Joke vs. reality! (an oblique review) will release on October 30, 2007 a new DVD set in the United States featuring serveral hours of new bonus material.
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Joke vs. reality! (an oblique review)

Post by Greybird » Nov 3rd 2007, 5:54 am

Sooo ... four and a half years ago, Sascha did an April Fool's Day number on us. At the moment, and against my grain as to practical jokes, I'll take it seriously here for a while.

Whether you liked it or not, it's intriguing — and an oblique route to a semi-review of sorts — to look back on this "inside information" fantasy. And to gauge how Sascha's ultimate wish list matches up — or doesn't — with the new, stunning reality of this second DVD release.

Where this far exceeds what was envisioned, obviously, is with the printed book. Its essays are wholly pertinent and pleasantly provocative (from even the portions I've read thus far). The episode guide with credits is needed and helpful, even with its ransom-note typography. And the color photography is stunning.

As to the parts of the original "joke":

~ 6 discs with all 19 episodes in a special collectors' box set.

Yes, with its being an adeptly custom-made box for the six discs and book.

~ Remastered video from the original master tapes.

Well, from what I've sampled, it's better video, apparently from clearer source material. (Many will elaborate on this later, I'm sure.)

The "original master tapes" are a misnomer, as this series was filmed. The pilot episode's current best original is itself a dupe, or has simply suffered from handling, from several reports. It's better this time, but will never get back the color balance evident in what was used for the intros to episodes 2-14 and 16-19. I'd say "remastering" is itself a bit too much to expect.

~ Interviews with cast and crew (not the interviews Dan did for AU) — Tom Irwin, Devon Gummersall, A.J. Langer, Devon Odessa, Wilson Cruz, and Claire Danes (!) are confirmed so far, only Jared Leto and Bess Armstrong declined. [...]

Newly recorded, absolutely. All those first listed above participate, as well as Bess Armstrong (with enthusiasm), Lisa Wilhoit, Paul Dooley, several of the episode directors, Winnie Holzman (both taking part and conducting two interviews), Jason Katims, Ed Zwick, and Marshall Herskovitz. Leto's absence is the only significant one — and we don't know if he "declined" or simply couldn't work his presence around his band's schedule.

Danes is present throughout, with three elements focused on her: a Holzman interview, a profile devoted to Angela, and a separate interview about her career and motivations. (The original "!" was clearly meant in Joyner-resonant irony. I'd say her current presence warrants a wholly un-ironic "!!!", at least.)

To me, this prediction is extremely overfulfilled.

~ Commentary tracks for the pilot episode and episodes 11 ("Life of Brian") and 19 ("In Dreams...") with Winnie Holzman, Ed Zwick, and Devon Gummersall, and for 14 ("On the Wagon") with Holzman, Herskovitz, Langer, and Cruz.

The pilot gets Herskovitz, Holzman, and director Scott Winant. "Brian" gets Gummersall, writer Jason Katims, and director Todd Holland.

"Wagon" and "Dreams" are bypassed, but instead, "Other People's Mothers" gets Armstrong and director Claudia Weill; "Self-Esteem" gets Danes and Holzman; "So-Called Angels" gets Cruz, Holzman, and director Winant; and "Weekend" gets Armstrong, Wilhoit, and writer Adam Dooley.

I'd say this is UTTERLY and ABSOLUTELY overfulfilled.

Featurettes (predictions fulfilled):

~ "The Casting": Covered thoroughly in nearly an hour about "The Characters," via three such pieces, with further notes in "MSCL Story."
~ "The Girl With the Red Hairs" (14 minutes): One of "The Characters" is 15+ minutes about Angela, nearly all with Danes, but with many others included.
~ "Making Of" (featuring previously unseen scenes) (76 minutes): Over 45 minutes devoted to this, between "MSCL Story" and the Herskovitz interview. No unseen or deleted scenes — but these also would have required mastering and tweaking, to get them up to DVD quality, so they weren't very realistic, though not impossible.
~ "I Call Her Red - The Music of Snuffy Walden" (14 minutes): Yes, and at almost exactly this length, and with Walden. (Not seen yet.)
~ "The Search for a Timeslot": Covered in general terms by "MSCL Story."
~ "Life After LIFE?" (25 minutes, Winnie Holzman talks about her old plans for season two): In the 40-page book and in her interviews.
~ "Timeless Teenage Angst": The "Characters" features cover this fully, with many other thoughts from the creators in "MSCL Story."

Featurettes (predictions not fulfilled):

~ "Once Again Thirtysomething — The Bedford Falls Team": Never realistic for such a set. It's being bought for information about the show, primarily, and the creators' contexts and track records aren't really relevant — beyond how they brought the creators to this project.
~ "What Are They [the cast?] Doing Now?": Again, not really relevant to this series. What connections the cast and creators have amongst themselves, though, is another story, and they're repeatedly mentioned and at length. Danes also does a seperate retrospective on her career and motivations.
~ "My So-Called Reunion": If this is about a "return to" movie, it falls into the category of sheer speculation, and, yet again, isn't relevant to what was presented originally.
~ "Operation Life Support" (56 minutes, with excerpts from E! Television, MTV, ABC and interviews with Steve Joyner and former ABC CEOs Ted Herbert and Stu Bloomberg) ... always a dream, fellas. The clearances would never happen.

