August 2008 Archives
Sure, the first season of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was only nine episodes, but the DVD is packed with more extras than most DVD sets with seasons twice that long. The DVD and Blu-ray are each only three discs long, but every disc is filled with special features (in addition to the three episodes on each disc). If you missed the season, it was recapped already, so I'll skip the episodes and go straight to the goodies.
Commentary on Three Episodes: Summer Glau ("Cameron"), creator/executive producer Josh Friedman, executive producer James Middleton, and episode director David Nutter comment on the pilot. It's interesting, although other than Summer, it's nearly impossible to know who's saying what (often a problem when commentary tracks have too many participants without disctinctive voices). There are a couple of explanations -- including the random reason they chose to tip over a bus (because someone told them they could do it for $500!) -- that will make you appreciate the happenstance of the whole thing. But, as sweet as Summer is, it seems odd not to have Lena Headey ("Sarah") commenting on this first episode.
The commentary on "The Turk" includes Headey and Thomas Dekker ("John"), but it's sadly even less interesting -- partially because the episode is just not as pivotal, but mostly because this group of four (Friedman and executive producer John Wirth join in) doesn't seem to have much direction and mostly ends up chatting about what they like or don't like instead of giving viewers any really enlightening information.
The commentary on the final episode, "What He Beheld," isn't much better. It's Friedman, Glau, writer Ian Goldberg, and Brian Austin Green ("Derek"). It's still more idle chatter than anything and probably comes down to having four people commenting at a time. Next season they'll hopefully choose only one or two commenters each episode, or at least give them an outline/guide of what to discuss.
Terminated Scenes: There are six deleted scenes on the first disc from this disc's episodes, mostly from the pilot. And, honestly? They didn't add anything for me. I didn't learn anything about the characters or show that I didn't know before. That said, they didn't take away, either, and wouldn't have hurt in the series. But that's the reason these scenes were cut: They just didn't matter.
Extended Cut of "The Demon Hand": This includes an introduction from three of the show's producers, John Worth, James Middleton and Josh Friedman. The extra scenes -- which were cut from the original broadcast airing for time constraints -- are presented in the context of a second, unfinished version of the episode. It's only eight minutes of extra footage, but you have to sit through the other 42 minutes without corrected sound, voiceover, music, etc. You're better off skimming to the points with the extra scenes. About seven minutes in is a scene of John in lab class with his mysterious blonde love interest. They hold hands and turn on a light bulb, learning about "a closed electrical circuit." Then we see him in the hall, noticing his new mystery girlfriend's locker is graffiti'd much like the girl who took her own life only a few episodes earlier. After the scenes of John in the school, we get an extended scene of Ellison watching Sarah talk. It's a lot of backstory, but it offers something that we didn't have in his original viewing of the video: Sarah's not crazy and talking to herself; she's telling a story about her past. Which makes more sense, and makes him possibly see her in a better light. It's not groundbreaking stuff, but it's all insightful and interesting. Amazingly, they chose to cut these scenes and keep a season's worth of voiceover anvils. If you want to skip the rest of the unfinished episode, go to the third disc's special features instead of watching the extended cut. The only special features on this disc are "Terminated Scenes," which are simply these two scenes -- the lab scene at school and Sarah's extended monologue -- without the clutter of the rest of the episode.
Creating the Chronicles: A three-part making of featurette. This is far more interesting and detailed than any of the commentaries, and gives much more useful information in far less time (a total of 40 minutes). The first part of the feature, "Reboot," talks about -- fairly obviously -- how they went about rebooting the franchise. The second part, "Future War," is a detailed look at how and why they decided to create Derek in the future war in the sixth episode, "Dungeons and Dragons." It was initially intended to be a much larger war, but budgetary and logistical changes led them to split the time in the episode between the present day and the future. That's how Derek (Brian Austin Green) became a character in the series. The third part, "The Demon Hand," was about the episode of the same title, from the opening homage to the backstory about Sarah. They admit they violate the canon, but that those violations add something that was necessary for this series.
Gag Reel: One of the less entertaining gag reels I've seen, with a few notable exceptions (Thomas Dekker being adorable; Richard T. Jones continuously messing up). It's hard to draw many laughs when watching these usually somber characters crack an occasional smile, probably because the show is so unfunny.
