Audio Commentaries or Bust

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, my name is CinemaslaveJoe. And I’m an audio commentary-aholic.

As a screenwriter and filmmaker, I find myself captivated by (indeed, obsessed with) the whole process of filmmaking. Nothing fascinates me like lurid behind-the-scenes tales of my favorite movies. My bookshelf sags beneath the weight of the many cinematic tomes sprawled across it. Every free moment I have is spent on-line, ferreting out additional nuggets of information about my favorite flicks.

As with laserdiscs, the thing that initially attracted me to the DVD format was not the improved video clarity, but the presence of audio commentary tracks; that is, audio essays recorded by the filmmaker and/or actors, allowing us mere mortals a chance to hear all about the writing, shooting and editing of the movie in question. When I began amassing my DVD collection (which has long since declared martial law, overrun my apartment, and eaten the cat), I initially purchased only those titles that contained at least one commentary track.

I soon discovered, however, that not all commentaries (or commentators!) are created equal. (Lesson #1: A film’s relative merit has absolutely no bearing on the entertainment value of its commentary.) Some of the best films ever made come equipped with sub-standard “yak tracks” (as we commentary connoisseurs like to call them); likewise, some of the worst pieces of cinematic sin ever photographed can be partially redeemed by hearing an engaging narrator place a new spin on it.

Now, I know I’m not the only insatiable commentary fiend out there who’s bought a DVD specifically to check out the director’s remembrances and then been mightily disappointed by the laconic prattle contained therein. (Anyone else been put to sleep by John Milius and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s chat about Conan the Barbarian?) So since I haven’t been able to find a comprehensive resource detailing the merits of audio commentary tracks, I’d like to present (in no particular order):

Ten Great Audio Commentary Tracks (Volume One)

(And again, please remember that we’re discussing the best commentaries, not necessarily the best films.)

Let’s start our journey through DVD Land with a collection of films I like to call the “Movie Studios Are Evil” Trilogy:

1)BRAZIL (Criterion Collection): Audio Commentary by Director Terry Gilliam

2)URBAN LEGENDS: FINAL CUT: Audio Commentary by Director John Ottman

3)BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2: Audio Commentary by Director Joe Berlinger

These three commentaries are required listening for all aspiring filmmakers. We’ve all heard how studio executives occasionally take a movie out of a director’s hands and change major portions of it (i.e., by restructuring the order of scenes, shooting new footage, adding “audience friendly” references and jokes, and removing anything that’s potentially offensive), but rarely has this practice been discussed so openly and bitterly by the filmmakers in question.

In the Brazil track, a still livid Terry Gilliam recounts his epic struggle with Sid Sheinberg, one-time head of Universal, over the studio’s unrepentant butchery of his beloved masterpiece. The full details of the Gilliam/Sheinberg struggle are lengthy enough to fill a book (and indeed they have: check out Jack Matthew’s fascinating The Battle of Brazil, available at your local bookstore), but suffice it to say the war wasn’t pretty. In his commentary track, Gilliam proudly recounts the guerilla tactics he employed to screen the film for critics even though Universal specifically forbade it, the temper tantrums he had to throw in order to get the movie released at all, and the reasons he allowed Criterion to include the despised “happily ever after” cut of the film in their stunning Brazil box set. But at least Gilliam’s struggle had a happy ending: the director’s cut is now freely available on both DVD and laserdisc.

Ottman and Berlinger, regrettably, had no such luck. In Urban Legends: Final Cut, a bemused Ottman recounts the numerous bizarre cuts and deletions his ironically titled film went through before the studio deemed it releasable. Ottman, who made his directorial debut with the movie in question, seems fairly resigned about the film’s fate, and comes across as a pleasant enough fellow. Although sad to have his work changed by the studio, he’s smart enough not to rock the boat… or his career.

Not so with poor Joe Berlinger, whose Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 was taken away from him, restructured by the studio without his approval or permission, and then shipped to theaters with his name still attached, leaving him to take the blame when the film bellyflopped. Berlinger spends most of his time spewing bile at various studio executives and discussing the many differences between his preferred (and still unreleased) director’s cut of the movie and the theatrical version. Berlinger also expresses his hope that the director’s cut will eventually hit DVD; after hearing this fascinating track (and the way Artisan royally screwed him), I second that emotion.

