Good DVD Commentary Tracks - Complications Ensue
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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

What are the most interesting DVD commentary tracks from a writer or filmmaker's perspective? Joss Whedon's commentary is always insightful. I've heard very good things about anything by Robert Rodriguez, especially the El Mariachi/Desperado double edition, which includes his "10 Minute Film School". And,
The commentary track for Christopher Nolan's zero-budget debut film FOLLOWING offers some good insight into the zero-budget filmmaking process.

On a higher budget, John Frankenheimer tended to offer a little more nuts-and-bolts stuff than the average director commentary. I remember that Frankenheimer's commentary on RONIN was worth listening to.
What great DVD tracks have you sampled?

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18 Comments:

The Bubba Ho Tep commentary by Bruce Campbell isn't particularly useful for writing but is by far the most amusing commentary ever added to a DVD.

By Blogger Jabno wongo, at 9:58 AM  

David Fincher, Ed Norton and Brad Pitt are all on the FIGHT CLUB commentary, which would probably be top of my list.

By Blogger Andy Diggle, at 10:26 AM  

Every time someone asks about DVD commentaries, I always point them in the direction of Ridley Scott.

They're sure as heck cheaper than film school. Best are the solo efforts like The Duellists (which tells you how to make a film look great on a pretty small budget), Legend, Black Rain, the original Alien commentary before the 2-disc editions of the quartet.

That said, what he has to say about film making on all the other films are great, it's annoying that time has to be given over to people with far less to say. The director's cut of Kingdom of Heaven has a good chat track. Great film as well.

For TV there are the Ron Moore commentaries for Battlestar Galactica. Sweet contributions from Mrs Ron on some.

By Blogger Good Dog, at 10:41 AM  

I thought the following were two good commentaries for movies that were executed on a small budget but managed to show some innovation beyond that:

THE PRODIGY
ABLE EDWARDS

As far as big budget fare:

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN (with multiple comment tracks)

SKY CAPTAIN (not only the comments but the B-T-S features)

RONIN (yes, Frankenheimer mixes the practical with the theoretical advice in his comments)

THE MARK OF ZORRO (with Tyrone Power, comments by Richard Schickel, who mixes history with performance and direction comments)

By Blogger Cunningham, at 10:49 AM  

Two insightful and incredibly entertaining commentaries I've listened to are for The Usual Suspects and Good Will Hunting. They are incredibly funny and you feel like you're sitting down and watching with them, except in this case, you don't wish they would shut up. I also liked the commentary for Collateral. Michael Mann talks a lot about shooting on digital.

By Blogger Tim W., at 12:48 PM  

Listen to the commentary by Todd Haynes on "Far From Heaven." Amazing.

By Blogger Rhea, at 1:08 PM  

Martin Campbell's commentary on THE MASK OF ZORRO is very filmmaker-oriented. As is the one by John McTiernan on THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR.

I think my favourite is probably the triple-layer commentary on the Criterion edition of SPARTACUS, one layer of which includes a scene-related reading of Dalton Trumbo's notes to Kubrick and unused music cues from Alex North.

Least useful; the one by the otherwise-wonderful Tim Burton on SLEEPY HOLLOW, where he says little about the movie but goes overboard at each appearance of a well-loved performer.

By Blogger Stephen Gallagher, at 2:41 PM  

Steve soderberg on schytzopolis. Highly technical, incapable of taking himself seriously. David milch on deadwood. I heard that the commentary on Commando is hilarious, self-important/. I Saw David Mamet lecture at Ut last night. He did his usual anecdotes and truisms. An interesting moment when the interviewer said "Imagine that you as a young man are in the audience tonight. What would would you say to that person?" He thought for half a minute of silence. Awkward but great. The other cool tidbit was when he said a guy put a flier for Robert Mcgee's seminar in his hand as he was walking on the beach, Learn the Secrets of the Second Act!
To his wife - "Tell me if I'm crazy but I'm thinking of signing up for this!"

