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If you have decided to shell out your hard won dollars on the 2-disc DVD of Mamma Mia!, chances are you are a hardcore Abba fan and theater geek who will appreciate the "everything but the kitchen sink" credo that this seriously comprehensive volume affords and not some novice who thinks they're buying a pizza how-to instructional DVD. I'm not gonna waste precious space with an intro because there's way too much to describe here, and we're all very busy (shopping online), so let's get to it, shall we?
In addition to offering a yawnsville director's commentary (raise your hand if you give a flip about Phyllida Lloyd!), the bonus features on this disc bring us Abba-holics the Sing-Along version, so that you can host your very own disco-glam karaoke party and drive everyone within earshot insane with your rendition of "Dancing Queen." This is the real draw of the DVD, in case you were wondering. The scene menu is even broken up into song titles so you that you don't have to watch the whole damned thing to get to your favorite jam. Guess what me and my gays are doing this weekend?!
The "deleted scene," a.k.a. the musical number "The Name of the Game" might as well have the subtitle: "That Amanda Seyfriend Sure Can Sing!" Otherwise, shrug.
Deleted Scenes Totally superfluous, except for some light male nudity and an obscene hand gesture from Christine Baranski.
Outtakes A must for anyone who wants to see zany bloopers from that kooky goof Meryl Streep!
The Making of Mama Mia is a three-part featurette that entails the "Birthing of Mamma Mia," a sit-down interview with the brains behind the musical, Judy Craymer, Catherine Johnson and Phyllida Lloyd, as well as producer Gary Goetzman and head Abba lyricist Bjorn Ulvaeus (cue Mindy squee). "The Filmmaking" is a behind-the-scenes look at Phyllida Lloyd's rather impressive film directorial debut, plus some bits about musical director Martin Lowe's interaction with the cast and what went into the choreography and set design. (Side note: Martin is totally the run-away star of this bonus feature. So adorable and lispy!) Hilariousness ensues when Pierce Brosnan waxes on about how much he enjoyed singing, because he was most definitely the most tone-deaf of the bunch. Aww, poor Pierce! "The Cast" is exactly what you'd expect, in that it explains how they came to arrive at their casting decisions. (Fun fact: Meryl and her daughter wrote Phyllida a fan letter back when they saw Mamma Mia on Broadway. Am I the only person who totally wants to go get Margaritas with The Streep?)
Anatomy of a Musical Number: "Lay All Your Love On Me" is a queen's wet dream. It prominently features smoking hot romantic lead Dominic Cooper and breaks down the staging of this musical number in musical theater nerd detail. Plus more Martin Lowe!
Becoming a Singer: Funny Swedish accents abound in this little snippet featuring Abba principals Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus. Oh, and more Martin! It's sort of cute and nice to see how humbling an experience singing was for certain members of the cast (ahem Pierce). Bonus: Getting to see Stellan Skarsgard rocking out in his recording booth might be the cutest thing since Rupert the baby deer.
Behind the Scenes with Amanda irked me. She's just so self-consciously cute and loves to talk about how she has to pee and likes to eat a lot. Borang.
On Location in Greece is only slightly more interesting than a travel brochure.
A Look Inside Mamma Mia the Movie tracks the movie's origins as a stage play but is mostly an amalgam of footage and sound bites we've already seen.
"Gimme Gimme Gimme" music video is the low-budget-est thing ever (think: Amanda Seyfriend singing on a roof top for no apparent reason). Watch and laugh at its jankiness once and then skip it.
Bjorn Ulvaeus Cameo is footage from the movie that shows him dressed up as a Greek chorus member singing "Waterloo" while everyone around him points to him winkingly. Yeah. That's literally all.
If you're a Coen brothers fan, like me, then you found absolutely nothing wrong with Burn After Reading. Maybe it didn't blow you out of the water like No Country for Old Men or The Big Lebowski, but it was pure, unfiltered Coen, with a cast most directors could only dream of. And it was frickin' funny. I had hoped for some wackier extras on the DVD, like outtakes or bloopers or deleted scenes or something, but sadly the three documentaries are all business, and two of them are kinda short. Oh, well. Maybe years from now, when fans of the movie are throwing "Readingman" festivals in D.C. and dressing up like their favorite characters (Chad Feldheimer, Osbourne Cox, the hatchet, the sex pillow), there'll be a documentary about that on the special edition.
Finding the Burn
Man, the Coen brothers are adorable. When we first see them being interviewed in this documentary about the movie, they're not looking at the camera; they're looking at their nails, picking them, cleaning them, but still answering questions. The next time they appear, they're looking in the general direction of the camera, more or less, but they still seem like they're just talking to themselves or maybe each other. I guess some people might think it's less cute and more annoying, but whatever. Anyway, this documentary is primarily about the Coens and their cast trying to explain what the movie is about, and the cast also talks about what it's like working with the Coens, considering that half of them hadn't worked with them before.
