Superbad Tiger Gate by Ric Meyers
The third of my favorite summer ‘007 films, Superbad, is arriving as a “2-Disc Unrated Extended Edition” this coming Tuesday, with too many special features for its own good. The best of the many extras are the ones which share the raunchy, soft-centered, spirit of the film itself. The ones I could’ve done without are the ones which feign outrage, anger, or disgust.
This “unrated” DVD edition allowed director Greg Mottola to return the trims he originally needed to satisfy the ratings board’s “R”. So the unrated Superbad is about four minutes longer, with some gestures and expletives returned to their original positions of glory. Naturally this film — along with the growing oeuvre of producer/writer/director Judd Apatow’s Apatow Company (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Talladega Nights, Knocked Up, Walk Hard, etc.) — has plenty to play with, since all his movies use their garrulous scripts as a jumping off point for their casts of expert improv-ers. That allows the filmmakers to cherry pick their favorite, funniest, takes, and leave the rest for the DVD extras.
So, in addition to some deleted and extended scenes, there’s also a legitimately funny gag reel, followed by what they’re calling a “Line-O-Rama” – which shows the various, different, improvised retorts the actors used on subsequent takes of the same scene. The first of admittedly interesting, although totally superfluous, features, is “Cop Car Confessions,” where the filmmakers put a variety of guest stars (from Saturday Night Live, The Office, Live Free or Die Hard, and the Upright Citizen’s Brigade, among others) in the back seat of a police cruiser driven by Superbad’s cop characters (co-writer/producer Seth Rogan and SNL’s Bill Hader) and let everybody riff.
Finally we get to “The Making of Superbad” featurette, which was the only doc I wished was longer, because it was one of the few which featured unapologetic, unironic, unforced, honest and natural expressions, reactions, and statements. Joining it are videos of both the original 2000 table read prior to the film getting financed, and the 2006 table read once the cast was set. Then there’s actual video footage of the three main actors’ auditions, although I always wished audition film of ones who didn’t quite make it were also included.
The “On-Set (Video) Diaries” are also interesting, but afflicted by creeping irony and self-consciousness, until the film was nearing completion, when honest sadness saves the day. Similar wistfulness can be found in a short series of actual phone messages co-star Jonah Hill left co-star Michael Cera from pre-production to months after completion. Finally, there a very cool “Music of Superbad” featurette which shows how the producers gathered some of the biz’s superbaddest funk masters (including Bootsy Collins) to create the head-bobbing, toe-tapping soundtrack.
Ah, but then there’s “Everyone Hates Michael Cera – The Unfortunate True Story,” “Press Junket Meltdown,” and “Pineapple Express: Exclusive First Look” pieces. The latter is a three-minute or so sneak peak at a scene from an upcoming stoner comedy the same general team is prepping, and hopefully this is not the best they can do. The other two are a pair of “is it or isn’t it a put-on” scenes where Jonah goes off on a smug media interviewer, and the cast/crew profess how awful an asshole the mild-mannered Cera is. By the time I waded through all this, my affection for the film was undiminished, but it certainly created a shadow reminding me what the coarse but sweet-hearted movie barely managed to avoid: rampant chauvinism and self-aggrandizing affectation.
All of the extras’ excesses and triumphs are also showcased in the audio commentary featuring a whole bunch of cast and crew members from both coasts, not to mention Apatow’s nine year old daughter, who had to be blinded and deafened during certain outrageous sequences. The team’s humor, fondness, and camaraderie is infectious and fun, which is more than I can say for the audio commentary on Dragon Tiger Gate … since one of the commentators is me.
Shameless plug or legitimate review? I say both. After all, a new “2-Disc Ultimate Edition” DVD on the latest film version of a Hong Kong manhua (comic book) that’s as popular and long-running in Asia as Spider-Man or X-Men is here suits a site called ComicMix to a “T”, nu? It’s also a means to discuss an interesting audio commentary dichotomy. Despite the rampant disclaimers corporations are slapping on their DVDs re: “the opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the studios,” it’s rare that a producer, director, or star bites the hand that feeds it.
But, in “third-party” commentaries, like mine, all bets are off. Basically, these tracks come in two varieties: the dusty droning expert and the frenzied fan. I’ve done both types, and expect to find variations there-of in the near future. Really, when you see my name, it almost always means the producers couldn’t get, or afford, someone actually involved in the film, and, hopefully, I’ll be better than nothing. Well, not always, but after more than forty commentaries, I’ve learned a thing or two (I hope), and my hard won education is apparent (I hope) on Dragon Tiger Gate.
Nowadays, I’m reluctant to do a commentary without company, having barely survived a six hour solo recording marathon many years back to supply commentary to The Master Killer Collection (three films starring Gordon Liu). For Tai Seng Entertainment DVDs, I insist on the participation of the company’s translator and English language adaptation division leader Frank Djeng, who always knows the historical, cultural, and linguistic scuttlebutt. And this time I enlisted the mouth and brain of author, comic book editor, martial artist, and top pop culture expert Jeff Rovin to partner on our tag-team play-by-play. The result is a commentary that revels in mise-en-scene, kung-fu, and comic history while being unafraid to tell it like it seems to us.
That’s refreshing (I hope), but if listening to me drone on is not your cuppatea (which means you’re getting mighty tired of this column by now, I reckon), there’s plenty more to feast your ears, and eyes, on. The second disc trots out a bunch of teaser, trailers, and TV spots, followed by more than a half-dozen three-minute mini-docs about the stars, production crew, sequences, sets, props (including the Guinness Book of World Records’ “largest punching bag ever!”), and action choreography. That sets the stage for a short but sweet “making of,” some admittedly unnecessary deleted scenes (all minor character developing sequences) and interviews with the stars.
What’s unfortunately missing, especially for an English-language version of the DVD, is a doc on the actual comic book, its history, and its characters. We try to supply some on the commentary, but, with it, comes the realization that the less you know about the manhua, the better you’ll like the film, since the changes the filmmakers made (which is hinted at in the final extra, a “Cannes and Hong Kong Premiere Highlight” reel) alienated the comic’s core audience, hobbling the flick’s chance for a major international release.
But it’s pretty, fast, and action-packed, and all the interesting extras will make you hungry for more (I hope).
Ric Meyers is the author of Murder On The Air, Doomstar, The Great Science-Fiction Films, Murder in Halruua, For One Week Only: The World of Exploitation Films, Fear Itself, and numerous other books and has (and sometimes still is) on the editorial staff of such publications as Famous Monsters of Filmland, Starlog, Fangoria, Inside Kung-Fu, The Armchair Detective and Asian Cult Cinema. He’s also a television and motion picture consultant whose credits include The Twilight Zone, Columbo, A&E’s Biography and The Incredibly Strange Film Show.