Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Another Special Edition of BLADE RUNNER? Really?

I understand this Christmas another special edition of BLADE RUNNER will be released. It will come in a briefcase, have a gazillion stills, and feature five different cuts of the movie. How many endings can there be?

All movies that have saved their original footage can re-release new versions. I’m surprised more do not. “The test audience hated version”. “The Andie McDowell version”. “The first director’s version”. “Kevin Costner’s cut version.” “The seven hour version”.

It’s not enough to sell DVDs today. Now they must come loaded with features. Like….

Hilarious outtakes. All the same, every movie. Actors going up on lines and laughing hysterically. I’m glad they’re amused. Unless it’s Julie Andrews saying “Motherfucker!!” I’m really not entertained.

Deleted Scenes. Imagine a scene not good enough to make the final cut of DEUCE BIGELOW. What a treat to see that! In most cases, deleted scenes are like bakeries trying to lure customers by offering day old muffins to their selection of fresh goods.

Theatrical Trailers. You’ve seen it seven times in the theater, twice on the net, four times at the front of other DVDs, and now you get to see it again. More fun would be “Deleted Trailers” – the ones that tested poorly, the marketing campaigns that didn’t work.

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE must have nine of these. It’s a Beatles movie. It’s a drama. It’s a coming-of-age film. It’s a musical. It’s a Julie Taymor movie. It’s a period piece. It’s a romance. It’s a two-hour music video. It’s THE LITTLE MERMAID with drug related songs.

The "Making Of" Documentary. A fifteen minute journey into pretension, justification, and self delusion. See the serious artists at work as they make GOOD LUCK, CHUCK.

And finally, Bonus Commentary Tracks. According to the current WGA contract, producers are obligated to let writers record a commentary track. However, they are not obligated to include it. So when a writer records a track and a director records a track and they decide to use only one, which do you think it will be? But at least the writer got to waste a day recording it.

For every good insightful, revealing director’s track there are a hundred useless ones. They just describe what you’re seeing on the screen. “In that shot I wanted to show the car.” “Okay, here is where I thought you needed a close-up.” Zzzzzzzzz. Put a mike in front of most directors and they become Tim McCarver.

Here’s a wacky idea. Instead of loading these DVD releases with unnecessary and often costly features, how about if the studios used that money instead to pay fair royalties to the writers, directors, and actors responsible for those movies in the first place? Is the “Making of EVAN ALMIGHTY” worth major labor strikes?

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

You're asking a lot from the AMPTP...paying writers? Are you living in a fantasy land?

Angela said...

you're so right but isn't it sad to buy a DVD and read: "Includes movie?"

ivan kireev said...

you're right, Ken, on both accounts: if the first director's cut (B.R) was unbearable (i miss the voice over that much), a new whatever-he's-doing (remake, remaster, reshoot, re-edit) wasn't necessary outside an ego burst. i reccomend a read, whilst in strike: future noir, the making of B.R. by Paul M. Sammon. reading Harrison Ford's "thoughts" on Ridley Scott make you smile when finding out about this new whatever-he's-doing.

i know you guys DO know what you're doing. keep up the good fight!

D. McEwan said...

The two best commentary tracks I've ever heard are:

1. Roger Ebert on CITIZEN KANE. Gee, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer about films is actually more interesting and informative than hearing a director saying, "Okay, here's where Todd walks through the door. We spent three hours lighting that."

2. Spinal Tap watching THIS IS SPINAL TAP. Completely in-character and hilariously funny, it doubles the length of the movie, turning a 90 minute great comedy into a three hour great comedy. The only thing funnier than the scene where they can't find the stage, is hearing on the commentary as one of them says, "Well he never shows all the nights when we DID find the stage."

