Welcome to my movie blog, containing reviews and articles. I've been writing since 2004 - with a short break during 2009.

How To Do A Special Feature

@ We are not interested in the producers. Ever. Nor are we interested in their casting agents, or "how the prowject came together." Too many special features are started off by a beardy producer intoning about his people phoning their people, and rights wrangling, and backstage legalese. Not only is it boring, it's rarely any different from any other film. Unless your film had its genesis in an insane or novel way, don't bother. This also extends to actors telling us how they got involved.

Sample Dialogue: "I was between projects when Bob -Robert Jenks, the producer - called me up, asked if I was available. Of course, I had worked with Bob the previous year on his Japanese prowject, so I knew they type of thing he had in mind. Well I got him to send the script down and I read it, and I think I was really attracted to the sense of scope..." e.t.c.

Key Culprit: Generally, any producer/director/actor who tells us how they got tied up in the film is likely to bore the socks off us straight away. Best bet is to avoid it entirely. I didn't get nto the end of The Guns of Navarone "Memories of Navarone" feature - I didn't even get past the beginning. I wrote this instead.

The one that gets it right: Just occasionally, there's more to an actor's hiring than agent wrangling. Tim Roth was cast to Reservoir Dogs on the strength of Tarantino liking his other films. They went out for lunch, the producer arrived and Mr Roth explained he'd really rather not audition. The producer was a little wary of this, but he left again in the hope QT might be able to get an audition out of him. They stayed in the bar, ordered a few more drinks, and a few more, and this continued until the pair got a lot more beer and went back to a flat. It was at this point - i.e. past midnight and completely inebriated - that an audition finally took place, with them reading the entire script through doing all the parts. Unless your casting process was this exciting, please don't tell us....

And another one: My beloved Memento special features will get a lot of time today. Did you know that Joe Pantoliano was deliberately chosen for his role because he typically plays so many bad guys. That way, the audience immediately distrusts him for no good reason.

@ No actor bullshit. Maybe you did have the greatest time on the set, and your co-actor Bob was lovely, a really class gentleman, and your director was a real visionary. But don't waste your time saying it, because half the time I don't believe you, and the other half I don't care. Even worse are actors who tend to star in a lot of these big-budget actioners, because they feel compelled to say nice things about every single one.

Key Culprit: The Mummy, or any other vaccum-packed commercial DVD. Heaven forbid they should suggest there was tension on the set! Even LXG papered over the cracks for their documentary, when a no-holds barred account of what went wrong would have been fascinating.

The one that gets it right: Apocalypse Now, with its somewhat belatedly released companion documentary, Hearts of Darkness, a 100% genuine picture of on set insanity.

@ Tell us about the story. Make the world larger. Days of work goes into the background detail of film - in Lord of the Rings, every paper in Saruman's tower is covered with properly translated Elven. When one of the prop guys added "Bob waz ere" in runes, it was swiftly removed to mainain the versimilitude of the sequence, just in case someone might be watching, might spot it and manage to translate it. The Special Feature gives you the opportunity to show us the things hours were spent on, but we missed on screen.

The one that gets it right: Did you know that Gaff's foregin conversation in Blade Runner is actually a language invented by the actor for the film, comprising words and expressions from Spanish, French, Chinese, German, Hungarian and Japanese? Nope, and you never would have without those handy special features.

And another one: The Memento uber-box is the greatest special feature achievement I've ever seen. Among the highlights is a gallery, which contains images of vital props - business cards, beer mats. Things like that make fans froth at the mouth.

@ When you interview your special effects guys, please don't sit them in front of an exciting bank of computer monitors, one of which reruns the same sequence of movie over and over again. It's really distracting. And give them a bath or something, they always look like depressing walking cliches of what a Special Effects Person should look like. Interview a girls or something, there must be some in the business...

@ Don't waste time on a script compared to storyboard. Has anyone ever paged through the entirety of these things on your DVD player? Why not focus on the interesting ones, or offer the whole thing as a PDF file?

@ Always make a documentary about your music, because I've never seen a bad one. A lot of people don't appreciate how much music contributes to a film, or the different ways instruments can be used. From the traditional orchestras of John Williams (works well in: Star Wars, dies in: Harry Potter), to the oddball electronics of Vangelis (works well in: Blade Runner pitifully bad idea in: Alexander), tell us what you're doing and why.