DC Insiders Run Amuck
This is mainly a guide to the characters of the movie, minus Clooney's (see next feature). Oh, and minus Richard Jenkins' gym manager (even though they interview him about his co-stars), which is a shame, since he's such a great character actor. And no J.K. Simmons, who is awesome, not that he has a huge role. So basically, it's just Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and John Malkovich. But otherwise, it's fairly comprehensive, with the actors, the Coens and even the costume designer weighing in on them and talking about how they found the character. However, they also get into sets, revealing that the Georgetown scenes were shot in Brooklyn, the boat scenes were filmed off of Long Island, and the CIA hallway location is apparently top-secret. They don't really get into why they didn't film the whole thing in Washington, D.C., considering they had to film a few exteriors there anyway, but I assume there were tax reasons.
Welcome Back George
This mini-doc is all about George Clooney, who is playing his third idiotic role for the Coens (after O Brother Where Art Thou and Intolerable Cruelty). There is a lot of info about his character here, perhaps too much, with extensive discussion of his wardrobe by the costume designer, and we find out that John Malkovich had never met him before, although they had friends in common. Also, the Coens have a couple more funny roles already planned for him, and they hope to one day give him a serious part. Which would be pretty awesome, if they did another serious, bloody piece like Miller's Crossing or No Country, and they used Clooney. I have a big ol' man-crush on Clooney. I also like saying "Clooney." Clooney Clooney Clooney.
In an effort to make the various TWOP blogs as easy-to-keep-track-of as possible, "DVDs Unwrapped" is being folded into the Moviefile (for movies on DVD) and Telefile (for TV shows on DVD), so all of our movie and TV news will be in one place. (Well, two places.) New postings on both blogs will be filed under the "DVDs Unwrapped" category name, so you can still find what you're looking for easily, but all of the older DVD reviews will still be archived here. So if you ever want to look up that old DVD review of The Dark Knight, come here, but if you want the new stuff, here's where to go:
Okay, so you saw the new, Keanu-tastic remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, and were... underwhelmed, apparently. What to do? First, write director Scott Derrickson a nasty letter. (Hint: Mention Hellraiser: Inferno.) Second, go rent (or buy) the Two-Disc Special Edition of the original movie, which any sci-fi fan will tell you is a classic that changed the game and still has relevance today. While a film noir 1950s sci-fi flick may not have the same kind of mass appeal Keanu Reeves has, sci-fi fans will find that the new edition has some great additional featurettes that previous versions do not. But new or old, several of the extras on this disc are also hysterically, hysterically funny.
The Mysterious, Melodious Theremin
The theremin is just a funny instrument. The name sounds like a cold medicine, it looks like a CB radio, and it makes those crazy sci-fi sounds that became clichéd after this movie, but were awesome when Portishead used them. Anyway, theremin whiz Peter Pringle teaches us about the theremin's origins, composer Bernard Hermann's personal theremin, and how to play it. Pringle is incredibly excited about the whole thing, despite having an alliterative snack food name, and he even does a "live" Main Title Performance elsewhere on the disc.
A Brief History of Flying Saucers
For starters, let me just say that I believe that there is alien life on other planets. I also believe that there is alien life right here on Earth. The assortment of characters that they managed to round up to make this new documentary about UFOs is one of the most ridiculous groups of people I've ever seen. And not for their beliefs, or their dedication to the study of cigars from space, but for their outfits. Red and green plaid shirts do not require ties. Haircuts... are a completely different story.
The Making of The Day the Earth Stood Still
It's funny, because this is an all-new documentary, with all-new interviews, but the original making-of, included on the previous edition, is absent. A shame, since the last one was over an hour long, with interviews with memorabilia collectors and fans like Gremlins director Joe Dante, and this one is barely 30 minutes, mostly focusing on what a great guy director Robert Wise was. (Not just as a person, but for directing both The Haunting and The Sound of Music.) Not really funny, just sad.
Fox Movietone News
An older feature (as in 1951 old), this Fox newsreel might have played in front of the original screening of TDTESS, and your grandfather might have laughed his ass off at it. In typical Fox News fashion, the announcer makes fun of Russia for trying to disrupt a Japanese peace treaty signing, and a US Senator even tries to play a game of "gotcha" with the Russian ambassador by handing him a map of Russian prison camps, which his assistant throws to the floor. Then the entire assembly has a laugh when the Polish ambassador tries to talk about freedom of expression, and even he seems to acknowledge how ridiculous it is. Man, the Cold War was wacky.
