Article II on Audio Commentaries

It has been some time since I first ventured forth on this subject and since then a lot more audio commentaries have been listened to and thought about.

Which makes it high time that this topic is re-opened and discussed once more.

In the previous article, I made my own definition of this special feature, and listed, from the least to best favourite, a top eleven. Here, I will go further and outline what defines a great commentary.

First off, number of people on the commentary itself. Here's the thing, a single comedian can keep a collective audience entertained for a good hour, telling jokes and stories and generally being, well, entertaining.
Unfortunately, the same principle doesn't really apply here. I have listened to many commentaries, since before this article and the first, and no, despite being the producer, director whatever title you have, if you are the only person to speak on a commentary, it becomes pretty boring very quickly for the poor soul listening, without one other person on the commentary to bounce off on.

Sorry.

It takes many people to make a great film, and the commentary should reflect that, if its made.

That said, the same thing can be said for too many people. The Boat That Rocked was the first I've heard to push the limits on this one, it was entertaining, don't get me wrong, but it should also serve as a cautionary tale to those who take five or more into the recording booth or however its done.
There was a producer, on the commentary, but you had to listen, she manages to get maybe a few words in edgeways before the others get the proverbial mike back for the next half hour.

Hot Fuzz has three commentaries, all with a large group of people participating on two, but I doubt I'll be listening to them all. It gets tiring after a while, listening to a lot of people jostling for air time and there are better ones out there.

So, first rule. At least two people. I known movie and TV series making people are all very busy, the commentaries on Newsroom and The Social Network were phoned in, I'm sure others are, but still. Two people. At least. Cannot stress that enough. The Edge of Love manages perfectly. And while you're putting the list together, put a limit on there. You don't need everyone, however tempting that might be. Five is plenty. Six is pushing it.

Next rule. The crew might be interesting and have their own stories to tell about the making of the film or series, but unfortunately, when they come on to tell us this on the commentary, it becomes a one sided affair and that is not something I, or others, would want to listen to.

Case in point, Snow White and the Huntsman.
Interesting titles, director, cinematographer, director of photography, but put them in front of a mike and you find yourself reaching for a book. (Or just watch the movie without it) Again, sorry, you made a great film and you want to tell us all about it while its being played. Fine. Put on at least one, actor, supporting or main, it doesn't matter which, and the commentary is saved. And it becomes a two parter, so the listener can appreciate what it was like for those behind and in front of the camera.

That said, just cast has worked too, Van Helsing is a great example. Pirates of the Caribbean Curse of the Black Pearl is another. But I wouldn't recommend that as a general rule either, just to be fair.

(Exception to the rule - Top Gear specials. I'm not sure how, but it works)

So, again apologies to those who have made commentaries that broke the above rules, its not your fault. Not completely. On the plus side, this is what limited edition releases are for.

To those who are about to venture forth and start listening to these commentaries, well done.
It can be a treacherous minefield at times, but well worth the rewards.
Of which there are many.

Not least of which, you're entertained and you have a funny story next time you're discussing the film or filmmaking in general with friends.

A final piece of advice, from experience, the most entertaining commentaries I've heard thus far, are generally made by either British or Australian film and television makers. Not sure why. Just manages to happen that way.

Comments

  1. This quote comes from a film where the commentary, at first glance, appears to be ticking all the boxes. Two people, one is the director, the other main actress. Unfortunately, as is the wont with most commentaries made on the other side of the atlantic, compliments fly thick and fast, not that there is anything wrong with that, it just gets a bit tiring.

    A bit too quickly.

    Anyway, rant over. Here is the quote.

    “Sidda: [about Vivi] I am sick of fighting! And, I am sick to death of this whole centre of the universe, holier than thou, nothing is ever enough. Oh, how I've suffered, nobody understands me. Somebody fix me a drink and hand me a Nebutol, worn out Scarlett O'Hara... thang!
    Caro: Well, she's got her pegged, all right.”

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