Random Thoughts: How do you feel about DVD commentaries?

I was having lunch with my good friend Becky (a.k.a Prairiegirl) a couple of weeks ago when all of a sudden, we started talking about DVD commentaries. Now, prior to this conversation, I have not seen ANY dvd commentary before, ever. In fact, I think I must’ve accidentally hit the ‘play movie with commentary’ button by mistake once, but as soon as I heard people talking I went back to the menu again.
Well, the following day, Becky lent me her Tristan + Isolde dvd and that’s the first time I discovered the dvd commentary feature (the screenwriter’s version) and I gotta admit, it was actually quite interesting to listen to. I definitely appreciate the whole movie-making process a whole lot more. And since it was from a screenwriter’s perspective, I got a glimpse of what it took from a draft script to an actual feature film and how much alterations have been made from the writer’s original version. Fascinating stuff, for me anyway.
Anyway, here’s Becky’s comments about her discovery and experience on DVD commentary:
I don’t remember the first time I noticed something called a Commentary, usually found bundled under Special Features along with the likes of The Making Of [movie name], Deleted Scenes and Trailers on a movie DVD. And once I discovered it, I was amused. Does someone really talk over the ENTIRE movie, while you watch it all over again, and for the most part, sans original sound? Well, yes indeed, they do.
So one day I gave it a try. But after about 15 minutes of listening to a combination of directors, producers and actors commenting about the most trivial stuff, and who weren’t even in sync with what was happening at the moment on screen, I hit the Eject button. I’m sure it wasn’t a movie I was in love with, maybe that’s why all the drivel made no sense, and was not entertaining or enlightening in any way.
But then one day I must have seen one that was interesting from beginning to end, so then I got hooked. Most DVD’s don’t have any type of commentary, so when I found a movie I really liked and that did have one, I started to check them out. I still nixed several right in the bud, but a few stand out as gems. One of the best isn’t that recent, and had no commentary on the original. The Purple Rain 20th Anniversary Edition (2004) commentary by director Albert Magnoli, producer Robert Cavallo and cinematographer Donald E. Thorin was everything a commentary should be. Their vivid recollection of filming 20 years earlier was remarkable, and satisfied almost every curiosity I had about the film.

I love this film, partly because a large part of it was shot here in Minneapolis and at the real First Avenue (here I go, dating myself on this blog again, but a college friend used to drag me there with her in the mid to late 70s to see Prince in person all the time. I didn’t care much for his music at the time, but “oh, who cares about the music, just go to watch his sexy dancing!” was her excuse to get me to go with her). So their comments about the characters, story, sets, locations, weather, and extras enhanced the movie more than I ever thought a commentary would.
And more recently, one of the best commentaries was by the screenwriter of Tristan and Isode (2006), Dean Georgaris. This is an excellent film, and I fell hard for Rufus Sewell in it, so that was an excuse for me to glow over the commentaries. Dean heartwarmingly tells what stayed the same, and what changed (for better or worse), and when he was involved in the changes and when he was not, of his original screenplay. And when he praised Rufus’ acting skills for his part as Lord Marke, he confirmed what I already knew. And this DVD is unusual because it includes two commentaries, with another one by the producer and coproducer, who paint a completely different picture of the movie, also quite well done. Although with two or more commenting throughout, there’s inevitably some tangents they go off on and private jokes that go over your head, so that’s a negative, but when it’s kept to a minimum you tend to forgive.

So, from now on, I will keep testing the commentary waters, looking for more diamonds in the rough.

What thoughts do you have about commentaries? Let us know.

124 thoughts on “Random Thoughts: How do you feel about DVD commentaries?

  1. Some work, and some don’t. The Lord of the Rings movies are still some of my favorites to sit down and listen to the commentaries. I can’t remember if there are more on the extended than the regular versions(pretty sure there are), but they offer several different combinations of commentaries. There’s one with the screenwriters, one with some of the design people i believe, and then a few involving the actors. Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan (Merry and Pippin) were amazing to listen to, and worked very well together as usual. You learn so many things from listening to them talk during the movie about the process and how they approached different roles.

    1. PrairieGirl

      Hi Red, isn’t it interesting that sometimes it’s just as good to listen to the commentaries as it is to actually watch the movie? Go figure! I haven’t seen any of the LOTR movies, but sounds like those are some amazing and varied commentaries.

    2. Boy that reminds me. I have the 6-disc extended box set that I haven’t even begun to actually tackle. I’d need to set aside one full day just to watch the bonus feature discs alone! But I bet they’re worth it.