Race to Oblivion Documentary Short
This really shouldn't be funny, since it's an anti-war documentary written and produced by TDTESS screenwriter Edmund North, who despised war despite attending military school and making most of his money from writing war movies. But when it starts off with a chorus of children singing about how it's up to you and me to stop global warfare, as awesome images of jets and battleships play in the background, you can't help but laugh. It's like a music video for "Give Peace a Chance" using footage from Top Gun. Then Burt Lancaster shows up, and he talks to us as he drives around, and you just want to scream, "Watch the road, Burt!" And then he talks to a Hiroshima survivor. Ahem. End of funny.
The two-disc set has a bunch of other documentaries: about Edmund North, the role of sci-fi as metaphor for the real world, and the original short story's author, Harry Bates, as well as a ton of galleries, including some pretty funny publicity shots and behind-the-scenes photos. And the gallery of advertising artwork is far from funny, it's just plain awesome.
I will admit to not being a big fan of the Narnia books -- granted, I also haven't re-read them in years, but I remember them being fairly dry, and I found the first movie to also be a little dull. But the second film certainly does up the ante a little bit, with some impressive sets and a lot more creatures, plus the addition of an actually good actor in Peter Dinklage, who plays a dwarf. Sadly, we may not get to see if the third movie ups the ante even more (Disney has opted not to finance Voyage of the Dawn Treader), but for now we at least have a pretty impressive 3-Disc Collector's Edition of Prince Caspian. The extras are definitely worth a peek, and certainly enhanced my appreciation of the film.
While you would think it would be incredibly annoying, an audio commentary with four teenagers on it is not as bad as you would imagine. Mostly because the kids who play the Pevensies seem fairly mature and intelligent, and also because their director, Andrew Adamson, and their slightly older co-star, Ben Barnes, are there. They also have a lot of questions, which Adamson always patiently answers, to the benefit of everybody. And since they all know each other so well (after two movies together in quick succession), they tease each other about their quirks and foibles on the set, and try to establish a timeline for where the shots happened in the timeline of the production (they were mostly shot in order), as well as where on Earth they were shot (everywhere). So if you don't mind having everything explained to you like you're a child, you'll actually learn quite a lot!
Inside Narnia: The Adventure Returns
Because you demanded it, we get to hear from the producers of Chronicles of Narnia ... and the director, and the actors, and everyone else, explaining why they all decided to do another one. Subtitle: Narnia 2: The Search for More Money
Sets of Narnia: A Classic Comes to Life
Considering that the high production values are the only real reason to watch these movies (although Peter Dinklage helps), this is pretty incredible. We hear from the director and production designers about the ruined castle at the beginning (that hidden door on rollers wasn't in the book; it was originally just behind some plants), the underground treasure room (it must be an awesome job to sit around and make fake treasure all day) and the bridge they built for the final scene. Oh, and we hear about the massive goddamn castle set they built. Seriously, it's huge. If you look at it from the outside (and in this doc, they do), it's even more impressive that people actually built this thing. Am I wrong to think that a budget this big shouldn't be wasted on material this dull?
Big Movie Comes to a Small Town
Because this film traveled pretty much anywhere it wanted to go to get footage, Adamson went looking for the most beautiful river he could find for the film's climactic scene. Apparently, it's in Slovenia, near a small town called Bovec, and that meant that Bovec would have to support, for all intents and purposes, a film crew of as many as 1200 people (and 370 trucks) on a given day. It's actually an interesting look at what goes into getting permits to build a bridge across a nationally protected river, and coordinating housing for a huge number of people, as well as the problems of filming a scene like the final bridge crossing on a river they had little control over.
Easter Egg: Toastie
On Disc 2, Menu 1, a small crown in between "Set Up" and "More" will take you to a small film about the movie's secret code name. Because fans the world over were desperate to get onto the set of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (or perhaps simply because the name is so freaking long), the movie was called simply Toastie on the set. "Toastie" is apparently a Kiwi term for a grilled cheese, although craft services would apparently put anything you wanted on it, including creamed corn. Anyway, the toastie was a staple on the first film shoot, and on the second, as well.
Apparently, because of the complexity of the movie, and since the director came from the world of animation (Shrek, Shrek 2), the entire movie was not only storyboarded, but also animated, using video-game-quality graphics. That's right, the entire movie exists as a previsualized animatic, which was then used as a guide for the actors and camera crew, and the visual effects were even used as stand-ins for the real ones in filmed footage. Why not just release it as a video game, and save everybody the trouble.
