majority of my commentary collection onto my IPOD, makes great material for a long drive or a workout!

    The repeated issue on commentaries that irks me is excessive superlatives: on an audio commentary, EVERYTHING is amazing.

    I'm thinking about starting a site dedicated to reviewing audio commentaries, hey Brian, wanna be a writer?

    -Vince
     
  5. Francois Caron

    Francois Caron Cinematographer

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    Probably the worst commentary track I've ever heard was for the movie "In the Mouth of Madness" (Laserdisc edition). John Carpenter was with the cinematographer Gary Kibbe and it was the most BORING commentary I've ever heard in my life! I was literally falling asleep! When they were starting to discuss the type of lights they were using in one scene (Gary Kibbe had to be coaxed to devulge anything), I just turned the thing off.
     
  6. Brian Thibodeau

    Brian Thibodeau Supporting Actor

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    Scott & Jeff

    I'm a graphic designer.

    I sit and stare at a Mac screen all day designing newspapers, magazines, flyers and junk mail (in roughly that order of importance). It can get very repetitive and boring. People put the copy on my desk or email it to me, and I go to work. Some of the other drones here listen to the local FM lite radio station all day, but I got sick of hearing Celine Dion three times every hour (Canadian content rules, etc), and so I started to bring my CDs to work, but even that got stale after a while.

    I walked into my supervisor's office one day and caught him WATCHING Family Guy on one screen while doing his work on the other (he's got a laptop and a desktop). He didn't seem to be distracted by it, nor did he make any effort to hide it as he doesn't do it that often, so I said I might start bringing in my DVDs to listen to the commentaries. He know's I'm a film junkie and he saw no problem with it as long as the work got done.

    So there you have it. I'm not suggesting everyone can or should do this, and I'm certainly not trying to impress anybody with my ability TO do it, but if your office (assuming at least some of you work in offices) is "kind" enough to provide you with a radio that forces you to listen to top 40 ooze all day, you could do a lot worse than find an alternative to make things easier.

    As I'm paid to be - arguably - creative all day, I need some form of inspiration. Surprisingly, commentaries do the trick, as they put my mind back in the movie without, believe it or not, affecting my work. Plus, I don't actually listen to them ALL day EVERY day. Somedays, I'll just plug into internet news radio for a breather.

    Back to the subject at hand, I also find John Carpenter's commentaries to be quite drab, considering how much I enjoy his films. He rarely seems to add any cultural context or association to his dissections of his films, which makes me suspect that any that we find there are possibly just dumb luck. His weakest, I think, was on In The Mouth Of Madness, where he eventually just started narrating the film while repeatedly asking DP Gary Kibbe how he lit a particular scene.

    Francois: you must have read my mind. I typed the last paragraph before I saw your post! Always hated that commentary. Carpenter's films must jhust seem deeper to me than they really are, because he never really points out any interesting subtext.
     
  7. Brian Thibodeau

    Brian Thibodeau Supporting Actor

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    Vince

    Not a bad idea about a site tracking these things. Somebody has to keep these clowns in check. The Onion does a cool bit every once in a while called Audio Commentaries from Hell or some such, but they only scratch the surface. I'd contribute as much as I could. Feel free to email me with your thoughts.

    Brian
     
  8. JustinCleveland

    JustinCleveland Cinematographer

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    Best DVD Commentary comment still belongs to Kevin Smith (admittedly extracted from the Criterion LD) on "Chasing Amy."
     
  9. Vince Maskeeper

    Vince Maskeeper Lead Actor

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    See, this is where i disagree COMPLETELY. Commentaries that discuss the technical elements and conceptual elements of actual filmmaking are the ones I feel are of FAR more value. Any commentary that could substitue for a day in film school is a wonderful thing, not a negative.

    On the other hand, I have no desire to hear the story about the time the star actress's stand-in farted, or hear Governor Arnold tell me about how "thees es mah fav-o-reet sceeene. it tooouk fowr and und half weeehks tu shooot."

    I wish more cinematographers would do commentary thracks, but unfortuntely most that I've spoken with figured that viewers find what they do boring (go figure).

