The great experiment

My wife and I watched a couple of movies over the weekend and we tried listening to the director’s commentary just as a change of pace.

With the first movie, Doubt, we gained some insights about how it was made, the choices and decisions made during filming, what had to be redone and what sorts of things must be considered as filming takes place. In short, it was a look inside a magician’s tool kit to gain insight to the magic which makes the magic we call movies. (Yes, I used the word “magic” twice there, on purpose.)

We also decided to try this with J.J. Abrams’s 2009 reboot of Star Trek. We saw the movie, and had our own thoughts and feelings and opinions about it. We first watched the Making of…  featurette on the DVD and got some insight on the actual filming and some of the tricks involved, which was cool, and that boded well. Right?

With all that under our belts, we thought it might be all right to hear Abrams talk about the movie.

Big mistake.

I found out what he thought while filming and what I thought while watching were divergent. So divergent, some of the fun it originally held got lost for me.

I ended up learning three things about watching movie commentary.

Seeing how the magician’s tricks work makes the magic more fun

With a director who can articulate well, and explains the movie’s ins and outs as it runs, it can be a fun experience. Learning how this exterior and that interior were blended to make a seamless shot, or how this location had part of what they wanted for the building but this spot had another element and how those were combined … those sorts of things are fun to hear about and very cool. Doubt ran as a successful play before being adapted as a movie, and the transition took some doing. Since the director of the movie was also the playwright, his commentary helped us understand the movie and the characters and how different the play and movie became.

Seeing how the magician’s tricks works makes the magic less fun

By the same token, a director who’s not as good at speaking and explaining about the movie, and who surrounds himself with a couple of goofy college-buddy a$$ kissers acting like dorks … well, let’s say the experience isn’t as enhancing as it is detrimental.

First of all, if he wanted to remake Star Wars, he really should’ve done that instead of Star Trek. Trying to turn one into the other only serves to disappoint them both, and that’s what Abrams did. I noticed it when I saw the movie for the first time (ah, library DVDs, how I love thee!), but hearing his explanations and the college geek fan-boy antics during the so-called “commentary” made me more than a little irritated with the childish crap.

Sometimes things are better left as they are

I thought about watching Signs with the commentary turned on, but I’m not so sure I want to do that. I like that movie right now and when I hear what the director has to say about what’s going on I might lose some of that.

How ‘bout you? Have you ever dug deeper than you wanted to in something you liked only to have it turn sour on you? Or to have you go sour on it? What was it?


All original content copyright 2010 DarcKnyt

10 thoughts on “The great experiment

  1. “Hello, my name is JJ Abrams and the following is how I didn’t ruin Star Trek. Blah blah blah blah Kirk blah blah blah Spock blah blah blah Uhura blah blah blah.”

    Wow, that’s so close to how it actually went it’s like you transcribed it. Except it’s “Hello, my name is J.J. Abrams and these are my two a$$-kissy yes-men, and this is how WE didn’t ruin Star Trek but actually did. Blah blah blah Kirk blah blah blah Spock blah blah blah Uhura blah blah blah STAR WARS! blah blah blah RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK! blah blah blah we didn’t watch Star Trek to make this movie, but blah blah blah…”


    Face it JJ, Star Trek was fine, your efforts were not needed. Go find a hole and stuff yourself in there. We don’t need you. Or better yet, get lost! (See what I did there?)

    Yes I do and it’s AWESOME.

  2. Featurettes we’ll watch. But I think a lot of directors take things waaaaay too seriously. I mean, if you’re Ridley Scott talking about Alien or Blade Runner, sure, okay, you’ve earned the right to talk about your film as a film and not a movie. Otherwise…

    Yeah, you’re probably right. Too much artsy-fartsy makes Jack a dull director. On the other hand, having a modicum of professionalism would’ve done these three Bozos pretty well…not to mention having SEEN Star Trek once or twice before trying to turn it into Star Wars. *Sigh*

    I’ve never watched a movie (or a film, for that matter!) with the commentary feature turned on. (1) Most commentaries aren’t closed-captioned, which right there makes ’em useless to me. (2) Even if they’re captioned, it conflicts with the film captioning. (3) I could watch the film all the way through w/out the commentary, then again with it… but I almost never like a film enough to watch it two times back-to-back. 🙂

    It is a little tough sometimes. With Doubt it wasn’t a problem; very good. ST, we couldn’t do that way; had to watch it (the commentary) stand-alone.

