When I first started buying DVD’s (and now Blu-rays) I thought the idea of a writer or director talking over a movie would be annoying and stupid. Until I actually took the time to listen and realized they’re awesome, even becoming the deciding factor on if I want to buy the home version, or no, if it doesn’t have a commentary.
I enjoy them so much I’ve listened to certain films more than once, and usually put one on as background noise when I write from home. So because lists are great, and an easy way to get a post you’ve been putting off forever done, here are my favorite screenwriter-centric commentaries, in no particular order.
Note: these are based on my measly blu-ray collection, and what I like personally, so don’t get all up in arms because I didn’t mention your favorite.
Okay so it’s no longer a “complete” saga, as a Star Wars film is going to be released every year now until the end of time. But there was a time a few years ago when you could buy the entire set, and the commentaries on all the discs by George Lucas are packed with story and character information. Say what you will about Lucas and his constant retooling of the original films, these films are his babies so he knows them intimately. Lucas delves deep into the characters, their creation, the story, and a lot of other geek-formation (just made that word up) that makes film-nerds like me heads explode. Definitely recommend if you want to learn more about the world and characters of the most popular film franchise ever.
One of my most re-played sets, especially Alien, I’ve listened to the commentary with writer Dan O’Bannon (plus many others) more than once. It’s a jam packed track that also features Ridley Scott and Sigourney Weaver, and O’Bannon’s writing partner Ronald Shusett. Aliens also has a great commentary track with writer/director James Cameron, plus many from the cast and crew. The other two films have commentaries as well, but since they’re considered far inferior films I’m not going to bother mentioning them.
I’m not going to lie, I don’t even know if I’ve listened to all the commentaries on this massive set. You got three films, each over three hours long, each with FOUR commentaries, seriously you’d have to take an entire weekend to ingest the plethora of features on this incredible set. One of these commentaries features director/co-writer Peter Jackson along with co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. You’d think Jackson wouldn’t have the energy to do more LOTR related work after taking on (and totally NAILING) this legendary book series (with an equally legendary history of being impossible to adapt to the screen). But the track with just him and his two co-writers is packed to the brim with story details and behind-the-scenes anecdotes. Plus they go into great detail as to the what (and the why) behind what they adapted from each book, and why some parts are in other films in the trilogy and not the actual film that part of the book was adapted from. That makes sense right?
Let’s be honest, if they re-released every QT film tomorrow with a brand new commentary by him, I’d buy them all in a heart beat. It saddens me to my screenwriting core that Mr. Tarantino doesn’t feel the need to do commentaries. He co-commentated on the awesome From Dusk Til’ Dawn with co-director/pal Robert Rodriguez, then popped up again for like 5 minutes in Rodgriguez’s Sin City track. But the ONLY single commentary he’s ever done has been from True Romance, a film he only wrote and not directed. Why only this film? Maybe because it was his first script sale, maybe he was bored when they asked him, who knows. But it’s definitely worth a listen just to hear such an influential writer/director speak about his work as it plays out on screen. Is the best and most informative track out there? No, but it’s Tarantino, I’ll take whatever I can get.
I bought this particular set in 2008, and there’s been a bunch of re-releases since then, but I’m going to assume it has the same commentaries. There’s one with Ridley, of course, and one with the producers along with the writers Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples. It’s an enjoyable commentary to listen to just to hear the writers of such a beloved sci-fi classic bantering about who wrote what scene. If it wasn’t for Fancher, there’d be no Blade Runner, so hearing him talk about the tribulations it took to get this masterpiece made is a joy. Plus it’s worth re-visiting this film after the recent release of Blade Runner 2049.
“You’re not your fucking khakis” is one of my favorite film quotes, and the Fight Club blu-ray is one of my favorites. Not only does it look REALLY nice in hi-def, the disc comes with several commentary tracks. One of the reasons I love David Fincher is not only is he an excellent director, he really puts the effort into the features on his movies, especially the commentaries. And as far as I know the only film of his that doesn’t have a commentary is Alien 3, for obvious reasons. This single disc comes with FOUR, count ’em FOUR commentary’s, one with just Fincher, then Fincher’ with Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, another with the production crew, and then the real meat: a track featuring Fight Club book author Chuck Palinuk and screenwriter Jim Uhls. It’s not often you get the author of the original book and the screenwriter on the same track, so hearing them together makes it worth enough to take a listen.
This is from the 2007 4-Disc release, a really solid set that has a commentary for every film. Most notably is the commentary on “With A Vengeance” that has director John McTiernan and screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh, with McTiernan also commentating on Die Hard. Hearing Hensleigh talk about how Die Hard 3 started as a totally different story about a cop being sent all over New York at the command of a terrorist nut bag, then became what is was, is totally worth the listen.
De Niro and Scorcese in the ’70’s is just pure cinematic bliss. Taxi Driver is such a great,fuck-you-in-your-fucking-face flick, and is why I love Scorcese as a director. This set features three commentaries: one from the 1986 Criterion Laserdisc with Marty and writer Paul Schrader, one with University of Virginia film Professor Robert Kolker, and another with just Paul Schrader. So that’s TWO with the screenwriter, and one with a film school professor whose insights into the film are pretty much worth the price of admission alone, making this one of the most feature-packed single-disc sets I have in my whole collection.
Robert Towne‘s Chinatown is widely considered the best screenplays of all time, so it’s pretty awesome to hear him do a commentary about it. And it’s even more awesome to have David Fincher co-commentate, pelting Towne with question after question about the story and creation of the film. Fincher’s just a big a fan as any film school nerd, so having him on here along with the actual writer is a huge bonus, and makes it a pretty compelling listen.
Okay this one’s mainly here just because I love the film so much. The commentary with actor/writers Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn isn’t the most insightful ever, but it’s still a kick to listen to, plus director Doug Liman is on the other track and more than makes up for this tracks lack of information. It’s also great to hear Favreau talk about film in his pre-Marvel/blockbuster director days.
Okay folks, that wraps that up, thanks for reading. Hit those share buttons and spread some screenwriting love to your pals.