    I enjoy the Coppola tracks on the Godfather discs, Oliver Stone tracks are always worth listening to, and while PTA tends to be a bit flowery with his superlatives, there is often useful information included.
     
  10. Christ Reynolds

    Christ Reynolds Producer

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    that one isnt bad, but he loves himself way too much for me to enjoy his commentaries anymore. my favorite is still pt anderson on boogie nights. although his commentary of the porno documentary on the criterion ld is my favorite commentary ever, it is hilarious!

    CJ
     
  11. Brian Thibodeau

    Brian Thibodeau Supporting Actor

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    I guess I should clarify my own opinions on the In The Mouth of Madness track. I still don't like it, but I agree with Vince about the value of tech-heavy tracks over actor-centric tracks all the way. Ironic that I seem to recall the seemingly coked-up party girls on the Resident Evil track making some references to farting. Maybe, maybe not.

    The problem with the Carpenter/Kibbe piece is that it starts out interesting, but very quickly becomes evident that the ONLY technical details we're going to get are about how Gary lit nearly every scene, and Gary seems bored to death with the whole thing, as if leaking this information would cost him his soul. After the first few secrets are pried out, it's kind of easy to figure out how he did the rest of the film. Even Kibbe HIMSELF seems somewhat exasperated when Carpenter asks him how he lit a confessional scene in order to get the pattern of the dividing screen on the actor's face! "Well, uhh, John, I stuck a light on the other side of it..." or something to that effect. This track has it's little nuggets of info, but they are few and far between, as they are on many Carpenter tracks outside of the jovial sit-downs he did with Kurt Russel for Escape from New York, The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China (the latter of which went seriously off topic to no real detriment of the film).

    The Mouth of Madness track should be a textbook example of repetitive audio commentary inanity. The film, though, is quite good.

    Edit: Incidentally, Vince, I'm assuming PTA is Paul Thomas Anderson of Magnolia fame and not Paul Anderson of Resident Evil fame. In fact, both offer decent commentaries. It just a shame that the latter got saddled with Milla and Michelle for his.
     
  12. Andrew Chong

    Andrew Chong Supporting Actor

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    Avoid:
    • Brendan Fraser's commentary for The Mummy: Ultimate Edition; lots of 'dead air', as I recall, he had difficulty remembering what happened in the movie since it had been a long time since he last saw it.
    • Emmerich and Devlin's commentary for Independence Day; lots of 'this is a miniature.', 'this is real.', etc.
    • Davies and Spiers's commentaries for Fawlty Towers; boring and nearly silent.
    Another comment I've often heard:
    (roughly) 'I don't want to ruin the plot for you [so I'll hold back this interesting tidbit now and forget to mention it later]'
     
  13. Kevin M

    Kevin M Producer

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    In The Mouth Of Madness was a bit of a pain to listen to IMO because Carpenter spent most of his time trying to get Kibbe to say anything at all & that monotone Nyquil voice that Kibbe has didn't help either.
    But I disagree about the rest of Carpenter's commentaries, whether he has a partner in the recording booth or not, in fact one of my all time favorites is his solo commentary on Assault on precinct 13 I just find it fascinating to listen to the man recount the up's and downs of making the film on such a small budget/ behind the scenes tales/ and general stories of filmmaking in the mid 70's.

    If you want a phrase/sentiment that is overused in commentaries mine would be "this is my favorite scene"...after they say it seven or eight times you want to yell at the screen "OH, JUST PICK ONE FOR GOD'S SAKE!!!"
     
  14. Brian Thibodeau

    Brian Thibodeau Supporting Actor

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    I nearly forgot about Independence Day. I was kinda glad Devlin and Emmerich were left off the Godzilla discs. At least special effects guys will tell you how they did stuff, instead of just pointing out what's real and what's not. That, in fact, is one of the most irritatingly inane things an audio commentator can do, especially if he or she knows nothing about the effects in the first place. And besides, in this day and age, most people who'd even be listening to these tracks would likely be savvy enough to spot the FX in a movie like Independence Day. Good call.

