It’s sad to see that physical media is slowly being pushed out in favor of digital downloads. In a little over a decade I’ve amassed a huge collection of DVDs and Blu-rays. What makes me stick to this soon to be antiquated technology is special features. No matter the film I tend to at the very least give their special features a passing glance. My favorites tend to be audio commentaries, deleted scenes, and extensive making of documentaries. Today I wanted to speak about some of my favorite documentaries. So let’s dig in and look at these fantastic peaks behind the curtain.
-The Beginning: Making Episode I-
We can continue to debate the merits of the prequel trilogy to George Lucas’ beloved space opera, but when it comes to DVDs Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace set the gold standard for quality. The Beginning is amazing in that it covers all three aspects of this superhyped film’s production. Amongst those items are: seeing the creation of the new creatures and machines in the film, casting of Jake Lloyd, Ewan McGregor acting like a kid in candy store when he finally gets to pick which lightsaber will be his, and the terrible sandstorm that hit Tunisia while filming. Whether or not you enjoyed The Phantom Menace this will give any film buff some great perspective on one of the most controversial blockbusters from the 90’s.
-Snowball Effect: The Story of Clerks-
Like him or not, Kevin Smith is one of the major filmmakers to come out of the 90’s indie movement. His 1994 directorial debut Clerks is a fantastic way to start a career. With this documentary we get to see more than just a making of a film, we get to see the birth of a filmmaker. Kevin Smith regales the audience with stories of his life that would become the genesis of Clerks’ script. In addition to a hilarious and sometimes insane production we find out how word of mouth turned this $27,000 little black and white comedy into an indie darling and major hit at the Sundance Film Festival. Kevin Smith is a natural storyteller to the point that I’ve watched the man stand in a theater and tell a packed audience humorous anecdotes and not gotten bored.
-Dangerous Days: The Making of Blade Runner-
There are very few films that have been such a head scratcher to me as Blade Runner. I’ve seen no less than four alternate cuts of this movie, how does this happen? Strap in, because this three and a half hour long documentary exhaustively covers not only every single aspect of production, but the troubled post-production that befell this film. Between the screenwriting duties that switched hands multiple times, the combative production that put director Ridley Scott at odds with a large portion of the crew, and the ridiculously long post-production that forced a voiceover which to quote Frank Darabont, “It’s like having sex and someone dumps cold water on you!” You even get to hear other filmmakers discuss the philosophical and emotional subtext of the movie. I must warn you, this documentary will have you feeling physically and mentally drained by the time the credits roll.
Advertised on the back of the director’s cut DVD as, “An exhaustive behind-the-scenes documentary” this is almost an understatement. David Fincher is one of the best filmmakers when it comes to his films having the best possible post theatrical lifespan. Whenever you buy one of his films on DVD or Blu-ray you can expect a treasure trove of special features. With the director’s cut of Zodiac he pulled out all the stops. This documentary shows the method to the man’s madness. This includes seeing his crew meticulously re-create how locations appeared in the 1960’s and 70’s to the point that he had trees cut down and placed on an island. I may be biased as this is hands down my favorite Fincher film, but this documentary is superb.
-Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy-
What happens when you give one of the greatest documentary filmmakers (Ken Burns) unfettered access to the Lucasfilm archives? You get two and a half hours of unbelievable insight into how one of the greatest film series got it’s start. As a huge Star Wars fan I was blown away by how much brand new information I got from watching this documentary. Listening to George Lucas talk about the painful uphill battle he fought making A New Hope is inspiring and deflating. Between sandstorms in Tunisia, a British crew who’d often fight Lucas tooth and nail, and trying to craft brand new visual effects with little time and money I understand why Lucas suffered from hypertension. While The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi get less screentime it’s nice to see Empire director Irvin Kershner candidly speak about his time with the franchise.
These are just a few great documentaries, but believe me there are a lot more. Any film fan worth their salt ought to give all of these a watch. As usual, what are your thoughts? Do you have a favorite behind the scenes documentary? Will you continue to purchase DVDs and Blu-rays so long as they have a wealth of special features? Let me know. As always, thanks for reading.
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