The one that gets it right: Lord of the Rings has an epic score befitting the film itself. There's a whole different sound pallate for each different culture within the world, with a selection of barmy instruments. Think that's a violin on the Rohan theme? It's actually a hardinger, an obscure Norse instrument. The extended edition soundtracks come with booklets detailing the lyrics of background choruses, and pointing out where themes and motifs are used.

And another one: Director M.N.Shyamalan claims he always makes sure the movie can work dramatically without music before adding it; hence Signs includes a sample of the most dramatic sequences of the film both with and without music.

And yet another one: Danny Elfman has a commentary on Planet of the Apes where he comments about his use of music. When he is not speaking, the film continues to run without sound, but with music. Its a fascinating watch.

@ Don't bother giving us free limited edition art cards. About three people in your audience will be insanely excited about them. The rest won't care.

@ The commentary should be a conversation between you and the audience, not you and your co-commentators. No reminicing unless it's really exciting (see: producers). Make what you're saying relevant to the screen - if you could say it as well in an interview, then what's the point. And pick your people wisely - never invite a producer, why not think about a writer.

Key culprit: Though the Reservoir Dogs commentary is intermittently interesting, instead of crowding their key players in front of a microphone, they've merely lifted soundbites from other interviews - and not very interesting ones at that.

The one which got it right: Kudos to the Memento bumperbox, which not only provides a facinating commentary from the director, but comes with a random ending. That way, if you listen to the commentary several times over, occasionally Mr Nolan will explain why a key character is lying, and other times why he is telling the truth. It renforces the uncertainty on screen.

@ Let writers have something to say. Writers are among the most interesting set, and yet they get the least screentime. Their part in putting scenes and characters together can be very revealing. They generally know what's meant to be going on.

The one which got it right: A Series of Unfortunate Events had a commentary by its author. Unfortunately, I have far too much respect for the internal fiction of the series that the author has created to actually listen to it, though I'm sure it would be facinating (Lemony Snicket, the name on the cover, is obviously a pen name, but within the series of stories Lemony himself becomes rather a vital character; so you see, the author has done his job too well for me to actually acknowledge his existance. Or I need to get more fresh air...)

And another one: Cache comes with an interview from writer/director Michael Haneke. After watching this bizzarely realistic drama, I floundered. Watching him explain his vision, and what had inspired him did not make me like the film any more, but I did appreciate it. Argue, if you like, that a film that needs to be explained has failed - but I felt far more satisfied after understanding what he had been trying to do.

@ Give the fans what they want. They bought your damn DVD, so reward them.

The one which got it right: I am still astounded by the amount of love which goes into the rereleased Doctor Who episodes. Frequent additions are: watch it music-only, watch it with more than one commentary, always involving the key players who you actually want to listen to, watch it with either the original cruddy effects or new lovingly restored CGI ones. Relevant episodes come with documentaries on specific characters, or PDF files of the Doctor Who annual for that year, or an episode of Blue Peter that might have featured the episode. They even give us a PDF copy of the TV listing from the week the episode was originally broadcast. Pointless, but brilliantly over-detailed. Someone somewhere really thinks of everything a fan might want to see.

The one which didn't: I recently fell in love with Miller's Crossing. So it really annoyed me to discover that my copy comes with "theatrical trailer, scene access, interactive menus and still gallery". My fault for not getting the bumper edition...

@ Deleted Scenes. There are only two excuses for them. The first is that the scenes are so good that they were worthy of being in the film. The second is to demonstrate the art of editing, and show why they were cut out. They should always be accompanied by a talk-track explaining why they had to go.

The one which got it right: Reservoir Dogs demonstrated both these qualities perfectly - the two major scenes are both brilliant in their own right, but if reinserted into the film, they pad out a tense section with backstory when you really just want to get back to the story.

And another one: Hot Fuzz's deleted scenes are more like deleted lines. They are not intrinsically great - but overall, they build up a great image of how to edit comedy. Every scene in that film has been cut within an inch of its life - anything even remotely flat has been removed, to make the remaining stuff funnier and keep the energy up.