      Becky, you REALLY must give LOTR a chance. I know you aren’t too keen on fantasy flicks, but these are so well-done and well-acted I can’t recommend them enough. I’ve got the dvds so I’d be happy to lend them to you πŸ™‚

      1. I’m not even sure that a day would be long enough, especially for all three films. There is an insane amount of hours on those special features(not even including the commentaries), and it’s really sad to consider that I’ve watched the features several times. You just get so intriuged in the process in the amazing project.

        And Becky, you really do need to give them a try. When the first one came out, I mocked it like no other. “Psh, silly stupid fantasy movie about wizards and elves. That’s just dumb.” And now I consider them to be my favorite movies of all-time.

    3. Marc

      Agree completely that “some work and some don’t”. Although I find that most are not nearly as insightful as expected. I have a handful that I really value and they gave me a different look on the movie itself…the rest are just disappointing and boring.

      Since I sit a computer all day at work, I do work wearing headphones. IN the last 6 months I’ve been bringing a DVD from my library to work and listening to the commentaries and watching the special features. That way if they are terrible I didn’t waste 2 hours watching them sitting on my couch:P

      1. Hey that’s an excellent idea, Marc, I should start doing that. Some movies I remember by heart anyway, so I know them scene by scene. That’d be a good one to simple ‘listen’ to at work. Though for LOTR, I might actually schedule a time to enjoy them in the comfort of my entertainment room given its massive scale.

  2. They are absolutely essential and one of the reasons – way back when DVD first came into being – that I adopted the format. I used to enjoy the cast commentaries, then I liked the tongue-in-cheek stuff, now I enjoy the filmmaker coms. If you want to see/hear a great commentary – and it’s one of the more well known – try the one for This Is Spinal Tap. I won’t give anything away, just listen to it, it’s fantastic!

    1. …just as I remember them – the best tongue-in-cheek/comedy ones are those featuring Kevin Smith with guests. They are an acquired taste but if you like KS movies you’ll like his commentaries – best ones are those he’s recorded for Chasing Amy and Mallrats – very, very funny!

    2. …and another – The Goonies (in-vision) cast commentary is also great if you like that film. All the cast – now grown-up of course – return and you get to see them in a little video box that appears now and again. Great anecdotes, and again quite funny.

  3. Sometimes, when I’m bored and it’s -20 outside, I will just fire up the DVD and listen to the director’s commentary. I know most people don’t care about all the commentary and behind the scene but I love them! (only on good movies of course). It’s always interesting to get some insight into what the director, editor or some of the actors’ minds and how the movie came together or how it differs from what they intended to do.

    1. PrairieGirl

      Castor, exactly what I found out when I started watching them. Now I’m wishing more movies included them. Can’t imagine it would break the budget to add them, but I guess you also need to get those involved in the film to be willing to take the time to create them.

    2. That’s a great idea, Castor, I’ll remember that this Winter. There are far too many I need to catch up with: Gladiator, Ben Hur, Gone With the Wind, 300… the list is endless!

      1. PrairieGirl

        Hey rtm, since I deliberately didn’t do any research before I wrote my commentary article, I decided now would be a good time for a little background on the history of commentaries, and this from Wikipedia is extremely interesting:
        The first commentary ever was done on laser disc in 1984 for the original release of King Kong. The first words were: “Hello, ladies and gentlemen, I’m Ronald Haver, and I’m here to do something which we feel is rather unique. I’m going to take you on a lecture tour of King Kong as you watch the film. The laserdisc technology offers us this opportunity and we feel it’s rather unique β€” the ability to switch back and forth between the soundtrack and this lecture track…”

        1. Wow, that’s awesome info, Prairiegirl. I wonder if the Peter Jackson’s King Kong remake also have a decent commentary. I actually quite like that movie, the ‘love story’ between the beauty and the beast was surprisingly touching and believable.

        2. UncleTim

          I have that original laserdisc.

          Haver’s commentary has a particularly great moment during the Kong-/T-rex fight, when he momentarily forgets his scholarly discourse and gets so caught up in the scene he starts cheering on Kong, leading him to sheepishly apologize.

          Who could blame him considering it’s one of the greatest special effect sequences in film history?

  4. It definitely adds a cool layer of depth to a film when it’s done correctly. Some films it feels like it’s added for the sake for more of a selling point than for the fans (40 year old virgin). I’ll admit I don’t listen it to every film I watch, but for my favorite films, I definitely put it on during a lazy day.

