Tuesday, August 14, 2007

DVD Extras

I love movies, have seen a pile of them, and often read up on my favorite films to learn some of the cool stuff about how they were made.

Recently they released a new set of Film Noir flicks, including THE BIG STEAL, and the LA Times did a blurb about the set... but they neglected to mention what I thought was the most fascinating bit of background on that film. The reason why that film was made was to spring Robert Mitchum from jail. Mitchum had been busted for smoking pot (something he did regularly) and was serving time in county lock up... not in the Paris Hilton section, he was in general pop. There were photos of him behind bars, both in his cell and on a work detail. So the studio came up with this scheme to get his sentence reduced - they created a film starring Mitchum and put it into production. After shooting a chunk of the film without Mitchum, they went to a judge and claimed the film would crash and burn, costing the studio a bunch of money, unless Mitchum was available to work. Hey, Los Angeles is an industry town, and by this point they had shot everything they could without the star... so the decision was made to cut Mitchum’s sentence so they could finish the film. And if you watch the film closely, you can see how Mitchum’s footage was often shot during a different season than the other stuff - winter in some shots and spring in others.

Anyway, because I love stuff like this, one of the things I enjoy about DVDs are the extras. On VHS you just got the movie, on DVD you get all kinds of fun stuff. There’s a great extra on ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST that goes to all of the film’s locations *today* and shows you what they look like. There is also a huge doc on the composer, Ennio Morricone (the reasoon why we have Morricone as a film composer is because he and Leone were childhood friends, and Leone asked his friend to write music for his movies)... plus the usual behind the scenes and interviews and tons of bonus material. I love to watch deleted footage - though usually you can see why those scenes were cut. I love all of this stuff.

FLETCH


So, on my recent DVD binge, I bought a bunch of stuff including a new special edition of FLETCH that promised all kinds of fresh bonus materials.

Okay, some background...

I love mystery and crime fiction. Back in the 70s, I was looking at the new crime fiction on the shelves of some bookstore (probably B Daltons) and stumbled on this new book called FLETCH by Greg MacDonald with a blurb from James M. Cain - one of my favorite writers. Cain said this was a great book... and that was enough for me to pick it up and read the first page. Wow!

So I waited until it hit paperback and bought it (I still have that copy). Clever, funny, lots of plot twists, great lead character who was obviously inspired by Woodward & Bernstein. And when the next Fletch book came out, I bought it. And the third Fletch book. And the spinoff books about Flynn. And every Fletch book that Greg McDonald wrote. Oh, and his non-series books, too. This guy was an amazing writer - he could fool *me* with his clever plot twists. The books won all sorts of awards, too.

So, when they announced they were making a movie, I was excited.

When they cast Chevy Chase, I was heartbroken.

Fletch is *clever* and *intelligent*... Chevy Chase does prat falls.

But two things looked promising: the script was being written by Andrew Bergman, a mystery writer himself (The Big Kiss Off, Hollywood & Levine) who knew how the genre worked... and also how to write movies - he was co-writer on BLAZING SADDLES. The film was going to be directed by Michael Ritchie, a very clever satirist who made one of the greatest films of the 70s - SMILE. Ritchie made sophisticated comedies, not prat-fall films. He also made political and social films like DOWNHILL RACER and THE CANDIDATE. Also, I had actually met him - he lived in Berkeley, California and often premiered his films at Bay Area film festivals. I was a kid then, and would often sneak past security to meet the film makers. We’d had a couple of conversations. If there was anyone who could turn this great book into a movie it was Ritchie.

So, the film comes out and it’s good news / bad news.

The bad news is that Chevy Chase has a fantasy sequence and wears goofy disguises and falls down a few times.

The good news is that they took care to keep the mystery plot and keep each and every clue so that you could play along. (The way mysteries work - they are interactive - the audience has all of the clues to solve the mystery and is racing the detective character to solve it. Bad mystery films don’t “play fair” and leave out the clues.) The book had 2 different mysteries, the movie combined them... but actually added the clues to set that up. It’s a really well crafted mystery. And Chevy Chase tones it down - because the story is serious, he has to be serious much of the time.

The film is probably Chevy Chase's best work... and one of the few good mystery films to come out of Hollywood since CHINATOWN.

There are Fletch lovers who hate the movie because of Chase - and I can understand that. But Hollywood is going to cast a star in the lead role, and who else was there?

They’re looking at doing a new Fletch movie with a new star... and I have no idea who could play him. (Who do you think should play Fletch now?) Can we clone Cary Grant or William Powell?

NOT SO SPECIAL EXTRAS


Which brings us back to the extras on the new FLETCH DVD...


The exec at Universal who approved of the extras on this DVD needs to be fired... or better yet, escorted to the Hollywood border and banished for life. I have never seen worse extras on a DVD - these extras are so bad, I would rather have a version of the DVD without them.

The extras completely disrespect this film.

I want my money back.

So what do we get for extras? A completely self-indulgent film starring the *producer of the extras* who thinks that he is funny - but he is not. He does a pile of lame gags that are not funny, and interviews some cast and crew members - which would be okay, except at least half of the interviews are about *him* - the producer of the extras! He's some guy in his late 20s who obviously thinks the world revolves around him. After a few minutes, you're tired of the guy - his ego is *massive* and his talent is minuscule.

No Chevy Chase interview - which is weird because Chase has done all kinds of low budget films lately - many haven't even been released (BAD MEAT).

