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An audio commentary is an additional audio track, usually digital, consisting of a lecture or comments by one or more speakers, that plays in real time with a video. Commentaries can be serious or entertaining in nature, and can add information which otherwise would not be disclosed to audience members.
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The DVD medium allows multiple audio tracks for each video program. DVD players usually allow these to be selected by the viewer from the main menu of the DVD or using the remote. These tracks will contain dialogue and sound of the movie, often with alternative tracks featuring different language dialogue, or various types of audio encoding (such as Dolby Digital, DTS or PCM). Among them may be at least one commentary track.
There are several different types of commentary. The two main types simply define the length of the commentary rather than the type of content. They are:
Typically a commentary track will include feature-length commentary from the film's director, cast members, or occasionally writers and producers. Occasionally actors will perform commentary in-character. (In recording sessions with multiple speakers, a designated moderator may encourage the discussion flow.) Some DVDs include outsider commentary performed by film critics, historians, scholars or fans. In more elaborate productions, multiple speakers from various recording sessions may be edited together for a single audio program.
Some DVDs feature commentaries with on-screen video enhancements, such as telestrator prompts, (allowing the director or commentator to "draw" on the screen, pointing out specific details), or the Ghostbusters "video commentary", where one of the subtitle tracks is used to add silhouettes of the speakers in a manner where they seem to be in a theater commenting on the movie as it was screened for them in the style of Mystery Science Theater 3000 . Less common are actual video commentaries, showing the speakers as they are recording the commentary, requiring separate video tracks.
The value of audio commentaries as a marketing tool was revealed during the heyday of Laserdisc, the laser-based video format produced before the introduction of DVDs. The Criterion Collection company, for example, produced high-quality "deluxe" editions of classic films on Laserdisc, using the best available prints and re-edited versions. These were often very expensive compared to today's DVDs and included bonus material such as trailers, deleted scenes, production stills, behind-the-scenes information, and audio commentaries from the directors, producers, cast, cinematographers, editors, and production designers. They were marketed to movie professionals, fans and scholars who were seen as an elite niche of consumers who could afford to pay more for definitive, quality editions. The audio commentaries on laserdiscs were typically encoded on secondary analog tracks which had become redundant, as modern Laserdiscs had stereo audio encoded digitally alongside. This is why certain older videodisc players, which pre-date the digital audio standard, are only able to play back analog tracks with audio commentary.
The first audio commentary was featured on the Criterion Collection release of the original King Kong film, on laserdisc in December 1984.It featured film historian Ronald Haver and his first words were:
Hello, ladies and gentlemen, I'm Ronald Haver, and I'm here to do something which we feel is rather unique. I'm going to take you on a lecture tour of King Kong as you watch the film. The laserdisc technology offers us this opportunity and we feel it's rather unique — the ability to switch back and forth between the soundtrack and this lecture track...
The idea for the commentary track arose in the film-to-tape transfer room when laserdisc producers, Peter Crown and Jennifer Scanlin of Romulus Productions, Inc., thrilled by Haver's incredible commentary, suggested to Bob Stein and Roger Smith that this material needed to be included on the disc. They played back the completed movie as Ron watched and ad libbed his comments.
The decline of the Laserdisc format and the increasing popularity of DVD was highlighted in the fall of 1997, when simultaneous Laserdisc and DVD editions of the movie Contact were released. The former contained one bonus audio commentary track by director Robert Zemeckis, and producer Steve Starkey. However, the DVD contained two additional, separate audio commentaries (by Jodie Foster and the special effects producers), as well as other bonus features. Despite its history with laserdiscs, the idea of audio commentary was still such an uncommon notion that, in its January 1998 review of the Contact DVD, Entertainment Weekly scoffed, "Who in the universe would want to journey through more than eight hours of gassy, how-we-filmed-the-nebulae trivia included in this "Special Edition" disc? Meant to show off DVD's enormous storage capacity, it only demonstrates its capacity to accommodate mountains of filler."