Cast Audition Tapes: Audition footage for Lena Headey, Thomas Dekker and Richard T. Jones are included on the second disc. Even though the acting here isn't what you see on the series, and it's hard to compare to what other actors read for the parts, I always appreciate these being included, because it's like the producers trust us with what's really a private part of the process: casting. It's clear from the show why these people were cast, but less clear -- to me, not being a casting agent or in the biz at all -- from the audition tapes. The notable omission of Summer Glau from these tapes makes one wonder if she had to audition for the part at all, or if Firefly (and Serenity, of course) clinched it for her. After all, River Tam was no robot, but she sure acted like one sometimes.
Summer Glau's Dance Rehearsal: This isn't all that exciting, because we've already seen her dance for such a long time in "The Demon Hand." We know the girl can dance; no need for the extra rehearsal footage, which, if anything, shatters the illusion: I don't want to know she needs to rehearse. I like thinking it all just comes naturally, as if Summer were a robot of sorts, too.
It's clear the studio and producers went above and beyond for fans here, including almost more hours of extras than of actual episodes. That's the sort of thing that should please die-hards and even make casual viewers of the show take notice. If they're willing to give this much on a DVD that retails for less than $20 (even the Blu-ray is less than $30), who knows what they'll throw in if Season 2 makes it to 20 or more episodes? I, for one, can't wait to find out.
If you are a Heroes fan, and I kind of presume that you are if you clicked on this column, this DVD set is one that you'll want to add to your collection. Now I'm not going to start defending the problematic and abridged second season of this superhero saga by saying that it was 13 incredible episodes. Because then I'd be lying, and I try not to do that on a regular basis. I thought the season was hit or miss, but still the set itself is pretty impressive and jam-packed full of extras that weren't just thrown on as an afterthought. The producers and cast of the show clearly have a passion for this series, and that comes across here.
I'm also not going to even attempt to thoroughly explain all that went down on this show in season 2; we've got full recaps for that. But suffice it to say it involved feudal Japan, a biological virus, a girl who has bleeding eyes, an Irish pub, lots of DNA stuff, a teenager who can fly and one notorious bad guy who likes to slice open heads and steal brains.
While the bonus feature I was initially most excited to see on this set was the alternate ending, it turned out that the best stuff was in the Untold Stories section. They are not only just scenes that are deleted, but arcs that never even made it to air. There's some truly fantastic stuff about Veronica... er, Elle tracking down Sylar. There are some more victims with unique abilities, that presumably Sylar has now made his own (judging by the twisted death scenes that unfold), and a fabulous scene between Elle and HRG about what a manipulative ass her father is. Good stuff. And then there's one amazing dream sequence with Mama Petrelli that gave me goosebumps and made me so excited for season 3. Which was probably the entire point of this.
Don't get me wrong, the Alternate Ending was worth it. Basically before the writer's strike the plot was supposed to go down a road where they examined what would happen if this scary virus got out into the world, instead of Peter catching the deadly vial and stopping it from spreading when Kensei/Adam dropped it. I was kind of amazed at the difference that one little twist would make to the show, and though some of it is storyboarded, it's pretty interesting. Also great to hear the producers/creators sitting around talking about why they made this change and talking about how sometimes this show takes on a life of its own, and how they have to rearrange plots and storylines around location and talent availability. And here I thought they had a plan. Which they seem to, but the path to the plan is flexible, apparently.
There are plenty of deleted scenes to go around on this set as well, pretty much each of the four discs has them.This set gets bonus points from me for not saving all its extra content for the final disc, or for an additional disc. Instead, they smartly decide to intersperse the featurettes and scenes on the discs where they are relevant. On TV sets, not much annoys me more than having to search around for the additional content that goes with each episode, and I applaud them for wisely putting it in the proper place. It's really the small things that make me happy. Some of the deleted scenes are great. Really great. They add a lot to the story, like there's a fabulous scene between Ando and Hiro's daddy in which the senior Nakamura talks about his powers which gives another look at the facets of Kaito (and gives the wonderful George Takei more scenes, which makes me happy.) Though then there's more of Hiro's misadventures in Japan, which were so boring that I had to get a cup of tea to revive myself. And I don't really need to see West changing lightbulbs in the air. In fact, I didn't really need to see West again at all. But there's some other interesting tidbits to be found in the mix.
Some other features, which are scattered appropriately among the set, are a Takezo Kensei: Sword Saint (a documentary shot history channel style on the mythical legend), The Drucker Files (an expose shown in a news report about the life of the mystery man who is known as the godfather of the internet) and Genetics of a Scene (the break down of how a scene is shot and what goes into making something as simple as blooming cherry blossom trees.)