Ironically, Chris Guest's out-of-character commentary for WAITING FOR GUFFMAN is just awful. Never-garrilous Guest gets lost watching the film and shuts up for long periods of time. Since the film sound track isn't running under it, you just get long stretches of silence. When he does speak, it's often to mention that someone onscreen is a genius. The fact that, in this movie, they often are geniuses, doesn't make it any less hackneyed.

One of my favorite commentary tracks is on Hammer's DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS. Christopher Lee and the other three surviving stars watch the film together, all of them seeing it for the first time in about 35 or 40 years, and just chat and reminisce. It's like having them over to watch the film with you, only you don't have to worry about their opinions of your sofa. Similar feeling to hearing Charles Busch's commentaries on PSYCHO BEACH PARTY, DIE! MOMMY! DIE!, THE BAD SEED, and WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE.

But is anything worse than hearing young Hollywood Turks who think they're funny, say Vince Vaughn and his pals, indulging in breaking each other up with high-school-gym-class level snark? And when one of them is drunk, oh that's the cream on the track.

Is there anything duller than spending two hours hearing a line producer telling you how everyone from the caterer to the best boys are all geniuses, while a vain star tells us of how the "Incredibly brilliant script" for some piece of by-the-numbers formula crap made him "Need" to do this movie, which isn't just entertainment, but a moving human document.

As for the 87 different cuts of BLADE RUNNER: I remember enjoying it when I saw it, the day it opened, but I have never been motivated to see it a second time.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS is also coming out with a multiple cuts DVD. I no longer remember which version I liked, but I really don't want to watch it another three times. Frankly, if they have a version without the mashed potatoes sculpture scene and Richard Dreyfuss running around in his bathrobe, let me know and I'll watch that one - once.

The Crutnacker said...

If there was a truth in advertising law for DVDs, the release schedule would be like this.

1st Edition -- You Fool, You're Gonna Wind up having to Buy This Again Edition

2nd Edition -- We Couldn't Believe the DVD was that Popular Edition --complete with better picture (if you have a TV that won't come out until 2048), the same extras as before, and a bonus disc with several documentaries you'll watch once.

Criterion Edition -- The One You Should Buy Edition -- This will be the one to buy, but will cost a lot more than you want to pay.

Fourth Edition -- The Oh Yes We Did Edition -- This has the same stuff as the second edition, but without a commentary included on both the first and second edition, and somehow the picture is a bit worse. But it contains a Karaoke singalong (even for Schindler's List), a special commemorative key chain (even the Special Edition of The Sweet Hereafter), and commentary by the Location Manager (Ken's commentary on Jurassic Park is simply eye opening).

Fifth Edition -- The You Got Suckered In By the Promise of A Better Picture Edition

HD/DVD / Blue Ray Edition with no extras and muddy sound.

Bitter Animator said...

It can be quite amusing to get commentaries on the deleted scenes which have he director explaining why the scenes were cut and why it's a better movie without them.

The same scenes that you know will be thrown back in to the new "director's cut".

Oddly, a huge amount of the buying public seem to think that more equals better.

The Crutnacker said...

Anyone else remember when Director Commentary, deleted scenes and other extras were only found on Criterion Laserdiscs (those dinner plate sized CDs that only idiots like me bought), and were only for films that people cared about?

The truth is that there are very few films improved by any of these features. The AV Club does a brilliant feature called Commentary Tracks of the Damned in which they review commentary on DVD for horrible movies. Is there really anything to be gained by hearing Rob Schneider waxing poetic about a movie that was just in the theater four weeks before the DVD release?

And as several recent comedy releases have shown, most of the deleted scenes are unnecessary. 40 Year Old Virgin doesn't become better in a new 3 hour cut. And if you're going to call something "unrated", it should make me blush, not yawn.

Murray said...

Halleujah and amen! I don't need all the fingers of one hand to count the DVD extras that were worthwhile.

It was various "extended TV versions" that first twigged me to the fact that Editors are the unsung heroes of the movie business. The avalanche of Director's Cuts when DVDs hit the world only reinforced this revelation. That crap was cut out of the movie for a reason!