Next, in the “I’m Really, Really Sorry” Department:

4)ZARDOZ: Audio Commentary by Writer/Director John Boorman

I’ll give John Boorman (director of Excalibur and Exorcist II) credit: he freely admits that his 1974 cheesefest, Zardoz, is terrible. In this hysterical commentary track, Boorman good-naturedly talks the viewer through his infamously trashy cult classic, which stars Sean Connery as a warrior who leads his people in a war against their oppressive stone god, Zardoz. (In all honesty, Zardoz doesn’t seem to be much of a threat: he spends his time solemnly droning, “The guns are good, the penis is evil!” over and over. You don’t suppose he’s really Lorrena Bobbit, do you?) Audiences will also learn how Boorman snared a name actor like Connery into the project for peanuts.

In the “Gee, I’m Glad to Be Here Today” Category:

5)BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA: Audio Commentary by Director John Carpenter and Actor Kurt Russell

I was torn between whether to include Big Trouble in Little China or John Carpenter’s The Thing on this list. Both tracks include the same commentators, both are extremely informative, and both are so open and delightfully unguarded that they’re an utter joy to listen to. In the end I chose Big Trouble — not because the commentary is necessarily more insightful, but because Carpenter and Russell are clearly delighted at the chance to get together and shoot the breeze. Although the duo provides a great deal of information on the making of the film, their spirited interaction is the selling point here. At one point, Carpenter and Russell seem to forget that they’re recording a commentary track at all, and go on a lengthy tangent about their children, their personal lives, and other non-relevant topics. This is one of the aspects I liked best: eavesdropping on a private conversation between two old, dear friends. Much fun.

In the “God, I Can’t Believe I Did This Stupid Movie” Department:

6)THE EVIL DEAD: Audio Commentary by Actor Bruce Campbell

Although Elite Entertainment’s wonderful DVD of The Evil Dead also includes a separate commentary with writer/director Sam Raimi, actor Bruce Campbell upstages him in a track all his own. Here, Campbell spills every conceivable bean about the making of this low-budget horror classic, gleefully pointing out every flaw and continuity error he can find. In addition to riffing the film ala Mystery Science Theater 3000, Campbell also brings a lot of insight about the world of low-budget filmmaking, playfully teases the film’s fans (“I bet you’re all playing some horrible drinking game as you watch this,”) and comes across as one of the nicest guys ever to grace a movie screen. There’s virtually no dead air on this track, either.

In the “Now, What Was I Supposed to Be Talking About Again?” category:

7)STORM OF THE CENTURY: Audio Commentary by Screenwriter Stephen King

Although Stephen King shares this commentary track with director Craig Baxley, we all know who the real star of the show is. King, in his first ever yak track, comes across as an amiable enough fellow, talking about virtually anything he can think of: his writing process, his battle with network executives over the amount of gore that can be shown on television, his favorite (and least favorite) cinematic adaptations of his novels… virtually everything except the movie he’s supposed to be discussing, the TV miniseries Storm of the Century. That’s not a complaint, however: King’s offhand, rambling style makes him come across as just another everyman, rather than one of the world’s most successful novelists. Whoever thought America’s Boogeyman could be so charming?

In the “Stop Or My Head Will Explode!” category:

8 )SEVEN SAMURAI (Criterion Collection): Audio Commentary by Japanese Film Historian Michael Jeck

Fans of Akira Kurosawa will eat this one up. Michael Jeck, a noted historian of Japanese film, talks to the viewer over the entire running time (well over three hours!) of the director’s greatest epic, Seven Samurai. Filled to the brink of overload with information about the making of the film and the distinguished career of its star, Toshiro Mifune, this somewhat scholarly track will no doubt fascinate all fans of Asian cinema.

In the “I Didn’t Know Fozzie Bear Did Audio Commentaries!” category:

9)LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS: Audio Commentary by Director Frank Oz

Muppet fans may get the giggles during certain portions of Frank Oz’s fascinating audio essay on Little Shop of Horrors (he just can’t hide that Fozzie Bear voice), but that doesn’t negate the value of what he’s saying. The director, who originally wanted nothing to do with the project, relates a great deal of behind-the-scenes information on the movie, including the amazing special effects that were used to bring the man-eating planet, Audrey II, to life. Oz reveals himself to be a devoted craftsman, and his take on the filmmaking process is one of the most fascinating I’ve yet stumbled across. I’d love to have dinner with this guy and just talk shop.

And finally, in the “Here’s Why I Get Paid More for Reviewing Movies Than You Do” category:

10)DARK CITY: Audio Commentary by Film Critic Roger Ebert

Film Critic Roger Ebert raised no shortage of eyebrows when he pronounced Dark City the best film of 1998. A lot of movie lovers, myself included, wondered what the heck our buddy Roger had been smoking at the time, and, more importantly, how we could get some too. Well, Ebert’s reasoning has now been made clear: on the Dark City DVD, Ebert defends his stance with cool assurance and verbal eloquence in a full-length audio commentary track. The critic discusses the influence of film-noir and German expressionism on director Alex Proyas, unravels some of the movie’s more obscure uses of symbolism for the audience, and makes quite a convincing case of why he thinks the movie is an underrated masterpiece. I didn’t like Dark City when I saw it in the theater, but after hearing this track, however, I have gained a great deal of admiration and respect for it. And Ebert remains casual and chatty throughout the entire commentary; there’s no dry, scholarly analysis to be found here.

