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Welcome to All Movie Talk! In this audio podcast, Samuel Stoddard and Stephen Keller talk about old and new movies, famous directors, historical film movements, movie trivia, and more.

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When We Shot This Scene, It Was Really Cold

Or: Why Audio Commentaries Are Usually Lame

There was some discussion about DVD commentary tracks in my post about Star Wars DVDs that got me thinking about commentary tracks, and how bad most of them are. I bought a DVD player in February 2000 (yes, it was such a big deal to me at the time that I still remember exactly when I got it) largely because I really, really wanted to get my hands on deleted scenes and commentary tracks.

Boy, was I disappointed.

First of all, deleted scenes were almost always deleted for a reason. Unless the movie is a real director's cut where the director makes things better (e.g. the extended Lord of the Rings movies or the extended version of Aliens), by and large deleted scenes suck. They are usually lame bits that drag on too long. Sometimes you get lucky and get to see an entire subplot that was cut for length and is kind of interesting, but too often they're just a few extra lines or a scene that fell flat.

Commentary tracks are a little better, but not nearly as interesting as I hoped. There a few basic kinds of people who record these things.

The Diarists

Usually these are actors who weren't involved in the creative process beyond filming. Their contributions consist solely of the world's most pointless trivia. "It was 2 a.m. when we shot this scene and I was really tired." "When I first read the script, I was like, 'Wow, this is a great script.'"

There is a reason you don't see a lot of actors writing scripts (at least not scripts that get produced).

The Chatterboxes

These people talk about everything but what's on screen. Often actors or really poor directors, they like to describe where they are at the moment and what their dogs are doing. Why the heck do so many people bring their dogs to these recording sessions? Good lord. The Chatterbox loves to shoot the breeze with the other people doing the commentary. "So what are you up to these days? Oh really? That's great. How's that shoot going?"

Sometimes these can actually be entertaining if there's a funny group of people. The commentary for Mallrats, which is practically 90 minutes of Kevin Smith Ben Affleck making fun of each other, is much funnier than the actual movie. And it's not like we were really concerned with the artistry of Smith's comic book references.

The Fans

These guys have seen the movie a few times but still love it. They spend more time watching it again than talking about it, and all they say is, "Wow, what a great scene." Actors, writers, and producers are particularly likely to fall into this category.

The Obsessives

Beware editors, directors, composers or anyone else involved with the technical details of the movies. They've seen the movie way too many times and spend the entire thing pointing out all the stupid continuity flaws. "See? His cigarette just changed length again!" "His tie had a mustard stain on it in the last shot, now it's gone."

The Obsessives are also fond of describing other vital details like how big a set was.

The Geeks

Be doubly fearful of any commentary track that features only super technical people: the sound designers, the puppeteers, the visual effects wizards. These guys have really interesting jobs, but good social skills are not necessarily a prerequisite. Nobody's ever put them in front of a microphone before and they're not sure anyone will again, so they're going to make sure you know exactly how they got the hair on the dragon to look like that.

Of course, if you really want to know exactly how they got the hair on the dragon to look like that, these are good tracks.

The Wounded Genius

Almost always a director, the Wounded Genius made a bad movie and blames its poor reception on the studio, audience members, critics, other members of the cast, etc. Uwe Boll is the master of these. Seriously, his track for Alone in the Dark is almost worth the torment of watching the movie just to hear him rant about his brilliant metaphor and how stupid audiences couldn't understand what was going on. Oh, and Tara Reid sabotaged the movie because she wouldn't get naked.

These tracks are often (unintentionally) hilarious. Sadly most bad movies just have boring commentary tracks.

The Lecturer

The guys on the Criterion DVDs know a lot about movies, but they won't make it easy. Dry and dull, anyone who has the words "film scholar" by his name is somebody to watch out for. Yeah, you'll learn something, but while doing so you'll have to endure deep discussions of the dialectic montage and filmic style.

Note that Roger Ebert, though he may seem like one of these guys from the DVD box, is not. Also, fake film scholars the Coen Bros. make up do not count either.

Of course, there are a few rare good DVD commentary tracks that are informative and fun. I'm fond of Ebert's, as Sam noted in the original post I linked to. Jean-Pierre Jeunet has one on Amelie that's as joyous as the film itself. Kevin Smith's are better than his movies, sometimes. The tracks on Fight Club are great. Those are just a few of the ones I like.

You guys have any favorites?

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