Of course there's also a preview of Season 3 (which reveals nothing, except that the show will pick up after Nathan got shot, and that the cast isn't allowed to say anything under penalty of death), a preview of Season 2 (for those who presumably didn't watch it when it was on), some other featurettes which were originally available on NBC.com and a gallery of the great comic artwork of Tim Sale that the show uses.
And a Heroes DVD set wouldn't be complete without commentary. Every episode has one, and it is a mix of talent from producers and directors to featured cast members. I haven't had a chance to listen to all of them yet, but the ones I have are pretty fascinating, not just, "um, yeah I showed up that day and shot some stuff," that a lot of DVDs have, but some actual discussion about the making of this show, which can even make a lackluster episode more interesting. Now I'm just itching for Season 3 to start to see what the twisted minds behind this show will come up with to outdo themselves for the next DVD set.
The special features on the DVD are few, but they serve to highlight both the movies strengths and weaknesses. (For the audiophile, we're given the option of watching in Stereo 2.0 or Dolby Digital 6.1, and there's also the theatrical trailer, neither of which require much in the way of explanation.)
Unseen Campfire Interviews: The film is structured as vintage footage mingled with a series of "campfire interviews," which were modeled on Strummer's own affinity for campfires as a place to experience community and an exchange of ideas. He famously began holding these campfires after he'd performed at England's Glastonbury Festival, and it became a prominent motif over the course of his life. Temple appropriated this idea as a way to interview a slew of pop culture figures from Clash guitarist Mick Jones to Strummer's ex-girlfriend and artist Deborah van der Beek to actors Johnny Depp (still costumed, to rather ridiculous effect, as Captain Jack Sparrow) and John Cusack to Bono about the far-reaching influence that Joe's music and life has had on generations of people and the music and art they produce. It's a quaint idea and one that should work in theory. But the constant jump cuts between archived footage and the seemingly random array of interview subjects serves only to fragment what could otherwise have been a cohesive story. Oftentimes you find yourself wondering why in the hell you should care what people like Damien Hirst have to say about Strummer. The interview subjects that are most poignant -- those consisting of former bandmates and other musicians -- are all present in the theater release, and the outtakes don't provide a hell of a lot of added flair.
Director's commentary: This feature is riveting both because it provides insight into the process of making the film and because it affords an insider's take on the historical events that were documented. As mentioned previously, Temple was a part of the scene that he is chronicling, and as such his commentary is yet another colorful voice contributing to the telling of the story, one that was not articulated as prominently in the theater release. His commentary provides a personal touch that only emphasizes the wistful poignancy with which we're left when the movie ends.
Buy it now.
You either love Prison Break, or you shake your head at the implausibility of all the narrow escapes from the law and convenient mystery assistance and write the show off. If you love it, then of course you'll want to get the third season on DVD. Just don't get your hopes up for a lot of extras.
The abbreviated season (only 13 episodes because of the writer's strike) focuses on the grimy Sona Prison in the hot Panama heat. The tables are turned: Lincoln's name has been cleared, but now his brother, Michael, has been tossed in the slammer with some of the most hardened criminals on the planet. Lincoln feels obligated to help his brother out, especially since Michael's plan to bust Linc out of jail was what got them into this whole mess in the first place. There are some truly bizarre plot twists along the way, but it's dirty and sweaty and filled with high-intensity action.
The extras are fine, but mostly the obligatory stuff that you'll find on most discs today. So if you've been spoiled by directors who do elaborate commentaries, or have gotten hooked on alternate endings and deleted scenes or goofy games, then you are likely to be disappointed.
First up is "Season 3: Orientation." It's basically a primer for the season with cast interviews about their characters and some footage of the show. It's a good way to get to know some of the newbies, like Chris Vance and Danay Garcia, who are just so happy to be on the show. And Jodi Lyn O'Keefe, who apparently really digs that she gets to play with guns. She finds it "exhilarating." I'm finding it a little disturbing, but it seems to work for her character development.
There's chatter from the other cast members as they try to justify playing bad guys by saying that they have heart, even though in some cases they really have committed appalling crimes (I'm looking in T-Bag's general direction). Like Amaury Nolasco, who says that Sucre isn't really a criminal, because he only committed armed robbery... it isn't like he killed someone. And it's all well and good, because he did it for love. Ah, love -- it's what makes the world go round and keeps the prisons filled. The best part is Robert Knepper joking that he sleeps with his fake hand, and then demonstrating things he can do with the useless appendage.
