The art of a good DVD commentary

In the age of streaming, video on demand and rentals, it’s easy to forget that DVDs were, and to an extent still are, a valuable form of media consumption. A DVD shouldn’t just contain the film, it should be a package that’s worth your money – on top of the film (which you would have already seen, given how I highly doubt people would pay ten pounds for a film they don’t know if they like), you should be getting extras like interviews, deleted scenes, bloopers and documentaries. But for me, the cherry on the top of a DVD is the audio commentary. A good audio commentary can improve a viewing experience completely. So in defence of this often neglected aspect of a DVD/Blu Ray, I’m going to look at some great ones.

An audio commentary is essentially when creatives involved with the production – usually the director, writers or cast members – watch the film and talk over it, giving the audience insights into their perspectives and viewpoints. They’re not for everyone, but I love them, especially when I already love the work in question.

For me, the greatest DVD commentaries are the fantastic ones that come with classic series Doctor Who DVDs. All 150+ stories have commentaries with the actors and crew members remembering the good, bad and ugly. I’ve only watched a fraction, mostly the ones with Peter Davison because he is. HILARIOUS. Davison is utterly on point with the problems in his run and 80’s Who as a whole and does not hold back on criticism when he feels like the story is flawed. 

Doctor Who - Black Orchid DVD | Deff.com

The best example of this is Black Orchid, an… OK story, but the commentary is wonderfully sarcastic. Some find him and Janet Fielding too negative, but when the story is good they will complement and discuss it fairly, whilst also making fun of it. Kinda and Snakedance are two such examples, but as much as I love hearing anecdotes from great stories it’s the way less than stellar stuff like Time-Flight and Arc of Infinity (which sees Colin Baker also join in the fun) is torn to pieces that brings me back to Davison’s commentaries. Warriors of the Deep is a fascinating commentary, with the cast and crew perfectly aware of the awful nature of it but also pointing out how it went wrong, such as the director’s complete inexperience with a story of that scale. But my favourite Davison commentary is him, Nicola Bryant and Graeme Harper on The Caves of Androzani, where Harper’s discussions on how he directed it and the state of television directing then and now being a major insight into why he’s considered one of the best Doctor Who directors ever.

Other great commentaries I’ve listened to are Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen looking back on their first story Robot and The Leisure Hive, where script editor Christopher Bidmead criticises director Lovett Bickford’s direction, with Bickford also in the commentary! It’s still interesting though as I find the story very well directed and hearing the behind the scenes was great. Colin Baker is, in contrast to his Doctor, quite mellow and calm with his criticisms even with legendary failure The Twin Dilemma, where he is both honest and fair in what went both right and wrong.

I hardly listened to any new series commentaries, but that’s because there aren’t that many! RTD’s seasons have commentaries for all episodes (I have listened to the Midnight commentary, a very insightful and great discussion on a great episode) but Moffat and Chibnall’s seasons only have select commentary for episodes. Also, unlike the Classic Who DVD’s where the participants can be honest, I have a feeling the commentaries are moderated to stop cast members from being too negative on certain episodes as the show is in production and it’ll be a bit awkward to have cast members mock the show – I doubt we’ll get a Black Orchid style riffing on Fear Her, Kill the Moon or Orphan 55. Maybe in the future we’ll hear the cast’s TRUE thoughts on certain episodes.

The other TV show with a load of commentaries is Futurama, which has an audio track for every single episode and Matt Groening is on basically all of them. I personally find these a bit more mixed, as sometimes there are about six or seven people on the commentary and with only 20 minutes to cover sometimes the episode itself isn’t discussed too much. But all I’ve heard have merit, especially when the writers are discussing the writer’s room, an American writing concept I don’t really understand (how many producers do you need?) or how the insane ideas were conceived or animated.

I first got into commentary tracks during my time at college, where I would frequently borrow DVDs from the library and watch films for the first time with the director’s commentary as subtitles with the film playing at the same time. As many commentators point out, having commentary on a first watch is a bad idea, which I soon learnt. For example, I watched Get Out for the first time on DVD with Jordan Peele’s commentary as text on the bottom. All well and good apart from the fact that he (understandably) discusses the twist before it happens so… whoops. 