    1. Right on, Dan. That movie you mention would be one I’d skip. The movie has some funny parts but I don’t think I’ll re-watch it again. Besides, there are so many others I need to go back and re-watch the commentary on.

  5. I think people watch those commentaries only when they are about their favourite movie. I deeply enjoyed such commentaries for ELIZABETH THE GOLDEN AGE. Since it was one of the biggest epics ever, with stunning breathtaking scenes and almost historical performances it was extremely interesting to watch and discover how all those mesmerizing costumes and divine sets were made, how did the actors prepare for their larger-than-life roles…. A truly stunning material to watch and discover all the little pieces of puzzle which made one of the best movies in the history of cinema.

    1. I love that movie, Dez, I should go back and watch the commentary now. Blanchett is sublime, isn’t she? And man, does Clive Owen looks smashing in those period garb? He ought to do more Elizabethan period films! πŸ™‚

            1. Mwa ha ha… I knew someone is going to comment about that photo, and I had a hunch it’d be you, Dez. If you see closely Joseph’s eyes are actually looking elsewhere, but from a distance it’s definitely giving people the wrong idea! πŸ™‚

    1. Really Ross? Not even The Lake House? πŸ™‚

      Surely you can’t compare dvd commentary to annoying people talking at the cinema.

    2. Ross, somehow I think you say that to lead up to a good gag…and it works! πŸ™‚

      But, if you’re being serious, please head to your DVD collection, take out This Is Spinal Tap and put the commentary on – believe me, you’ll enjoy this classic film all over again from a whole new perspective!

    3. G McWit

      Then why bother with this site? DVD commentaries are for people who want to learn more about film and filmmaking. Go buy some cotton candy and turn on the UFC channel.

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  7. Some movies have surprisingly good commentaries – for example Rob Marshall and Bill Condon on the Chicago DVD commentary are excellent, they obviously know what they’re talking about. It was actually the first DVD commentary I listened to and sometimes you do learn some interesting things (Although some directors can end up waxing on about a shot that happened fifteen minutes ago)

    1. Yeah, that’s what I hope from a good commentary is that you learn some new bits about the movie, which adds a level of appreciation to how things are done. I just watched NINE and if I have time I might check out Rob Marshall’s commentary on it.

  8. thejohnisjohn

    I have spent FAR too many hours listening to DVD commentaries. My favorite, hands down, is the P.T. Anderson commentary on Boogie Nights. There are two different commentaries on the DVD, one is just him, and one is him with some of the cast. The one with the cast is ok, but the one by himself is brilliant! If you have any interest in commentaries at all, do yourself a favor and check this one out.

    1. Justin

      The BOOGIE NIGHTS commentary is wonderful, PT Anderson puts you in movie geek Heaven listening to him talk about his love of film and the process of writing and directing. The one he did for Sydney (Hard Eight) is also worth the listen. It’s criminal he didn’t do commentary tracks for Magnolia, There Will Be Blood and Punch-Drunk Love.

  9. WH

    For anyone who is in the balance, watch the DVD commentary of Parker and Stone’s Cannibal the Musical. Hilarious.

  10. Fairportfan

    An example of a truly fun commentary is on Romero’s “Knightriders” (which, for those who don’t know it) is not a horror film).

    If you don’t know “Knightriders”, you might should find a copy of the DVD and watch it, even if you don’t listen to the commentary, BTW.

  11. mitchsn

    Ive always loved DVD commentaries. One of the best is the Cast commentary on all 3 Lord of the Rings Extended movies.

    You could tell from the movie that the camaraderie of the cast was tight and its true especially between Billy Boyd and Dominique Monaghan. Their stories, jokes, and insight on their 3 year long shoot makes this one of the best DVD commentaries out there.

    1. PrairieGirl

      Thanks to RTM loaning them to me, I now have all three LOTRs to watch, believe it or not, for the first time, and will be able to check out the commentaries too, which, I hear, along with you, mitchsn, are great.

  12. Nate

    I love commentaries too. My two favorites are the one from the Almost Famous director’s cut, with director Cameron Crowe and his mother. The other is Ben Affleck on the Armageddon Criterion disc. He just rips on the movie the whole time, it’s great…

    1. Affleck ripping on Armageddon, well what else is there to be said about it? Amazing though that he’s still willing to work with Michael Bay again in Pearl Harbor!