Talking Animals and Walking Trees: The Magical Worlds of Narnia
The only place on the DVD where they give Eddie Izzard (the voice of a mouse in this film) a chance to speak, and it's not nearly enough. Basically, various cast and crew observations on the talking animal phenomenon, and a little bit about the trees. Speaking of which, I know these books were written at around the same time as the Lord of the Rings series and the authors were friends who read each other's works-in-progress, but c'mon -- two sets of walking trees in two different fantasy series? Snooze.
Easter Egg: Monster Cam
Another crown on Disc 2, Menu 2, will take you to behind-the-scenes footage of the "running through the catacombs" scene, full of men dressed like Minotaurs and men dressed like centaurs, all with bright green leggings on, for CGI purposes. In fact, some of the footage is shot from inside a Minotaur's head, hence the title. A good alternate title would have been Being John Minotaur. "It's my head, Schwartz!"
These are mostly small moments that were totally unnecessary... unless you were hoping to develop characters or inject any fun into this whole affair. Mostly it's banter that would have thrown off the dramatic action sequences, including some serious flirting between Lucy and Caspian, and a scene where Reepicheep (Izzard) and Bulgy Bear (Little Britain's David Walliams) volunteer to be Peter's second in the fight with Miraz. (Trumpkin cautions against the latter, since Bulgy tends to suck his paws.) Also, we see a CG dryad made out of leaves scream and dissolve as a tree is chopped down. Ridiculously preachy, and thankfully cut.
The Bloopers of Narnia
Mostly line flubs, but a couple of shots where people fall down stairs, and one minotaur rams his head into a gate. Like, badly. Like, worse than that stormtrooper in Star Wars.
Secrets of the Duel
This sucker is all about the big, final duel. They talk to the weaponers, the stunt coordinator (who is also Miraz's stunt double) and the cameramen, and you can see how much planning went into this thing. The number of ways they filmed it, with cameras mounted on the shields and circling on tracks around the arena, is pretty impressive.
Peter effing Dinklage. The man is awesome, and it looks like he went through hell to get the Trumpkin makeup right. It doesn't get into specifics, like how long he spent in the makeup chair each day, but we see them casting his head, and him goofing off on set, and everybody talking about how much they love him.
Warwick Davis: The Man Behind Nikabrik
Warwick effing Davis. Perhaps even awesomer than Peter Dinklage -- hell, he is awesomer, since he was in Return of the Jedi and Willow and Harry Potter -- this documentary follows Warwick through a day on set. In his case, we actually do see that he spends three hours in the makeup chair every morning, then a little bit more later to get his beard put on. We also see him filming the scene in the forest, running from the Telmarines. Again, everyone loves him, and he's a total professional. Of course.
Easter Egg: Shane Rangi, Suit Actor
A crown on Disc 2, Menu 3, will take you to a documentary about Shane Rangi, a New Zealander who specializes in "suit acting." He played a Minotaur in the first Narnia film, and plays the lead Minotaur in this film, as well as the werewolf and the bear that attacks Lucy. And, apparently, he's the sweetest, nicest guy you'll ever meet. Also, he doesn't complain about anything, ever, even when he runs headfirst into a gate. (Yes, that was him on the blooper reel.)
...is the digital copy.
The new I Am Legend Ultimate Collector's Edition box set (three discs now qualifies as a box set, because they put it in a big, fancy box) isn't much more "ultimate" than the previous two-disc release of the film, which we reviewed here, with a few notable (and some not-so-notable) exceptions.
Let's get the repeats out of the way first: We still have the animated comics, the "Cautionary Tale" and "Creating I Am Legend" featurettes, and the alternate version of the film (in other words: all of the extras from last time).
Here's a look at the new goodies:
The first disc in this fancy new set contains the theatrical release of the film, plus one new special feature: commentary with director Frances Lawrence and producer/screenwriter Akiva Goldsman. It's a nice addition, simply for the fact that a commentary should have been included the first time around (they obviously were saving it for this pricey Christmastime release), but it's really nothing that special. It's mostly repeating information in the many featurettes that were in the first set -- and this one.
Disc 2, which contains the alternate version of the film -- with the crazy, zombie-love alternate ending -- also contains two new featurettes, "Making I Am Legend" and "I Am Legend: The Making of Shots." Sound sort of the same? Uh, yes. The second is basically the first one, plus bits of the old featurettes, broken up into shorter featurettes. Each of these two totals about 25 minutes. Also new on Disc 2 are the deleted scenes, and these are worth the admission price. Sure, some of them are without final effects, but if you use your imagination, they're pretty cool. Mostly it's stuff that helps develop Will Smith's character, and if you remember, his acting along throughout almost the entire movie is what kept it compelling. So, more of that is always good. There's optional commentary on the deleted scenes with Lawrence and Goldsman. It's worth watching once, just to find out how they made their cutting/editing decisions.