Keith said...

One of the best DVD commentary is the cast commentary for Fellowship of the Rings. Obviously, it's got to be your taste for you to get the fun of it but still. They had the four actors who played the Hobbits, plus Vigo and Ian McKellan in one room, telling stories about what happene don set and riffing off each other. Interspersed with this is Christopher Lee, doing movie to book comparisons and quoting large blocks of text from memory. It's the most entertaining and engaging lit crit lecture, ever. Oh yeah and Liv Tyler chime sin once in a while to talk about her hair. But otherwise, great stuff.

doggans said...

I can be easily amused, so I like watching the outtakes at least once, but only if the actors are either (A) really witty, or (B) really stupid.

Also, best deleted scenes ever: Weird Al Yankovic's "UHF".

"Wanna know why these scenes were deleted? Because they SUCKED! But if we didn't put them here, you'd get all whiny."

Constance Reader said...

I'm happy about the new clone of "Blade Runner" just because it means it's running on the big screen of my local historic theater, and I can't wait to waste a few hours watching it there.

Best film commentaries: another vote for "This is Spinal Tap" and "Big Trouble in Little China". The commentary for BTILC isn't the actor (Kurt Russell) and writer/director (John Carpenter) discussing the making of the movie. It's two men who have been friends and colleagues for more than 20 years kicking back -- I swear you can hear the beer tabs popping in the background -- and reminiscing about the movie, that time in their lives, what their kids are up to now...

The best story from that one is them talking about how badly the film was marketed. Russell walked past a theater one night and saw the teaser poster that read "Who is Jack Burton?" and his reaction was "Who gives a shit!" He knew then that the movie would bomb.

Paul Gottlieb said...

On the other hand, the Richard Benjamin commentary tracks on "The Sunshine Boys" and "My Favorite Year" are full of wonderful personal observations, a real delight

WF said...

Try watching "Citizen Kane" while listening to Adam Sandler's commentary from "Little Nicky".

Bet you can't make it past the sled.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Best Movie commentary I know is by the Weiss borthers on their movie About A Boy. They quite simply talk about what they were aiming at and how they tried to do that. No ego, very interesting.

Best commentary on a tv series is every eposide of Futurama. Everyone joins in on ever episode and it's like having a group of friends to watch the series with (yes, I am aware how sad that sounds). It helps to have Billy West, who tries to crack everyone up with voices and gags.

Worst commentary on a tv series: Fawlty Towers. Howard Davies is so old, you can hera him wheeze and cough while he watches the show for the first time in fifteen years. He proves he had nohing to do with it's succes, by doing nothing but laughing at John Cleese's genius/ So bad, you have to hear it - though five minutes wil do.

Tim W. said...

What I love are the `Unrated' cuts (Wedding Crashers, 40 Year Old Virgin). So basically, they just added a few minutes of footage, didn't give it to the ratings board, so they can call it unrated. Technically, aren't pretty much all directors cuts of movies unrated? Of course it doesn't sound nearly as good when it's an unrated cut of, say, The Natural.

As for commentaries, one of the best I have heard is for the Usual Suspects with Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie (yes, the writer). It's both entertaining and interesting, especially near the end when they start bickering. The last line, before the screen goes black and the commentary, and movie, ends, the last line is something like `Hack!' directed at Christopher.

jbryant said...

DVD extras for classic films can be quite interesting, with vintage trailers and promos, radio versions of the story, maybe TV versions (the "Casablanca" pilot from the 50s with Charles McGraw, for instance) or recent docs about the film and/or its makers. Even if they're not good, per se, they can be fun. Maybe some of the contemporary commentaries and outtakes will be more rewarding after the participants are dead.