    ((Actually, to be fair, I just watched the car chase docu on the Matrix Rebloated disc last night and discovered, much to my surprise, that the scene where the agent leaps on to the hood of a car, causing it to implode and start a chain reaction collision had far fewer digital FX in it that I'd thought. I was fairly certain that the imploding car (and some of the others) was a CG construct or composited model of some kind. Nice to find out that stuntment can still find work in the big blockbusters!))

    Kevin M-
    If I had to pick Carpenter's best commentaries, I would agree with you for sure about Assault on Precinct 13 and would add Halloween for good measure. Both insightful commentaries into the world of low-budget filmmaking where the man cut his teeth and some fond recollections. By the time of The Fog commentary and beyond, things get a dicey for me. I would, however, love to hear the tracks he cut for the European releases of Prince of Darkness and They Live, two of my favourite latter-day Carpenter flicks and both films that, in their own unique ways, return to the nuts and bolts genre films he started out making.
     
  15. Brian Thibodeau

    Brian Thibodeau Supporting Actor

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    Jean-Pierre Jeunet does an interesting take on the "this is my favourite scene" chestnut by claiming several absolute favourties during his commentary to the wonderful Amelie, which I listened to before The Count of Monte Crisco mentioned in my initial post. At first, you think he's contradicting himself, until about the fourth time when you realize he's winking at you by tweaking a popular commentary conceit. Ah, da Fronsh. Dey are so clevharr (please note my last name; I'm being silly). It's clear the man has a genuine affection for the cinema from this track, and is quite talkative, varied, and open about many of the techniques he used to achieve the film's digitally-enhanced look.

    But enough about the good ones. I want more crap!
     
  16. Matt_H

    Matt_H Stunt Coordinator

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    Carpenter does good commentaries with russell. those are some of the best. I can't stand renny harlin commnetaries. During the ford fairlane one he kept apoligizing for the movie and his voice tone gave me a headache.
     
  17. ChadMcCallum

    ChadMcCallum Second Unit

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    The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen is the worst track I've ever heard. I was expecting some insight into the film and an explanation of why the newly added scenes were cut in the first place but instead I got a narrator. Terrible.
     
  18. Jesse Skeen

    Jesse Skeen Producer

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    This is the first scene we shot, and it was so wonderful working with these actors. When I read the script, I just knew he had to play this part. Luckily, we were able to get him.
     
  19. Joseph DeMartino

    Joseph DeMartino Lead Actor

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    ???? This one makes my head hurt. How stupid do they have to be to think that we're stupid enough to be watching the movie on DVD with a commentary track the very first time we see the movie?

    1) In 8 out of 10 cases we're going to have seen the movie at least once in the theater if we've just bought a special edition DVD with a commentary track.

    2) Even if the movie is a blind buy or rental we're smart enough to watch the movie with the original soundtrack before we listen to the commentary.

    SO THERE IS NO BLOODY WAY THAT THEY COULD BE "SPOILING" ANYTHING FOR US ON THE BLOODY COMMENTARY TRACK"

    One of the most outrageous examples of directorial commentary onanism has to be Jan de Bont's one-man self-love track for Speed in which he describes how he based an incident in the film on his own personal experience - while over on the other commentary track the producer and writer talk about how the same incident was in the firt draft of the script, several possible directors before de Bont was even considered for the film. [​IMG]

    Regards,

    Joe
     
  20. Brian Thibodeau

    Brian Thibodeau Supporting Actor

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    I'm reminded of Renny Harlin's audio gab on Cliffhanger, in which he presumes the audience will never be able to figure out how he got Sylvester Stallone to hang onto the face of a perilously high cliff, when the matte lines are clearly visible in a little rectangle around the actor. That Harlin assumes this ingernious slight-of-hand will leave us puzzled long after the movie's over is one of the funnier moments in commentary history. I believe the track was ported over from the old Pioneer LD.

    It's been a while since I've seen that disc or heard that commentary, so I might be placing it incorrectly. Correct me if I'm wrong. At the very least, I'm 100% certain it was Harlin talking about one of his Big Dumb Blockbusters. The man still assumes people are hopelessly awed by the splendor and spectacle and magic of moving pictures.

    And you're right. The man's voice can put you to sleep. Let's pray he never uses Gary Kibbe as a cinematographer.
     

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