Also - nothing about the Fletch novels by Greg McDonald - the *source* of the character and story. The novels were so popular that they bought the rights to use the novel's logo for the movie. But from these extras you would never even know there was a book - let alone and entire series. And you's never know these books are big award winners, and bestsellers. They just ignore the books completely.

Which is too bad, because you could make an amazing little doc about the books. You see, McDonald wrote them out of order. Things mentioned in passing in the first book end up being the central plot in later books... which take place before the first book. It’s kind of like MEMENTO - except it doesn’t work backwards, it’s scattershot. You read FLETCH AND THE WIDOW BRADLEY and he’s newly divorced from his first wife... when he was divorced from his second wife in FLETCH. Oh, this is a prequel! And at the end of the series McDonald wrote FLETCH WON and FLETCH TOO - which start the series chronologically. Anyway, an extra sorting out this jigsaw would have been a great addition... but the extras don’t even mention the books.

Instead of any behind the scenes, instead of anything about the books, instead of anything about the director (who made some great stuff - and made Robert Redford into a big star), instead of anything that focuses on the very clever plotting of the story (from the book), we get a short about the extras producer and a bunch of random clips from the film.

Someone at Universal should lose their job over this.

All they had to do was call me, and I could have filled them in.

How does one get a job producing the extras for a DVD? What are the qualifications? What are the *responsibilities*? Do they realize how important this stuff is to the folks who buy DVDs? And - the most frightening question - do these guys think these cruddy DVD extras will lead them to a feature directing gig?

What are your favorite DVD extras... and your least favorites?

- Bill

12 comments:

Erik said...

Bah. One of the things I hated about the first couple of Harry Potter films is they ignored that the novels are mysteries, mysteries that pretty much play fair with the reader, with additional arcs that have clues scattered across all the novels. The story is the same, the characters are there, the tone is right... but that last little nugget gone.

I love the Lord of the Rings extras, for the special editions. Big, fat documentaries on the making of the films. Unfortunately, that pushes the funny stories from the actors a bit to the side. Sad, but that stuff is standard on most DVDs, so having a real thorough discussion of the filmmaking process is nice as a contrast.

Ian said...

Last I heard, Jason Lee was going to play Fletch, which could work really well, but that was some time ago. Billy Crudup isn't really a star, but he could be interesting in the role, too.

As for extras, I tend to stick with commentaries, and only those that actually tell me things (Criterion and Robert Rodriguez discs are both excellent at this).

Fun Joel said...

I was considering picking up that disc, so I'm glad you told me that the extras suck. That seems to be the case with a lot of old classic comedies. I've heard the same about the "Double Secret Probation Edition" of the Animal House DVD. Bummer.

I love the tremendous amount of extra footage from the This is Spinal Tap DVD, as well as the LONG improvised voiceover that the characters have over the main title menu of the DVD.

I'm also a huge fan of the mockumentary featurette on the sound design of the diarrhea sequence in Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle. Truly one of the funniest extras I have ever seen.

James Moran said...

That's a damn shame. I love the Fletch books, partly because they're a masterclass in wicked dialogue, partly because every time I went to the library there'd be one or two that I hadn't read. It seemed like there was a never ending supply of them.

Best extras for me are the documentary on The Thing, the Ridley Scott commentary on Alien, and the editing bit on Die Hard where you get to re-edit two scenes using their footage, and can see alternate takes of things like Takagi getting his head blown off. Very interesting.

Phill Barron said...

I thought Jason Lee was doing it too.

There's a letter at the back of one of Kevin Smith's comics, from Jason Lee, where the last line says:

"Wait, aren't we supposed to be shooting Fletch right about now?!"

Mind you, that was 2001 so it's probably been rewritten to make Fletch an animatronic spaniel by now.

Anonymous said...

My friend worked for a company that made DVD extras. He arranged interviews with stars and asked all the questions that were cut out of the final edit.

He was laid off not too long ago when his company closed his department. He and his buddy were thinking of starting their own company, but they're doing documentaries instead.

For me, I liked FLETCH, Chase or not. But then, I hadn't read the books.

-- Harry Connolly

wcmartell said...

I think Jason Lee was attached when Kevin Smith was directing. Now, somebody else is doing it.

I don't think Lee is anything like Fletch in the books... but I have no idea who is.

- Bill

Good Dog said...

Best DVD extras... most of the Ridley Scott films, most of which are produced by Charles de Lauzirika. On the four-disc Kingdom of Heaven, they actually start the documentary discussing Scott abandoned Tripoli film.

Scott also does great commentaries especially The Duellists and Legend. Basically, they're masterclasses in film making in your front room.

wcmartell said...

Steve Pink (GROSSE POINT BLANK) is directing with that Joshua Jackson kid from DAWSON'S CREEK as Fletch.

This is not a joke.

- Bill

Anonymous said...

SWORDFISH (awful movie) has a nonexistent spate of extras on the DVD. Zilch. Of course, with a movie that bad, who needs them?
-obidon

Ian said...

Oh, no, Bill, it's a joke, it's just not very funny. OTOH, at least it's not James Van Der Beek, Dawson himself.

The reason I thought Jason Lee would work is that he can play clever and intelligent believably. He might not be Fletch, but he's not an unreasonable choice. There is no William Powell today, alas.

WallFly said...

If Ryan Reynolds could ever deepen his acting skills and his understanding of Fletch "victimology," he would be an ideal candidate. He suffers from too much rehearsing. As an aside, I pegged Cary Elwes as the new Jacques Clouseau. Any thoughts on either of my assertions?

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