In general, directors are open to recording commentary tracks, as many feel it can be helpful to young filmmakers, or they simply want to explain their intention in making the film. Eli Roth, for example, specifically states on the producer's commentary track for The Last Exorcism, that he and the other filmmakers will offer advice to people interested in making films, as well as film school students. He is a strong proponent of the educational use of audio commentary, having recorded five commentary tracks for his debut, Cabin Fever . He also recorded insightful commentary tracks, with Quentin Tarantino, for both Hostel films, in which the two horror movie fans share film-making anecdotes and offer advice on working in the movie business. Meanwhile, others (such as Steven Spielberg, Joe Johnston, Clint Eastwood, M. Night Shyamalan & David Lynch) feel commentary can de-mystify and cheapen a movie. Director Steven Spielberg has not recorded commentary tracks for any of his films. He feels that the experience of watching a film with anything other than his intended soundtrack detracts from what he has created. Woody Allen has a similar lack of enthusiasm for commentaries, stating, "I'm not interested in all that extra stuff. [...] I want my films to speak for themselves. And hopefully they do." [ citation needed ]Similarity, some of Joe Johnston's movies handled commentary by the special effects team (like Jurassic Park III and Jumanji), and by the author (October Sky). The only exception to this rule was Captain America: The First Avenger.
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A number of films and music videos released today feature audio commentaries. While many of them will not hold the interest of the casual viewer, specific releases stand out, mainly those with elements of historical interest or subject-specific information from expert advisors. For example, the inventor of the steadicam, featured throughout the audio commentary track for The Shining , discusses his work with the ground-breaking technology in several films leading up to that landmark production. Non-movie buffs may be interested in the anecdotes offered by advisors to the filmmakers, such as the FBI profiler commenting on The Silence of the Lambs (Criterion DVD release). Filmmakers and cast may reveal stories from behind the scenes, explain the process involved in their work, or simply offer additional laughs.
Kevin Smith coined the idea of in-theater audio commentary, going to see a movie at the theater, and after having downloaded onto one's iPod a podcast of an audio commentary, returning to the theater a second time to watch the movie while listening to the commentary at the same time. As of right now, a few films have attempted to utilize this idea, including Smith's Clerks II , The Nines by writer/director John August, and Rian Johnson's The Brothers Bloom , Looper and Knives Out . August's blog lists "rules and guidelines" for how to use in-theater commentary.
Kevin Smith first recorded a commentary track for Clerks II around May 2006 a few months before its theatrical release that was to be downloaded through iTunes and listened to in the theaters, which was meant to appeal primarily to Smith's hardcore DVD-purchasing fan base.Theater owners, however, felt that allowing people to bring outside devices would be distracting and disrupting to other audience members. The commentary track was not released for download while the movie was in theaters and was instead included on the 2-disc Clerks II DVD. The commentary track features Kevin Smith along with producer Scott Mosier and actor, Jeff Anderson.
An audio commentary track for The Nines featuring John August along with actor Ryan Reynolds was posted in m4a and mp3 formats onto August's blog. This film had a considerably more limited release than Clerks II , featured in only 5 theaters in the U.S.
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Originally inspired by a column by Roger Ebert,a small but active fan base of DVD commentary enthusiasts has sprung up since 2002 offering their own specially-recorded fan-made DVD commentaries. These tracks (usually made available in MP3 format) allow the fans to put forth their own opinions and expertise on a movie or TV series in much the same way as an on-disc commentary. These commentary tracks are played by starting a DVD player with the movie and an MP3 player with the track simultaneously. A substantial community of fan commentators exists, creating many hundreds of downloadable tracks available on the Web.
The idea of downloadable commentary tracks has since been co-opted by TV show creators themselves, as creators of TV shows such as the 2004 Battlestar Galactica , Star Trek: Enterprise , and the Doctor Who revival have recorded downloadable commentary tracks meant to be watched along with the episodes as recorded from TV.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 head writer and on-screen host Michael J. Nelson has started his own website to sell downloadable commentaries called RiffTrax. He also regularly commentates on the public domain films that colorizing company Legend Films releases on DVD, including Night of the Living Dead and Reefer Madness .
The Audio Commentary has been a subject of discussion among filmmakers. Many directors see them as an unnecessary bonus feature, while others record "fake" commentaries, which may contain false information or inside jokes. Other filmmakers have parodied the commentary concept, as the following examples demonstrate.
Some film companies transfer the audio commentary of the laserdisc release of a film on to the DVD rather than creating a new one. For example, El Mariachi Special Edition, Total Recall Special Edition, Spaceballs and A Nightmare on Elm Street all contain the commentary from the laserdisc release. This may be for financial reasons, depending on whether the rights to the original commentary are cheaper to use than recording a new one (a company releasing a film on DVD today may not be the same company who released it on laserdisc); or it could simply be that the original commentary does its job well without the need for an update. Contrastingly, some DVDs do not have a commentary even though the laserdisc release did (for example, Taxi Driver ). This may be because the parties involved have not reached a publication agreement.
