Oh, it’s been a good week. Two of my (diametrically-opposed) favorite comedies are coming out on remastered special edition DVDs this coming Tuesday (one which was embraced by all religions while the other was roundly condemned by all religions) and I could hardly be happier. The operative word here is “hardly,” because, for while both DVD editions are good, one, in particular, could have been great.
But this is sour grapes on my part. I love Groundhog Day, and appreciate the skills of its star, Bill Murray, so much that I shouldn’t begrudge his disinterest in participating with the 15th Anniversary release’s special features – but yet, I still do. I shouldn’t be so petty, too, because of Bill’s absence, the true value of director/co-scripter Harold Ramis comes into sharp focus.
I’m a big fan of Ramis as well, ever since I saw him as harried station manager Moe Green on the original import of the milestone Canadian comedy series SCTV. I can never forget his delivery as the evil boss in the show’s satire of The Grapes of Wrath, The Grapes of Mud; “You think this land is urine … but it’s all our land, not just urine” (you had to be there, I guess).
Ramis left SCTV early, which I also begrudged, come to think of it. But all was forgiven when he started helming, or being intimately creatively involved with, such comedy mainstays as Animal House, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, As Good As It Gets, and Analyze This. Groundhog Day could be his masterpiece, however, given that it’s a romantic comedy fantasy classic.
Columbia Pictures, minus Murray’s input, could only muster a single, pretty poorly photoshopped, disc, but Ramis is all over the extras. There’s a commentary with him, which I lapped up with my admiring head nestled on my hands. There’s also a video talking head grandly titled “A Different Day: An Interview with Harold Ramis,” which I watched appreciatively with my chin on my fist. Then there’s the making-of doc called “The Weight of Time” (borrowing a phrase by story creator and co-scripter Danny Rubin), which I watched with the back of my head resting on my sofa top.
You picking up on the body language here? Not surprisingly (though not consciously, I’m fairly sure), the extras are something like Murray’s plight in the film – doomed to repeat the same day endlessly until he gets it “right.” Given that the extras are all so Ramis-centric, a noticeable portion of the info and film clips is repeated. Because of this, however, the two Ramis-less extras become all the more interesting. First, there are deleted scenes, which showcase how good Murray is even in superfluous sequences.
Finally, there’s “The Study of Groundhogs: A Real Look at Marmots,” which, despite being informative and colorful, seems so out of place that it was almost ten minutes before I accepted that it was serious and not a satire of nature shows (which SCTV did so well, especially in their “Canadian Content” episode).
Even with all my griping, the Special 15th Anniversary Edition of Groundhog Day is a delight, and much of the Ramis-delivered info stays with me: how the specially raised groundhog turned on Murray at the end of their truck-snatching scene, how Rubin opined that Murray’s character may have relived the same day for literally thousands of years, how every religion claimed the movie as a realization of their precepts, etc..
And now for something completely different (well, maybe not completely). Monty Python considered The Life of Brian their movie masterpiece, and it’s easy to see why. In honor of its 30th Anniversary, Sony is releasing “The Immaculate Edition” with two great new special features, as well as some fine regurgitated extras as well.
The new sixty minute making-of – “The Story of Brian” – really brings home how daring, thought-provoking, and remarkable the movie was, considering the era and opposition that was brought to bear against it. And the super-neat, ultra-cool, nearly two hour, revelatory “illustrated reading” of the original script really brings home how funny it was. A full year before they started production on the actual film, the cast gathered to record their freshly-written, as yet unedited, script. Then, thirty years after the film was released the DVD makers used that script, and Terry Gilliam’s storyboards, to visually illustrate that recording as you, the grateful viewer, listen to it.
Still there’s more: the film is remastered in HD, there are two audio commentaries (one with designer Gilliam, director/co-star Terry Jones, and composer/co-star Eric Idle, and the other with co-stars John Cleese and Michael Palin), the original radio ads (famously featuring the wives of Cleese, Idle, Gilliam and Palin’s dentist) and tremendous deleted scenes (one digitally enhanced with heretofore missing sfx, and several graced by recycled audio commentary).
Interestingly, the deleted scenes comprise what I missed most when first seeing the film: simply silly stuff that was excised because the point of Brian was more, well, pointed than their previous film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. While the earlier film made fun of movie clichés and historical conventions,Life of Brian went after the very people who, not surprisingly, hysterically took up arms against it – rabid “interpreters” of the Bible and blinkered followers of the messiah-du-jour.
The result can be admired for its courage but equally for its excellence – in acting, directing, and comedy – all made more sweet as the decades past. Both DVD releases are must haves, in my library at least. Hooray for Ramis, Murray, Monty Python … and John Rambo, while I’m at it.
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.