  3. But don’t let this keep you from trying out other DVD commentary tracks. Most are just dreadful. But I find the best are the ones on sitcom DVDs. Futurama, Simpsons, stuff like that. Comedy writers are funny people. Especially season 5 of Newsradio, the wedding episode, the producers read my email in that commentary. I’m not shitting you. In the season 4 DVDs, the producers give an email address for viewers to write questions that will be answered on the season 5 discs. Basically, half of the season 5 commentaries were just answering questions from three or four viewers who sent in a shitload of questions. I just sent one.

    How awesome that they included your question! Brilliant!

    Yeah, most of them are probably pretty boring. Hearing Spielberg go on about Jaws was pretty fun and that’s what got the wheels rolling. I might do it with Alien but I don’t know how many others I’ll try.

  4. I always say that I am going to watch the director’s commentaries but rarely do.

    I think it’s going to be hit or miss on whether they’re any good or not. But then, that’s true for movies too, so meh. 🙂

    I also liked the Star Trek movie, I thought they did a good job re-booting the franchise for a new generation.

    Not too bad, no. 🙂

  5. We always used to watch the commentaries, but we gave up a few years ago. Too many of them were either too boring, or just made us re-think our feelings towards the film.

    And THAT is EXACTLY what happened here. GREAT summation, sweetie.

    We became hooked on this show a few months ago, and it was silly, really, but it sucked you in. It was filmed in a “this is actually happening” style, and they make it out to be real. We found out it was all fake, but “based on real events” so how much of it is elaborated on for the purpose of television? It was a fun show, because we thought it was really happening to these people, and that made it kind of exciting.

    Yeah! Was that “Lost Tapes” by any chance? I felt that way about The Blair Witch Project too … I was intrigued right up until I discovered it’s all a lie. Then I hated it.

    We can’t watch it anymore.

    I know how you feel, dolly.

  6. I’ve never seen “Lost Tapes”, and I never saw “The Blair Witch Project”, either. It was a show about people’s vehicles being repossessed, it seemed lame at first, but after a couple episodes, we were like “wow! that’s pretty damn intense!” and the way they filmed it, it seemed so real. There were always camera men running around, and they did a commentary about each job, and it was all fake. I’ll give them credit though, it is very real looking, and the people playing the customers having their vehicles towed play super pissed off and crazy mad, very well.

    Don’t know what cable shows you get hon, but check your local listings because there’s at least ONE reality show about re-possessors. 🙂

    But my heart sunk a little when I found out, because it was a fun show.

    Aw, don’t feel bad. At least it was fun while it lasted, right?

  7. I don’t ever watch the “How I Made This Movie Go Way Over Budget” extras on DVDs. I want the movie to be magical, I don’t want to see cameras, lights and plywood cut outs of sound stages.

    Ditto for the director, actor or buddy commentaries. People usually sound like idiots unless they are reading from a script written by smarter people.

    AAAHAHAHAHAA!! Awesome. True, true! I want to be that script writer though. 🙂

  8. I loved the new Star Trek. I didn’t listen to the commentary because I didn’t think there was much else to know. I already knew Abrams hadn’t watched the original show, which didn’t really bother me, but made me suspect his commentary wouldn’t add anything.

    Not add anything? Fine. Detract from how I felt about the movie though? That’s what it did for me. Sorta surprised me.

    But I often listen to commentaries. That is, I start the commentaries and sometimes quit if I realize the people aren’t helping them film. Though a commentary has never ruined a film for me. My bigger problem is when a director/actor/writer’s personal life ruins a film for me. You know, I like a movie but then learn that someone in it abandoned his children or something. I don’t want that stuff to color my opinion, but it does. There has got to be a line. Can I like someone’s work if they support a politician I don’t like? Yeaaaah. Maybe. I try. It depends on a few things.

    I’m the same way. As long as the actor doesn’t say something outside their acting career to turn me off (and a lot of them have over the years, sad to say), I can appreciate their work. If they flap their gums too much though…

    For example, Woody Allen is a jerk. But I like some (NOT ALL) of his films. I doubt he does commentaries which is probably for the best.

    Hehehe…good example.

    I did recently watch a talk by Abrams ( which I liked. It almost persuaded me to watch Lost.

    He pimped LOST and ALIAS pretty well in his Star Trek commentary.

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