I enjoyed the outtake from "The Ice Harvest" with Billy Bob Thornton delivering his lines as Karl from "Sling Blade." And if you dare to rent "Freddy Got Fingered," be sure to check out the extras, including a PG version of the film that's about 3 minutes long, and the deleted scenes with Tom Green's commentary (if the scene's still running when he's finished with his comments, he just spouts nonsense words and odd noises, which are no less enlightening and perhaps more coherent that much "serious" director commentary).

Tiny Writer said...

Yeah, the "Spinal Tap" commentary is genius. The three leads, all in character. They're basically giving you another free movie's worth of comedy.

I loved the commentary track for the original "The In-Laws" with Falk, Arkin and writer Andrew Bergman. Another bunch of old friends telling stories and reminiscing - very warm and engaging.

And the GHOSTBUSTERS commentary track is fantastic - done MST3K style with silhouettes of Harold Ramis, Ivan Reitman and some other guy (line producer, maybe?).

Alas, the line producer occasionally interrupts the more amusing ancedotes and observations with mundane talk about logistics and so forth.

And where was Aykroyd? He, like, invented the Ghostbusters? His ommission felt strange...

Mr. Hollywood said...

Once again, they have taken what could have been a fascinating world of knowledge and entertainment and turned it into dreck. What a shame that we can't hear a commentary track from Billy Wilder on his great films. Or William Wyler. Or Hitchcock. Or Frankenheimer. Or Kelly and Astaire. Not to mention Chaplin or Laurel & Hardy or Abbott & Costello. Today we get the massively overrated Judd Apatow and his talenteless buddies talking about their "art".
I, for one, hate the gag reel. Let that be for the cast and crew party.
And deleted scenes? There is a reason why they were deleted.
I have produced hundreds of "making of" pieces and the shame of it is the studios always want the same ho-hum crap ("Tell me about your character? Why did you want to make the movie? How was such and such to work with?")
Some movies have angles to play off of. Some movies have nothing. But at least make it interesting!
People who run the DVD sides of studios are woefully uncreative.
And I really don't need 17 hours of "bonus features" on NARNIA either!

jbryant said...

I heard Frankenheimer's commentary track on the laserdisc of "The Train" (I assume it's on the DVD as well). Actually, it was rather dull, because back then directors were more likely to just sit and watch until an insight sprang forth. So there'd be long gaps of silence.

I've also noticed an occasional tendency among older directors and stars to not quite get the concept. They worry about talking over dialogue, as though the viewer is for some reason trying to pay attention to the film instead of the commentary.

D. McEwan said...

The DVD of DOUBLE INDEMNITY includes a second disc with the TV movie remake, and I can't imagine circumstances that would get me to watch that hack job a second time. Although updated (So they have to invent a reason for the husband to take a train instead of a plane. "Who takes the train anymore?" it asks, oblivious to the idea that if no one was taking trains, there wouldn't be any passenger trains.), they lift large passages of dialogue from the Wilder-Chandler screenplay. Listening to Lee J. Cobb slowly recite-while-overacting the arias that Edward G. Robinson fires out a mile a minute in the original is just painful to watch. And Richard Crenna substituting for Fred MacMurray? Ew. It seems to have been included just so we could see how great the Wilder film is by seeing how badly the same material could be done. But what did I have to pay to have that disc included? Because I could do without, thanks.

Conversely, the making of documentary on the first disc is really interesting. After all, the cast is too dead to sit around blowing smoke up each other's asses. One tends to just assume that the great dialogue is all by Raymond Chandler, but in the documentary we learn that Chandler had problems grasping film writing, and most of his work remaining in the final film is the narration. The dialogue is mostly Wilder.

And it's interesting to me to hear that Robinson was so letter perfect on those rapid-fire arias that he did take after take of them without ever stumbling or blowing a line.

The commentaries on LORD OF THE RINGS did a smart thing by segregating the paricipants into different tracks. You can listen to the writers, who are interesting, without having to listen to the costumers discuss the beading, or the effects artists speaking what amounts to another language. (On the writer's track, Phillpa Boyens makes a crack about how unsexy Peter Jackson is, then remembers that Fran Walsh sitting next to her is the mother of Jackson's children, and says, "Sorry. We all know Peter's a stud.")