Well, that’s it for today. This list is far from definitive, so don’t panic if I overlooked one of your favorite commentaries; I’m sure we’ll revisit the topic again in the future.

-CSJ

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84 responses to “Audio Commentaries or Bust

  1. Great list of commentaries! I too have an addiction – before even sending back DVDs from Netflix I didn’t like I listen to a little and most of the time the whole commentary on said discs. I did a ‘best commentaries’ list sometime back on my blog film babble so it’s nice to compare notes.

  2. Definitely agree on the Evil Dead ones but anything by Kevin Smith, especially Clerks, Smith & Affleck are on fine form from the get go “F**k DVD” hehe

  3. Doh that was ment to say Mallrats
    /I am ashamed 😦

  4. Here’s an often HILARIOUS commentary of a film that mostly nobody even knows about. The film is Cannibal: The Musical! and it contains a commentary with Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and pretty much the rest of the cast (i.e. their college friends). What distinguishes this commentary from all others is their total disclosure of everything that went on during filming, their MST3K style remarks over continuity and acting issues, and the constant ball-breaking they give each other…all while getting progressively drunk (that’s right…they are all drinking as they perform this “we get one-take on this” commentary).

    Definitely a must-watch and a must-listen!!

  5. There are many that are informative, but I’ll throw out one of the most entertaining – the commentary from ‘This is Spinal Tap’ by “the band.” It’s terrible how bad that documentary made them look!

  6. I’m definitely addicted to the commentaries! And … Dark City is a fave flick for me.

    I’d add Taylor Hackford’s commentary for Ray, very informative, always on topic. The Titanic deluxe edition had TOO many commentaries! (4 of them, 12 hours total in commentaries)

  7. The yak track on Romero’s sadly-underappreciated King-Arthur-on-motorcycles epic “Knightriders” is wonderful – in much the same way you mention the Carpenter/Russell track, it’s old friends reminiscing; at one point Romero’s wife (who’s in the film and whome he married on the last day of shooting) pops in for a few comments and then leaves to go grocery shopping or something.

  8. It it too bad that some of the old Criterion Laserdisc editions have not made it’s way to DVD. The Martin Scorsese Commentary with Paul Schrader for Taxi Driver is the essential commentary. Followed by the famous banned commentary of Richard Maibaum / Terence Young (not approved by the BOND producers) for Dr. No / From Russia with Love. ( Recorded at the same time, and Maibum died a few days later… ) a edited version shows up on the DVD’s but not the complete versions. And who can forget the Once Upon a Time in the West Commentary… Yikes…

  9. Great article. I find the same thing, really hit or miss. My favorite commentary is “Superman” with Richard Donner and Tom Mankiewicz. I didn’t know a lot about the issues behind the scenes with Superman I and II so this gave great insight to a fan.

  10. Valmens Gazzara

    If you are fluent in french, you should listen to the commentary of “le créateur” by director/writer/lead actor Albert Dupontel, who is delivering a wonderfull lesson of cinema about this unfortunatly unkown movie (which is great, trust must me). I also loved the commentary of Fight Club by Fincher/Pitt/Norton and Carter.
    Great list althought.

  11. Worst commentary? For me, it’s Annette Insdorf doing triply-awful duty on Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Blue/White/Red trilogy. What an insufferable voice . . . endlessly smilingly pretentious. And stating the obvious 90% of the time.

    “I noticed that KishLOFski wanted to focus on that bead of water.”

    “KishLOFski” this. ” KishLOFski” that. Oy! Givebreakplease!!

  12. Unfortunately, the DVD copy I have of Brazil does not feature an audio commentary. (I live in Australia.)

    Sadly, I’m missing out on all the Terry Gilliam bitching glory.

  13. As a general rule of thumb I’ve noticed that most commentaries for recent films are rubbish, Oh-he -was-marvelous-to-work-with PR affairs, and it is usually only the older films where those involved feel open to speak their minds and actually say something informative about their work.

    A few of my own suggestions –

    Nicholas Meyer’s commentaries are always worth a listen – comes across as an intelligent guy who loves film making.

    Jonathan Hensleigh on The Punisher – got a copy to review and was surprised A) the film was watchable, and b) how interesting the commentary was. Hensleigh is defensive about the fans response to the film but actually tries to answer the criticism in a fair minded way and informative way. A fun and informative listen.