  13. cw

    i have not managed to sit through many commentaries, simply because so many of them are trite with lots of stammering or info that did not enhance the movie.however, it is fun to hear a good one over a favorite movie you wish to learn more about.two that i loved were:
    1)Legend by Ripley Scott.The making of that movie was epic in scope, and the production in the end had some challenges that floored me.
    2)Nightmare on Elm Street (original): The director and heather langencamp (and writers,etc) give tons of interesting filming facts, casting choices (depp, obviously) and the good and bad of special effects (the spinning room which worked so well for the first kill scene did not go so well when used for Depp’s death scene), and all the innovative effects they created out of cheap new materials?fascinating!

    1. I agree, the bad ones are definitely not worth wasting your time on. I think the appeal of commentaries for me is definitely to learn more about the trivia/behind the scenes stuff you otherwise won’t get anywhere else. Film facts are always fun when you love that movie.

  14. Jeb

    Francis Coppola’s commentary for Apocalypse Now on the Final Dossier edition is amazing. You may know some of the stuff he talks about if you’ve seen Hearts of Darkness, but it’s still fun to listen to. It’s like having him in the room beside you, telling you about his move. Very entertaining!

  15. Peter Appleton

    Fan commentaries are few and far between but Kevin Smith for Road House is pretty good. Anything from Kurt Russell is a hoot, especially Used Cars, The Thing or Escape From New York.

  16. Jay

    Beware of any commenatary tracks that Oliver Stone or William Friedkin have recorded. 90% of the commentary is simply a narration of what is happening on screen, and nothing can be more boring than that

    1. PrairieGirl

      Jay, I totally agree. I’m much more selective when it comes to commentaries. It’s much easier to watch a movie that’s not quite up to par than it is to even consider a commentary that’s not almost excellent.

  17. My favorite commentary is for “Hot Fuzz.” Edgar Wright (co-writer/director) and Simon Pegg (co-writer/lead actor) have insight on every aspect of this film. You can tell they’re such great friends for all the jokes and jabs. It’s just a great listen.

      1. Andrew S

        The commentaries for pretty much everything done by Pegg, Wright, and Nick Frost are top quality. Particularly for the American DVD release of their show Spaced. They include original commentary for both 6-episode seasons’ British releases, as well as brand new commentaries made especially for the American release with a bunch American celebrities they’re fans of/friends with. (Quentin Tarantino, Patton Oswalt, Kevin Smith, Bill Hader, Matt Stone, and Diablo Cody)

        If anyone hasn’t seen the show, I highly recommend it. I’ve seen each episode 5 or 6 times (not including commentaries) and they still amuse the hell out of me.

        There also seem to be at least 3 commentaries on the Blu-Rays for both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, as well as tons of deleted scenes, bloopers, and featurettes. Those guys really know how to give you your moneys worth.

        1. Thanks for the tip, Jessie & Andrew. I have the HF dvd so I’ll definitely be checking out the commentary. I’ve never heard of the show ‘Spaced,’ but that explains why Bill Hader is cast in their upcoming comedy ‘Paul’ out next year. I highlight that in one of my posts a few months ago.

          1. Andrew S

            Wow, I had no idea he was going to be in Paul. That movie keeps sounding better and better. I was a little wary at first since Edgar Wright wasn’t directing, and his direction seems so integral to their style of comedy, but the more I hear about it the more excited I get. And Greg Mottolla’s certainly no slouch in the comedy world.

            Speaking of whom, another good commentary is the one Greg Mottolla does for Adventureland.

  18. Brianna

    One of the best commentaries I’ve seen is the one with Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder. His character, Kirk Lazarus, says in the movie that he doesn’t break character until the DVD commentary is over. And he doesn’t. If you thought that movie was funny, the commentary is quite amusing as well.

    1. Ha! I should check that one out, RDJ as Lazarus is freakin’ hilarious! Amazing that he can keep a straight face during that whole thing, wow!

  19. Rebecca

    I usually check out the commentaries, some are dull, some a great. For “classic” movies it’s always better when looked at later, such as anniversary editions of the original Karate Kid, or Ghostbusters or Big Trouble in Little China, because they have the luxury of looking back. You get technical meets nostalgia meets inside info. If you want a funny one, listen to Richard O’Brien and Patricia Quinn enjoying champagne while they do their commentary on The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Starts off with some interesting information then just gets hilarious!

