Ah, holidays: a time to get together with family and friends … and watch all the DVDs you missed during the year. In my case, it’s with my teen and preteen nieces, so sooner or later they get control of the remote, and they call the shots. So it was in this cozy, tinsel-lined environment that we settled in to watch the special features on two of the second sequels that so galvanized marketing types a few weeks ago.
First up: Pirates of the Caribbean At World’s End, which more than half of the nation’s critics found loud and confusing. But I, a market share of one, have always felt that they missed the point. Lurching, unfocused, overstuffed, yes. But this effort was nothing short than a largely successful attempt to dismantle, then refashion, what it means to be a “Disney Film," a seeming attempt that successfully continued with Ratatouille and Enchanted.
This, after all, is a film that starts with the death by hanging of a ten … year … old … boy, then continues with piles of corpses, cutthroats staring up Keira Knightley’s dress, extended existential sequences in the land of death itself, and a central appearance by the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards. The extras on the Two-Disc Collector’s Edition don’t rip the wrapping paper off this concept and slap it in your face, but there’s enough hints in the giddy declarations of director Gore Verbinski and writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio that something was up their sleeves besides arm hair.
Basically all of them contend that they were given the freedom to have fun and entertain themselves. Even so, none were absolutely sure that this independence (and the more than 200 million which bought it) wouldn’t come back to bite them. At one point, coming from the bright-eyed, sheet-eating grinning face of one writer was the passive/aggressive statement that the boy-hanging opening was his idea … except it might not have been, depending on the then-up-coming audience reaction.
So the special features echo this careless yet cautious approach. In fact, one of my nieces started complaining an hour into the extras: “why don’t they just interview the actors and have done with it?" She actually talks like that. There’s featurettes on Keith Richards’ and Chow Yun-fat’s participation, amusing but not exceptional bloopers, a bit on the filming of the multi-Cap’n Jack land o’death sequence, multi docs on soundtrack composer Han Zimmer (including the opening song, which was their way to sneak in a dissection of the boy hanging scene), and loads of stuff on the scenic/costume/sfx design.
I would have loved a more direct, concise, “making of” doc, but that, I suppose was mostly the purview of the Pirates 2 DVD. This third DVD package showcases the leftovers, which is fitting, I suppose, given the subject of this particular column. Next into the machine went the Shrek the Third disc, which I’m sure worked better on TV than it did in the cinemas, where even less critics liked it than Pirates 3. That thumbs down was no doubt caused because Shrek 3 had a great structure and was filled with some terrific ideas … which were then not developed well or paid off effectively enough.
Happily, there’s plenty of stuff to watch outside the film on the DVD: parenting tips from the three leads, “bloopers,” deleted scenes, a “donkey dance” music video, and, our favorites: a combo “making of” and “meet the cast” doc, as well as the “Tech of Shrek” featurette which the nieces found particularly illuminating. Then there’s an abundance of “edutainmental” and interactive features, which, in the short and long run, are also better than the film.
You can learn “how to be green (environmentally friendly),” put together your own music video with scenes/music from all three films, learn the donkey dance, browse through the thirty students of the Hogwarts-satirizing “Worcestershire Academy Yearbook,” and play more than a dozen video games, including getting funny answers from Merlin’s Magic Crystal Ball. And this doesn’t even include HD-DVD features, which present a feature length storyboard, a pop-up commentary, and an extended “World of Shrek” making of doc.
This makes the basic Shrek the Third package (there is no special two or three disk edition … at least not at my brother’s house) one of those rare discs where the DVD is far preferable to paying for a movie theater ticket. Go figure. So, with that, I kiss my nieces farewell until I visit again, and return to the world of up-coming DVDs. I got a pile of ‘em awaiting me, so see you next year, resolutioners!
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 andThe Incredibly Strange Film Show.