By Blogger mnmnmnmn, at 7:33 PM  

Lost's Damon Lindelof is absolutely fantastic.
However, Carlton Cuse talks very slowly and can get frusterating. He starts EVERY bit of information off with long exposition into the small piece of information he's talking about.

But Damon Lindelof is superb. If anyone has the chance, watch the commentary to the first episode of Season 3, featuring Damon Lindelof and Elizabeth Mitchell (Juliet). Best ever.

By Blogger Carlo Conda, at 9:28 PM  

You know, I love most Joss commentaries, but the one on the last episode of Firefly made me like the episode a lot less. I'd thought the villain Jubel Early was supposed to seem like one of those irritating people who thinks his insipid thoughts are actually quite profound, but I gathered from the commentary that he was supposed to actually be... Deep.

By Blogger wrigleyfield, at 11:45 PM  

I'm a big fan of Scorsese's commentaries. I also think Coppola's commentaries on The Godfather films are fantastic.

By Blogger Kody Chamberlain, at 12:50 AM  

Listening to a lot of Scrubs commentary at present. Interesting to learn that they had earmarked story lines in season 1 that are only playing out in season 6-7. They talk a lot about what make the characters tick, which I find helpful in learning more about that area.
Best of luck with your series(or whatever it may be Alex.)
cheers
Dave

By Blogger Grubber, at 7:27 AM  

If you like geek humour, and I know you do, you should borrow my Futurama DVDs.

By Blogger Webs, at 5:25 PM  

I like multiple writer commentaries that give insight to the rewrite wrangles - Pirates of Carribean, Rain Man

By Blogger Q, at 5:48 AM  

Most people skip by these ones, but they're excellent tracks:

1) The Office. Sure a lot of them are silly, entertaining pieces, but alot of the time the actors are also the writers, and you get a sneak peek into how an episode is constructed. (Especially the paul lieberstein ones!)

2) Futurama. Every episode made has a track and most of them have either Matt G, David X Cohen, and/or John DiMaggio (Bender) + the writer of the episode. In these tracks you find out how they write the episode, what got cut, and how some of the jokes are constructed. Watch it after reading Espenson and you'll see a lot of her advice in action.

By Blogger Jason Sanders, at 1:30 PM  

The MARIACHI commentaries are good. I've also read his book and can say it is interesting.

POTC: THE BLACK PEARL - writers commentary was excellent, but the director's commentary bored me until I just quit.

CHILDREN OF MEN -commentary and making of is better than the film (though some of the acting by particular people in it makes up for the story).

UNBREAKABLE - commentary was so interesting that I rewatched the film again after listening to the commentary.

LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy - extended versions. LOTS of background, It was much like all the background stuff Tolkein had, but was not necessarily in the actual novel, but added to the depth.

Actually, one of the neccessary items for my buying a DVD now, is that there is a commentary. If I'm trying to decide between buying DVDs, the one with the most commentaries or behind the scenes wins.

Things I've learned from some B-movie commentaries. Don't record them while drinking alcohol, limit the number of people talking. Try to stay on topic, don't keep one comment running far into the next scene. Don't leave too much dead space.

By Blogger Hugo Fuchs, at 6:08 PM  

Funny you should mention Christopher Nolan. I recently watched his commentary for INSOMNIA, which is fascinating because it presents the scenes in the chronological order of filming, rather than in the order they are presented in the film.

Really gives an interesting insight into the film making process.

By Blogger Thomas, at 9:45 PM  

The commentary tracks to the new Doctor Who series (starring Christopher Eccleston or David Tennant) are full of nuts and bolts information about character, plot, pacing, FX, scoring, location shoots, etc. All from a relatively low-budget perspective.

Also, Irvin Kershner's commentary track on The Empire Strikes Back is refreshingly down-to-earth, revealing the simple craftsmanship behind so many memorable moments.

By Blogger David Stamm, at 3:35 PM  

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