November 2008 Archives
There are two different kinds of Monty Python's Flying Circus fans: one likes to see each episode in its original, complete format, with all of the lead-ins, animation and callbacks, and the other just wants to see the funniest sketches. There's something for both fans in this new Collector's Edition -- especially fans who just want the sketches, because they're presented in a staggering variety of formats. Even though it's pretty much a repackaging of the 16-ton MegaSet and the Personal Best retrospectives, two additional (and very good) documentaries make it a must-have collection. Just don't come crying to us when they release an even bigger set, this time with all of the movies in it.
For episode completists, all 45 episodes are spread out over 14 discs, with three or four episodes per disc, plus miscellaneous "extras," mostly clips, trivia and biographies. On the seven bonus material discs, we also get the first all-German episode made for German TV (Disc 18), although not the second, which is a mark against the set right off the bat. We also get a deleted sketch, cut from the re-broadcasts of one episode for being too political (Disc 15). (The members of a political party are shown learning a dance routine for a TV ad from a choreographer. I'm sure that if I had been British in the 1970s, I would have found it scandalous.) There are no commentary tracks on the episodes, sadly, but there is a segment where Terry Gilliam does commentary on the show's three different animated openings, explaining what he was thinking about and where the various pictures came from (Disc 15). While he doesn't remember where a lot of the art and ideas are from, it's fun to listen to Gilliam make the logical connections in his head between a naked woman and a cardinal on a tricycle. You can even take close-up looks at the different cutouts he would animate with, in the extras sections of most of the episode discs, under "Gilliam's Attic." A lot of thought has been put into these galleries, as each piece of clip art links to an alternate view, or trivia, or just a visual joke involving it.
For the specific-sketch connoisseur, you get not only the Live at the Hollywood Bowl concert (Disc 17), you also get the Steve Martin-hosted clip show Parrot Sketch Not Included: 20 Years of Python (Disc 18). Then you get all six Personal Best clip shows, showcasing the best work of each Python member (Discs 19-21), plus four "Second Best" sets of bonus clips, a funny behind-the-scenes with John Cleese on his shoot and an interview with Terry Gilliam about how he and the boys hooked up. Cleese's Personal Best is worth watching if only for the lengthy opening sketch, "Fairy Tale," which is taken from the missing second German episode -- there may be other clips from that episode elsewhere, but good luck finding them. After all, most of the set's "extras" are clips, taken from their homes elsewhere in the set and sprinkled onto the other discs in themed groups of three or four and given titles like "Confusing Musings" (long, bizarre explanations from the show), "Bleeding Critics" (just critic sketches), "The Cleese Shop" (all Cleese, all the time), "Gillianimations" (cartoons), "Spriechen zie Python?" (clips from the first German episode) and "Monty Karaoke" (where you can sing along with hits like "Sit on My Face" -- which you can already do with any song in the collection, thanks to the magic of subtitles). They don't seem to serve any purpose, except to possibly slow you down and prevent you from getting to the next episode, where you would likely have seen one or more of the sketches anyway. As an obsessive organizer who hates redundancy, I have found it best to ignore most of them, and to not think about how many times certain sketches, like "The Fish-Slapping Dance," are repeated between the six Personal Best specials.
For the Python historian, two new documentaries are fairly fascinating -- one, called Before the Flying Circus (Disc 15), chronicles the Pythons' lives from childhood up to the first episode, explaining exactly how they got into comedy, how they all met, and how they set about getting a ridiculous, ridiculous TV show approved, all in glorious black-and-white. The other, which is perhaps even more fascinating but for totally different reasons, is Monty Python Conquers America (Disc 16), which explains how they got onto TV in the United States. The sprawling saga of how the Pythons, after killing in Canada and bombing on the Tonight Show, could barely manage to get aired on a PBS station in Dallas, Texas, run by the father of Luke and Owen Wilson (Luke is interviewed) is totally frustrating to someone who discovered Monty Python at the age of 13 and instantly loved them. It really made me think about how much they changed comedy, TV programmers in the 1970s couldn't even crack a smile at them, and yet a 13-year-old in 1990 had been raised to appreciate their bizarre sensibilities. New interviews with the cast were filmed for both, but anyone wanting to hear from the Pythons circa 10 years ago can check out Live at Aspen (Disc 17), which is an on-stage team interview featuring host Robert Klein, quickly discovered Graham Chapman impersonator Eddie Izzard, and Terry Gilliam in a Tintin sweater accidentally kicking over the real Graham Chapman's ashes. And mini-bios and film credits for the boys appear on nearly every disc.
It's hard to nit-pick the set, with the exception of that missing German episode -- a shame, considering it's been released by A&E before, on the Life of Python DVD. In fact, I would have liked to have seen most of that material (the new sketches, the 1971 May Day Festival film, Michael Palin's tour of Pythonland and the South Park tribute) in this collection. I would also have liked to not have to sit through the opening menu animation every time I put in a new disc, but that's neither here nor there.
Buy it now, or your desire for it will be like an albatross around your neck.
Oh, the good Doctor in all his glory. What more could you want? A season-ending two-part episode that brings back pretty much all the recent companions? Or a smashing Christmas episode with Kylie Minogue that will have you fearing robot angels? Or how about just David Tennant's wacky Video Diary? Still not enough? Well, hold on to your hats, because the price of the Doctor Who Complete Season 4 DVD is worth it for the Children in Need "Time Crash" benefit episode alone, and it's on here as an extra. Sure you can see it on youtube or that ilk, but something this awesome is deserving of the full home-theater treatment.
I was dreading watching this season because of two words: Donna Noble. Her appearance as the screaming, annoying bride in Season 3 had made me very wary of her status as a regular companion of the Doctor. Nothing against the lovely Catherine Tate as an actress, but Donna just really rubbed me the wrong way. But while I wasn't her biggest fan (like some others), she definitely grew on me, and this season has some of the most incredible episodes to date. Seriously, the minds at work over there keep outdoing themselves, and the offerings from Stephen Moffat (who will be taking over as showrunner when Russell T. Davies steps aside) truly blew my mind. Because of the cryptic and creep Matrix-y "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead" episode, I'm going to have nightmares every time I walk down a shadowy street. Was it not bad enough that he made it so I can't look at statues anymore? Can't wait to see what he concocts for Season 5.
Anyway, during Season 4, there's a trip to Pompeii, an "It's a Wonderful Life"-ish twist with Donna, the Doctor has a kid, there's a visit with Agatha Christie, the near-destruction of the universe (thanks for that, Daleks!) and the cutest little creatures since Tribbles, the Adipose! (Yes, I'm ignoring the fact that they are blobs of fat.) So the episodes are fantastic and you should run out and watch them if you haven't. I guarantee that even if you hate Donna Noble like I did, she'll have you blubbering like a baby by the end of the season. And the discs are jam-packed with Extras, because those BBC folks surely know what they are doing.
Interspersed over the appropriate DVDs are the deleted scenes for the episodes. Some are better than others, but Russell T. Davies is happily there to explain why each of them got cut. Some are touching, like the tribute to the actor who initially played Donna's grandfather, who passed away during the shooting; some were just extra shots of dialogue that could have been done without; and one was a last shot of the Cybermen. Davies laments the removal of the Cybermen, and so do I, but his reasoning for axing it does make sense.
David Tennant's Video Diary
There are only two of his Video Diaries for this season, but they are fabulous. The first chronicles Tennant's hysterical journey to Blackpool, where he's in charge of flipping the switch and lighting the most awesome Doctor Who-themed lights. I'm so jealous that I live on this side of the pond. We don't have cool Doctor Who things like that. I would have taken a day off from work to go. Anyway, Tennant gets stuck in traffic and then he gets a police escort. His giddiness is infectious. His second diary is fantastic because it's filmed during the two-parter when so many of the Who characters have returned. I'll take any chance at seeing John Barrowman acting goofy, he doesn't disappoint. And Tennant's thrill at being part of this universe is clearly evident when he shows off certain things on set -- even the stand-in for him is adorable.
Journey (So Far)
This documentary takes a look back at the series since its revival. It's got crew members/writers talking about this show and how it started as wishful thinking and what it's really become. It shows all the most amazing scenes from Season 1 through 4, and really gives a good look at why this series is so addictive.