I have found Christopher Lee to be fascinating and erudite on every commentary track he's ever popped up on (And, having the longest resume of any living major star - something around 250 movies, he's done a lot of commentaries), but frankly, a little of Sean Astin and the other hobbits farting around together believing they're funny goes a long way. Several years in, I still haven't listened to the commentaries on RETURN OF THE KING, because somewhere deep into the THE TWO TOWERS tracks I just couldn't take another word. I was Jacksoned and Tolkiened out.

But nothing is more annoying than hearing a big, fat factual error on a commentary track, where you want to slap the commentator but can't. On commentaries on two different episodes of the first season of THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, two different commentators identify a building from New York City as the easily-recognized Los Angeles City Hall. SLAP! On the A NIGHT AT THE OPERA commentary track, during the ship departure scene, Leonard Maltin says how he's always heard that Sam "Frenchy" Marx, the Marx Brothers's father, is in the scene, but Maltin's never been able to spot him. SLAP! It would be a good trick for Sam Marx to appear in a scene shot in 1935, given that he died in 1933. Sam IS in the ship arrival scene in MONKEY BUSINESS, dead center in a lingering shot, beaming with pride at his sons lined up in front of him. If Maltin doesn't know this (as apparently he does not), he is not qualified to do a Marx Brothers commentary, and I don't like having paid for a lecture from someone who knows less about his subject than I do.

Re Deleted Scenes: Yes, most were cut because they should have been, but NOT ALWAYS. The comentary for WAITING FOR GUFFMAN is terrible, but the deleted scenes are GOLD! (The disc is worth buying for "This Bulging River" alone.) These are mostly scenes that should not have been cut. THE WICKER MAN (The Christopher Lee original, not the ghastly recent remake.) was butchered by a studio regime who didn't begin to get the picture. The cut of the film on the second disc of the two-disc edition, with many deleted scenes restored, is superior to the theatrical release version on disc 1. In the later HARRY POTTER films, where they are trying to shoehorn 800 page books into a 2 and a half hour running time, the deleted scenes flesh out what was cut for time, and enrich the experience. And certainly the Extended editions of LORD OF THE RINGS are better than the theatrical versions.

One last thing: in Steven Moffett's great third-season DOCTOR WHO story BLINK, the world is saved by an enigmatic message hidden by The Doctor in DVD Easter Eggs. Yes, mankind is rescued by DVD extras!

Crutnacker said...

Best commentary I ever heard was Scorsese on the Laserdisc version of Taxi Driver. He's so enthusiastic, it's catching.

Len Dreary said...

I agree most 'extras' are boring. I'm surprised that people don't show more imagination in packaging goodies.
An exception would be the Terry Gilliam interview on the Lost in La Mancha DVD. Superb stuff.

grapeshot said...

I haven't bothered wasting my time on watching DVD extras in years. It's pretty rare when they add anything to the movie experience. Two commentary or extras that stand out for me was Roger Eberts commentary on "Dark City", and Robert Rodriguez's stuff on the double DVD of "El Mariachi" and "Desperado". Both were informative and added an extra insight into the movies for me. I also like what Criterion does with their DVDs for extras; their stuff is rarely a waste of time.

A couple summers ago some friends and I watched the new, directors cut (with extra added bonus scenes) of the first Star Wars movie -- episode 4, I guess. Ugh. I can't understand why George Lucas bothered. None of those extra scenes added one iota to the movie. I had been momentarily tempted to maybe buy it, for nostalgia's sake, or maybe for my nieces and nephews, but after seeing it I'm glad I didn't waste the money.

As for this new editions of Blade Runner, I'll resist running out and getting it, just as I have persistently resisted getting the previous incarnations.

Paul Atkinson said...

