Generally speaking, whenever commentaries are just one person, be it the director, producer or star, they tend to become dry after a while. If it’s more than one person (and by that I mean they are recording it together, and not individual commentaries spliced together) they usually are able to draw more interesting things out of each other. But if it’s a lot of people (say, 4) then it can become too distracting trying to remember who’s who and they often talk over each other. The optimum number is 2 people, but sometimes 3 is done well, too.
For the one person commentaries, I’ve found Ebert doing Dark City to be the best, just because he seems to have really put a lot of thought into what he covers and he manages to keep it isolated to the parts where it’s pertinent to the film and not run over other scenes with it. On the other side of the coin, the guy who did the commentary for the Criteron Collection’s Seven Samurai disc is, well, dull. He knows his stuff, and some of it is actually pretty interesting, but the guy’s speaking voice is less exciting than Ben Stein’s in Ferris Beuhler.
For multiple person commentaries, The Thing’s session with John Carpenter and Kurt Russell is great. They interact very well, they ask each other questions, and more importantly, they answer those questions. And as opposed to Big Trouble In Little China, they stick to the film and the making of it. Other good ones of this sort are Repo Man, The Day The Earth Caught Fire and Re-Animator.
Clearly I’m about as good at navigating this thread as Spinal Tap was at navigating that stadium in Cleveland …
The director’s commentary on Memento was quite good, almost good enough to make up for those bloody annoying menus.
Any of the Pixar movies. Lots to learn, lots to laugh at.
Worst commentary I’ve ever dealt with (so far) is the one for Men In Black. Dull and pointless.
(And I refuse to buy a DVD that doesn’t have a commentary or three, if a version with commentary exists)
I liked the commentary on the Repo Man DVD. For one thing, they had a nice mix of people on the commentary including the executive producer (Michael Nesmith), the director (Alex Cox), the casting director (Victoria Thomas) and three of the actors.
What really helped, I think, is that the commentary was made well after the movie came out. A lot of times a DVD commentary seems to be recorded just after the people involved have finished months of post-production work and publicity tours. You can tell they’re starting to get sick of talking about the movie by that point.
On the Repo Man commentary, on the other hand, it’s like a reunion. They’re seeing the film fresh and they genuinely seem to like talking about it. And it’s cool when you hear the production assistant admit that he drove one of the cars at 100 mph to the executive producer (who seemed to want to be pissed about it, but realized how ridiculous it would sound over 15 years later).
The most insightful commentary I’ve heard was probably the Audio commentary track for the two-disc version of Seven, in which the composer and sound designer for the film talk about what they did, while the movie plays without dialogue in the background. It really drives the point of what they’re saying home. It’s very technical, though, so probably not for everyone.
Most entertaining I’ve listened to was the actors’ commentary track on the Extended Edition of Fellowship of the Ring, in which you could really tell just how much fun they were having.
Most pointless commentary was the one for Dude, Where’s My Car? (Hey, I had just gotten a DVD player… I was curious).
Most schizophrenic was the commentary on Storm of the Century, in which Stephen King and the director both talk about the movie. King’s commentary is insightful, tangential and, at times, entertaining (he calls “X-Files” a five-year cock-tease, at one point), while the director can’t stop expounding on how many different types of snow they had to get and how each was used in each scene.
Best overall was probably Adrian Lyne’s commentary for Jacob’s Ladder, which really added an extra dimension to the film for me (one I already liked, mind you).
Bad commentary? How about Rosemary Clooney doing the duty for White Christmas. Dead air and a few dreamy-eyed “Oh, Bing…” 's does not for a good commentary make.
Tony Wilson’s commentary on 24 Hour Party People (the film of his life story) is great: he spends most of the time saying “That never happened. That never happened. And that never happened.” But there’s also a lot of entertaining anecdotage and reflection.
The Donnie Darko commentary is very interesting, with a long discussion of the battle to include Smurfs in the film, as well as lots of talk about what the film actually means. Although I found it completely at odds with my interpretation of the film.
In terms of TV shows, Joss Whedon’s commentaries on the Buffy DVDs are always very informative about the making of the shows, and usually very funny.
To each his own! Altman’s commentary on Gosford Park is my favorite. My husband and I were riveted!
The worst was Tarrentino’s commentary on…I think it was Pulp Fiction. I loved the movie but his commentary made me squirm in the floor and retch. I wish Ebert would do a commentary for PF as he did CK.
I’ve seen a bunch mentioned that I love, mainly all the Kevin Smith movies, Spinal Tap, The Thing, Fight Club, etc.