    Val Kimore’s track for Spartan – the guy has a very weird sense of humour which comes across is an amusing conversation about the film and his co-workers on it. Entertaining.

  14. I’d totally agree with the in-character ‘Spinal Tap’ commentary (and I usually hate in character tracks) and Mallrats- but I’d also like to big up the Tarantio ‘True Romance’ track.

    Totally thought through, tons of information into the mind of a writer. Awesome.

    (PS. The Whedon tv tracks are great also)

  15. ratethatcommentary.com

  16. Best Audio Commentary: Lord of the Rings Trilogy – The Cast

    This was almost as entertaining (if not more) than the movies themselves! The stories and behind the scenes stuff they tell could be packaged into a movie and sold itself if it was actually filmed.

    Worst Commentary -Conan the Barbarian – the tracks with Ahnold.
    “Ya, Heres the part where I get my schwoord” No Sh*t Arnie, we can see that on the screen.

  17. Hey great topic for a blog! I would have to say my favorite commentators would have to be — Eli Roth, Kevin Smith & Co., p.t. anderson– and how could we forget ‘the goonies’ track!! pure gold- also way back, someone made a comment about smith and affleck, the movie you are talking about is ‘chasing amy’ — that’s when smith makes the fuck dvd comment, which later gets referenced in the dogma track, which is off the chain insane– peace all

  18. Cool notion — love commentaries. Two other good ones are Jason Reitman on THANK YOU FOR SMOKING and the David Keopp/William Goldman track in the multi-disc set for PANIC ROOM. The commentaries are sometimes better than the movies!

  19. My current favorite filmmaker commentaries are from John Waters–I often find the man more interesting than the film he makes. On Pink Flamingos, his most notorious film, I grew tired of the simpleton plot and his admitted bad editing and instead just listened to him talk about some of the filthiest things ever captured on film.

  20. Bruce Campbells best commentary is on Bubba Ho Tep.

    Unbelievably funny.

  21. I have to say one of the best audio tracks is on ‘The Limey’ of director Steven Soderbergh between screenwriter Lem Dobbs. I don’t say ‘with’ as Dobbs seems to have taken this opportunity to go off on Soderbergh for what he seems to feel is a personal attack on his script. It gets pretty uncomfortable at times but interesting all the while.

  22. I especially agree about Dark City, a much underrated film and a fascinating commentary. For my money, however, anything with Guillermo del Toro talking is worth the listen. He could make describing what he had for breakfast interesting.

  23. How about P.T Anderson’s in Boogie Nights. That’s by far my favorite one. If you want to hear a great commentary, check that one out.

  24. Great topic for discussion!

    I really like the Carpenter commentaries.

    One of my faves is Ebert’s commentary on Citizen Kane. I caught stuff in the film I never saw before.

    Agreed on the Spinal Tap commentaries. Hillarious!

    Worst commentary: Cameron on T2? Mel Gibson on Braveheart?

  25. I highly recommend Wes Craven’s commentary in “The Last House on the Left”. It’s been a while since I’ve listened to it, but Wes is so extremely down-to-earth and likeable, and just as intelligent at that. I’m anxious to hear any other commentary by that man.

  26. Black Hawk Down has a commentary track with the soldiers that were actually on the ground.

    It’s interesting to hear about what happened on screen vs. what happened on the ground. What was accurately portrayed, and what was Hollywood fluff.

  27. I think that Werner Herzog should do a commentary for every movie that comes out. I just LOVE hearing that guy talk about movies or anything.

  28. I love the Fight Club Commentary with Edward Norton and Brad Pitt. They’re just so funny when they talk about the scenes, especially the car one.

    I also like The Office season DVD Commentaries. Don’t know why, I just love the show.

  29. The commentary track for Goonies is my favorite. Martha Plimpton’s comment that halfway through the movies she’s “no longer in ANY of the group shots” and that on one 40 foot billboard for the movie she’s “literally a quarter of an inch tall.” make me laugh every time.

  30. Totally agree with the Boogie Nights comment. Just a great commentary. Most of my faves are in this list, but Soderbergh`s Out of Sight commentary has been overlooked. It`s really good.

  31. My favorite commentary is This is Spinal Tap. It is done by the 3 lead actors, in character, as if they are looking back on the making of the movie. It’s like getting a whole other movie.

  32. 1. Quentin Tarantino’s commentary on True Romance.
    2. The cast of This is Spinal Tap in character. Brialliant.
    3. Francis Ford Coppola slamming the studio and everyone else he possibly can on The Godfather Part III.

