Over the last few weeks, I've been listening to Francis Ford Coppola's commentaries on the Godfather films, and it's made me do some thinking. For me, I usually listen to commentary tracks while I have to do other things like cook, bottle my beer, rearrange my comics, sacrifice a heifer to Poseidon, etcetera. This is because, generally speaking, when I have time to sit down for a movie, then I just want to watch the movie and not listen to somebody talking over it. With that said though, there are a lot of movies where I look forward to listening to the commentaries when I buy the movie, just as there are movies where I wish that there were some commentaries, as I'd imagine they'd be interesting (Nolan's Batman movies, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, and many of Spielberg's movies, to name a few).
So, I started to wonder about this particular feature, and the first thing that I wonder is who exactly even listens to them in the first place? I think that the group with the highest percentage would no doubt be film students, as they often give a lot of key insights as to how the films were made. Next up would probably be directors, actors, etcetera, and after that you'd have your film buffs. While I'm not knowledgeable enough about movies to call myself a flim buff, I probably fall a couple of rungs below that, so that's why I do sometimes listen to them.
What else then? I can see some of my friends listening to them, but I have other friends where I can't even see that occuring to them. I don't see anybody in my immediate family doing it, as some of my family members have almost proudly claimed that they're only interested in watching a movie once. (I've blogged about this before - that's like saying you only want to look at the Sistine Chapel once, as though you'll get all that you can out of it on the first viewing.)
I also started thinking about which commentaries I thought were the best. After all, there have been a few where I simply didn't bother listening to all of it, as it got pretty tedious. For some movies, I couldn't get into it because it was all too technical (300, for instance), but I imagine that might really interest some people. Other ones I couldn't stand because it was just the director pointing out what was on the screen. (Shumacher's Batman movies spring to mind, which were also bad because they were just full of all sorts of crap about how wonderful so and so was and all sorts of other Hollywood B.S. At least with those though, it was nice to hear him apologize for Batman and Robin.)
My favorites are generally the ones where the director and/or actors go into the process of making the film - not so much from a technical standpoint, but from a creative angle. For instance, I like to hear about how the story was shaped and why certain decisions were made. (This made me appreciate Burton's Batman films more, as I still disagreed with some of his choices, at least he had a pretty good reason for why he did them.) I also like to hear from the actors when they talk about what they had to go through to prepare for a role.
Off the top of my head, the commentaries that I've enjoyed the most have included all of George Lucas' Star Wars ones, the few that I've heard from Martin Scorsese (I'd love to just talk movies with that guy - I'd learn so much, no doubt), the Donner's track on Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, and every commentary by Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Blade II). Oh, and of course you can't leave out Roger Ebert's great commentaries on Citizen Kane and Casablanca.
I also have to say that a lot of comedies have some great commentary tracks - not so much because they're informative, but because they're amusing on their own. Basically, any Kevin Smith movie's commentary is usually fun. Also, the one on Forgetting Sarah Marshall was amusing and fact-filled. I imagine that all of the Judd Apatow films are the same, and I'm going to have to check out those commentaries, as I own pretty much all of them. And lastly, one of my favorite tracks is the one on This is Spinal Tap, as the three principal actors do the entire thing completely in-character. (Speaking of which, Robert Downey Jr. does a great one for Tropic Thunder where he does it in the character of his character, and then he simply reverts to his character, and then he finally goes to himself. So, the majority of the film is him as an African American, and then from there he's an Australian, but then he finally just plays himself.)
And all of THIS makes me wonder if cheesy romantic comedies like 27 Dresses, Bride Wars, and stuff even have commentaries. I can't imagine that the people who'd buy those films really get into how films are made. A friend of mine once wondered about the guys who direct those films. Is that really the kind of stuff that they dreamed of directing when they were young? Were they inspired by the insipid romantic comedies of their youth? I mean, I definitely believe that there are kids who are inspired by the crap that hacks like Michael Bay makes (does he do commentaries? Does he ever explain why he's such a douche?) but for some reason, I just don't see those kinds of things as being what young directors are just dying to make. I could very well be wrong.
Who knows, maybe those directors do commentaries so they can discuss why their movie is such a piece of drivel. After all, that's what you get when you listen to Superman IV's track, which is almost worth the rental.