I saw the new cut of Blade Runner this past weekend in the theater. (I was born in 84, so I liked the idea of seeing an old movie on the big screen)

I'd never seen the movie before, and as such, this version was a bit confusing. Apparantly the original had voice over? Yeah, I probably could've used that.

Courtney said...

Really good commentary tracks on DVDs make me wonder why I paid so much to go to film school when I could have watched a bunch of DVDs and get the same info. Then I remember that DVDs were brand new then, and only one of my friends even had a DVD player. Sigh.

That friend had a bunch of us over to watch Spaceballs with the director's commentary. This consisted of Mel Brooks watching the movie and sporatically laughing at his own jokes because he had forgotten pretty much the entire movie. I wish I could.

James said...

I'm a big fan of the commentary tracks. The movies I like tend to have very good commentary tracks. Go figure.

Bad movies tend to have bad commentary tracks.

"Here, filling the pool with Jello is supposed to represent the metamorphesis into adulthood." Stfu.

I like the Behind the Scenes when its a Action movie or Blockbuster. Basically any movie in it with a shot that makes me go... How the F$#% did they do that.

As long as the Behind the Scenes are actually about the MAKING of the movie and not a documentary on what 25 million dollar stars do inbetween takes.

D. McEwan said...

"he had forgotten pretty much the entire movie. I wish I could."

Don't worry. You will. I have.

A party to watch SPACEBALLS? And I thought Mary Richards threw bad parties. A better idea would be to have people over to NOT watch SPACEBALLS.

Richard Jensen said...

Ken:

For what it's worth, Hampton Francher and David Peoples have a yack track on the new "Blade Runner" disc.
And yes, I was planning on getting the five disc version (Until the strike hit.) because I am that big a geek!

Anonymous said...

Speaking of SPINAL TAP: the extras on A MIGHTY WIND include something wonderfully hilarious by the same guys - an ostensible TV variety show appearance by the Folksmen in the late 1960s. The group earnestly sings "Children of the Sun"; they (and the show) are trying desperately to be hip. Every video trick of the era (color-saturated solarization, etc.) is thrown in.

Anonymous said...

I know Ken was going for comedy in his piece, but I really couldn't identify with all his complaints.

I guess commentary tracks and deleted scenes vary widely depending on the movie. I've seen and heard many where the commentary and deleted scenes give me great insight into the process of filmmaking and editing. Many times the deleted scenes explain story details that make the movie much clearer to me (and were removed, according to the director, to "improve the pace" of the movie). Maybe I've just been lucky. I've only heard a few really worthless commentaries, and most of the time, they're from actors as opposed to directors or writers.

skippy said...

i'll go see the new version of blade runner, just for a confluence of reasons: because i haven't seen it on the big screen in over 20 years, because i haven't watched it all the way thru in over 20 years (seen bits on tv), and because it's playing at a brand new stadium-seating theater walking distance from my house.

as to extras on dvds, i agre 1000% with you on the deleted scenes. uh, folks? there's usually reason the scene was deleted in the first place? because it sucked!!

commentaries: avoid the johnny depp/gore verbinksi commentary track on pirates of the carribean (the first film); it's as interesting as listening to paint dry. instead go to commentary #2 w/keira knightly and jack davenport (who was so great in the english version of coupling). they are fun and funny and don't take themselves or their jobs too seriously.

would that the same could be said for mel brooks on the 25th anniversary reissue of blazing saddles. you'd think he was frickin' orson welles, he was so ponderous. who knew a borscht belt comedian could be so unfunny?

Sebastian said...

I love the commentary to "Not Another Teen Movie". It's great to hear young actors discuss the making of the film and how these fresh-to-Hollywood boys and girls had the time of their lives with it.

The best part was the actresses complaining about having to wear foam cutlets in their bras to appeal to the teenage male audience and that they all aren't "Actually that busty". I snickered for at least five minutes :-)