Disc 3 contains the digital copy of the film.
Finally, much like the recent 300 release, this one comes in a big, slick box with some goodies that only the most ardent fans will love. (And, honestly, have you met that many ardent I Am Legend fans? Me, neither.) There's a pack of six art cards, which aren't even shots from the film; they're just various world cities, supposedly after the devastation that caused Smith to be the last man standing. Pretty boring. Then there's a "hologram lenticular" (read: paper weight), which depicts Smith screaming and jumping toward a zombie. You will spend hours entertaining yourself with this hologram. Oh, wait, not hours. I meant seconds. Enjoy that. The big, fun, glossy book here is mostly just artistic renderings of the destruction in New York, too, which very few actual movie stills (though the shot in the beginning of the book of Smith and his dog in a cornfield near the city is pretty cool-looking). The small case that contains the three discs inside the larger box (making this the aforementioned "box set") is pretty. It's black, shiny, stark, and plain - in a good way. And when you open it up, you get the very cool, "My name is Robert Neville. I am a survivor living in New York City..." radio broadcast from Smith's character in the film. And it's next to a shining sliver of light as Smith walks through a door into destruction, from darkness.
But unless someone plans to spend hours staring at the packaging, you're probably safe sticking with your old DVD. After all, I Am Legend wasn't exactly screaming out for a re-release, but we have it anyway. And if you haven't already purchased it, and you don't mind splurging, this is the set to spring for.
If you haven't seen Towelhead yet -- and even if you have, actually -- you should watch the DVD. No, nothing is different from the theatrical release. And, no, it's not the best film in history, or even of the year. And finally, no, there aren't many special features on the disc. But there are two special features that make this worth watching -- scratch that, they make this important viewing. For everyone. No matter your take on any of the issues and controversy surrounding the film's title -- or the film itself.
It would have been so easy for Alan Ball and Company to just churn out your run-of-the-mill special features: deleted scenes, featurettes, gag reel. But we get none of that. What we get instead is "Towelhead: A Community Discussion." This consists of two separate townhall-style discussions hosted by Alan Ball about the movie, its controversies, and larger controversies about Arab-Americans. They are insightful and poignant, made more so by the fact that there aren't other special features on the DVD. It makes this disc feel meaningful instead of commercial, which is so rare even for the best DVD releases (which are often just second releases of a disc that had a sparse scattering of extras the first time around). That's not what Towelhead is. This is all we're getting, purposefully.
The first panel discussion consists of Ball, the film's principal actors Peter Macdissi (Jasira's father) and Summer Bishil (Jasira), and Hussam Ayloush of all of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Apparently, CAIR, as the council's called, was not happy about the film's title. Instead of ignoring that, Ball and Warner Bros. invited them to participate in this panel. It has an intro saying that the language might be offensive, it's not a reflection on Warner Bros., etc. Which seems silly, since this would reflect positively on Warner Bros. Instead, Ball gets the positive reflection. He introduces it by saying that they are all going to put aside their disagreement to discuss this, because this is what they all want: a dialogue about the racial issues. He says that the author of the original novel felt the title served as a way in to discussion, and he obviously agrees. He goes on to then say the word is a slur, and the author (Alicia Erian) is Arab-American, and she chose the word because of the novel's theme of racism. He also explains that he originally changed the title, thinking no one would buy it; but when Warner Independent bought the movie on the festival circuit, they told him to change the title back. The first five minutes of this nearly half-hour panel deals almost exclusively with the ramifications of the movie's title. It's fascinating, enlightening and hopeful. If only more people would watch this than just the few people who will buy or rent this DVD (which, let's face it, probably isn't that many people). There is a lot of substance about real, human issues that our world is so embroiled with right now -- Hussam Ayloush explaining why the word "towelhead" is so hurtful and brings up bad memories, and why he and others found the title to be so offensive that they contacted Warner Bros.; discussion of using this word inside the community versus outside of the community; how using the title on a book is different than with a movie that's advertised in newspapers, on TV, etc.; the actors talking about having been called "towelhead" and other slurs in their own lives -- but this also serves somewhat as a making-of, with insights into how the title came to be, how the actors felt taking the roles in the film, their experiences making the film, and how people reacted to them after it was made.