    However for commentaries on new releases, sometimes they are at an end of years of work and the participants are simply talked out. Or because the stars were paid a lot to be in the film, the director is sick of the damn thing, you get a crapshoot, the available folks can either be great or dull. A really good pair of commentaries which were done the day of the premiere of the film are on the Tropic Thunder Director’s cut DVD. You have Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr. and Jack Black doing a commentary that I would argue is as, if not funnier than the film itself (and I loved this movie) but as he mentions during this commentary Ben Stiller does another one with the filmmakers which goes into all the behind the camera stuff, also interesting because the film had many different movie styles within it and big action as well as big comedy scenes they needed to achieve.

    1. Hi Rebecca, good point there about how the people involved might be too jaded by the end of the shoot that they can’t bear to talk about it for another second. I wonder if participating in this is something the actors/directors are paid to do or voluntary. I mean, that might make affect their willingness to participate πŸ™‚

  20. Frohike131

    The commentary from Ivan Reitman and Harold Ramis on Ghostbusters is one of my favorites. It has some very cool behind the scenes tidbits and is a really good listen.

  21. Wolfman

    Man I keep hearing about these Lord of the Rings. I have to say I could barley sit through the film the first time let alone listen to some one yammer on about the three hour borefest. But I digress I must say some of the best commentaires that I have listened to are the following.

    Evolution you get Duchovny, Sean William Scott, Orlando Jones, and Ivan Riteman all talking and having a blast while doing it. The only thing that would have made it better is if they had the in-vision box going at the same time.

    Island in the sky: you get William welman jr. (son of the director), Darryl Hickman actor, Leonard maltin, all talking about what it was like to work with John Wayne and the toughness it was to make such a film for its time.

    Nightmare on Elm Street: As the poster before stated you are enlightened into the process of what was going on how they chose people and if there where any accidents on the by Langenkamp and Craven.

    These are just the ones that i remember off the top of my head I have listened to far more than I want to admit to. in fact I just got a copy of El Dorado with John Wayne and there is going to a suplimented commentary but John Wayne I know he is dead but I am guessing it was some kind of audio interview he gave about the movie and he talked about certain parts. So they going to splice it in I find it intrieging. They did the same thing with Stave mqeeun on the Getaway and i thought that was cool.

  22. John S.

    John Carpenter’s commentaries are by far my favorite. He talks about locations and comments on the actors and scenes and the writing and photography and so on. He is very informative. John Badham does good commentaries as well but I have only listened to “Saturday Night Fever,” “Dracula” and “War Games.” The worst commentaries are those where the director simply describes what we are seeing on the screen. We want stories of the filming and flaws pointed out and things like that. Taylor Hackford’s commentary on “Devil’s Advocate” is by far the worst I have heard.

    1. Wolfman

      I have to disagree with the worst comment. The worst commentary to me is the one on Rambo First Blood part II. All you wind up hearing for the run of the film is I put flowing water here to capture motion flowing water, flowing water, flowing water, flowing water. It has to be the most stupid sounding one ever. Why the hell did they even let him talk.

    2. Sam Lowry

      The Farrelly’s commentary on “There’s Something About Mary” was rather painful because all they ever seemed to talk about was each friend, family member, dentist, doctor or whoever they had put in the background of nearly every shot. Oy.

    3. Agreed, John Carpenter is a greater speaker – very open and honest about his movies. His commentaries with Kurt Russell are full of great anecdotes.

  23. Sam Lowry

    I enjoyed Tarsem’s commentary on “The Cell” because he’s either apologizing for what’s on the screen or attacking the studio for preventing him from making the movie he was originally hired for. Berlinger’s commentary on “Blair Witch 2” is much the same, but even angrier.

    Oh, and one tidbit from Tarsem: The suits actually wanted JLo in every scene of this murder mystery. Kinda hard to do that and still maintain a “mystery”, y’think?

    1. Haven’t seen The Cell but I LOVE Tarsem’s other work The Fall. He is a visionary indeed, so no doubt he might not see eye-to-eye with the studio who cares far more about the bottom line than the art itself.

  24. Depends on who is doing the commentary. I prefer cast or writer/director. Producers don’t have a lot of interesting things to say IMHO. I like hearing about casting choices, cinematography, random trivia and stuff about the script.

    One of the best commentaries is the Richard Kelly/Jake Gyllenhaal one for Donnie Darko. One of the worst is the cast commentary for Donnie Darko, I just cannot listen to Drew Barrymore.

    I also liked Robert Rodriguez’ Planet Terror commentary.

    1. JAB

      Right-O! Producers rarely have anything to say that I care to hear. (I think they’re too stuck on the biz$$$ side.)