Doctor Who Confidential
For all you Whos down in Whoville, there's an entire disc of Doctor Who Confidential, which goes behind-the-scenes and explores the making of the episodes. It could keep you busy for a while.
Children in Need - "Time Crash"
I saved the best for last, of course. The "Time Crash" mini-episode, which was filmed to benefit the charity Children in Need. The 10th Doctor (David Tennant) is taking off, after leaving his latest companion Martha Jones behind, when something wonky happens on the TARDIS and he's suddenly standing next to the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison). Freakin' genius. There's confusion and a little bit of one-up-manship going on, but it's so cool to see them together. Brilliant, and very, very funny, and blends in perfectly with the start of Season 4 and the Titanic crashing into the TARDIS.
So go buy it now. You deserve a little pre-holiday cheer.
Watching Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 tends to leave viewers with the feeling that everyone involved is sort of tired of the series ... already. (There are four books in the series, so you'd hope they still have at least a couple more movies left in them.) Now the bad news: Watching the DVD isn't going to change anyone's mind about the cast and crew's feelings about the movies. After all, there is practically nothing here as far as special features. What's here is good, but it'll leave you feeling like no one cared enough to make anything extra for the DVD. Everything that's here feels like leftovers from TV marketing (featurette) or filming (deleted scenes, gag reel). And nothing is longer than five minutes.
The featurette, called "Go Jump Off A Cliff," bills itself as a behind-the-scenes, making-of documentary, but it's barely more than four minutes long, and teaches viewers two things, at most. 1. They went to Santorini because all of the other girls were jealous that Alexis Bledel got to go there in the first movie. 2. The climactic cliff-jumping scene was the girls' idea and demonstrates how brave and free they are. You know, because jumping off a 15-foot cliff is so scary and dangerous. It's nice to hear how much the girls loved working together and were happy to reunite. Can we have more of that, please? You know... more of the actual making of the movie, instead of patching together a four-minute video just so you can add an extra to your product details?
The gag reel will make you ask yourself if they were lying about how much fun they had on set, because it won't make you laugh much at all. If they can't muster up some full-one belly laughs in a four-minute gag reel from the making of a semi-comedy, you have to wonder if they even know what's funny. (And, really, the movie won't convince you that they do.)
Finally, there are the additional scenes, which include introductions of each one by director Sanaa Hamri. Hamri talks like her audience is made up of six-year-olds, which... granted, some people that age probably watch this movie, but those who understand the movie could understand her even if she didn't talk to us like we're in kindergarten. This is the one extra that will make you feel like they actually cared about the movie, though, since Hamri participated at all. The scenes are actually worth watching, if you can stand Hamri talking down to you. What's unintentionally hilarious is that Hamri talks, a scene starts, it jumps back to Hamri talking and it feels like she's mid-sentence and never stopped talking. They might have asked her to actually stop at a good spot instead of making it seem so awkward. But, then, the whole thing feels awkward, so I guess it's consistent. It would have been nice to be able to opt out of watching these with the introductions, or to choose to watch one scene at a time, but it's only about five minutes total (for all four scenes, plus Hamri's talking), so you can probably suffer through the awkward talk.
Hamri and/or someone from the cast should have done a commentary here. I think Hamri might have been more comfortable and chatty if she hadn't been in front of the camera, or if she had other people to talk about it with instead of reading cue cards. Most of this feels like they just threw some things together so they could say the DVD has "special features." And, okay, I'll give them "features," but they're really not that special.
Still interested? No? Buy it now anyway!
Stephen Colbert's holiday special, A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All was conveniently timed to come out on DVD two days after it premiered on Comedy Central, which is fitting, because by the time you get to the end, you realize you've been watching an extra-long commercial for the DVD version all along. But with all of the hilarious extras on the disc, it's okay (in this case) to fall for the spiel hook, line and sinker. Hell, they should have advertised the soundtrack album, too, because that alone is worth having, if only for car-trip sing-alongs. Here's what you get if you spring for the DVD, instead of just watching it on the teevee.
Live Audience Track: For those who prefer canned laughter with their store-bought good cheer.
Alternate Endings: That's right, the special has alternate endings, endings that I can only assume didn't quite gel with the director's ideas about how a holiday special should end. The first one concludes with a pretty lackluster "It was all a dream" ending, and is barely worth the five seconds it takes to watch. The second (and best) has Jon Stewart returning to the cabin to tell Stephen that there's been an accident and that they're the last two people on Earth. Tempers flare, and a Twilight Zone ending results. The third starts off with the bear entering the cabin as Stephen begins to sing "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding," but this time the bear doesn't sing along, if you get my drift.
Burning Book Yule Log: This is pretty much just one of those video fireplaces, but every now and then someone throws a big stack of books on it. Perfect for your next literary society get-together!
Bonus Song: Cold, Cold Christmas For this song, which is completely outside the realm of the story, Colbert dons a cowboy outfit and sings a song about wishing for a cold Christmas, one that will match his ex-girlfriend's cold heart, and possibly freeze her new boyfriend to death. It's like Elvis Presley's "Blue Christmas," but a lot more vengeful.
Video Advent Calendar: This really seemed like a good idea at first, to both Stephen and me, but after the introduction on Day 1, Colbert is stumped, and actually asks how many more of these he has to do... on Day 2. Day 3 had him wrapping himself up like a present, preparing to mail himself to the viewers at home, which seemed a little cutesy for Colbert. (He was very kittenlike.) I didn't watch any further, given the vehement instructions I received in Day 1 not to read more than one a day, but expect more brief vignettes.
Stuff your stocking by buying it now!
It's the three disc special edition, and because the whole movie takes aim at mass consumption, it is even in environmentally friendly packaging. Or as they like to call it Earth (and Space) friendly. Cute and clever. Like pretty much everything else about this movie and its extras. Those Pixar folks are always coming up with some wacky ideas.
If you didn't catch WALL-E in theaters, it's the touching romance between a hard-working little trash-compacting robot who gets left alone on earth and the sexy probe robot who is sent to see if Earth is again viable enough to support human life. Through a string of random events, (with little dialogue), WALL-E ends up following EVE to her space ship the Axiom, and helps return society to their planet and gets the human race off of their ever-expanding asses. It's kinda deep, but the characters are so freakin' adorable, sometimes you can just forget about the "message."
And according to the commentary, that's exactly what director Andrew Stanton (who also was responsible for Finding Nemo) would like you to do. He insists that the film was originally not supposed to be about the reduce/reuse/recycle green message, he just wanted to make a film about a robot who had been forgotten on Earth. He is wise enough to realize that the cynical among us will not buy this. But I'm willing to believe it. Some of the random extras support this idea, and since I like him even more for talking about how much he adored Triplets of Belleville and seeming genuinely sad that it was up against his juggernaut Nemo during Oscar time.
Stanton also hosts the deleted scenes (the better of which are on Disc 1). One of which includes a fully animated scene, very rare for a movie of this genre to have a completed scene axed, but they made a few big tweaks towards the end of the production, which really give the EVE/WALL-E relationship a lot more impact.
Also on Disc 1, a featurette on the animation sound design. Apparently that's very important in a film that is short on dialogue. Interesting, but a little long. You can also watch Presto, the sweet and silly short about the magic rabbit that aired before the film in theaters. And the best thing is BURN-E, a brand new short made for the DVD. It's about the little robot that got stuck outside when WALL-E and EVE zipped back on to the Axiom after their outer-space dance. It's all about this one character, how he came to be there and he is just irresistibly sweet and crazily frustrated. There's also this like "Sneak Peek" thing which promises a look at WALL-E's tour of the universe, but it is basically a commercial, which directs you to the official film site, which in turn takes you to another site where you can look at real outer space stuff. I was unhappy about the commercial being billed as an extra.
However, Disc 2 is jam-packed with so much stuff, that it is hard to complain about one little ad being snuck in. You can pick between Humans and Robots. Humans is for film fans, and there are six separate features that look at the making of this film. The highlight is the Captain's Log, where it is revealed that the people in this film were originally supposed to be green gelatinous aliens who used robots as slaves and WALL-E had to save his fellow mechanical kind. Though the "Life of a Shot" segment where they show exactly how many layers and people are required to make one shot of a movie is utterly fascinating, and sort of overwhelming.