@ Outtakes. I never watch them. I'd do without them entirely if it meant no one ever said this phrase to me again: "It's a really good film and the outtakes were really funny". Winds me up no end. Is that really the next thing you can say about it?

@ Interactive menus. Seriously, don't do it. Especially don't do it with music - otherwise, when you put the DVD in, you have to listen to the same clip overandoverandover again until you're ready to begin. It takes the menus longer to load. It means you have to watch the same snippets over and over again when flicking between other special features. And producers think it's acceptable to list "interactive menus" under the special features list if they haven't got anything better. Incidentally, when I made my movie, I had interactive menus. Because they're cool. But it doesn't mean you should...

Key Culprit: The Doctor Who DVDs always feature a repeating montage of clips, which is fine, except they invariably give the ending of the episode away. Completely pointless...

The one which gets it right: Lost's menus are animated, but cool. They have things like an image of the Hatch, which slowly turns from night to day; or a newly-filmed clip of the Others' camp where people just wander about in the distance. It's fun, spoiler-free and unobtrusive.

@ Don't bother with actor profiles. They're so old. Theatrical trailers are dull, but essential. The most interesting theatrical trailer ever was Spy Game, the slow paced meditative film we had just watched, including a trailer for Spy Game, the action-packed blockbuster they wanted to trick people into paying for.

@ Tell us something we don't know. We've just seen the film, so we are aware of whos in it and what happens. Gve us a featurette on the source novel. If it's Bond, or Dracula, give us one on the history of the character. If it's a period drama or historical, then tell us about what really happened. The script supervisor, the prop person, the fans.

Key culprit: Most of them. An example which annoyed me: Ed Wood is the story of the reputed worst director ever. It's all about B-movies and low-grade actors. It's screaming out for a documentary about the genre, about the cast of real life loons, about the man himself...(incidentally, Plan 9 From Outer Space fans, the real Vampyra has recently died. A moment please.)

The one that gets it right: Some of the rest. Blade Runner, who gave us a special on pretty much everything, included the fanbase, the original novel and the infamous "replicant" argument.

And another one: Singing in the Rain tells the story of actors who struggle to cope when sound came in. It is accompanied by a great feature on the end of silent film, with clips from The Jazz Singer and others of its ilk. It gives a background to the action that the cinematically-challenged may not have already known, as well as being interesting for the rest of us.

And another one: The Animatrix was, for many mainstream people, an introduction to the anime phenomenon - so they kindly packaged it with a very interesting documentary about the history of anime and manga for the uninformed.

@ Give us a suprise. The Prisoner had the Prisoner-spoof car advert. Reservoir Dogs had a certain key scene replayed with action figures. Shaun of the Dead included a scene from the contractually-obligated swear-free version of the film, with the oft-repeated offending word replaced (unconvincingly) with "funk". One token feature is always nice.

@ But not a ruddy easter egg. I recently saw a DVD which advertised "plus bonus easter egg!" on the back of the box like they'd just won a cookie. That completely defeats the point.

The one that gets it right: Doctor Who has recently used a DVD easter egg as a plot point within one of its episodes (it's called Blink- look it up - even if you hate the show, you'll love it.) The cool bit comes when they put the easter egg onto the boxset, as a hidden easter egg. It makes for very weird watching.

@ And finally. Something that will never change, that can't be helped. The people doing the talking. I generally don't have a problem with the American accent (and certainly nothing wrong with the country), but every now and then someone chats away who is horrible to listen to, and it goes up my spine every time the word "prodoocer" is used. And never refer to a character as "the Muir character". It's Nathan, or Muir, or Robert Reford, but never "the Muir character". It makes him sound like a chesspiece.

If heaven was a DVD Special Edition, it would be: Memento. Specials on the colour schemes, the characters, the source novel read out by the author, several contradictory commentaries, hundreds of galleries of interesting stuff, the script, the soundtrack, the works. Not to mention a version of the film in chronological order (incidentally, when watched properly Memento is a catchy little thriller - but put the scenes in the right place, and it is far more upsetting)

What makes this box so special is that it enhances your enjoyment of the film. You understand the film in a way you couldn't possibly before seeing all the thoughts which went towards making it. What are your ideal special features?


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