    2. Absolutely agree, unless the producer is heavily involved in the making or is the brainchild of the story, i.e. Andrew Lloyd Webber in the Phantom of the Opera movie. But generally I don’t care about the financial/economic aspect of a movie, so yeah, bring on the cast and director! Like you, I do love all those tidbits about the elements you mention. The more the better!

  25. The Vagabond

    In general, cast and director commentaries tend to really interest me. Behind-the-scenes stuff, what it was like on set, how they got into character… And some of the best (“Big Trouble in Little China”) leave you feeling like you’re sitting on the couch with these folks, watching the movie and reminiscing about the making of it.

    On the flip side, producers and technical people tend to produce either really dry commentaries (“Now in this shot we used this kind of a camera, but we had to change to a certain kind of lens because the sun was at a certain angle to the…” zzzzz) or the kind previously mentioned where they just narrate the screen.

    One of my absolute favorites, though, is “UHF”. Not only is it amazing how much “Weird Al” Yankovic remembers about the making of the movie, but the commentary is high-larious!

    1. “…leave you feeling like you’re sitting on the couch with these folks…” now that indeed is a sign of good commentary. But yeah, if it gets way too technical then zzzzzz… though I should go back and watch the commentary on Terminator Salvation (not sure if there’s any). I wonder if they’d mention about Christian Bale’s profanity-laden rant to the DP that got leaked out.

  26. Lyra

    One of the greatest commentaries I have ever encountered was actually for The Lion King. Among other insightful comments about the movie itself, they discuss how simple techniques in live action become great feats of achievement in animation and vice versa. It is a wonderful way to ease yourself into the world of commentaries as a movie loved since childhood with so much more going on below the surface.

    1. Sam Lowry

      I don’t suppose they mentioned that Katzenberg had no idea the plot he came up with was actually Hamlet until the writers offhandedly mentioned they assumed he knew it was Hamlet all along?

    2. Sam Lowry

      …and on a related note, I’d love to hear a commentary track for “Shrek” recorded sometime after Katzenberg dies that describes the contents of all the notes director Adamson received that, if he had followed them, would have turned this family film into the angriest R-rated rape and pillage of the Magic Kingdom since Paul Krassner published the “Disneyland Memorial Orgy” poster (available at paulkrassner.com).

      You do know that Prince Farquaad was a slap at Michael Eisner, right? And that “Farquaad” was they closest Katzenberg and his former-Disney staffers could get to calling him “f***head”? There must be so much more that can be revealed!

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  28. rick luna

    You write for something called Flixchatter and you only just recently started watching commentaries?!? Seriously. That would be like if someone running for vice president couldn’t name the titles of any newspapers. Don’t write about a subject you are uninformed about, it makes you sound like a hack writer.

    1. Wow, I didn’t know one has to be an ‘expert’ to write a blog! I’m just a movie fan dude, never pretend to be any more than that.

      Oh and by the way, the GUEST blogger of this post actually have watched quite a few commentaries, she’s simply sharing her thoughts/experience and invite people for a discussion.

      1. Wolfman

        I am with you RTM I am just a film fan I have way more movies than any person should. But I figure my opinon as just as good as anyone else.

        1. Thanks Wolfman. My hubby said that it’s not as if you need to have an artist like Picasso or Van Gogh to explain their work in order for you to appreciate their art. Otherwise people who watch films prior to dvds being invented aren’t ‘qualified’ to say anything about films. That’s just ludicrous.

  29. I started listening to comentaries back in the early 90’s on laserdiscs, usually Criterions. I loved them because they were truly ‘special’ features, few and far between, providing reams of info you otherwise would never have found out. However, with the advent of DVD, commentaries became ubiquitous and often superfluous, because (although prairiegirl feels most DVD’s don’t have have them) there are literally thousands available, most boring beyond belief (‘Here’s where she approaches the camera, now she turns away’ or the aforementioned overly technical ones). The best ones I find nowadays are always on classic movies and are usually supplied by film historians. These ones always have intriguing stories about the studios and dishy stories about cast and crew, as well as learned responses to what you’re watching.

    1. PrairieGirl

      Maybe I just end up seeing a lot of movies that don’t have them. Just watched Sherlock Holmes (2009) from Netflix this weekend, and the only thing on the DVD menu was Play Movie and Languages. Nothing more! No commentary, or any other special feature at all. Would have thought there would be a lot for that film. Go figure.