Also in the human section is a History of Buy N Large, with commercials and confidential information about the clean up. Very enjoyable. A few more deleted scenes, with the scarier version of Auto (the autopilot), and the hour and a half documentary The Pixar Story, which chronicles this inventive film studio's creation and development.
In Robots, there's more kid friendly fare. However, the one thing that I found the most entertaining on the entirety of Disc 2 was here, not sure what that says about my mentality. In WALL-E's Treasures and Trinkets, the characters (though mostly WALL-E) are goofing around playing with other robots, and hula hoops and balls etc... But hip hop dancing WALL-E might be the cutest thing I've ever seen in my life. He pops and locks!
There's also Bot Files, which has info on each robo character featured in the movie. There are so many of them. They are all adorable. I'm still mostly in love with M-O though (I want one to come clean my house. I promise to treat it well!) And the Lots o' Bots Storybook, which is kinda weird. You use the cursor to put robot pieces together. Then it turns into a Dr. Seussian WALL-E tale. Weird, but again, this is probably for the younger set.
Disc 3 is just the digital version, which you can put on your iPod or MP3 player or whatnot. I love this new development which saves on paying for things twice, because sometimes you just want a little WALL-E to watch after a rough day at work. You can buy it now.
So yeah, the original premise they were going with? A guy dates a girl on a bet, the girl finds out about the bet, gets angry, and he realizes he really loves her and tries to win her back. So obviously they diverged from that a little bit along the way. Ben Stiller and Co. explain how here.
The Hot LZ: +
Authenticity is important! They decided to do most of the action sequences the old-fashioned way, with giant drums of propane instead of CGI to make it look more like Apocalypse Now. Long story short: you get to see a bunch of bitchin' explosions.
Blowing Shit Up:
It's not just a clever name -- there are even more explosions here, but this is more a profile of their insane stunt coordinator who may or may not have been the inspiration for Danny McBride's character (read: he definitely was). The explosions are awesome, of course, but my favorite part was a montage of the guy testing bullet squibs on himself over and over, seemingly just for giggles. He's my idol.
Designing the Thunder:
Kind of a buzzkill after watching 1600 gallons of propane ignite, but it's interesting if you care about intricate set dressings. In this, the production designer Jeff Mann also discusses choosing shooting locations, all the deforestation they committed in order to build their many sets, and everyone involved comments on how gross and muddy Hawaii is, like they're Evangeline Lilly on the bad stuff. There is a really cool Napalm bar you get to see, though.
The Cast of Tropic Thunder:
The actors explain who their characters are based on and what their motivations are and whatnot, but funnier than that because it's Ben Stiller, Danny McBride, Robert Downey Jr. and Jack Black. Also, in order to avoid confusion, the safeword for "cut" when Ben Stiller was acting in a scene and wanted to stop (he also directed the film, in case you forgot) was, "Cut. I'm serious. For real. Fuckin' stop." Every single time. For real. For fuckin' real.
Rain of Madness:
You probably saw this floating around the interwebs this summer, but this is the hilarious mockumentary about the making of the fake Tropic Thunder being made within the real Tropic Thunder. (I know, confusing, I'm sorry.) Seriously, this thing is so funny I can't even do it justice. Writer Justin Theroux plays German documentarian Jan Jürgen, who uses his making-of to make pretentious and sweeping comments about the darkness of human nature and the violence of Americans. He's also an idiot, and Theroux plays him perfectly. You also get to see a bunch of amazing bonus footage of Robert Downey Jr. as his Tropic Thunder character, and a jab at Ben Stiller and Jack Black's failed but awesome '90s series Heat Silver and Jack -- another one worth checking out online, if you've got the time.
Dispatches from the Edge of Madness:
These are fake outtakes from Jan Jürgen's documentary, and they're all pretty great, particularly one in which Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) is mourning the loss of his mother, who died that morning, but no one can decipher whether it was the character's mother who had died, or Lazarus's real mother. Dead moms and method acting -- a comedy match made in heaven.
Deleted and Extended Scenes:
There aren't that many of these, and as it is with most deleted scenes, it is obvious why these were cut or trimmed. There are helpful intros by Stiller and the film's editor though, so it's nice they took the time.
Originally they had Matthew McConaughey's agent character be captured by the heroin camp and tortured for eternity at the end of the film, which Stiller and Theroux thought would play because "Who cares about agents?!" Test audiences felt differently, surprisingly, and the ending was changed.
Makeup Test with Tom Cruise:
This will... probably make you uncomfortable. Tom Cruise was never supposed to dance at all in the original script, let alone do hip-hop, but when he showed up to do his makeup test he just started awkwardly dancing to Ludacris and refused to stop, which Stiller thought was hilarious and wrote it in. This is that test footage, and yeah. Tom Cruise is insane now. Shock.
MTV Movie Awards Sketch:
RDJ hits Jack Black in the balls with a hammer repeatedly! Oh, so viral!
These are basically really long (seven or eight minute) takes of the actors improvising. Jack Black tied to a tree is the best.
These don't have sound for some reason, but they do have stars!
There are two tracks, one with the filmmakers, which includes Ben Stiller, screenwriter Justin Theroux and a bunch of other technical folk, and one with the cast, which includes Ben Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. They're both really funny and interesting, but I'd be remiss if I didn't lament the lack of Danny McBride and Jay Baruchel on the cast track. But seriously, these extras are no joke, so I don't have much else to complain about.
Buy It Now.
This limited-edition set was supposed to come with a beautiful Crow bust, but we were denied the endless hours of fun said toy would likely provide by the publicity gods, so unfortunately all I have to report back to you is the content of the DVDs. You'll just have to take a leap of faith that the Crow bust -- and the mini-posters we also didn't get -- are fun to look at. The DVDs are still pretty good, though, if undeniably cluttered with a good amount of really dated jokes, like a "What do you think of Roseanne singing the national anthem?" reference, for example, but nevertheless! When the jokes aren't topical, they're still as funny as I remember them being when I was eight. Which is either a good or a bad thing, depending on your particular maturity level. The set comes with four complete movies -- First Spaceship on Venus, Laserblast, Werewolf and Future War, plus all the sketches that originally aired with them. Now for the extras...
The History of MST3K:
They're not joking; this is a complete history, and it is loooooong. It contains many things, including footage of when MST3K was a cable access show they made in Minneapolis for a hundred bucks an episode, and the many incarnations of Tom Servo, who was basically a grey trashcan with no gumballs in the beginning. Also, Joel used to be a "prop comic." Like Carrot Top. And Gallagher. Other highlights here include: How South Park got them canceled, the episode where they were drunk, what a bitch it was to make the movie, and how much the fans hated the blonde guy they replaced Joel with.
The Original Trailers:
...Of the movies they made fun of. Some of them are funny by themselves, but they're obviously way more entertaining with commentary by Joel and the robots.
MST3K at Comic Con '08:
Moderated by the always hilarious Patton Oswalt, this features Joel and a bunch of the show's writers and producers basically telling an abridged version of "The History of MST3K" for some very excited nerds at Comic Con. And they brought Crow with them!
Variations on a Theme Song:
This is for the hardcore fan/people who enjoy terrible music. (As much as I love the show, I have always passionately hated the theme song.) This is all of the MST3K opening titles sequences edited together in sequential order. So you can see what Crow looked like when he was just starting out in Minneapolis (like a lacrosse stick with a beak), and what Joel looked like when he still had hair. Aww!
Desperately need a little Crow T. Robot for your own? Buy it here.
With the release of The Bourne Trilogy, an extras-packed set of the Bourne films, that makes approximately 375 times that a Bourne film or set has been released. Okay, so that's an exaggeration, but only slight. The folks behind the Bourne films have been unbelievably clever in milking fans with more and more releases. That all said, if you like slimmed-down packaging and don't want to waste time with any but the very best extras, this is the set for you. It's three slim cases inside a cardboard sleeve that's no wider than two standard DVD cases, and it features all three films, with the top-notch extras from the previous sets included. It's unfortunate they couldn't come up with anything new, though, to at least make it seem like there was a reason other than more money for releasing this set.