Next up is something called the "Break Out Episode," which pretty much is exactly what you would think it is. It's a behind-the-scenes look at how they filmed Season 3's jailbreak. There's lots of footage of people and cameras running through the jungle and plenty of talk about the cast being stuck in the water for hours on end while they awaited their "rescue." Even though it was filmed in sunny Florida, the temperatures were brisk that day and there were teeth a'chatterin'. William Fichtner admits that he did the footage that was close to shore, but during the long shots of the buoy being out in the open water, he stayed back on dry land. Can't say I blame him. And I give him credit for being so open about his lack of shame about using stunt guys (no need to be a hero!) because he wasn't crazy enough to get out in the deep where the sharks are. Again, I think he's pretty much a genius in this sense.
Then there's the "Director's Take Featurette," which goes through a scene from each episode and gives a pick on how this was made and why it was important. This seems to be the commentary substitute, so if you want to know what they were thinking, this is the place, though don't expect a ton of answers about your burning questions.
My favorite feature by far was the featurette called "Between Takes." This, like the Director's Take, looks like it was originally filmed as Internet promo spots for the show. If they ever aired the first time around, I missed them, and either way it's nice to have them all connected. "Between Takes" is pretty self-explanatory -- it's a nicely presented package about what each of the stars does when they aren't busy filming. They've got to kill time somehow. Amaury (my favorite for the moment) listens to his iPod constantly and dances Salsa in a corner alone and makes a lot of goofy faces to while away the minutes.
There's also a bonus feature about The Unit. This is not a bonus feature. It is a commercial. I hate, hate, hate when DVD menus make you think that you are getting something special and then it's just a commercial for something you have no desire to ever watch in your entire life. So many sets do this, but I'm still not thrilled by the development. That's valuable disc space that could have been used for a blooper reel.
All in all, if you're a die-hard Prison Break junkie, you'll want to pick this up. If you aren't, there's nothing on here that's going to really lure you over to Prison Break fandom if you didn't get the first two sets.
Like many of you, I did not see Starship Troopers 2. I am a huge fan of the first movie, however, so when I heard the incomparably adorable (and incomparably terrible actor, but like, this is Starship Troopers, not Richard III so like, get over yourself -- that was meant to be read in '90s valley girl voice, BTW. I don't know why I made her so pretentious) Casper Van Dien would be reprising the role of Johnny Rico for the third installment, I was so there!
Unfortunately, that little casting stunt was a dirty trick. He's only in the movie for about five minutes, with the majority of the screen time left to Enterprise's Jolene Blalock, who has this face that just makes me think she went to a plastic surgeon and said "Give me the Angelina Jolie," and though he tried his best, things just didn't go as planned. You could also really tell this was not a Paul Verhoeven film -- there wasn't nearly enough blood in it, which was just, oh God I was so mad, and it took 48 whole minutes to get to any nudity and even then it was only butts! There are some boobs (much) later, but still -- not very Verhoeven-y, director Ed Neumeier. Anyway, if you're still on board after reading all that, there are some extras on this straight-to-DVD release, and I watched them all especially for you.
Director and Cast Commentary: The aforementioned Ed Neumeier, Jolene Blalock and even Casper Van Dien, together on one track. They reveal a lot of fun things (they went all the way to South Africa to make this thing! Casper Van Dien's a huge John Ford fan!), and they all actually seem like really cool people who genuinely like each other. I found this surprising and delightful.
Filmmakers Commentary: Ed Neumeier again, with the producer and special effects supervisor, who apparently did Alien and Terminator 2, which is about the most impressive thing I've ever heard anyone say. They talk a great deal about how the movie came together and how they made all the new bugs (which look exactly like the ones in Pitch Black but with yellow caution stripes painted on them. Weird.)
Extended Music Video: One of the highlights of the film is a hilarious sing-along scene with a very Donald Rumsfeld-esque character (the movie is dripping with current political allegory, and oddly pro-Christian overtures, believe it or not), and this is the extended version of that scene. It's the best part of the movie, really.
Featurette Number One: There is a featurette that deals with the Troopers' ethos and the details of their story world. It was boring as all hell and I barely got all the way through it. But, if you love applying critical theory to straight-to-DVD cheesefests, then knock yourself out.
Featurette Number Two: This is the visual effects featurette, and it was a lot better. The stunts, bugs and CGI were all revealed, and it's pretty interesting. I highly recommend it.