      Haven’t listened to any classic movie commentaries yet, but looking forward to them, especially Citizen Kane.

      1. Wolfman

        You know Prairie girl it almost turns out to be a 50-50 shoot when it comes to commentary being on a dvd. I mean there are movies that I think should have them but don’t and then some that do and that is only thing available on the disc. You just happen to come across some of the ones that don’t. Try to check out some films older than 25 years you might find a few more that do have them.

        1. PrairieGirl

          And speaking of knowing whether a movie has a commentary, I’ve found that Netflix and even IMDb are not always accurate with the info they include on their sites about commentaries, or even other special features. Often what they list is not correct.

          1. Wolfman

            A freind of mine who is a citzen kane fan. Looked to see where he can find any other movies with Roger Ebert talking on them. There are only 6 movies that he has any commentary on. I do not rmember them but if yo look at his official website for roger it is stated what ones they are.

            1. Sam Lowry

              “Dark City” is one of them–he thought it was the best movie of 1998, and I agree. It’s mindblowing.

      2. cack

        Hey PrairieGirl,
        Its the new thing, rentals don’t have special features anymore (same with some of the discounted versions of the movie). You have to buy the dvd to get the commentary and other special features.

  30. Wolfman

    After I posted the first thing I remembered a few others that I thought were good. and few more that I thought were bad. If you ask me on the Bad side it seems that there are quite a bit of bad ones. I’ll give you a few examples

    American Pie the first movie commentary with the directors,writers, and a few of the guy actors. Sucked big time. They had some storys but it just didn’t seem like they really wanted to do it. I was not impressed.

    Another bad one would be Dario Argentto on just about any movie he has made. Do not get me wrong I love his movies but his accent makes it damn near impossible to understand what the hell he is yammering abut. I would like it if they subtitled the commentary.

    Now onto some of the good ones. Joe Bob Briggs on I Spit on your Grave. It is funny and insightful but I have to ask what the hell is briggs on. He mentions the fact that one of the actors in the film always wears a enginer cap throughout the film. Then minutes later mentions that this where we find out the same actor was in the marines. Ummm if you look at the hat that Johnny wears it is not a enginer cap at all you can clearly see the eagle, anchor, and earth on it. It is his cap from the marines. But it is a good commentary.

    Texas Chainsaw Massacre with Tobey hooper and some of the actors was another great one.

    1. PrairieGirl

      Now that’s an interesting idea, to subtitle the commentary! Speaking of subtitles, I sometimes like to turn them on during the commentary so I can see exactly what the dialog is while the commentator is talking, since almost all the sound is taken off some commentaries. it can help to really keep everything in context.

  31. Dale

    I agree with a post above. Kevin Smith has a few great commentaries. Especially if Ben Affleck is involved. They may not be the most informative, but they’re as entertaining as hell. Terry Gilliam also has some good ones. I recall the Brazil one for Criterion being worth a listen.

  32. Andrew S

    I find commentary on TV shows to be generally more interesting than commentary for movies, especially if it’s a writer/director/show runner doing the talking. Commentaries for Mad Men jump to mind. There’s usually two per episode, one with Matt Weiner and usually another person or two, and one with actors.

    The Wire doesn’t include commentary on every episode, but the ones they do are great. There’s usually at least one piece of each episode that came from someone’s real life and you’ll get to hear those stories, as well as interesting stories about production.

    If you’re a fan of any Will Ferrell/Judd Apatow movies, those commentaries are usually entertaining, not particularly informative, but definitely funny.

    1. Hmmm, your comment inspires me to go back to listen to the commentary on Battlestar Galactica, a show I loved but I didn’t get into it until the last season aired. I’ve only seen bits and pieces of Mad Men in the first season, but I bet the tidbits are interesting to listen to. The Wire is a great show, too.

  33. JAB

    I love them when they work & I find they work about half of the time.
    BULL DURHAM (SE) has 2 of the best for entirely different reasons: Costner/Robbins’ is hilarious & writer/director Ron Shelton’s is very earnest & revealing.
    OCEANS 11 is great by the way Soderbergh & his screenwriter playfully trade barbs with each other. CONTACT has Jodie Foster delivering a very thoughful & engaging track, but Zemeckis’s track is dreadfully boring.
    Oftentimes the “making of” docs give people like Spielberg & Lucas an excuse not to comment, but these extra features soar (so they’re forgiven). Cameron always gives good commentaries, but “Under Pressure” –the making of THE ABYSS– is a flat out great doc.