The Bourne Identity: First, to address the menus: They're weak. It's always a little bit annoying when a DVD menu plays music, because if you leave it on and leave the room, you get this repetitive music that will make you never want to put the disc in again. But that's easy enough to get past if the menus are easy to use and set up well. These are not. First off, there are two pages of bonus features, even though there aren't enough features to be broken up into two pages. And when you go into a submenu, such as "Deleted Scenes," you have to know that "BONUS" takes you back to the main menu. Don't be fooled into thinking you have bonus deleted scenes. It's just terrible labeling on the part of the DVD makers.
The best special feature here is the commentary with director/producer Doug Liman. Liman's commentary is exceptional from the moment he begins talking and jumps right into why they chose not to use the Universal music at the opening. Liman quite literally never lets up, and almost everything he lets us in on is a real highlight -- from the effects in the film to not even trying to pronounce Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje's name (can you blame him?). I tend to prefer commentaries with more than one person so that there's a real conversation going on, but Liman is excellent at talking to himself, so this works better than it could have with anyone else involved.
The same featurettes are included here that have been in the past, for the most part (though some have been left out, mostly because they were repeating information or weren't as good as these). What's included: "The Bourne Mastermind: Robert Ludlum" is an abbreviated look at the novelist who created this character; "Access Granted: An Interview With Tony Gilroy" is exactly what it sounds like: an interview with the screenwriter; "From Identity to Supremacy: Jason and Marie" is a basic, bare-bones look at the characters through short, short, short interviews with the actors who play them; "The Bourne Diagnosis" answers whether Bourne's level of amnesia is possible (it's not); "Cloak and Dagger: Covert Ops" is about the history of the CIA (in five minutes, of course); "The Speed of Sound" is a rather boring roundup of interviews with the sound folks; "Inside a Fight Sequence," on the other hand, is an interesting look at how a fight scene was filmed -- more interesting than the sound featurette mainly in that it's specific to scenes instead of generalized blatherings; and Moby's "Extreme Ways" music video. These featurettes are great for people who love pushing buttons every five minutes (gamers and 10-year-olds, primarily), but if you'd rather sit and watch something for a good half-hour, you might wish these had all been put into one longer documentary.
Also included are four deleted scenes amounting to less than 10 minutes, plus an alternate opening and ending (with an introduction from the filmmakers). Nothing earth-shattering, but fans will be glad this is all here.
The Bourne Supremacy: The menus and music here aren't any less clunky than on Identity. There are no confusing "BONUS" labels, but there are three screens of bonus features this time, when it all could have fit on one -- most likely an attempt to make the set seem better than it is.
This disc continues the other big problem that Identity had: too many small featurettes (all are around five minutes) that were just begging to be one larger, better, deeper, more complex (need I go on?) featurette. Here we have: "Matching Identities: Casting," which should really be called "The Cast" rather than "Casting," as it's about the actors in this film who were in the first film, too, and is more about the actors and how they work than about how they were cast; "Keeping It Real" talks about the controversial, critically loathed handheld shaky cams -- basically, director Paul Greengrass tries to justify that decision (good luck with that); "Blowing Things Up" is about how the movie stuck to the real thing instead of using CGI to blow things up (among other effects), which is always fun to see in modern movies; "On the Move With Jason Bourne" hops, skips, and jumps from one film location to the next (should have been longer); "Bourne to Be Wild: Fight Training" is another fight scene breakdown; "Crash Cam: Racing Through the Streets of Moscow" is about that car chase (you know the one); "The Go-Mobile Revs Up the Action" (what?) is more about the car chase, particularly the machine that helped them film it; "Anatomy of a Scene: The Explosive Bridge Chase Scene" is an action scene breakdown that explains that they had to up the action after raising the bar in the first film -- and this scene, where Matt Damon actually jumps over the bridge railing, certainly intensified the action; and "Scoring With John Powell" is about the film score (go figure!) and is not that interesting or exciting (shocking!).
So, after pushing a thousand buttons to watch about 30 minutes of extras, who's ready for a nice, long director's commentary? And while this one isn't quite as good as Liman's with the first film, that might just be because it starts to feel repetitive. I mean, I know the second movie was still good, but it's not original like the first one was, so the commentary wasn't as exciting either -- at least for me. He does have interesting things to say about why the film is nothing like the book, specific scene breakdowns, and more. Greengrass is a much slower talker than Liman, and he pauses more often, so part of the difference is just that you get far less information packed into the length of a movie.
There are five deleted scenes -- again, not all that groundbreaking but still worth a peek, especially since they run about another ten minutes. This is the one place that the disc was set up worse than Identity, because you can only choose to watch all of the scenes at once; there's no deleted scenes menu that lets you pick and choose. Although, after having to pick and choose through nearly ten featurettes, you might enjoy sitting back and watching for ten minutes straight.
There are finally text bios of each of the cast and crew members, which are a waste of disc space, since we get all of this information in video form through the other stuff -- or we can get it online. Oh, and there are DVD-ROM features that I couldn't access on a Mac.
The Bourne Ultimatum: It's clear the cast, crew, studio, or someone got tired of making DVD extras by the time this one was released, because they've seriously scaled back. I'm not sure this is a bad thing, though, since instead of a dozen tiny featurettes, we got a few bigger, meatier ones. That, plus the commentary and deleted scenes, and we have ourselves a top-shelf DVD release here. First, the featurettes: "Man on the Move: Jason Bourne" is a much better look at the film's traveling than Supremacy's "On the Move" was. This can be viewed by location (divided into Berlin, Paris, London, Madrid and Tangier) or all at once for close to 25 minutes of viewing pleasure. And it really is a pleasure. Even at 24 minutes, it doesn't feel quite long enough to explore what it was like to film in all of these places -- although, if filming the movie was as fast-paced as this featurette felt, it might not have been as much fun as visiting these beautiful places might seem. Although, come on, they were making a fun, well-regarded action movie in some of the world's greatest cities (and Tangier); what's not to like? What's really cool about this that you don't get on a lot of DVDs is that the bulk of it is behind-the-scenes footage instead of being heavy on interviews and scenes from the film. As a movie fan, it's always fun to take a look at what goes on behind the scenes, even if it is a little bit illusion-shattering.
The other three featurettes, "Rooftop Pursuit," "Planning the Punches" and "Driving School" are exactly what short featurettes should be (and they're not even as short as those on the previous two movies): They focus on one specific scene or tactic. "Driving School" is especially enjoyable, because it shows how much Matt Damon enjoys and excels at the car chase and car stunt scenes. If you didn't already love Matt Damon (and if you're reading this, it's likely you did), you will after this. Turns out if his career as an actor doesn't work out and he can't get back into writing, he can always be a stunt driver. And he's downright giddy about how fun it is, saying he'd love to do a whole movie of just car chases. Um, Matt? I think they'd make yet another Fast and the Furious movie if they knew you were interested.
The final extra is the commentary with Greengrass, which is on par with his Supremacy commentary. A lot of it will feel a little like a rehash of that previous commentary and of the extensive featurettes on this disc. But anyone who enjoyed his Supremacy commentary should give this one a listen, too. The guy has a lot of interesting things to say.
One final frustration about this three-movie set is that every disc has previews on it that you can't skip past. That's fine and dandy if you're renting them, but if you purchase discs, you should be able to skip past anything you want to. That's a huge problem with these discs that didn't exist on some of the previous versions. I mean, I love Friday Night Lights, but how many times can a person watch the same preview before they never again want to watch a disc that requires them to? And with Ultimatum, it's especially frustrating because after finishing the previews, it stays on a screen promoting the videogame and you have to push the menu or play button to get past it.
Enjoy being forced to watch commercials? Buy it now!
I'll be honest here. I love Star Wars. I missed Clone Wars in the theaters, but loved the original short Clone Wars installments that aired on Cartoon Network. And even though I'd read the less-than-favorable reviews of this film, I kinda have a soft spot for the too-cute characters that Lucas is famed for (Ewoks!) and the annoying ones with weird accents (Jar-Jar -- he's grown on me, what can I say?). So I was optimistic about watching the 2-Disc Special Edition DVD.