  33. My personal favorite is the commentary by the Gosford Park screenwriter, Julian Fellowes. I don’t even watch the movie anymore, unless his commentary is playing. It is the benchmark I measure all other commentaries by.

  34. I’ve never heard anything funnier than Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church on the ‘Sideways’ commentary. “You’re the Underwood’s Deviled Ham man of incredulity in this scene,” Church tells Giamatti at one point in the film. That alone is worth the price of the disc. Just makes me want to hang out with the two of them, which I think is generally the best indicator of the quality of a yak track.

  35. I’d think this list would be remiss if we didn’t mention The Usual Suspects commentary with Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie. One of the best commentaries I’ve heard. Also another gem, the commentary of Sideways with Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church. Somewhat informative but like “Big Trouble in Little China”, two actors that have a great time seeing one another again.

  36. Both of the commentary tracks on “Shaun of the Dead” are fun to listen to. One track has Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright and the other has the principal cast. I second the Mankiewicz/Donner commentary for the first Superman film. It’s a couple of old friends looking at something they did together. I will add a generalization about actor commentaries: Unless the actor was involved in writing, producing and/or directing the film, most of the time, the actor will have little to contribute to the commentary.

  37. I always thought it was obnoxious that Eli Roth participates in FOUR commentaries on the Cabin Fever disc. Does he think anyone wants to listen to him that much? Sadly, the answer is probably yes.

  38. Young Guns has a lilarious commentary done but three of the lesser guns who have no troble poking fun at there younger selves.

  39. My all-time favorite commentary is Ridley Scott’s track for the original “Alien” DVD release. Frank, informative, ebullient.

    Nic Meyer also does great commentary.

  40. Also, two of the best WORST commentaries I’ve ever heard can be found on “Dungeons and Dragons” and “Alone in the Dark”.

    In the “Alone…” track, “director” Uwe Boll goes into how his movies are all essentially tax dodges.

    Seriously.

  41. One commentary track that definitely makes #1 on my list is “El Mariachi,” wherein Robert Rodriguez almost literally tells you how to make a movie for $7,000.

  42. I’m a sucker for lists, and this one hit the spot. Great job! If any of you want to read more about commentaries, I suggest you take a look at a thesis paper I wrote 2 1/2 years ago. I studied several tracks and polled tens of teachers and hundreds of students to determine what, if any, educational merit DVD audio commentaries could provide. It’s not too terribly long and should be a fun, informative read. You can check it out here at my website, http://www.filmbrats.com/dvdpaper.html

    But to get back on “track.” Everybody’s talking about the merits of Ebert’s commentary tracks (possibly the best to do a track), but no one has yet mentioned his great track on Casablanca. Get well soon, Roger.

    And personally, I found the Seven Samurai commentary to be an extremely boring three-hour long lecture of Jeck pointing out the obvious.

  43. Check out the Val Kilmer/Shane Black/Robert Downey Jr. commentary on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The film gets funnier every time you watch it, and Kilmer and Downey just really bring the funny out of each other. Commentary is just as entertaining (if not more so) then the film.

  44. Speaking of Audio commentaries that transcend the quality of the movie they are attached to… the one for the supremely subpar Dude, Where’s My Car is a lot more entertaining than the movie(and from it, you can see where H+K go to White Castle came from).

  45. Hunter Thompson’s commentary on the Criterion disc of FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS is great, just to hear him screeching and terrorizing others who worked on the film.

  46. I personally recommend Warwick Davis’ solo commentary on “Willow.” It’s perfect for a cult movie commentary as he gives fun shooting stories and little tidbits that are thoroughly enjoyable.

  47. Hmm.

    Kudos for including and talking about Seven Samurai and Brazil! I indeed have some favorite commentaries, but more to regale in the company and process of movie making than anything else!

    My favorites:

    1. The Howling
    2. Vampires
    3. Seven Samurai
    4. L’Avventura
    5. Ghosts of Mars
    6. The Thing
    7. Tron
    8. Return of the Living Dead III
    9. Evil Dead 2
    10. Starship Troopers (cast)

    Least Favorite:

    1. Godzilla 2000
    2. Phenomena
    3. The Replacement Killers
    4. Ghostbusters
    5. Starship Troopers (Filmmakers)
    6. Total Recall
    7. Top Secret!
    8. Airplane!
    9. Legend
    10. Big Trouble in Little China

    The worst go from absolute self-absorbed stinkers to just disappointing, but, hey.

    In Phenomena, that wins some kind of award, because Dario actually gets mad and clams up! The SILENCE following becomes unbelievable! But no, it’s one of the best of the worst. And Replacement Killers? Okay, Antoine, we know how you feel about racism, and yes, fight the good fight, but — but — you’ve got an action movie here with Mira Sorvino! Can we — can we — oh, never mind!

