Sunday, January 06, 2008

People talking about movies

One of things I've decided I want to try to do this year -- which, I should point out, is completely different from resolving to do something -- is listen to more DVD commentary tracks.

I like movies. Particularly good movies. Which is to say, I like movies that I like. And liking movies, I tend to buy a fair number of DVDs. I don't have a ridiculous number of them, but I do have a collection that's growing just about every week. Because I like movies, and I like to add movies I like to my collection.

One of the things I like about DVDs are the special features. And the consistent special feature on DVDs that I think has the potential to be the most interesting is the commentary track. Listening to the director or the actor or the cinematographer or whoeverthefuck talk about the process of making the movie can help you learn about the process of making movies, as well as give you interesting (if useless) trivia about the movie in question.

The problem is, as a general rule, I never get around to listening to those commentary tracks. I buy the movie, I watch the movie, I check out the *rest* of the special features, then the movie goes on my shelf and sits there, usually until I bump into someone who hasn't seen it, then I can force them to watch it, because it's obviously an awesome movie if it's on my shelf.

But this year I want to try to change that. I want to try to listen to more commentary tracks. Specifically, I want to try to listen to one commentary track a week during the course of 2008.

I got this particular ball rolling tonight with the commentary track on David Fincher's "Zodiac" -- the 2-disc special edition of which I picked up on Friday. I'm a huge fan of David Fincher ("Fight Club" is probably the best film around about the 1990s) and I've had a perverse fascination with the Zodiac killer since I first stumbled upon the book in my adolescence, so the combination for this film was almost perfect.

I dragged my ass out to the theatre to see the movie in the summer, and wasn't disappointed in the slightest.

While the movie is a lot less visually flashy than some of Fincher's past pictures, it tells a fascinating story -- not as much a story about a killer as it is a story about the obsession of the people trying to solve the mystery -- with generally strong performances working with a generally solid script, shot beautifully by an always interesting director.

Loving the film, as well as the subject matter, I was quite eager to get a listen to the commentary track for the film. There were two to choose from -- one featuring just Fincher, and one featuring a collection of cast and crew members.

I'll admit, I have a bias for directors. They're the ones who put the movie together. They're the ones who really pour their blood, sweat and tears into a production to bring it to life. Not to discount the efforts of everyone else on the production, but let's face it, however good a job anyone else did, a movie still belongs to its director.

Unfortunately, I'm always wary of single-person commentaries. It's a lot easier to get a dialogue flowing about the movie with the help of one or two other people, than it is to provide a monologue.

To Fincher's credit, there are very few silent moments in the film, though the discussion isn't always as fascinating as you might hope. For my money, the most interesting parts where where he conceded the changes that were made to the true story in order to better serve the film they were trying to make -- the moments of artistic license. Knowing that the film took some flack from serious Zodiac experts / junkies, I was glad to see Fincher acknowledge these changes, accepting that a film is a film and sometimes you have to do what best suits the film, even if it perhaps dishonours the facts.

Which I think is an important consideration to make with this film -- and any other film that claims to be "based on true events."

The true events of any story will likely take place over the course of weeks or months or years. If you're planning to adapt those true events into a film, there is going to have to be some condensing going on, because you're going to have to cram those weeks or months or years into 120 minutes. That's not going to happen easily. And it's not going to happen without taking some liberties with those facts.

Occupational hazard.

Watching the film, and being at least loosely aware (having read the book a couple of times in the past) of the material it was based on, I can say that Fincher and co. did a fine job bringing the material to the screen. While they might have played loose with some of the details, when it was time to get the important stuff on the screen, they did a great job.

As for the commentary track, as much as it had the occasional moments of interest, it was generally a bit too dry for my taste. Anytime I feel like getting up in the middle of something to look for something to eat, or to check my email, you've lost me at least a little bit. And the Zodiac commentary lost me, at least a little bit.

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