The second panel consists of Ball (on hosting duty again), Erian, the author of the novel, and Rajdeep Singh Jolly from the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, also known as SALDEF. This is similar to the first one, with an intro that's pretty much the same (both the worded intro from Warner and Ball's welcome intro to his panel). This one is a little longer (almost 50 minutes), and has much less about the making of the movie, but more about the novel and the real issues at hand. Ball starts out by asking Jolly what a Sikh is and what the SALDEF does. We start off getting some background education before they jump into the discussion. This one gets a little more heated, with Jolly making the point that no one would ever think of calling a book or a movie "the n-word" because of the huge outcry it would generate. Which, while a good point, is not accurate when you consider that there was a book with that title several years ago, and even a Boston Public episode about it. Ball disagrees strongly with Jolly; he himself is part of a minority as a gay man, and he doesn't want people who would say hateful things silenced, because that gives those words too much power. Erian talks about why she chose the word, and compares it to why Jolly wears a turban -- not to assimilate in this country. But she admits it is also helpful in selling a book or a movie. It's an interesting debate that's important to have, even if they don't ultimately come to any conclusions or resolutions. I do have to agree with Ball that taking the power from those words is important. And I do think that making the title Towelhead has taken away some of the power from that word. Some of this is repetitive, because Ball tells a few of the same stories he told in the first panel. But it's all organic, unrehearsed, and necessary.
While the sound on these panels -- particularly the first one -- is sometimes not great, which can be annoying, these panels are among the very best special features I've ever seen on a DVD, not just because they are so unexpected, but also because they're so much more than simply DVD extras.
No cast members to be found here, so if you're just dying to hear how the auteur behind XXX, The Fast and the Furious, and The Skulls ticks, you go right on ahead and knock yourself out.
Deleted and Extended Scenes:
The movie itself is basically just two hours of filler, so I was surprised to learn that there were actually things deemed too shitty to be included in the feature and were thus cut. My favorite of the six or so clips, for what it's worth: a severed arm (probably sacrificed to keep the PG-13 rating, a rare instance in which that's a good idea, because an R-rated Mummy movie from this franchise would be ridiculous and serve no one) being dragged away by some horses. Movies need more of that kind of thing.
Jet Li: Crafting the Emperor Mummy:
A top line look at how the CG guys made the animated mummy takes look like Jet Li. It's impressive, as these things tend to be. The movie may suck, but these guys most definitely do not.
Creating New and Supernatural Worlds:
Yeah, that's code for "set design." Many of them are quite pretty, and all of them are enormous! More is more with Rob Cohen, people.
The Casting Process:
This is how they picked the actors who were in the movie. Moving on.
Preparing for Battle with Brendan Fraser and Jet Li:
This is one of those featurettes where they show the actors learning their fight and stunt choreographies. Admittedly, I was impressed by how much of their own stunts each actor did. It was a very physical set, and each role was surprisingly demanding of all the actors (yes, even John Hannah, whose ass was set on fire, I am so not even kidding). There's also a lot of footage of people fighting neon green-suited CGI mummy stand-ins, which is always hilarious.
Legacy of the Terra Cotta:
Did you know that Rob Cohen considers himself to be a Chinese history buff? Of course you didn't! That's what I'm here for! This is basically a 15 minute video of Cohen and the film's producers insisting that they did an assload of research on Chinese armies, and I'm not saying they didn't or anything, but who gives a hell about historical accuracy in a Mummy movie? Just saying. That research time could have been better spent removing the cheese from the script instead. It's like a terra cotta fondue pot up in here.
From City to Desert:
Everything you ever wanted to know about location, location, location! They actually went to China to film much of the movie, a fact they're very proud of, and, I suppose, they ought to be. China is awfully far.
Drink every time someone tries to say the word "epic" with a straight face -- I double dog dare you. Just don't send me the medical bills after.
Do I know how to sell a movie or what? Buy it now.
Fans of 300 who already bought the previous two-disc version on DVD will probably find themselves wondering if the new Limited Collector's Edition is worth shelling out another $40 to $50. The answer is "yes" for only two groups of people: those who don't own a previous version of the film and the biggest 300 fans. This new version has all of the extras that were on the previous two-disc DVD set, plus a few new extras. But it's also lacking a few things that would have made it well worth buying a second copy of the same movie.
First, what's here:
Disc 1 has the full film, plus the audio commentary with Zach Snyder (director), Kurt Johnstad (screenwriter), and Larry Fong (cinematographer). Or at least that's who the disc says is on the commentary. But you wouldn't know that from listening to it, because Johnstad and Fong talk very little. It's mostly a commentary track with Snyder. If you want to listen to him talk for a couple hours -- and it is interesting; he gives lots of facts about the making of and clearly has passion about this project -- with a few notes of agreement or even questions from those other two, you'll like this one. It's the same track from the previous versions of the film, but if this is your first 300, you'll want to give it a listen.