    The Howling is the all-purpose champion of Commentaries, it brings you close to the action, close to the filmmakers, the themes, behind the scenes, the process, and to Dee Wallace – Stone!

    Enjoy!

  48. I am glad to see that there are other people who have noticed that bad movies often have great commentaries. Part of the problem is that some directors are essentially incapable of talking about their films or apparently making a complete sentence, the Coen brothers being an obvious example. I also found Ebert’s commentary on Casablanca to be fascinating and it confirmed why he is the man.

  49. Ebert’s commentary on ‘Citizen Kane’ makes the movie more enjoyable. It’s fascinating

  50. The three best DVD commentaries are:

    1. Platoon: better than the movie, it’s Oliver Stone talking about Vietnam as he lived it. When he admits to actually doing some of the stuff Charlie Sheen did in the movie, you get way more of an understanding of the war than if you would just watch the flick. The second commentary with the military advisor is good too.

    2. Sideways: it’s just Thomas Haden Church and Paul Giamatti horsing around, but they use really eloquent English in their horsings. It’s the only commentary I ever watched more than once because I couldn’t stop laughing.

    3. The Cell: Tarsam Singh does a standard solo audio commentary with two exceptions: 1) his accent is hilarious, particularly when he swears and uses some loony expressions, 2) he disses the actors; I’ve never seen this before, but he actually disses the talent–so refreshing after a library full of director commentaries where they just smooch the actor’s butts for 2 hours.

  51. Bruce Campbell on Bubba-Ho-Tep, doing the whole commentary as Elvis (i.e. his character in the film), brilliant.

    Also, often overlooked and under appreciated film, Return Of The Living Dead. The commentary for that is good, watched it by accident with a friend as we know the script word for word!

  52. One of the funniest tracks I’ve ever heard is from the DVD re-release of ‘Conan The Barnarian’. John Milius and Arnold Schwarzenegger do the honours and they’re clearly drunk off their asses, slurring their way through the film and talking over one another about completely unrelated topics. Arnie talks about one actor’s ‘bizeps and trizeps’ while Milius goes on about how hot Conan’s mom is.
    Hilarious.

    Another great one is the Total Recall commentary with Verhoevan and Schwarzenegger. Hell, any commentary with Verhoevan is awesome.

  53. Tootally agree with Daniel on th Kiss Kiss Bang Bang commentary, but I also enjoyed Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie on The Usuals Suspects dvd, and the commentaries for Anchorman and Talladega Nights are both very funny, although I hear the Unrated and rated versions for Talladega are different, and I have only heard the unrated version. Also, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino (in his first commentary) are both excellent in From Dusk Till Dawn.

  54. I agree with the Spartan commentary track with Val Kilmer. He makes lighthearted fun of David Mamet throughout.

  55. DeathstalkerII

    I’d like to add three very entertaining commentaries for *ahem* notably lesser films:

    Deathstalker II, with Director Jim Wynorski and stars John Terlesky and Toni Naples cracking wise and giving much insight on the realities of low-budget movie-making, is an absolute hoot(as is the movie proper) 😉

    Starship Troopers, with stars Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, and Neil Patrick Harris–very fun group commentary filled with insights and anecdotes about working with Paul Verhoeven on this unfairly maligned(FASCIST!) science fiction epic.(note: this is only on the 2-disc REISSUE version)

    Jason Goes to Hell–again, a very enjoyable track with the director Adam Marcus, and writer Dean Lorey–fun and funny stuff from a couple of guys who are obviously big fans of cinema, whether commenting on the 7 minute “formula” for these types of films or Erin Grey’s explanation of the term MILF, they keep the energy level high all the way through.

  56. Eyeball Theater

    In one of the three commentaries for the uber-crappy flick Joyride actor Steve Zahn decides to give the movie sound effects instead of commenting. It’s cheesy, abusrd fun and a clear comment on what he thought of this silly chiller flick.

  57. No-one’s commented on the “anti-commentaries” for the WIll Ferrell commedies TALLEGEDA NIGHTS and ANCHORMAN. Good if you get the bizarre showbix excesses humor.

    For a more “serious” commentary, I still like Tommy Lee Jones and Barry Sonnefeld chatting on the original MEN IN BLACK.

  58. I think the commentaries for Futurama are hilarious. You really get a feeling for how the show is made and how everyone interacts with each other. I often find myself watching with the commentary on instead of the regular audio track. My only problem is that they are inconsistent with raising the volume of the regular audio during the rare dead air spaces. If you are not going to talk, at least let me hear the jokes.

