Friday, December 13, 2013

The Bloat of DVD Extras

I was once addicted to DVD extras, but that was a long time ago.  I am no longer interested in the director commentaries and the "Making of" documentaries.  It was the beginning of the end when I watched the DVD extras for Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes (2001).  This ultimate collector's edition provided 13 hours of extras, but that included an hour-long documentary to show how stunt men were trained to walk like apes.  I'm thinking, why am I watching this?  It’s not entertainment.  It’s not educational.  Will it better my life if I know how to hunch over and walk bowlegged like a gorilla?  If I were to walk like that in public, people would do whatever it takes to avoid me. 

Burton provided the DVD with a director commentary track, which was mostly about how uncomfortable he was recording a director commentary track.  A movie was what it was, he said, and it either did or it didn't communicate what it was supposed to communicate.  It was left to the viewer to experience a film from their own personal perspective.  He didn’t want to impose his ideas on viewers and interfere with their interpretation of the story or characters.  But the problem is that I don’t listen to a director’s commentary for a director to be considerate of my personal perspective and keep his mouth clamped perfectly shut. 

I must admit, though, that Burton did give me a good laugh when he discussed his phobia of chimpanzees. He said that, unlike orangutans or gorillas, chimpanzees are capable of “psycho” behavior.  He was especially disturbed that chimps have been known to get their buddies together to beat another chimp to death.  The jungle, he insisted, must have its share of chimpanzee serial killers.

I’ve heard before about chimpanzees being testy.  They were always having trouble with chimps while they were making the old Tarzan movies.  Lex Barker, the official Tarzan from 1949 to 1952, once had a chimp bite him in the face for no apparent reason.  This was no nip.  The poor guy had to have half his face stitched up.  And it makes it worse that it was a young chimp that did the nasty deed.  A fully grown adult chimp would have probably tore Barker's head off his shoulders.

Tarzan and Cheetah estranged.
Burton’s phobia had an impact on the movie.  The script identified the scary main villain, General Thade, as a gorilla.  But Burton knew that was not authentic and he changed the character to a chimpanzee.  The director couldn't have enjoyed the fact that he needed to use actual chimps for several scenes.  On the set, he observed the complex social interaction the chimps had with trainers and actors.  It unnerved him how the chimps liked to pry open people’s mouths and look inside.  He had General Thade do that in the movie.  It became one of the movie’s stronger moments.  That scene had personal meaning for Burton, which is the reason that it worked.  I don’t think enough of the movie had meaning for him.  It was, when all was said and done, an impersonal big-budget claptrap.  For a Planet of the Apes geek like me, the film was a big disappointment.

As much as I liked Burton's remarks on chimps, it wasn't enough to make these DVD extras worthwhile.

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