Including those last two names was always too twisted for this reality. Time heals most wounds, but to have Harbert discussing what he did admit, in print, was his biggest professional gaffe? Eh, nope.

And at least this time, we have a book. I'll leave it at that. (Except to note that I said that time heals most wounds. *sigh*)

All the predictions about such features that made sense came true, and all those that didn't have such sense did not, from where I sit. Deleted scenes were always technically questionable, aside from archiving problems.

~ Interactive features: Shooting scripts, Easter eggs, fanlisting

Scripts were never very realistic, with so much of the production turning on last-minute changes or serendipity (as the features note). Besides, short of a Woody Allen and his built-in audience (and ego), these rarely make it to other media. Easter eggs were always a gimmick, and a "fanlisting" would've opened up endless vistas of liability and privacy issues.

I would say these never made a lot of sense, and to me, they aren't really missed.

~ Trailers: More than 14 trailers from ABC, MTV and FOX Family

If Harbert wouldn't admit his gaffe on video, ABC's marketing archives were unlikely to confess (by implication) that department's incompetence. Any other such elements were too inconsequential.

The exceptions, perhaps, are the cast appearances in promo spots for MTV that ran in March and April 1995. Those, though, would have had to be cleared by the prickly pears at Viacom. (See "Daria" ... er, no, we can't see "Daria," and probably never will, if MTV has its way.) Would they do so readily for a Disney-controlled project? No way.

Always unlikely in the extreme, mostly from corporate shame or non-cooperation.

~ A recording of the MSCL session at the Museum of Radio and TV in 1995 (around 60 minutes)

Now, THIS they did succeed in getting, about 35 minutes of it. (I haven't seen this yet, but I'm sure the essentials are included. Such panels do benefit from judicious editing.) Check this off, I'd say.

~ 32 minutes of deleted scenes and over 60 minutes of so-called "dailies" (stuff that was taped, but not used or reshot later)

As noted above, not technically realistic, with much of this never having been put on video masters in the first place, let alone being available for re-mastering.

Also, even with feature films, it's rare for more than 8 to 10 minutes of such material to be included. Few are fanboyish (the adjective is male) enough to demand more, and most viewers would be bored with much more.

~ DVD-ROM section: All shooting scripts including all revisions, interactive feature "The History of MSCL" with hundreds of previously unpublished images.

These features have very much fallen out of favor, in the years since Sascha's Witz came across to stir us up. Mostly, I surmise, from their requiring additional software to be installed on a Windows PC. (Macs and Linux boxes were routinely out of this picture.) Especially after Sony played with infected CDs, users became wary, and I don't blame them.

Scripts are mentioned above. (Revisions? No writers bare their souls that much, not while they're alive.) The new release's photo gallery, which I haven't fully viewed, has dozens of unpublished — or, at least, notably under-used — images.

~ We're currently negotiating with some of the fanfiction authors and Bedford Falls to include a "Best of FanFiction" on the DVD. [...]

Nice dream, but short of a Disney-vetted book akin to what Paramount did with Star Trek: The New Voyages, not possible without giving armies of lawyers convulsions.

~ Subtitles: English, Spanish, French (German is not confirmed yet)

This, unfortunately, is a small step back: The sole set of English subtitles on the first release was not reused, nor replaced, on this one. It's a "small" step because those subtitles were, at least to me, only fair to poor, leaving out too much dialogue and constantly spelling out contractions.

~ Audio: English in Dolby Stereo 2.0 (not 4.1), Spanish (2.0), French (2.0)

Dolby 5.1 (a notably better mix) and 2.0, but only in English.

~ Suggested Retail Price: US $68

About the same nominal price, but more of a bargain, after nearly five years of inflation.

... So what's the score? About what I would have hoped: In everything that was feasible or realistic, it far exceeds even the "joke" expectations.

That was more than we had any right to expect. I'd say any griping about Shout! Factory — if any of us here were brazen enough to do it — is far, FAR out of bounds. And great gratitude is in order!
Greybird of Starhaven
"MSCL" crazy since March 1995

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Post by Greybird » Nov 3rd 2007, 7:13 am

In the interest of further oblique-itude {g} ... I thought I'd scan in the label, on the outer wrap of the Shout! Factory package, before discarding it. (2.00 x 1.75 inches.)

Such ephemera aren't always documented, and perhaps they should be. They point out what elements were seen as being most important for grabbing a current audience, and potential buyers, in the video stores.

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Post by scjoyner » Nov 3rd 2007, 6:42 pm

Greybird wrote:In the interest of further oblique-itude {g} ... I thought I'd scan in the label, on the outer wrap of the Shout! Factory package, before discarding it. (2.00 x 1.75 inches.)

Such ephemera aren't always documented, and perhaps they should be. They point out what elements were seen as being most important for grabbing a current audience, and potential buyers, in the video stores.

Good of you to scan this in for posterity, Steve. Thanks.
Steve C. Joyner, Cofounder
OLS (Operation Life Support), Founder

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