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Tales From the Blu-Ray Shelf

Not long after checking out the extended cut of Batman v. Superman (click here for my review on this “Ultimate Edition”), I decided to watch the recently-released-to-disc extended cut of Ridley Scott’s The Martian.  I adored that film when it was released (and it was my second favorite film of 2015), and Ridley Scott has released some wonderful extended directors’ cuts of his films (most notably, as I mentioned in that Batman v. Superman review, Mr. Scott’s magnificent extended version of Kingdom of Heaven, which transformed a disastrous failure into a near-masterpiece), so I was curious to see this extended version of a film I already loved.

Whereas some extended editions transform a film, the extended version of The Martian is only very marginally different than the theatrical version.  It’s about ten minutes longer, but the vast majority of the additions are subtle extensions to previously-existing scenes; an extra line of dialogue here, an extra beat there.  The only completely-new sequence that I noticed was a brief bit (taken from the book) in which we see Mark Watney working to finish the science experiments that his crew-mates left behind when they aborted the mission.  These additions are nice and allow the story to breathe a bit, but they don’t substantially change the film.  I am not sure what my preferred version of The Martian will be going forward; I suspect it might be the slightly-more-concise theatrical cut.

The blu-ray of the extended cut also has a more substantial set of special features than the original blu-ray/DVD release.  Charles de Lauzirika has, for years, been creating extraordinarily in-depth “making-of” features for the DVD/blu-ray releases of Ridley Scott’s films.  This new blu-ray features the expected complete “making-of” documentary that I was surprised was missing from the original release; albeit one that is shorter than usual for Mr. Lauzirika’s usual work for Mr. Scott (running about an hour and ten minutes).  It’s a wonderful documentary, though one that doesn’t ever get quite as in-depth as those Mr. Lauzirika has created for some of Mr. Scott’s other films.

Speaking of which, a few weeks ago I watched Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings for the first time (click here for my review).  While that film was a failure, the blu-ray release contained an extraordinary, two-and-a-half-hour “making-of” documentary by Mr. Lauzirika.  I am surprised that Exodus, which was a dud, has such an elaborate “making-of” documentary while The Martian, which was a far more successful film, has a less-substantial one.  It’s weird.  Regardless, watching the “making-of” documentary for Exodus is arguably more fun than watching the film itself.  It’s fascinating (and a little sad) to see the incredible effort that so many amazing artists and craftsmen, from Ridley Scott on down, put into making a movie that didn’t wind up working.  (My favorite moment from the documentary involved Christian Bale; while everyone else in the documentary talked about the “Old Testament,” Mr. Bale spoke of reading the “Torah” as research for the role.  I loved hearing him use that Hebrew name.)

In my review of Exodus, I wondered if there existed a longer version that would help address the film’s myriad narrative problems.  (I commented that this cut of Exodus resembled my impression of the theatrical cut of Kingdom of Heaven, a film that aspires to be an epic but with thin, loosely-sketched characters and some narrative confusion.)  It amuses me to think that Charles de Lauzirika must have felt the same way, because the end of the “making-of” documentary directly addresses this question, with the film’s editor commenting that they had considered creating an extended version of the film but that he and Ridley Scott felt that everything they had excised from the original, far-longer rough-cut of the film was material best left on the cutting room floor.  Wow.  It’s a striking moment in the documentary, and one that saddened me if it is indeed true because unfortunately the version of Exodus: Gods and Kings that was released was not entirely satisfying.

I also recently watched the behind-the-scenes material on the release of the recent six-episode X-Files revival.  While I was overjoyed at this return from the dead of The X-Files, a once-great show that sadly never completed its ongoing “mythology” story-line, this six-episode revival was somewhat disappointing.  (Click here for my original review.)  With the “golden age” of DVD/blu-ray special features long behind us — these days even hugely successful films like Star Wars: The Force Awakens are released to disc with flimsy, superficial “making-of” special features — I was blown away by the high-quality of the special features on the X-Files blu-ray release.  I’d expected twenty-to-thirty minutes of fluff, but what we got instead was an amazing almost three hours worth of wonderfully substantive, informative special-features.  We get a full-hour-long documentary, exploring the production of the series’ first episode back on the air, “My Struggle,” which was written and directed by Chris Carter.  Then we get a second documentary that is nearly an hour-and-a-half long, exploring the production of the series’ five other episodes.  This is great stuff, filled with wonderful behind-the-scenes footage from every aspect of the production and terrific interviews with many members of the team, including David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, and Chris Carter.  We also get a great gag reel and a terrific ten-minute featurette looking back at some of the great monsters-of-the-week from the original nine-season run of the show.  When I saw that featurette on the menu I thought, OK, here’s an obvious piece of boring fluff that was plopped onto the disc just to pad out the content.  But no, even this piece — which could so easily have been dull filler — was a wonderfully lively, funny bit hosted by Kumail Nanjiani (who hosts the wonderful The X-Files Files podcast and who appeared as an actor on the Darin Morgan episode of this revival, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster”).  Mr. Nanjiani is hysterical, and his terrific narration makes this short featurette a hoot, a witty love-letter to the original series.  Bravo to all the behind-the-scenes folks for putting these special features together, and to Fox for actually taking good care of The X-Files with this blu-ray release.

See you all back here soon!

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