This disc still has the same Easter Egg that was included on earlier versions, obviously. It's easy to access. After you've selected "Special Features" from the main menu, hit the up button once until the blood around the words "Special Features" is highlighted. This will take you into a short doc featuring Snyder and a few others (mostly Snyder again), explaining what made him want to adapt 300, and how it came to life. Oh, and it's interspersed with really cool narrated graphic novel segments (narrator: Scott Glenn).
One huge problem with Disc 1: It has about seven previews or trailers on it, assuring that even though you bought this, you still have to deal with advertising. You can skip past them, but it's still pretty annoying for a product you purchase to come with so much advertising. You expect it with newspapers and magazines, but those cost about $1-$2 instead of $50.
Disc 2 is the same second disc that came with the previous two-disc version. It has five featurettes on it, plus deleted scenes, and webisodes.
As for the featurettes, "The 300 - Fact or Fiction" is about as good as it gets. We get lots of interviews with most of the cast and crew, and this 25-minute documentary presents as much information about the Spartans as any film fan would want, going back in history, through the comic books, up to the movie. Obviously, it's not even close to all of the information available on this topic, but let's be honest: If you wanted to know any more than this, you'd take a class, not buy a DVD. It's by far the best of the featurettes. There are a couple short, making-of type of docs that mostly repeat what's said in the audio commentary -- but with the bonus of behind-the-scenes footage that is worth a peek. "The Frank Miller Tapes" is about 15 minutes, and it's a fascinating reminder about the brilliant Frank Miller and the graphic novel, 300. (Which brings me to a good point to talk about the glaring omission from this DVD set: the graphic novel. The addition of that here would make this a can't-miss set for any film or comic buff.)
The deleted scenes on Disc 2 consist of three extremely short (the total runtime for all of them is less than five minutes) scenes, with introductions by Snyder. It's hilarious when he introduces one of them by saying he loved it but it slowed the movie down too much. As if these five extra minutes would really slow down or lengthen the movie any.
Finally, the webisodes. There are twelve of them, and they're five minutes each. They're informative and entertaining, on topics from Lena Headey to adapting the graphic novel to the culture of Sparta. The problem is that they can only be watched individually. They really should have been put together into one movie so that fans could just sit down and enjoy. If set up with chapters, you could still choose to watch them this way, but having the opportunity to watch them all at once without going back to the remote every five minutes would be nice for the non-fidgety among us who can actually sit still for an hour.
So, the new stuff on this Limited Collector's Edition starts on Disc 3, where we find one 30-minute doc, "To the Hot Gates: A Legend Retold," which looks at the history behind the story and the movie. Again. Because, remember, we had "The 300 -- Fact or Fiction" on Disc 2. Granted, it was the best original special feature, but I think doing something more than duplicating it and adding a few minutes is going to be required to make this set worth it. Oh, right, this disc also includes the digital copy. Thanks, but no thanks.
Finally, in addition to discs, this new set comes in some pretty -- if bulky -- packaging, including some new fun toys for collectors. But it will take up a lot more space than a slim DVD case, so non-packrats should steer clear. There's a 50-page book of "art," which is essentially a gallery of stills from the movie with a few quotes from the movie interspersed throughout. This also serves as the DVD case, which is pretty cool. Folks who like this packaging but don't care for the other goodies might just store it in this book, which is much slimmer than the bulky box it comes in.
And that bulk is because also inside the box are six cards, depicting the movie's original poster images (once you've looked at them, what then? They probably would have been better as part of the book/DVD case). And there's also what the DVD packaging calls a "Lucite Display with Motion Film Image." Or what I like to call a hologram paperweight thing that depicts Leonidas in a scene from the movie, spearing something. It's probably fun for kids, but once you've grown past the state of finding holograms cool, it loses its luster quite a bit. Unless you really need a paperweight for your desk. And, come on: Who doesn't?!
Looking for a good paperweight? Buy it now!
So, that two-disc edition of The Dark Knight has to be the definitive edition, chock-full of extras, right? Well, let's just say, sort of. There are plenty of extras here -- and plenty of them are truly terrific. But you will feel like there's some stuff missing, too. It's surely being saved for the big, fat ultimate collector's edition that will come out soon enough (maybe they're saving something for a set of all of the Nolan Batman movies someday). But for now, this two-disc edition is what we get, and there's plenty here to sink your teeth into.
Disc 1: The first disc contains the entire movie with "Focus Points," which you can choose to watch in their entirety or you can watch them as sidebars to the movie by clicking enter when an icon appears. At that point, you're taken away from the movie to a featurette about the making of that scene. It starts with the film's prologue, the bank heist (less than one minute in), which is explained mostly from the perspective of how it was filmed in Imax -- and how filming for Imax made everything about the movie better.