-All three commentaries on the special edition of Black Hawk Down
-The commentaries by Jim Lovell and Ron Howard for Apollo 13
-Christopher McQuarrie’s commentary on The Way of the Gun
-Army of Darkness Groovy
i second the commentary for Terry Gilliam’s Brazil
but i think my favorite commentary is Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie’s commentary on the original release of The Usual Suspects. i think they kept it for the new rerelease, but i’m not sure, which is why i’m specifying the original release. it’s a very technical commentary, but they also talk about the structure, method, working with the actors, etc. it’s one of the few commentaries(along with Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bonham, David Fincher’s commentary on Fight Club) that i’ve actually listened to more than once…
I loved Russell and Carpenter on “The Thing.” Not so much that they gave me great insight, but that they’re two chain-smoking, belly-laughing good ol’ boys. Every five seconds, you’d hear the noise of a cigarette lighter, hear Russell suck his cigarette so deeply his socks must have gotten nicotine stains, then hack and cough and point out the bloody entrails Wilfred Brimley is handling.
I hate commentaries where the director will not even acknowledge that his film sucked more ass than (FILL IN). Why didn’t Sonnefeld stop during his commentary and beg forgiveness from Baby Jesus and Ross Martin for directing the atrocious “Wild Wild West” film?
Another vote for Spinal Tap and Brazil.
The Roger Waters commentary on The Wall is good for a laugh. He praises the animated segments, the rest of the film is a target for his vicious sarcasm.
The commentary for Blood Simple is hands down the best commentary I’ve ever heard. It’s a put-up job: the entire thing is a complex joke about this bitter, deranged film historian bitching about his former employer and the way the studio took a great, metaphysical film and turned it into a crappy noir murder film. His description of how they shot the first scene in the car at night had me on the floor. “To get the timing of the on-coming headlights right, they had to act in reverse and run the film backwards. And to get the effect of the rain on the windshield just right, they suspended the car upside down from the ceiling.”
For a less informative, but more entertaining experience - check out Snatch. Guy Ritchie and his producer are hysterical. God, I love you British folk.
And don’t forget the CGI dog!
I don’t have a lot of experience with commentary tracks as yet (we just got the bloody DVD player a few months back) but as far as extras go…
The T2:EE that Max Carnage mentioned is nifty as all hell. You do need to be either a speed reader, or quick with the remote to follow all of the “pop up video” text commentary, but the behind the scenes clips, as well as the info in the text track itself are pretty damned slick.
It’s the first DVD I’ve seen that points things out visualy. When some extra is identified as “So and So’s personal assistant/brother in law/whatever” a little arrow pops up on screen to identify them, that sort o’ stuff.
This Is Spinal Tap’s commentary track indeed almost makes it Spinal Tap 2, and sadly, Mel Brooks’ commentary for Young Frankenstein does lack severely. Haven’t heard any others from him yet, but I’m in no rush to remedy that, now.
The Mad Max SE DVD has a trivia subtitle track like the one for the new T2 that’s a lot of fun, but the audio commentary alternates between enagaging and deadly dull. Part of the problem with it is that a lot the information from one is mirrored by the other, and it’s a lot more interesting as a twelve word blurb than as a five minute dialogue.
Not related to the commentary, but if you’re a fan of the movie, this one’s well worth tracking down, just to hear the original audio track. The Toecutter’s character loses a huge amount of screen presence in the American voice dubbing.
My favorite commentary track of all time is Sam Mendes’s comments on American Beauty. Full of fascinating production details on how the film was made and why certain choices were chosen and so on. The writer is also there, but Mendes does 95% of the talking. It gave me a totally different perspective on the movie.
I second the comments on the Family Guy DVDs; the commentaries suck. But you do get to hear Alex Borstein yell “What the fuck?!” in her Lois voice.
The commentary with Mike Myers and Jay Roach on Austin Powers was also very entertaining.
The Blood Simple commentary is by far the most entertaining I’ve ever heard. I’m kind of disappointed that Miller came right out and said it was a joke; I suppose it’s pretty obvious in retrospect, but it took me at least 10 minutes to really get what was going on, which made me appreciate it more.
I agree with Semp about the Seven Samurai commentary. You get the impression that there’s a ton of interesting stuff the guy has to say, but he’s just so dull. I still plan on finishing it, maybe sometime when I’m feeling wired.
A surprising one is Bring it On, the cheerleader movie with Kirsten Dunst, Gabrielle Union, and Eliza Dushku. Not enough to buy the DVD, maybe, but it was interesting hearing the commentary because: 1) it’s not as if you’re missing out on the main appeal of the movie by not hearing the dialogue, and 2) the director is a pretty straightforward guy who just comes right out and confirms that yes, the whole point of this movie is for thirty-something single male shut-ins to stare at Dunst, Union, Dushku et.al. in cheerleading uniforms. Hearing the director explain some of the in-jokes and stuff gave me more respect for the movie than I would have otherwise.
Although not a movie, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVDs have relatively interesting commentary if you’re a fan of the series. Something about Joss Whedon’s voice & manner of speaking just rubs me the wrong way, but his commentary is right on the money – pretty much every time I’ve watched an episode and wondered, “What was that all about?” I switch to the commentary and he’s explaining exactly what I wanted to know.
“Are those my track pants?”
“Your girlfriend gave them to me”