DVD commentary tracks can be the best special feature
For years now, I have been quite the DVD commentary enthusiast. It all began with the infamous drunken commentary track on the Cannibal: The Musical DVD featuring intoxicatingly funny conversation from very intoxicated stars Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Dian Bachar, Jason McHugh, and Andy Kemler. That track showed that DVD commentary can be more than just describing the behind-the-scenes process of each shot. Commentary tracks can be genuinely “special” features… if filmmakers use them to their full potential.
Recently, I listened to two stellar commentary tracks that inspired me to write this post.
The track for big-budget comedy Tropic Thunder, which features stars Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr., could have easily turned into a two hour ego stroking session. Instead, we get an entirely different kind of commentary with Downey staying in character and Stiller and Black serving as straight men. Not only does he portray Osiris, his African-American character from the fictional war film, but he also becomes Kirk Lazarus, the Australian actor portraying Osiris. This is all in reference to a line in the film when the other actors are pressuring Lazarus to drop the Osiris character and he replies that he will not drop character until the DVD commentary track.
Having Downey (as Lazarus playing Osiris) makes the track exceptionally funny as Stiller and Black react and address him as if he is just Downey. It’s also fascinating to listen to how long–and how well–he is able to hold on to the character. In a way, it’s like watching a new cut of the film with real Hollywood actors instead of the fictional ones in the film.
While the Tropic Thunder track is fantastic, the commentary on the Step Brothers DVD is simply outstanding!
Director Adam McKay and stars Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly take it an entirely new direction by doing a musical commentray track, complete with score from the film’s composer Jon Brion. On the track, the trio improvise songs about the production of the film, managing to keep a straight face through out (almost) the entire thing.
At one point, they are joined by a special guest, LA Clippers guard Baron Davis, who inexplicably joins in the singing, providing some smooth vocals to a song about Altadena, California. To say that the track is hilarious is hardly doing it justice!
Things are made even funnier towards the end of the film when McKay makes an attempt to start up a song, only to have Ferrell and Reilly avoid joining in. This awkward interaction happens several more times and the gang acknowledges the decreasing enthusiasm for bursting into song.
Like the Tropic Thunder commentary, this track sometimes outshines the film itself for pure comedy, showcasing the improvisation skills of its stars.
We can only hope that more directors will view DVD commentary as an additional outlet or an extension of their films rather than just narration of what’s happening on screen. The commentary track doesn’t have to be just another throw-away special feature. Clearly these two tracks show us that great commentary can showcase the talent of the cast or crew and add a new layer to the film experience.
I’m already waiting with bated breath for the Pineapple Express DVD release for just this reason.