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner commentary is great – we were studying the film as part of the course but due to timing we couldn’t watch the film in class so we were expected to watch the film at home. I’d already seen it so decided to watch with commentary and, say what you will about his films, but Scott is a master director when he puts his mind to it and has something to say about everything, particularly the meticulous set design and stylistic choices. 

Rewatching a film you love with commentary is just as rewarding as rewatching it for the first time. John Carpenter and Kurt Russell are so much fun on the Big Trouble in Little China track – they only discuss the film about half the time but the rest of the time they’re discussing each other’s work, the state of films, random action films and it’s an absolute blast. Commentaries are always better when the participants clearly want to be there, and Carpenter and Russell definitely want to be there. But no one puts more work into their commentary tracks than Edgar Wright. My Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy box set is one of my prized possessions, not just because of the films but also the commentaries. Let’s break them down –

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Shaun of the Dead has four commentaries – one with Wright and Simon Pegg as the writers/director commentary, then one with the main cast, then one with Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton, and finally one with some of the zombie extras. I’ve only listened to the first one with Wright and Pegg (and it’s GLORIOUS), but the fact that there are so many is proof that this is a guy who cares about giving someone their money’s worth on a DVD.

Hot Fuzz has FIVE tracks – the Wright/Pegg one, one with the Sanford police actors, one with the Neighbourhood Watch actors, one with two Wells police officers who served as consultants and one with Wright and Quentin Tarantino. I haven’t heard any of these yet but look forward to doing so.

The World’s End was, naturally, the first commentary I listened to when I got the set. There are three – the Wright/Pegg double act, which was, of course, fantastic. These two are a script writing team made in heaven and have such a clear understanding and passion of their own work and manage to be intelligent and discuss many different aspects of the film without losing the carefree vibe of a casual commentary track. The other two are a cast commentary and one with Wright and cinematographer Bill Pope that I really should listen to as I love Pope’s work with Wright, Sam Raimi and the Wachowskis. Edgar Wright also has multiple commentary tracks on Scott Pilgrim (which I have on DVD so should probably watch) and Baby Driver (which I do not, yet) but I greatly admire his dedication to the commentary track as they really are a valuable insight into a film’s background.

Sadly, many DVDs now do not have commentary tracks. But the Blu Rays do. My Marvel Blu Rays have commentaries (including Endgame, which I look forward to rewatching with commentary immensely) and now we have a Blu Ray player we can now get more obscure releases with more commentaries and extras. If you’re paying more, surely you should get a good set of extras? Many distributors seem to think extras don’t matter, certainly not commentaries – “what’s the point? Surely people just want to watch the film?”. But no. Many people value the special features and if I just wanted to just watch the film I would simply rent it. I wish streaming services would offer the commentary track as a language option as I really love listening to them if the participants are interesting, which they usually are. 

No real conclusion here, just appreciating commentary tracks and the people and companies that put extra effort into them.

Ten of my favourite comedic film performances

The world’s in a state right now, so I want to talk about something to hopefully distract people- comedy. It is incredibly hard to write and direct good comedy – but it’s even harder to act in a comedy. In fact I’d argue many of the performances I mention here were worthy of Oscar nominations or wins.

Yes, some actors can cry on command and recite page long monologues but can they embarrass themselves on camera whilst still preserve their dignity, can they react to absurd situations in a completely straight manner and can they do that well? Here are ten (technically) performances in some of my favourite comedy films that demonstrate the importance of comedic timing, hiring talented actors to play those parts and how to give a layered comedic performance-

  • Peter Sellers in Dr Strangelove

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Little Britain, Nazis and how we should address problematic media

It’s become impossible to ignore current world events with regards to entertainment and the media industry. Yesterday, the events surrounding the #BlackLivesMatter resulted in Little Britain being removed from Netflix and iPlayer, and discussions are now being had surrounding countless other television shows and films that may be seen as inappropriate by today’s standards. Whilst I tend to avoid directly discussing real life issues on my blog, considering I focus on media and film on this blog, even studying it as part of my university degree, I’ve decided to throw my hat into the ring with regards to how we view media that has outdated values.