This setup, like the Picture in Picture that made HD-DVD so great, is the best way for viewers to receive this featurette information. If you watch it with the movie, you click the button when you see the icon, which jumps to the featurette, then right back into the movie, right to the scene that was just discussed in-depth, which is a much more effective way to break down a film sequence than watching the featurettes independent of the movie.
Disc 1 includes the movie in its entirety, plus about an hour of these individual featurettes, broken up into 18 segments (including the new Batman suit, the sound of the joker, Batman jumping off the building in Hong Kong (another Imax scene), blowing up a car, several bits about the armored car chase, Bat-car design, helicopter scene, Lamborghini crash, blowing up the hospital, flipping the car on the bridge, SWAT guys falling out of the building one after another, and more).
Disc 2: Considering how packed with featurettes Disc 1 is, it's interesting that Disc 2 is the one labeled "Special Features" -- especially since the features here are weak (and a little repetitive) when compared to the first disc.
The first extra is a long (about 45 minutes) featurette called "Batman Tech." It's about, surprisingly enough, Batman's technology and gadgets. It has some interesting bits (especially because it goes to the source material, the comic books, to explain why they chose to do things the way they did), even if some (most?) of it overlaps with Disc 1's "Focus Points." It also has very annoying narration, making it feel more like it was made to promote the movie instead of having been made for the disc, which it probably was. There's also a little too much build-up/introduction (who is Batman, etc.) before it gets into the good stuff. It is kind of cool to hear about specific gadgets, how they operate, that they actually could work and exist. But if you want to hear about the costume or the car, you're better off sticking to the "Focus Points," which is more in-depth and doesn't have the annoying voiceover guy. He could be saying the most informative stuff on Earth, but you'll still have a hard time caring through the rage you'll feel that this guy's telling you as if he's making a sales pitch.
The next featurette, "Batman Unmasked: The Psychology of the Dark Knight," is another lengthy documentary (45 minutes) with another annoying, sales-pitchy voiceover guy (although it's a different voice, oddly enough), but this one is much more interesting. First, it doesn't repurpose nearly as much from the first disc and, second, it's cool to hear actual psychologists analyze Batman as if he were a real person with actual psychological issues. They bring C.G. Jung and every culture's look at evil/the dark side into it. It goes into his sadness -- and fear of love -- because of having lost his parents. On the one hand... this is a comic book movie, right? Which makes it feel a little silly to put this type of real psychoanalysis on it. [Blasphemy! - Zach] But then again, this is a superhero/supervillain story that could almost happen. And when it gets into the villains, it's especially riveting, because conversation about the Joker and how dark he is can't help but make people think about Heath Ledger's journey into the darkness of this character. It also really exemplifies the reality of this doc (which appears to have been made during the making of the movie), because we know just how real the darkness was for the actor inside that Joker character.
"Gotham Tonight" is a fake newscast with anchor Mike Engel (Anthony Michael Hall). It would be a fun little extra if it were ten minutes or so (it uses footage that wasn't used in the movie, plus some movie footage and stills, pieced together with the newscasts to look like on-the-scenes news footage), but instead it offers six "episodes" or newscasts, and drags to a full length of close to 45 minutes (a length only Anthony Michael Hall could love). The good news is that you can watch just one episode and that's probably the best idea. "Escalation" is fun if you're looking for something that's all new footage -- about a kid who used Ecstasy and died -- although it doesn't feel like it ties into the movie all that well. "Top Cop" (a profile of Gary Oldman's Jim Gordon by Mike Engel's co-worker, "Lydia Filangeri") and "Gotham's White Knight" (about Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent) are the best ones that tie well into the film. Dent is even interviewed by Engel in "Gotham's White Knight," as a scroll about cops with mob ties runs across the bottom of the screen.
There are several art and photo galleries: "Joker Cards" (various creepy Joker playing cards), "Concept Art" (mask possibilities for the Joker's henchmen; Batman suit drawings and prototypes, gadget and tech concept drawings), "Poster Art" (all of the various posters, which was a highlight because I hadn't seen all of them -- there are about 15), and "Production Stills" from the movie.
Finally, there are trailers and TV spots. This is probably the most complete collection of trailers on a DVD, with three trailers and six TV spots included.
Disc 3: Disc 3 includes the digital copy for use on PCs or PSPs. This is now becoming almost standard with DVD and Blu-ray releases, so it's starting to feel wrong to call it an extra.
Why so serious? Buy it now!