  59. The commentary for “Superman IV” by Mark Rosenthal, one of the co-writers of the (justly) much-maligned film, is another example of a very honest and straightforward account of what happened to the original vision of the film. Despite the fact that the film is difficult to watch, the commentary was both entertaining and educational.

    One reason for less than stellar commentaries is that, often, the commentary is recorded before the film is even released. Thus, criticism from viewers or critics (or, even, “Why didn’t they come?”) is not addressed. Such commentaries are more like disguised sales pitches for the film, which is odd since we already BOUGHT the film! I wish it were possible to have the commentaries recorded after the release, and have the filmmakers address the success OR failure of the film.

  60. The way of the gun commentary by writer/director Chris McQurrie and his producer.
    Its one of those I wish I had time to go back do certain scenes different again and what was left on the cutting room floor.

  61. Some really great suggestions that I will have to check out. I agree with some – Kevin Smith (Clerks and Chasing Amy), Ridley Scott (Alien), P.T. Anderson (B0ogey Nights), and everyone who spoke on the Once Upon the Time in the West commentary track. All of these were great.

    Although some have mentioned Ebert for Dark City and Casablanca, his Citizen Kane commentary is also really great. How about Alexander Payne for Election? That was the second DVD I bought and the first commentary I ever listened to. Sadly, I soon learned that not all commentaries are equal and I kind of wish that critics would also include commentary reviews when the film is released on DVD.

  62. The commentary for Blood Simple is amazing, truly amazing. I’m still a little speechless.

  63. I love John Carpeter’s commntaries- “The Thing” and “Escape From New York” are great, but I want to give props to anunderrated one: “In The Mouth Of Madness”.

    I also liked the Jonathan Hensleigh commentary on “The Punisher”. Simply because it is not only informative and engaging, but he also is open to discussing the film’s faults and criticisms.

    I also loved both commentaries on “Apollo 13” and “Remember The Titans”…while the filmmakers commentaries are great, there’s something special and unique about the commentaries done by the actual real life people that are protrayed in the film.

    Others i loved (no order)

    “Platoon” – both Oliver Stone and Dale Dye.

    Roland Joffe “Killng Fields”

    Richard Kelly “Donnie Darko”

  64. Billy Friedkin’s Commentaries are great too…. The Excorsist and French Connections are both extremely informative. Good times.

  65. Citizen Socrates

    What no DOG SOLDIERS? Tis a LAUGH. More like a group of guys getting together down the pub.

  66. I’m addicted to Ebert’s commentaries.

    Now, the funniest commentary tracks (kudos Sideways) not listed yet that I’ve heard are:

    1) Blood Simple: Film Historian Kenneth Loring is well-versed and very conscious as he elaborates how the back-shot of two people driving at night had to be shot in reverse so the fake lights moving past them looked more convincing. The Coens, Loring notes, accomplished the reverse filming by turning the car and its actors upside down while they spoke backwards.

    This is just one of the MANY ROTF observations the Coens…I meant Mr. Loring brings up.

    2) Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby:

    A few tidbits:

    The director claims that they went 400 million dollars over budget. But then how could you put a price on one of the top three greatest films of all time along with Kurosawa’s Ran.

    Seeing another movie start other than Tallageda after watching the Columbia Pictures title card ends just enrages the filmmakers. One brings up his terrible behavior while watching ‘Capote’: “IT’S NOT TALLAGEDA NIGHTS!”

    The producer is overcome with an urge to stimulate himself when he sees himself on-screen. His fellow commentators don’t care for his rancid exposure.

    3) The Evil Dead 2: Bruce Campbell AND Sam Raimi equals a force to be reckoned with.

  67. John Collinson

    Samuel L Jacksons commentary on Deep Blue Sea is entertaining to the point of his demise, from then on, Renny Harlin continues seriously.

    Bruce Campbell does a hilarious and informative job on the Evil Dead 2 .

  68. Bull del Toro

    I really like Guiellermo Del Toro’s commentaries. My fave on The Devil’s Backbone. His accent blows Antonio Banderas any day of the week. He sounds like a jolly “Santo Nick” What does he talk about who care…it is HOW he says it. Yeah I know I sound gay…but I’m not….

  69. My absolute favourite commentary was from the movie UHF. I love that movie and it takes on a whole new universe of hilarity hearing Weird Al and the director crack jokes and go on about bizarre aspects of the movie and suddenly random guests, like Emo Phillips, pop in and surprise the hell out of them! I laughed myself sick.
    Second favourite were the hobbits of Lord of the Rings. When I heard them go on about “Tig” I nearly cried it was too funny.