Simply put, I do not agree with removing TV shows like Little Britain, films like Gone With the Wind and countless others from discourse. Rather, I believe they should be allowed to stick around, as a symbol of the past and as a reminder as to how society has moved on.

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My Top Ten Rick And Morty Episodes

Last year I gushed about my favourite fictional characters, and sweeping his way into the top five was Rick Sanchez, the antihero who leads Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland’s amazing cartoon series Rick And Morty. Season 4 premiers today (what a great birthday gift!) and it is one of my favourite shows, expertly blending humour with clever and powerful storytelling. It is the final piece of the sci-fi comedy trifecta that began with Red Dwarf, continued with Futurama and concluded with Rick and Morty.

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My problems with Disney

Let’s talk about Disney. I’ve never, ever, ever, liked them. As a company that is. The stuff they pinch and slap their name on I love. I love Marvel (not theirs to begin with though), Star Wars (also not theirs), Pixar (again, not theirs) and several other franchises they “make” and/or steal. But as a company, I heavily dislike them. As a child this dislike came from simply finding their animated films dull and uninteresting, but as I’ve grown older I’ve found this dislike to be deeper than just finding the musical animated films to be the epitome of cringe (barring The Nightmare Before Christmas of course). As a company, Disney are legitimately terrifying, as their devouring of Fox shows. No, I’m not going to call any Fox film a Disney film. They’re Fox films. And with the release of their streaming service Disney+ coming soon Disney seems like they want to monopolise entertainment as a whole. And that’s… not good. Let’s dive into why Disney’s control over entertainment is really, really, really, really bad.

  • The remakes

Yes, I make memes now, mostly so I don’t have to worry about stealing others.

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Good Omens mini-series review

Sooo, I’m an idiot and accidentally published the Stranger Things 3 review literally a day after my Spider-Man one so we got two reviews in a row. Well, it’s been a over a week since the last review so it’s once again time to dive into my totally-not-messed-up-at-this-point Month of Reviews and take a look at the Good Omens mini-series that debuted on Amazon Prime earlier this year. Based on the novel by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, the mini-series has been making waves due to its fun story, unique mythology and amazing dynamic between series leads David Tennant and Michael Sheen. As a huge fan of Gaiman’s work and as someone who wants to get into Pratchett, this series was a must watch for me. That plus the “Doctor Who effect*” was put into effect and I just had to check this out. Not only is Good Omens hilarious and unique, it’s also intelligent and ingeniously written in its perfectly paced six episodes.

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5 great TV bottle episodes

Television is a vast and varied format, and it’s often the episodes that break the norm of their shows that often end up being the most acclaimed. By stripping the show down to its base elements, some of the most beloved episodes in television history are “bottle episodes”. These episodes take place in a single location and only feature the core characters, or even less. These episodes are devised to save budgets and reduce the need for vast locations or guest stars, although sometimes it’s due to a desire to try something different. These five episodes from television shows I love prove that sometimes less is more, and have been responsible for some of the finest outings for their respective shows.

  • Doctor Who- Midnight

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What happened to the Marvel Netflix universe?

The Defenders are no more. Yesterday Netflix announced that The Punisher and Jessica Jones were cancelled, becoming the final casualties of the Marvel purge on Netflix. Whilst many may be quick to blame Disney’s upcoming streaming service for this as far as I know the Marvel/Netflix deal had nothing to do with Disney and it appears the shows were cancelled due to low viewing figures and lack of interest from even hardcore Marvel fans. So what happened? How did what promised to be the most exciting branch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe become no more?

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Every film I saw in January 2019

As a huge film buff I watch many films a year, and I’ve always intended to make a list of films I’ve seen so I can count how many I saw at the end of a year. I’ve decided to do this one month at a time, starting from January obviously, with the films being in the order I saw them. I won’t go too in depth with them, just summarise them and give my brief thoughts but hopefully I will have a wide range of titles by the end of each moth. Every film I watch counts, including films I’ve already seen. Cinema, Netflix, Sky, DVD… anything I see goes on the list. So without further ado, let’s go, forgetting the fact it’s already February 1st-

  • Bird Box

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What does Black Panther’s historic Oscar nomination mean to the future of superhero films?

Well, it finally happened.

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