Maybe my expectations were too high. I mostly found this kinda dull, with stilted dialogue interspersed between elaborately animated fight scenes. Though good on them for making Anakin slightly less wooden than he was in the films. And the characters I thought I'd enjoy -- Rotta the baby Hutt, Ziro the "Truman Capote" Hutt -- drove me bananas. Especially Ziro. I'm just not sure what they were thinking. Plus, there's a girl Jedi, which I was beyond excited about. But while Padawan Ahsoka Tano has the skills, there are moments where she was a little too bratty. And it probably needlessly annoyed me that for most of the film she's saddled with taking care of the baby Hutt. Finally we get to see a lot of a female Jedi and she's stuck in the mom role? Sure, she's a caregiver who kicks ass, but she gets too mushy when the baby Hutt is sick and it kind of made me angry. The only truly awesome female in the film is the villain Asajj Ventress. What is up with that?
But this isn't supposed to be about why I liked/didn't like the film, or how this film treats its female characters. It's supposed to be about the Extras, and since it is something with the Lucasfilm stamp on it, you can bet your bottom dollar that it's got a heck of a lot of those.
On the first disc, aside from the film itself, there's the commentary, by the director and creative crew behind this release. If you aren't aware already, this takes place between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. But instead of a the big wordy crawl explaining what has happened and where we're at in the story, it's done by a narrator in a strange newsy voice that is really irksome. The creative people say this is a choice, and it replaces the scrolling text into space with visuals. I think that was a bad idea. People might not read much, but I'd rather read this instead of hearing the odd voice over. That just doesn't say "Star Wars" to me. Anyway, ranting again. I tried listening to most of the commentary, but it meant having to watch the movie again, and I'm just not ready for that again. I'm sure the true devotees will delight in pouring over this for all the little nuggets of nerdy detail.
Disc 2: All Special Features, All the Time
"The Clone Wars: The Untold Stories" is a preview of the TV season, which tackles topics that were skipped over in what Lucas calls "The Skywalker Saga." It actually looks kind of good... maybe I'd like Clone Wars in installments instead of in movie form? I'd have less time to be bored and/or annoyed. Then there's "Voices of the Clone Wars," which is kinda fun. I like that they film all of the characters together in the same room. It seems a switch from so much of the animation now, which seems like they do one voice at a time. This has a goofy hanging-out vibe, like they're enjoying making this movie. And it's cool to see the side-by-sides of the voices with the animation, especially when it's a performer who does multiple voices going back and forth. The guy who does General Grievous does some amazing electronic things vocally to play a droid. There's also the voice of Obi-Wan doing a faux commentary on how he looks in a given scene, which is a good laugh.
There's a long tedious feature about the new score. It's not John Williams, but it sure does sound like him. There's a gallery of concept and production art, which is a lot of digital landscapes. There's making-of webisodes, which feature the creative people talking about how this came about, and how the new characters were developed and the look and feel. It's like commentary, but in little chunks and far more fascinating than having to sit through the movie again. Just what I always wanted. There's also Deleted Scenes, including one in a Rancor pit that ends with Anakin taking "Stinky," who nearly pukes on him, which I appreciated. And another scene of Anakin fighting with "the slug" on his back in a little Yoda-like pouch. There's also the original trailers for the film, if you really care to watch them when you've already got the entire DVD.
For the true Star Wars devotees, you can buy it now.
As disappointing as Shrek the Halls was, DreamWorks did right by this one. They loaded it up with extras and a specially crafted 30-minute short "sequel," Secrets of the Furious Five, which is only available if you buy it paired with the movie in the cleverly named Pandamonium Double Pack. I was skeptical at first, but I was ultimately totally charmed by it, despite my best efforts to be critical.
If you haven't seen the movie (and if you don't have kids under 10, you probably haven't) Jack Black is a panda who aspires to be a Kung Fu master, but works at his family-run noodle shop. Until one day he's plucked from obscurity and named as the Dragon Warrior, gets some intense training, is subject to a lot of ridicule and fights a big bad guy. Sort of predictable, but it has a strong voice cast, and is really kinda funny, even though its brand of humor lacks the subtlety of a Pixar film.Kung Fu Panda
The main disc is loaded with extras, starting with the Filmmaker Commentary. It's the two directors, Mark Osbourne and John Stevenson. You may never have heard of them, and normally I hate listening to commentaries that aren't from actors or people I know, but this was pretty interesting. They talked with reverence about the colors, and the 2-D animation that they used at the beginning of the film, and they even lament visual jokes that don't work. Which you'd normally write off, but after spending four years of your life working on a project, if people don't get a chuckle at the fact that you showed Po the Panda's dad in shadow looking like a panda before pulling back to reveal him to be a goose, you'd probably be a little sad, too.
And my wish for some talk from the stars was granted in the "Meet the Cast" featurette, where all the voice actors discuss how they got involved with the film and how they got into character. This is amazing not only because you see Angelina Jolie unleashing her inner Tigress, but also because there is nothing more awesome than seeing Ian McShane growling into the microphone. It's like Swearengen has returned. Oh, and there's a moment where he's serious and says that "bad guys always get the best lines," and then he smirks. I adore him. There's also lots of time spent with Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Jackie Chan and some of the other supporting cast. It's pretty decent, and you don't have to watch the entire film again, like you would have if they'd done it as a commentary. I appreciate that.
Then there's a lot of techie stuff, for you animation junkies out there. "Pushing the Boundaries" focuses on how they did the clothes and fighting scenes, but mostly is a lot of the directors saying they came up with wild ideas and dumped them on the animators so they could figure them out. And "Sound Design" shows how they made the noises.
There's some fun stuff for the kiddies, unless they, like me, find Cee-Lo kind of terrifying. He does a video of his "Kung Fu Fighting" remake, which features a dance sequence (this information will be important later), a little girl teaching you how to use chopsticks, the Dreamworks Jukebox, the Dragon Warrior Training Academy (which is essentially a video game) and "Conservation International," which has Jack Black encouraging the kiddies to help save the pandas and explaining global warming. Not as preachy or annoying as it sounds, thankfully. And then the best part, which is Food Network guru Alton Brown at Mr. Chow's restaurant (he says he couldn't get a reservation at Mr. Ping's) watching as the head noodle chef shows how the food is so carefully crafted. Fascinating.
Secrets of the Furious Five
This short is about 30 minutes long and has Po telling the most precious little bunnies to do Kung Fu, but first gives them the backstory on how the much-hyped Furious Five learned the true meaning of the martial art. Features great 2D and 3D animation and those little bunnies bopping each other is just too cute for words.
After that, they've put on the "extra" extras. Stuff that maybe wasn't enough fun to make it to the main disc. So there is "Learn the Panda Dance," where HiHat instructs you on how to do the Cee-Lo dance from the aforementioned "Kung Fu Fighting" video. Kung Fu lessons, in all the different styles. Determining which fighting style you are, the history of the animals of Kung Fu Panda and a Chinese Zodiac calendar that helps you figure out your animal and what that means.
There's a learn-to-draw game, where you can pick from any of the characters. The animators are the teachers, and they seem remarkably comfortable with their instructions. There's the "Dumpling Shuffle," which is three-card monte with dumplings. And then a host of game demos which I refuse to write about as they are commercials, and not actually an extra feature.
This feature is really short and not that great, but I do declare - Zach Braff and Donald Faison are pretty talented beatboxers.
These are extended, improvised versions of jokes that aired on the show, and though they feature a pretty wide spectrum of the cast, there is a surprising lack of John C. McGinley, who is famous for his long improvised takes. The Janitor (Second City alum Neil Flynn) really rocks these, but that's to be expected. He's amazing.
One-On-One with Ken Jenkins
Jenkins plays Bob Kelso, and while this little interview was delightful and entertaining, I don't really understand why he was the only cast member with a separate, stand-alone interview. Is he leaving the show? I honestly don't know. Anyway, he's very funny and warm (he makes a coal mining joke!), and had a lot of gracious praise for the cast and crew.
The John C. McGinley improv rants finally arrive! Also, a hilarious deleted scene of J.D. saying he "worked out today" that cuts to him standing on a treadmill in rollerblades. Why would they cut that? It was the biggest laugh I got out of the whole DVD set.
