DVD special features are an invaluable tool for aspiring filmmakers. In addition to the discs that let you reedit sequences, there are many who simply present the filmmakers’ points of view in such a clever, informative, interesting, and edifying way that volumes can be learned with even a cursory viewing.
Cases in point: this week’s selections – both scheduled to break into home entertainment sites and shops this coming Tuesday. First there’s Sleuth, a fascinating but ultimately unnecessary remake of the original 1972 movie adaptation of Anthony Shaffer’s hit Broadway who-what-why-where-dunnit. Not that you could blame anyone involved for wanting to be a part of the action. First they get the two movie Alfies, Michael Caine and Jude Law, to star, then get award-winning playwright Harold Pinter to adapt the screenplay, then secure master showman Kenneth Branagh to direct.
Only one problem … like Presumed Innocent before it, the pulpy delights of Sleuth don’t really benefit from grade A veneer. At its heart, it’s an old-fashioned, now somewhat wheezy, puzzle pic. But that’s just the movie. It’s the extras on the disc that make this purchase worthwhile. The “making of” doc is fine, but nothing extraordinary. The short “Make-up Secrets Revealed” featurette is okay, although abrupt. But the commentaries really deliver the goods.
If you read the back cover, it gives the impression that there is one commentary with director Branagh and stars Caine and Law. But actually there are two commentaries: one with Branagh and Caine, and the other with co-star/co-producer Law. That makes all the difference, because the play and films are a two-man show. The whole plot is predicated on which man’s point of view you take or believe. So it’s inadvertently brilliant that you listen to Caine’s p.o.v. on one track, and Law’s on another. You not only appreciate the movie’s story, but the making of the movie’s story, from their two different, unique, points of view. And Branagh is no slouch either in the creativity department, either.
Besides, I love Michael Caine’s work, and the commentary allows him to be there in the room with you, having a pleasant (albeit one-sided) chat about film, life, acting, and et al. The fact that Caine was also in the original 1972 version, playing the Jude Law role, is just icing on the cake.
Speaking of great actors, Sony is using the promotion of the up-coming high concept Al Pacino crime-slime film, 88 Minutes, as an excuse to rerelease two of the star’s previous cult classics: Bobby Deerfield, a romantic tragedy set in the auto racing world, and …And Justice for All, a passionate dramedy set in the legal world. Since the former DVD has only a sneak peek of the serial killer thriller 88 Minutes as its sole extra, I’ll concentrate on the AJFA Special Edition that’s got a bunch o’ special features.
The canny marketers at Sony have the disc do double promotional duty. Not only does it have the 88 Minutes Sneak Peek, but also contains the pilot episode of its award-winning Damages television show starring Glenn Close – cross-pollinating interest in the recent first season box set release. Outside of such strategic publicity alliances, AJFA features a commentary from director Norman Jewison, which, in itself, is an excellent class from a superior, versatile, veteran filmmaker (In the Heat of the Night, Fiddler on the Roof, and Moonstruck just to name three of his other credits).
Jewison also appears on camera in the “The Testimony of the Director” featurette, discussing high points from the film. Co-screenwriter Barry Levinson, who, himself, went on to direct such greats as Diner, The Natural, and Rain Man, among others, considers the other high points in the “Cross Examining the Screenwriter” featurette – including the famed climatic dialog of “You’re out of order, the whole system’s out of order!” – which, for a time, made Pacino bookends with “Attaca, Attaca!” from Dog Day Afternoon(until both were supplanted by Scent of a Woman’s “Hoo-ha!” as Al impersonators’ trademark utterance).
Rounding out the package is a set of interesting deleted scenes, presented in an odd manner. All are bookended by an unseen editor who takes the labeled film rolls of the deleted scenes, loads them up into an old-fashioned moviola, and presents them through the viewfinder … which then disappears into the widescreen picture. It’s mildly cute, somewhat distracting, and totally unnecessary. But it makes an intriguing artificial addition to the DVD package itself – an obviously photoshopped image of Pacino’s head airbrushed onto a model’s body, standing beside a contrived tagline which belies the film’s classic status.
I’d be remiss not to mention that both Pacino packages also contain a free ticket to 88 Minutes, so if you like the sort of seemingly super-powered, omnipresent, whispering, one-step-ahead, really fast-working and conscientious mass murderers who graced the likes of Se7en, Untraceable, The Bone Collector, Copycat, Kiss the Girls, the Saw films, and, oh, so many others, choose the Al classic of your choice. Or get both and bring a date.
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.