DVD Commentaries and RiffTrax

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 6th April 2010.

If you’re a film buff like me, simply watching a movie on DVD or blu-ray is simply not enough. Straight after the final credits roll, I love to restart the film, this time with the audio commentary running. Pretty much a standard “extra feature” on the majority of non-vanilla movie releases, commentaries are usually recorded by the filmmakers and included on the disc as an alternate soundtrack, allowing the movie to be watched with the comments heard instead of the original dialogue or score.

The majority of audio commentaries are recorded by the director. Some also include other members of the crew or cast. For older movies where the filmmakers are no longer alive, film historians will sometimes record a commentary. On “special edition” discs, more than one audio commentary is often included.

Of course, just like films, audio commentaries vary in quality and entertainment value. The commentaries for The Goonies and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory are great fun as they reunite the casts for the first time in many years. Sylvester Stallone’s ultra-serious track for Rambo (2008) is hilarious as he justifies exploding heads and blood splatters in explicit detail. This Is Spinal Tap (1984) features a memorable commentary by the lead actors in character complaining how they were misrepresented by the (faux) documentary. Joel Schumacher’s commentary for Batman and Robin (1997) is an entertaining two hour apology for this awful almost-franchise-killing third sequel.

If you’ve ever watched a dodgy film that deserves smart comments and quips yelled at the screen, then RiffTrax may be for you. RiffTrax is a website that produces and sells downloadable comedy commentaries for movies. Simply download the commentary of your choice as an mp3 file and then play it over the top of the movie. Instructions for synchronising the track with the movie are included and usually just a matter of pressing play at the same time as a certain part of the opening credits.

RiffTrax is the brainchild of US comedian Michael J. Nelson, who came to fame in the TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1988-99). This cult show centred on a man and his robot sidekicks who were trapped on a space station and being forced to watch old B-grade science fiction films (usually with expired copyrights). A revolutionary show at the time, the TV audience watches the cast making fun of the movie and the movie itself.

Movies with RiffTrax comedy commentaries available include recently released easy targets Twilight: New Moon and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, as well as classics such as the Star Wars Trilogy and Casablanca. The website also features downloadable short films (usually American public domain educational films from the 50’s such as Teenagers on Trial) with whacky commentaries.

If you fancy taking the mickey out of your favourite (or otherwise) film, RiffTrax also allows you to submit comedy commentaries of your own. These are hosted on the website and also available for purchase with a 50-50 split on the download fee. Although not likely an avenue for a substantial income, this may be the perfect outlet for a frustrated undiscovered comedian.

Commentary tracks can add an extra dimension to a good or not-so-good movie. Whether focusing on the filmmaking process or purely for a laugh, audio commentaries are worth a listen.


Published in: on April 11, 2010 at 10:53  Leave a Comment  
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