The audio commentaries of The Criterion Collection are often considered some of the finest and most informative commentaries ever made, and the Laserdisc releases of classic films can be highly priced because Criterion generally did not license their commentaries for use on later DVDs when the rights to films they have release revert to the studio, including the aforementioned Taxi Driver. But commentaries like that now appear on the Blu-ray versions of films. Other notables include the commentary for The Silence of the Lambs (featuring stars Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, along with director Jonathan Demme) and Terry Gilliam's tracks for The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and The Fisher King . In addition, the fact that Criterion have been commissioning commentaries since 1984 means that commentaries exist by film makers who died before the advent of DVD, such as Michael Powell.
Some commentaries that were issued on Laserdisc have not been reissued or replaced on DVD. Sometimes this is because there was a deluxe LD edition while there has only been a bare bones release on DVD, for example The Fisher King .
In the case of the first three James Bond movies, Dr. No , From Russia with Love , and Goldfinger , the commentary was once released on LaserDisc but quickly judged inappropriate, never to return (new commentary tracks are on the DVD editions). The commentaries are available to download at The 007 Dossier.
Some video games, such as the episodic sequels to Half-Life 2 and Tomb Raider: Anniversary , have experimented with audio commentaries. Unlike DVD commentaries, the systems used for video games do not use a predetermined continuous flow of speech, because the events of a game depend on the player's actions. Instead, in-game prompts are used to allow players to activate a relevant audio commentary for a specific area. The camera and action may also be altered to more readily showcase the developer's comments.
The Breakfast Club is a 1985 American teen coming-of-age comedy-drama film written, produced, and directed by John Hughes. It stars Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy as teenagers from different high school cliques who spend a Saturday in detention with their authoritarian assistant principal.
The Princess Bride is a 1987 American fantasy adventure comedy film directed and co-produced by Rob Reiner, starring Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Wallace Shawn, André the Giant, and Christopher Guest. Adapted by William Goldman from his 1973 novel The Princess Bride, it tells the story of a farmhand named Westley, accompanied by companions befriended along the way, who must rescue his true love Princess Buttercup from the odious Prince Humperdinck. The film essentially preserves the novel's narrative style by presenting the story as a book being read by a grandfather to his sick grandson.
Five Easy Pieces is a 1970 American drama film directed by Bob Rafelson, written by Carole Eastman and Rafelson, and starring Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, Susan Anspach, Lois Smith, and Ralph Waite. The film tells the story of surly oil rig worker Bobby Dupea, whose rootless blue-collar existence belies his privileged youth as a piano prodigy. When Bobby learns that his father is dying, he travels to his family home in Washington to visit him, taking along his uncouth girlfriend.
This Is Spinal Tap is a 1984 American mockumentary film co-written and directed by Rob Reiner in his directorial debut. It stars Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer as members of the fictional English heavy metal band Spinal Tap, and Reiner as Martin "Marty" Di Bergi, a documentary filmmaker who follows them on their American tour. The film satirizes the behavior and musical pretensions of rock bands and the hagiographic tendencies of rock documentaries such as The Song Remains the Same (1976), and The Last Waltz (1978) and follows the similar All You Need Is Cash (1978) by The Rutles. Most of its dialogue was improvised and dozens of hours were filmed. It produced the 1984 soundtrack album of the same name.
Dazed and Confused is a 1993 American coming-of-age comedy film written and directed by Richard Linklater. The film features a large ensemble cast of actors who would later become stars, including Jason London, Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, Cole Hauser, Parker Posey, Adam Goldberg, Matthew McConaughey, Nicky Katt, Joey Lauren Adams and Rory Cochrane. The plot follows different groups of Texas teenagers during the last day of school in 1976.
Breaking the Waves is a 1996 drama film directed and co-written by Lars von Trier and starring Emily Watson. Set in the Scottish Highlands in the early 1970s, it is about an unusual young woman and of the love she has for her husband, who asks her to have sex with other men when he becomes immobilized from a work accident. The film is an international co-production led by von Trier's Danish company Zentropa. It is the first film in Trier's Golden Heart Trilogy, which also includes The Idiots (1998) and Dancer in the Dark (2000).
Red vs. Blue, often abbreviated as RvB, is an American comic science fiction web series created by Burnie Burns with his production company Rooster Teeth. The show is based on the setting of the military science fiction first-person shooter series and media franchise Halo. It is distributed through Rooster Teeth's website, as well as on DVD, Blu-ray, and formerly on the El Rey Network and Netflix. The series initially centers on two opposing teams of soldiers fighting an ostensible civil war—shown in increments to actually be a live fire exercise for elite soldiers—in the middle of Blood Gulch, a desolate box canyon, in a parody of first-person shooter video games, military life, and science fiction films. Initially intended to be a short series of six to eight episodes, the project quickly and unexpectedly achieved significant popularity following its premiere on April 1, 2003. The series consists of eighteen seasons and five mini-series. Red vs. Blue is the longest running episodic web series and the third longest running animated webseries of all time, behind Homestar Runner and Neurotically Yours.
Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters is a 1985 American biographical drama film co-written and directed by Paul Schrader. The film is based on the life and work of Japanese writer Yukio Mishima, interweaving episodes from his life with dramatizations of segments from his books The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kyoko's House, and Runaway Horses. Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas were executive producers of the film.
Drawn Together is an American adult animated television sitcom created by Dave Jeser and Matt Silverstein and premiered on Comedy Central on October 27, 2004. The series is a parody of The Real World and follows the misadventures of the housemates in the fictional show of the same name and uses a sitcom format with a reality TV show setting.
The Criterion Collection, Inc. is an American home video distribution company that focuses on licensing "important classic and contemporary films". Criterion serves film and media scholars, cinephiles, as well as public and academic libraries. Criterion has helped to standardize characteristics of home video such as film restoration, using the Letterboxing format for widescreen films, and adding bonus features as well as scholarly essays and commentary tracks. Criterion has produced and distributed more than 1,000 special editions of its films in VHS, Betamax, LaserDisc, DVD, and Blu-ray formats and box sets. These films and their special features are also available via an online streaming service that the company operates.
True Stories is a 1986 American musical satirical comedy film directed by David Byrne, who stars alongside John Goodman, Swoosie Kurtz, and Spalding Gray. The majority of the film's music is supplied by Talking Heads. A soundtrack album, titled Sounds from True Stories, featured songs by Byrne, Talking Heads, Terry Allen & The Panhandle Mystery Band, and others. Around the same time, Talking Heads released an album titled True Stories, composed of studio recordings of songs featured in the film.
The End of Evangelion is a 1997 Japanese animated psychological science fiction film written and co-directed by Hideaki Anno and animated by Gainax and Production I.G. It serves as a parallel ending to the Neon Genesis Evangelion television series, in which teenage Shinji Ikari pilots Evangelion Unit 01, one of several giant humanoid mechas designed to defend against the hostile supernatural entities called Angels. The film picks up where the television show's 24th episode ended, and the cause of the events depicted in the show's episodes 25 and 26 occurs in the middle.
Two-Lane Blacktop is a 1971 American road movie directed by Monte Hellman, written by Rudy Wurlitzer and starring songwriter James Taylor, the Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson, Warren Oates, and Laurie Bird.
Action International Pictures (AIP), also known as West Side Studios, is a film production and distribution company founded in 1986. AIP was founded by David Winters, David A. Prior and Peter Yuval. It also provided video distribution for many international films. Winters bought out his partners in 1992.
Fishing with John is a 1991 television series conceived, directed by and starring actor and musician John Lurie, which earned a cult following. On the surface, the series resembles a standard travel or fishing show: in each episode, Lurie takes a famous guest on a fishing expedition. Since Lurie has no expert knowledge of fishing, the interest is in the interaction between Lurie and his guests, all of whom are his friends. Nothing particularly unusual actually happens, but the show is edited and narrated in a way to suggest that Lurie and his guest are involved in dramatic and even supernatural adventures.
RiffTrax is an American company that produces scripted humorous audio commentary tracks intended to be played in unison with particular television programs and films, featuring comedians Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett and others. The three comedians' commentating style originated from their earlier television series, Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K), in which they would similarly mock films aloud while watching them. RiffTrax products are sold online and delivered by app, streaming video, and DRM-free download. It is also featured on Pluto TV, Twitch, and a channel on Samsung TV.
Star! is a 1968 American biographical musical film directed by Robert Wise and starring Julie Andrews. The screenplay by William Fairchild is based on the life and career of British performer Gertrude Lawrence.
Stuart Eugene Galbraith IV is an American film historian, film critic, essayist, and audio commentator.
Incognito Cinema Warriors XP is a post-apocalyptic zombie comedy DVD and web series created by Rikk Wolf and produced by Agonywolf Media. The show premiered on Myspace and was meant to be a one-time homage to Mystery Science Theater 3000, but after Wolf was contacted by the producers of RiffTrax to participate in the launch of their new site iRiffs, he decided to produce more episodes. The first season of the show follows the same "host segment-movie segment" format that MST3K established, while featuring completely original characters and plot. The second season is more plot-driven and riffs short films as opposed to full-length movies.