Making the Finale:
The Princess Bride tribute episode was apparently quite an undertaking and there's a lot of talk about how it was the huuuuuugest episode they'd ever done, but honestly? It looked like crap. This behind-the-scenes shows a bit of Zach Braff's directing skills and a whole lot of a very tired-looking Judy Reyes complaining about how hard it is to act with a green screen, and how even harder it is to act with Donald Faison. I wonder why people say the magic's gone from the show?
Commendably, there is commentary on every episode, something not enough shows do. Unfortunately, the only major character (unless you count Neil Flynn) who does it is Zach Braff, and he only did his tracks by himself. I don't know about you, but I'm not about to willingly listen to Zach Braff speak for 22 minutes.
Buy it now, you brave loyalists!
Although it says "Volume 1" on the box, Amazon.com describes this set as "The Complete Series 1 & 2." Technically, it's accurate: while BBC America aired them all in a row, this is actually the first two British series, a grand total of 13 episodes, each of them full of ferocious, dino-tastic action. But the word "complete" only applies as far as Series 1 & 2 are concerned, because Series 3 starts in January. The episodes are worth the price of the set alone, but luckily there are a few extras to sweeten the pot.
Commentary: Of the 13 episodes in the set, only two get commentaries, both featuring the show's executive producer and co-creator Tim Haines, head writer and co-creator Adrian Hodge and director Jamie Payne. The first commentary is on Episode 7, the first episode of Series 2, which allows the creators to talk about how hard it is to sum up an entire series (the "Previouslies" apparently took longer to write than the rest of the episode), why they made certain changes for the second series, and why the raptors in the episode are technically the show's first true dinosaurs. The other commentary is on Episode 10, which featured the ridiculous walrus men, inconsistent lighting and the kickoff of the highly improbable Connor/Abby romance, thereby giving the team plenty to crack jokes about. (Believe it or not, Andrew-Lee Potts and Hannah Spearritt are dating in real life.) Sadly, there are no commentaries on all of Series 1, which boggles my mind. Wasn't the first series released on DVD in the U.K.? Was it released with NO commentaries? Why not, if it was so successful that they greenlit a second series? I'm not sure why I care, but I feel like there would be some interesting things to say about the early episodes, before the show had become a hit.
Behind the Scenes: The Series 1 making-of doc is 45 minutes long, and is fairly comprehensive -- basically, it's three 15-minute documentaries in one, which is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how much of it you're interested in. (They're all mixed together, so you can't really skip ahead.) It serves as an on-set diary, where we see the pitfalls and problems of on-location shooting; a meet-and-greet, where you learn about the characters, the actors and their motivations; and a special-effects documentary, breaking down what goes into creating the dinosaurs -- including Rex -- and acting with them on set. If you have the time, and the attention span, it's pretty darn interesting.
Through the Anomaly: The Series 2 behind-the-scenes is aptly titled, because you feel as if you've been sent through a portal to a world where Andrew-Lee Potts ruled the Earth. It's similar to the first-series doc, but framed by a manic, hat-wearing Potts, who mugs for the camera -- possibly in character, possibly not -- and at one point puts on a dress. Apparently, this documentary aired on television as an episode, and there was one for Series 1, as well, starring James Murray ("Stephen Hart"). The Series 1 making-of seems to be a totally different thing, and as interesting as it is, I would have liked to have seen the poppier version, with Murray's dreamy narration. You know, for the ladies.
No need to travel through an anomaly to get your copy, just go through this web portal.
As a fan of Futurama, I was excited to hear the series was coming back as several feature films, but the first one caught me off-guard. After all, it was the Futurama I knew and loved, but it was, like, an hour and a half long. It wasn't three episodes mashed together, either. It was one looooong episode. The trick for me was learning to get used to the pacing, which I eventually did, and now I think it's great. This week, the third movie, Bender's Game, hit stores, and it's even trickier to wrap my head around, because there's a pretty lengthy Lord of the Rings parody in it, which is longer than an actual episode all by itself. Still, that chewy Futurama goodness is still there, and the title is a pretty awesome pun. And the extras... oh, you could plotz over these extras. And also Zoidberg was there, even!
Menu Screens: First of all, the menu screens are beautiful. The chapter select is set up like a D&D game table, and the Languages and three Features screens each have a breakdown of the main characters' applicable gaming levels, like "Strength," "Intelijence" and "Armor Class." (Bender's armor class is "Shiny Metal." He must have been talking about his armored ass.)
Commentary: Somehow, they manage to get Futurama creator Matt Groening, executive producer David X. Cohen, voice actors Billy West (Fry, Zoidberg, Zapp, Prof. Farnsworth), John DiMaggio (Bender) and Tress MacNeille (Mom), writer Michael Rowe, producer Claudia Katz and director Dwayne Carey-Hill into one room to talk about the movie. I'd be curious to see it, and apparently you can see it on the Blu-ray version, in what may be the first video commentary track. But the audio is still plenty entertaining, since you get to hear from the creators, writers, performers and animators, with interjected impersonations by the voice talent. They manage not to talk over each other too much, and it's a good time.
Storyboard Animatic: While it's cool that this DVD has the animated black-and-white storyboards for the first half-hour of the movie -- including the Yellow Submarine-inspired opening sequence, which has nothing to do with the plot -- there isn't much to say about them. The sound plays over the entire thing, though, so if you ever wanted to watch a cartoon about a bunch of rough sketches who have a space ship, this is your dream featurette.
Futurama Genetics Lab: On one level, this is just a fun game; on the other hand, it's a peek inside the animators' sketchbooks, showing their brilliance and creativity. What you do is, you pick two characters from the seven provided -- Fry, Leela, Bender, Prof. Farnsworth, Dr. Zoidberg, Morbo the newsanchor and the Hypnotoad -- and you hit "Merge," and you're shown an original character that's a combination of the two. If I did my math right, that's 42 different characters, and they're all pretty awesome. Of course, seven of them are some kind of toad, but they're still neat. I recommend Zoidberg + Morbo = Zorbo, and Fry + Bender = Friender.
D & D & F: Dungeons & Dragons & Futurama: This is a mini-documentary about Futurama's love of Dungeons & Dragons. I thought it would be mostly a rundown and explanation of D&D references in the TV series, but it's also a look at of writers David X. Cohen, Eric Kaplan and Mike Rowe, who are pretending to play D&D in Eric's mother's basement and are dressed to suit. In a T-shirt with a stretched-out neck, Cohen looks like every D&D player I've ever known, and he shows off his childhood Dungeon map, from before he and his friends realized the game didn't need a board. Kaplan wears a chain mail hood and carries a flail, and is immediately brutalized by the D&D-hating Rowe, who carries a baseball bat for beating D&D fans like Kaplan. Whenever anyone's D&D explanation gets too nerdy, Rowe starts to bring out the bat. The weird part is that there are only three or four D&D-inspired TV scenes that they talk about before they start talking about clips from Bender's Game, the movie you just watched. Still, it's a pretty funny segment.
How to Draw Futurama in 83 Easy Steps: When I was younger, and The Simpsons was funny, I used to love the part of the Simpsons Magazine that showed you how to draw the Simpsons characters. Well, now the creative types at Rough Draft Studios are here to tell you how to draw the Futurama characters! ...Three of them, anyway. It's actually pretty informative, as we see Bender's Game director Dwayne Carey-Hill draw Bender, assistant director Derek Thompson draw Zoidberg, and supervising director Rich Moore use a 3B pencil to... call up his assistant, retake director Crystal Chesney-Thompson, and get her to draw Leela. (You can also read an interview and see amazing artwork by all three artists here.)
3D Models With Animator Discussion: Similar to the wire-frame breakdowns of the cars on the Speed Racer DVD, this featurette shows spinning models of all of the spaceships used in the demolition derby, including George Takei's Enterprise, Bakula's Enterprise, the
Deleted Scene: Cup or Nozzle? A short animatic scene, in between Farnsworth trying to smell-detect the crystal and Mom detecting the crystal, in which Cubert and Dwight are in line at an ice cream truck. The crystal in Cubert's pocket hums ominously, Dwight smells something, and Cubert opts to get his ice cream from the nozzle, causing a tube to be shoved into his mouth and ice cream to be dispensed. Throwaway, but it's nice they included it, if only to introduce a new fan-favorite character: shifty alien ice-cream vendor.
