Like millions of passionate film lovers, I too look out for not only the recent hits that come out on DVD and Blu-ray but also the memorable films from previous years that are released again, often with fresh commentary by the film makers or critics.
This week, I watched Strictly Ballroom (the DVD and Blu-ray editions came out a few weeks ago) as well as The Social Network, each film being innovative and benchmark work in its own way.
The latter is on most critics' list of top 10 films of last year; on some lists, it is number one. The film, which has grossed about $200 million worldwide (it cost just about $50 million), is expected to be an Oscar nomination favourite. Though it is quite a hit in the theaters, many people must have been waiting to watch it again and admire once again many of its attractions. And that ought to make a hot-seller on DVD as well as Blu-ray..
Strictly Ballroom, which preceded director Baz Luhrmann's more widely seen films including Moulin Rouge and Australia, made waves when first released in 1992. It was a surprise success not only in its native Australia but also in many other countries such as Japan and the United Kingdom. In America, the film did very well in art theaters but did not make big money. In North America it was released by Miramax, the fiercely independent company, which was later absorbed by Disney and closed down recently. Disney has released the new DVD and Blu-ray versions of the film.
'I was never very happy with the quality of the DVD release of Strictly Ballroom when it was released the first time,' Luhrmann said recently. 'So, we went to fix the DVD print. It's a cult film in America. My other films are well known, but I am always surprised that anyone has ever seen Strictly Ballroom.'
The light hearted movie with plenty of dancing and music, Luhrmann said, offers a moral: A life lived in half fear is a life half-lived.
The film is basically story of three people: a champion ballroom dancer Scott who is determined to dance "his own steps." A beginner who falls for Scott and comes to believe in his individuality. And then there is Scott's strong-willed and bossy mother, a former dancer herself, who wants her son to win a famous championship that she could not win. And then there are dance champions and contest judges who believe that there cannot be new steps.
The anniversary DVD's highlight is a discussion Luhrmann has with some of his collaborators the extraordinary journey of the film which started as a theatrical work. Bonus features include: Samba to Slow Fox, Design gallery, and deleted scenes.
The film is relevant even today as the central questions it raises, the film-maker has said. The whole point of the movie: Is dance a competition? Or is dance about self-ex-pression?, he asked.
'Ultimately, I believe it's the latter,' he said in an interview recently. 'The point of the film is: If someone is telling you that there is only way to cha-cha-cha, or that there is only one way to make a movie, or to paint a picture, or one way to live your life...Or there is only one particular religious code...If they are telling you there is only one way, and that is the secret, and that as long as you do what they say, and you pursue the things they set up, and you use those buffers, and you'll get a plastic cup...I just have never been able to buy into that belief. I'm not saying there shouldn't be rules or structure. But within that, you need to find self-ex-pression. You need to find self-revelation'.
The pleasure of watching The Social Network on DVD or Blu-ray is we get to appreciate not only the film's superlative performances (Jesse Eisenberg being outstanding as Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook) with more intensity but also appreciate how director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin have created a seamless film out of a complex subject.
The home entertainment version of the film is one of the best reviewed of such products. 'It's clear after just one screening of The Social Network that cast and crew paid extremely close attention to detail; what the special features show us is just how much,' wrote The Washington Post.
'In the (90-minute long) documentary, titled How Did They Ever Make a Movie of Facebook?', we eavesdrop on a table read during which Fincher, writer Aaron Sorkin and star Justin Timberlake debate how often the phrase "I'm CEO, [expletive]" should be uttered.'
The footage from the set, show restless Fincher and Sorkin making sure that each word and each gesture are executed well. For instance Sorkin is seen watching carefully that between the 99 takes that Fincher shot of the opening scene actress Rooney Mara uses the word "anybody" and not "everybody" by mistake.
The DVD and Blu-ray versions have some of the best bonus features we have seen in a long time.
A first rate, a cautionary tale and endlessly fascinating drama, The Social Network merits several viewings.