    1. I can see the filmmakers might think it’s redundant to do a commentary AND the making-of documentary as they might overlap. I think if I have to choose between them, I’d go with the documentary as then they can show the footage of filming, the set, etc. which is fun to watch. I have The Abyss, so when I have the time I’ll be sure to pop that one in and give it a listen. Thanks for the tip!

  34. Trish

    I ALWAYS listen the the commentary on DVDs. Since I’m renting the movie, I figure I should get my money’s worth by listening to everything on it. You really must listen to the commentary on “This is Spinal Tap”. The actors stay in character throughout it.

    1. Good point, Trish. Yet another reason I should start doing that more often πŸ™‚ It’s amazing how actors can stay in character even after the movie’s done, somebody mentioned Robert Downey doing the same thing in the Tropic Thunder commentary.

      1. Irving 143

        The commentary on “This Is Spinal Tap” turned that movie into its own sequel. Brilliantly done, and not something you run across every day.

  35. Jeremy

    Hey – I definitely second (or third/fourth/fifth) the recommendation for Ebert on Citizen Kane.

    Also anything that Bruce Campbell (e.g. Evil Dead, where he rips on his own acting, Bubba Ho-Tep where he does the commentary in character as Elvis!) or Kevin Smith are involved with.

    Another commentary worth checking out is Cameron Crowe and Amy Heckering (sp?) on Life and Fast Times of Ridgemont High – the movie finishes, yet the commentary goes on for many more minutes over a black screen!

    1. I get the feeling ‘Citizen Kane’ might be on a short wait on Netflix as everyone now wants to get a hold of it πŸ™‚ Ha..ha.. I could totally see Bruce doing that (making fun of himself), I like him all the more for it.

  36. Jan Little

    Someone above mentioned the commentaries for Mad Men. I agree that they are excellent. When renting a DVD, I watch both commentaries per episode. The other special features on Mad Men DVDs, the documentaries, are great.

    Movie commentaries do run the gamut. I collect Film Noir DVDs. One of the best commentaries was by William Friedkin, the director of The French Connection, for The Narrow Margin. But, a professor’s musings of The Asphalt Jungle were boring; little of what he said had anything to do with the action onscreen. I stopped listening after two minutes.

    The Criterion DVDs have great special features and commentaries.

  37. Bryan

    You can laugh, but one of my favorites is “Blair Witch 2”. While a lot of commentaries are love fests- “I loved this actor or he/she was always great”, this one was pure hate. Joe Berlinger talks about how the studio screwed him out of a final cut and forced many changes he did not agree with.

    I also enjoy the Clerks animated series commentaries for the same reason, as Kevin Smith and company dish out on how they were mistreated by an “Unnamed network” and all the BS they dealt with during production of a great, underrated and prematurely cancelled series.

  38. Earl

    The Simpsons and Futurama commentaries are always hilarious and insightful. I watch the episodes with commentaries on frequently.
    In terms of movies, Peter Jackson is maybe my favorite filmmaker in terms of commentaries. Always a joy to listen to. Kevin Smith and co are always awesome too. Ben Affleck is so funny with those. Actually made Armageddon more watchable, by making fun of whats happening onscreen.
    Ghostbusters is a great one. Its a shame Dan Aykroyd isn’t sitting in, but Reitman and Ramis are great.
    Michael Mann and Oliver Stone are more informative than anything, but they do give great insight into their works.

    Damn shame Spielberg doesn’t do commentaries, because hes so great to listen to in the DVD retrospective documentaries.

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  40. Jeremy

    The Panic Room SE has a commentary between the screenwriter and a ‘Special Guest’…who just happens to be one of the most celebrated screenwriters in motion picture history.
    Throughout the commentary they discuss in detail how the movie was written and the guest doesn’t pull any punches when expressing his feelings about it. Lots of fun.

  41. I listen to commentary tracks pretty continuously — they’re my go-to thing to put on when I’m cleaning the house or cooking lunch or filing paperwork or what have you, the way most people go to their Ipod…and as a filmmaker (or wannabe filmmaker) I find them invaluable — it’s like film school in a box, the opportunity to hear straight from the horses’ mouth what events or decisions influenced the creation of a film.

  42. I used to almost always listen to the DVD commentary, and I almost always enjoyed it. I have found out some pretty fascinating stuff! I never listen to it now, however, and I guess it’s because I have less free time. I think I should try to carve out time to start doing it again though, at least for the movie’s I’m super obsessed with πŸ˜‰

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