Blooperama 2: Outtakes from Bender's Game: Live-action footage shot during a group recording session for the movie. There are a few outtakes, but mainly it's to show the cast goofing off, and to show you what they look like in real life, leading you to realize that you've seen John DiMaggio on television before.
Bender's Anti-Piracy Warning: In case you didn't realize, Bender is not the best person to advocate not stealing things. It's pretty funny. His organization is called "D.O. I.T." In fact, you should just watch it now.
David X. Cohen's Dodecahedron Collection: Proving that he is an actual gaming nerd, and not just playing one for the purposes of the extras, Cohen shows off all of the 12-sided objects he owns that aren't actually dice. Well, one is a big, plush die, but that belongs to his daughter. The rest are made of wood, rubber, or naturally forming pyrite. Yes, 12-sided dice appear in nature! Maybe primitive man played D&D! (This is a "secret" extra, behind the Zoidberg skull on page three of the Features menu.)
"Wedgie It On In There": If you want to see Billy West say that line wrong 17 times, as the rest of the cast gets more and more exasperated, click on the castle on page three of the Features menu. Is it secret? Yes. Is it safe? Not really.
Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder: A sneak peek at the next Futurama movie. Normally, I wouldn't count previews as extras, but it certainly felt like a bonus for me, especially since Cohen has said that they would all be content if this was the last Futurama thing they ever did. The plot involves an ancient battle or some such, and it somehow involves the Robot Mafia, Zapp Brannigan and the voice of Snoop Dogg, which is all I needed to hear.
The future is now, so why wait? Buy it here!
If you (or your kids) really, really, REALLY like Shrek and friends then you'll probably want to splurge and buy this holiday DVD. Otherwise, just wait until it airs on TV again (which it presumably will) because it doesn't have a lot to offer in the way of content or extras.
It's a 22 minute Christmas special (which aired last year) in which Shrek, Fiona and his three little kiddies get ready to celebrate their first holiday together. But Shrek's never had Christmas and Donkey and Puss and Boots and everyone comes along to show him the true meaning of Christmas. Your basic straightforward heartwarming holiday tale... with ogres and mix breed donkey/dragon children flying all around instead of Sugar Plum Fairies.
There are some extras, but not very many. There is a "Deck the Halls Sing Along" and "12 Days of Christmas Sing Along", which feature edited sequences from the Madagascar penguins in A Christmas Caper, set to classic songs. Annoying, because things don't match up, the "12 Days of Christmas" lyrics have been changed from "three French hens" to "three wrapped fish," but they show a picture of four wrapped fish, and there are supposed to be "10 shoppers," instead of "10 lords-a-leaping," but there are only like eight. These things drive me crazy. My two-year-old didn't seem to mind. Though she wanted to know why there weren't any Shrek babies.
There's a game: Gingy's Dunking game. There are pictures of the Gingerbread Man with different faces and you have to find the match. Not challenging, for any age group. A trial of a Shrek Carnival game... which is not an extra. It's a commercial. And then the only feature that is actually worth anything, is the Dreamworks Animation Jukebox, which means that you can just watch the "Move It" scene from Madagascar and "I'm a Believer" from Shrek.
All in all, not really worth a full-price DVD. It won't even keep your kids busy for an hour. So if you feel that 18 bucks for a half hour's worth of entertainment is a good buy, go for it. You can buy it here.
One of the perks of getting a full series all in one package is the added bonus features -- usually added in the form of an extra disc (or even multiple discs). The other major perk is the fancier, and usually space-saving, packaging. The 4400: The Complete Series definitely benefits from the added bonus features, though the packaging is pretty standard material. The packaging is slick enough to make four seasons take up a lot less space in your DVD collection, but the liner notes leave something to be desired. They're a one-fold design, and the only information about the set is on the inside (the front and back cover are both decorative). So the writing is tiny, and all it tells us is the names of the episodes, a short description of each (including "With commentary" for those that have commentary), and then "Special Features," with no description of what special features are included on each disc until the final bonus disc. Well, guess we'll have to go digging...
Season 1: Absolutely no special features on this two-disc, six-episode set. Major disappointment.
Season 2: The three audio commentaries (with actors Jacqueline McKenzie and Joel Gretsch, producer/writer Craig Sweeny and executive producer/writer Ira Steven Behr) on episodes "As Fate Would Have It," "The Fifth Page" and "Mommy's Bosses" are not particularly enlightening, but it's fun to listen to cast and crew talk about the finished product -- especially when it leads to spontaneous thoughts and discussions about the series. This really works here, so much better than if they'd come at it from the position of trying to explain things to the viewers. It's so much fun to listen to them sit around and talk like friends. And they really do sound like friends. It's very jovial and fun to listen to. You'll find yourself wishing you'd been there with them -- although with four people talking over each other, it sometimes makes you feel like you're happy not to be there. The best part about having the actors participate is that they ask the writers very good questions about why they wrote what they did when they did, etc. -- the type of questions you might have wondered as a viewer of this series. (And, come on, if you watched this series, you likely had plenty of questions.)
The second season also included three short featurettes (around ten minutes each). "Creating the Ball of Light" is a short documentary featuring interviews from a handful of crew members about how the series started. Because it's about the series' beginning, it feels out of place on the second-season disc, and rightfully belongs on Season One. It's always interesting to get the backstory on a series you love, so if you love the show, you'll enjoy this one. It covers how the show came to be, from concept to getting it on the air. (Several networks were in talks to take on the show, but either wouldn't commit or wanted bigger changes than the producers were willing to make, before the producers found USA.) "A Stitch in Time" features spacey mysterious music as a background to interviews with series executives and scientists from various universities or other institutions discussing time travel and other far-fetched science concepts the show uses. It's interesting, but the ultimate result -- much like a similar feature on the Journey to the Center of the Earth DVD -- is to tell us that this show is not totally based on science, and is mostly just for fun. But they clearly did pay attention to the science enough to care that it can (sort of) be explained. The third featurette, "Return of the 4400," was about the show's return for a second season. This one is interesting because they talk about how to keep the show going after solving the mystery at the end of Season One. But then they keep going and talk all about Season Two. It's literally filled with spoilers for someone who hasn't watched all of Season Two, so don't watch it until you've completed the season. It also features a lot more interviews than the other featurettes, with most of the major actors in addition to the producers of the series.
Season 3: The special features for The 4400 seasons peaked with the third season, which included five audio commentaries with various cast and crew. And these commentaries even allow you to turn on subtitles of the actual commentary (usually you can turn on episode subtitles while the commentary runs), a real boon for subtitle addicts or anyone who has a difficult time following the conversation of a chatty commentary team. Executive producer Behr provides the commentary track for the season premiere, "The New World." Behr is pretty funny, even on his own (he even makes a joke about being alone "in the hot tub" this time). He makes a conscious effort to be less complimentary of the series than the three Season Two commentaries were, but this is his baby, so he's not exactly a harsh critic (even though by this point, the show kind of needed one). The commentary on "Gone (Part 2)" is with co-creator/executive producer Scott Peters along with actors Gretsch and McKenzie again. This one goes back to the Season Two standard of being overly complimentary. These three literally compliment everyone who ever worked on this episode ever. They're all "We love her," and "He's so great," and "You guys have great chemistry," and "They do an amazing job with little time and money." They do give us a few tidbits about stuff that takes place behind the scenes (a painting in one scene was stolen from the set later), but it's mostly everyone in love with each other, which gets a little tiring. Peters, Gretsch and McKenzie return to provide commentary on "The Ballad of Kevin and Tess," and it's pretty much more of the same: compliments and smiles, with a few fun tidbits sprinkled in here and there. The last two episodes of the season, "Terrible Swift Sword" and "Fifty-Fifty," also have commentary tracks with Behr. Because he tries to provide us with something other than compliments and because he knows the show so very well, his tracks tend to be more insightful than the others'.