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  71. Darren – you’re right about Val Kilmer/”Spartan!”

    I liked both sets of commentary on the “Goodfellas” DVD.

    If we include TV shows, here are some good ones:

    Tom Fontana, Lee Tergesen, and Dean Winters on the final episode in the “Oz: The Fourth Season” set;

    The commentary on “Carnivale: The Complete Second Season”, particularly Clea Duvall and Clancy Brown.

  72. One of the funniest commentaries I have ever heard was Oliver Stone on “Any Given Sunday” – the part where he monologues about the similarities between being a movie director and a general was particularly good, especially when he starts comparing himself to McArthur.

    Ridley Scott is always worth a listen, and “Gladiator” set an early, excellent standard

  73. Surprisingly one of the best commentaries I’ve listened to is on The Goonies. At one point Martha Plimpton fucking OWNS Corey Feldman, so its really worth checking out for that reason alone.

  74. My favorite DVD commentary is Carrot Top’s commentary For The rules of Attraction.

  75. I’ve been looking for a list like this! My personal favorite is Emma Thompson and Lindsay Doran’s commentary for “Sense & Sensibility.” From a writer’s standpoint, it’s interesting to hear about the choices Thompson made when adapting the book, and there are humorous anecdotes about Ang Lee’s brutal notes to the actors and the difficulties of working with period sheep. Doran and Thompson are good friends and it’s fun to hear them laugh and sigh their way through the movie as if they’re watching it for the first time.

  76. Pingback: Commentary Junkies, Unite! « Cinemaslave

  77. Here’s a suggestion that’s kind of off topic, but kind of relevant. What about a list of movies that absolutely positively needs a commentary (regardless of what the director says about it ruining the experience of the viewer). My opinion is if the movie has a lot of symbolism or is a classic that people have seen a million times, then there should be a commentary track (are you listening Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood?). Am I wrong?

  78. I noticed someone mentioned “True Romance”. Tony Scott really picks it apart and you can even watch it with his own personally drawn story boards.

    Another good one is from a bad movie, “Hollow Man”. Paul Verhoeven is a chatterbug and is highly intelligent.

    Paul Thomas Anderson doing “Boogie Nights” is pretty good also.

  79. Hey, maybe you can help me? I am struggling to find a copy of the Audio Commentaries John Sturges recorded on the Criterion LD editions of “The Great Escape” and “Bad Day at Black Rock”.

    They are, of course, long out of print, and were never released again on DVD. I’d need to listen to them for a little book I am writing on the director.
    Is there anyone out there who has a copy of one or both movies and would be so kind as to do a copy for me? I really would need just the Audio
    Commentary, because I do have my copies of the films.

    It’d be great if someone could do mp3 or similar of the commentaries… or even rip the film to DVD if that was easier. I don’t even have a
    LD-player so I am totally stuck. Thanks!

  80. Michael Ellis

    Most of what’s out on Criterion is good. Most, not all.

    But one I have to mention is Peter Bogdanovich talking about his first movie “Targets.” There’s a lesson there for all burdgeoning film directors.

  81. Good list! Based on your recommendation, I watched Oz’s commentary for Little Shop of Horrors. One of my favorite movies, and now I know why it works so well. Oz assumes some knowledge by the viewer of film production/equipment, but he clearly made bold and justified choices. Highlights include the complexity of timing musical sequences and reshoots to make a movie that the audience likes (which is the goal anyhow). Also shows the superiority of a mechanical plant on the set rather than computer-generated effects. By the way, the most useless commentary I ever sat through was for the Dave Chappelle Show season 1.

  82. Oh, I found this page, goody. I love audio commentaries but, why most of them have no subtitles? Ein?

    My favourites:

    CASABLANCA, by Roger Ebert
    Young Frankenstein, Mel Brooks
    My darling Clementine
    In this our life
    Postcards from the edge
    Sunset Blvd.
    Victor/Victoria
    The sound of music
    Volver, with Pedro and Penélope
    Whatever happened to Baby Jane?
    Hamlet, Kenneth Branagh
    As good as it gets, Jack Nicholson
    The Godfather, Coppola
    Something’s got to give, Nicholson again
    All about Eve
    Monty Python and the holy Grail
    Laura
    Bridget Jones diary
    Sense and sensibility

  83. Like you and so many, I am also a big fan of audio commentaries and have a forum thread devoted to them. Right now, I have close to 1600 available for people to download and enjoy (and I twice monthly update with new additions from viewer requests), but my archive contains 3,651 commentaries at this writing, which includes tons of rare cleaned up laserdisc ones. If anyone is interested in visiting the thread to obtain any or all of the great, and sometimes not so great, commentaries, please e-mail me.

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