Coupled with those last two commentaries, the fourth disc of this season is loaded with special features, since all of the extras (except the commentaries) are included there. There are a few more featurettes this season, in addition to an interactive "Character Tree" that lets you click on a character and hear conversation about that character from the actor who plays him or her, in addition to some episode footage. It's all focused on how the characters are connected to each other and ends up lending some pretty thoughtful and interesting dialogue about the series. The three featurettes, "The Architecture of Series Storytelling" (the basic, about-this-season mini-doc), "Powers Grid" (about which characters have powers and why) and "TVFX" (about the special effects) are okay, but nothing spectacular. A lot of it will feel like a repeat of what you've heard in the commentaries anyway, but if you prefer featurettes, this is a quicker way to get some of the same information. "Storytelling" is about 20 minutes long, but the other two are significantly shorter, at around five minutes each. This season finally includes a gag reel, too. I know these are always throw-away, but since we know everyone messes up, these should be standard on any DVD. They provide a few moments of laughter that will endear the actors to most viewers. They go all out with this one, even adding opening credits and theme music, and providing eight minutes of laughs (mostly all from season three, too; I'd like to see past season's gag reels, too). Finally, there's a pdf file of the episode "Being Tom Baldwin" that you can read using your computer. It's the first draft, so isn't exactly what you'll see in the episode, and might be interesting to huge fans of the show or people who'd like to see how much a screenplay might change from first draft to air.
Season 4: They cut back on the commentaries this time around, providing only one for an actual episode, in fact, on "Till We Have Built Jerusalem," with creator/producer/episode director Peters. Again, he's more informative and less complimentary on his own, revealing such highlights as his inability to do the previouslies himself because he couldn't wrap up the show in such a short time on his own, and revealing information about the cast and how they work together that he might not have felt comfortable talking about when sitting there with two actors. (Bad news: no subtitles for the commentary this time around, for some reason.) Beyond the commentary, there are only two featurettes, a director's cut and another gag reel. They did also add deleted scenes, but it still feels like a situation where they were holding back in preparation for this complete series release, which they must have known was coming up.
The deleted scenes -- peppered throughout the discs, and organized by episode -- are good stuff, but leave me wishing they'd given us their earlier seasons deleted scenes. They cut some amazing acting by Summer Glau having a breakdown out, in addition to intimate family moments and characters struggling with the possibility of having to leave and "give all of this up." These scenes add depth to what happened in the series, and are well worth watching.
Disc four includes the director's cut of the series finale (with or without commentary from Peters, who directed and is clearly thrilled to share the director's cut and to be able to provide commentary on it), plus the two featurettes and gag reel. The featurettes feel more valuable in this season than in the third, probably at least in part because we only got those two commentaries, so you don't go into these featurettes feeling like you've already been informed about all of the season's secrets. "Season IV: Factions at War" is the show's usual "about-this-season" featurette. Nothing ground-breaking, but still interesting for fans of the show, as it's full of interviews with all of the cast and crew, and is close to 30 minutes long. "Jordan Collier: The Grey Man" asks -- but doesn't answer; it's only four minutes long -- the question: Is he a good guy or a bad guy? It's still a great featurette, because Billy Cambpell (who plays Jordan) makes it clear how truly passionate he was about this character and this show -- which has to be why his character was such a blast to watch. There's a Season Four gag reel, too, and it makes me really, really like Joel Gretsch, who is featured a lot but seems really hilarious. I'd love to see him do comedy. It's only three minutes long, but that means they focused on the truly funny mess-ups instead of throwing everything in. The biggest disappointment for me, as a fan of the show, about this season's extras was that there was nothing about the cancellation. It had been such a huge deal, with creator/producer Peters announcing it online, in agony, that it would have been nice for it to get some play here.
Bonus Disc: This disc is the reason hard-core fans will be selling their season sets and snatching this up, and it actually is worth it. I can't help but feel like we were cheated out of extras in earlier seasons to make this complete series worth buying, but it worked, because if you're a fan of the show, you need this set for this disc.
It starts with a brief video introduction from creator/producer Peters, who thanks the fans for loving the show, mentioning the cancellation (finally!) and that he and other producers were always on the "web boards" (could they mean TWoP's forum?)
The show finally brings some Season One special features, in the form of a commentary track with Peters and Gretsch on the pilot episode. They talk about why they never did commentary or other extras for Season One -- because they were a miniseries, not a series, so didn't know if they were coming back; which makes very little sense, but whatever. We also learn interesting tidbits such as: the first season's sets are the old sets from Jake 2.0, which had recently been canceled, but that they had to rebuild everything when the show became an actual series. And that there's no blooper reel in Season One because nobody messed up back then; they were too afraid to, unlike in Seasons Three and Four, when no one cared anymore. Which is a likely story, guys. I'm not buying it, but it's a good excuse. Oh, and Peters plays an extra in the pilot, which he has to interrupt Gretsch to show us. It's very cute. They both have high praise for other actors, especially Peter Coyote and McKenzie, but they also are a lot more snarky and funny about the show than any of the previous commentary tracks had been. This is the best commentary of the entire series, and the complete set would be worth buying for this commentary alone.
The bonus disc also features a couple of featurettes. The first one, "The 4400: The Ghost Season" is about how the series came to be, including why Peters chose "4400" as the titular number: Honestly? It just sounded better as a title than any other number. Hey, at least he's honest. Some of it -- how the show came to be, etc. -- is exactly like "Creating the Ball of Light," the featurette about Season One that's on the Season Two set. However, this one goes on and talks about all of the future additions to the cast, changes to the show (Jordan had a beard because Campbell wouldn't shave his), and other interesting stuff. It's actually just a long (about 13 minutes) interview/essay with Peters, though that's probably for the best. He is the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the series, so it's sort of cool for him -- the ultimate geeky fan -- to get to just sit and talk to us all about the entire course of the show. The other featurette, "Promicin: The Moral Choice," is actually a false advertising and media campaign about Promicin. It's mostly uninteresting, because it's just more acting and fiction, and reveals nothing new about the show. It's sort of amusing (especially the Blair Witch-style interview with Campbell's Jordan), but definitely the low point of this bonus disc.
Finally, the bonus disc contains deleted scenes for Seasons One, Two, and Three. These are nice to finally get, though you'll want to watch each season with the season they belong with (luckily, they're organized by season -- and episode and even scene number, which is extremely helpful), because otherwise, you'll have a hard time figuring out where they belong in the scheme of things. There are only about three minutes of deleted scenes from season one (probably because the season was so short), but about 10 minutes from season two and almost 20 minutes from season three. A lot of great acting was left on the cutting-room floor for this show, particularly from Gretsch and McKenzie, who are featured in probably three-quarters -- or more -- of the deleted scenes. And all of it is top-notch stuff, clearly just cut for space. It's nice to finally get to see all of this footage.
Once you finish unloading your season sets on eBay, pick up the complete series here!
This is where the director and producers explain and defend their casting choices. They talk about how they had to find funny actors with good chemistry, and that Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway were perfect together. They were so, so not perfect together, but it's nice that they think that.
Steve Carell is awfully adorable when he gets the giggles, isn't he? This one's worth watching.
It starts out rough, but Carell brings it home in an awesome way at the end. It's a series of Steve Carell speaking gibberish versions of all the European languages he "learned" for the movie, in a really stereotypical and offensive way. But he ends, hilariously, by saying, "You don't really hate Americans, do you? Well, I don't know why!" Beat. "I know why. Sorry." It's kind of genius.
Max in Moscow!
Surprisingly, not all of the location shots were green screen -- I am impressed! No, really, I actually am. This is behind the scenes footage of the cast and crew running around the real live Red Square.
Bruce and Lloyd's Out of Control Sneak Peek
So, the two op-tech nerds in the movie (played by Masi Oka and... someone else) got themselves their own direct-to-DVD feature. This is the making of, if you care. I do not.
For some reason, they put the deleted scenes into the movie in this really involved way, where you have to watch the movie all the way through, and then a phone booth shows up? And you click on it? And then you can see the alternate takes instead? Or something? All I know is that you can't just watch the deleted scenes in a row like on a normal DVD like a civilized person, so I skipped 'em. Please forgive me.
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