This Is Spinal Tap appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.80:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD. While not awful, the transfer disappointed.
At times, sharpness appeared to be fairly accurate, but the image frequently seemed to be slightly soft or hazy. Some of this stemmed from the awkward focus that occurs at times, but much of it related to a less than stellar transfer and some notable edge enhancement. While I donít expect rock-solid definition from the film, it should look tighter than this.
Occasional issues with jagged edges and shimmering appeared, and source flaws were something of an issue. I didnít blame the transfer for all the grain, as that stemmed mostly from the source material. However, thereís no excuse for the mix of specks, marks, blotches and nicks that cropped up through the movie.
Colors were also lackluster, though that was largely due to the drab film stock used for the movie. Some decent hues appeared, but most were pretty flat. Blacks were acceptably dark and deep, while shadows tended to be flat and somewhat opaque. Even with the lowered expectations that greet an inherently flawed presentation like this, the Tap transfer disappointed.
As for the film's remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, it essentially stayed true to the original Surround track but adds some very welcome improvements. Much of the audio came from the center channel with a few notable exceptions. Some broader locations - like the cocktail parties or lobbies, or when we saw planes fly overhead - featured a light but convincing spatial quality on the sides. It's gentle but it provided a little extra dimension.
The mix really came to life is during the concert segments. The soundtrack presented some great scope to the songs, as they spread distinctly and effectively to the sides. The surrounds also kicked in with some great ambience. For the most part, the rears offer a general reinforcement of the songs and some crowd noise, but some speaker-specific music emanated from there as well, and the whole thing came across in a lively and involving manner.
Audio quality appeared excellent. I found the dialogue to sound surprisingly warm and natural. Very little of it seemed to be dubbed, and considering the cheap production values of the piece, I thought speech seemed quite clear and smooth. Effects were a relatively minor component of the film, but they seemed clean and realistic, with no signs of distortion.
The best aspect of the mix was the music, which never sounded better. Although all of the songs were recorded in the studio, I've always been impressed by the wonderfully "live" feel they display in the film, and the effect was even more convincing here. The tunes showed great clarity and dynamic range; highs were clean and crisp, and the bass sounded taut and rich. The track lacked the ambition to deserve a really high grade, but I still felt impressed by it.
This DVD is my third disc-based purchase of This Is Spinal Tap - and I had a videotape of it as well! I bought the original fullscreen laserdisc back when I got my LD player in 1991 - one of my very first purchases, naturally - but I replaced that version when Criterion's laserdisc appeared in late 1994. The latter was a veritable treasure trove for Tap fans like myself and it remains the definitive archive of materials related to the film.
This DVD features quite a substantial complement of extras as well. I'll initially list the supplements that appear on this DVD, and then I'll cover how this package differs from the Criterion LD and also how they stay the same.
This DVD starts unusually with its opening menu. After MGM's usual Ė and exceedingly loud - "studio announcement", the screen goes black and we hear "Nigel", "David" and "Derek" discuss the presentation. This mini-commentary continues as the main menu appears and lasts for a couple of minutes, at which time their speech is replaced with music from the film. It's a fun and clever way to open the DVD (and one that can be easily skipped if desired). An additional voice-over from the band appears when you enter the
We get an "in character" audio commentary from the three band members. When I first learned of this track, I feared the worst, as this kind of faux performance art can be extremely lame, and there's too much of a "wink wink, nudge nudge" attitude that's come to surround Tap over the last 25 years. You may have noticed that this review contains absolutely no Tap quotes, and that's because I've grown tired of all the hipster-doofus tone around the production.
Frankly, the continued "existence" of Tap as a semi-band is not something I particularly like. The movie's so perfect that additional attempts to recapture the magic come across as forced and lame. Better to leave it all alone and not ruin the legacy.
That said, the "character commentary" was much more entertaining than I expected. Of course, it provides almost no information about the making of the movie itself, but it makes for a frequently funny look at the "reality" of the period. The band fill in the gaps about what we didn't see in their lives, and they gripe a lot about how poorly they were treated by Di Bergi and other characters. Ultimately, I'd prefer a track that provides a nice discussion of the creation of the film, but this one's pretty clever and witty.
Next is Catching Up With Marty Di Bergi, another "in character" piece that features an interview with Reiner as the documentarian. The program runs for five minutes and intersperses statements from Di Bergi with some film clips and a couple of shots from a modern Tap press conference. It's nothing special but the piece is entertaining in the same manner as the audio commentary, and it's short enough to keep from wearing out its welcome.
In the Rare Outtakes domain, we find 14 clips. Each of these ranges from 19 seconds to nine minutes, 45 seconds, for a total running time of 67 minutes and 51 seconds. It's a good collection that offers a nice look at some of the shots that didn't make the cut. The majority of them are entertaining, and as a dedicated Tap fan, I'm more than delighted to have them, but I'm glad they were omitted.
Some of them might have worked well in the movie, but a lot would have seemed redundant, and the scenes they could have replaced are better. Some seamier material appears here as well, such as more explicit involvement in drugs, and a deeper look at the groupie scene. Perhaps "explicit" is the wrong word, as there's nothing raunchy or nasty; however, the filmmakers wanted to keep the tone lighter so almost all mention of drugs is omitted, and only peripheral info about groupies appears. In any case, I think the final 83-minute cut is virtually perfect, so while I like being able to see all of this unused material, I'm glad none of it made the film.
From the "Tap Archive", we find two clips. The first is the Flower People Press Conference. This one-minute and 49-second piece shows the band at a Beatle-esque question and answer panel; itís really another deleted scene. It's very funny and entertaining, but would have been inappropriate in the movie; the few glimpses of earlier incarnations of the band work in the film because they're restricted to performance clips, but this conversational snippet would have taken us out of the "reality".
Further stretching the boundaries of real world and the fake is a brief clip from the Joe Franklin Show. We find the final two minutes of Tap's mid-Eighties appearance on that program. From what we see, it seems unclear if Franklin and the other guests are in on the joke. It's too brief and insubstantial to offer much information, but I was happy to see it.
When we enter the Music Video section, we find some more good clips. "Gimme Some Money" presents the entire song from the faux-Sixties TV performance shown in the movie. In a similar vein is "(Listen to the) Flower People", which offers the whole Jamboreebop version of that tune, which we also see excerpted in the film. Both are beautifully done and it's wonderful to have them in their entirety.
Another unedited movie segment appears in the form of "Big Bottom". We saw parts of the song in the film, but this piece gives us the whole tune. A more formal music video can be found as well. "Hell Hole" is given the then-typical treatment for metal vids; if you're old enough to remember the era, you'll find it clever and witty in the way it apes and mocks the conventions of the period. The clip has no formal connection to the movie; it takes a conceptual air and features no film snippets.
In the "Promotional Materials" area, we get a fairly traditional theatrical trailer for the film's original release plus we find the famed "Cheese Rolling" promo. The latter shows Reiner working at the editing desk; he says that he can't show any clips from the movie since they're still making it, so he offers some shows from a fictional festival in Scandinavia. It's unusual and delightful.
Another untraditional promotional piece arrives in Heavy Metal Memories, which takes the form of an ad for one of those cheesy K-Tel hits albums. It provides a very fun way of introducing and promoting the film.
Finally, this section ends with three different 30-second TV ads. None of these are anything unusual; they do the typical job of making us aware of the film's existence.
I regarded the Commercials section as an odd prospect; didn't we just see all of the promos for the film in the previous area? Nope, as we get three different ads for something called ďRock and RollsĒ, which appears to be a Hot Pockets kind of pastry. I couldn't figure out the actual time frame of their appearances, but I'd guess they came from the early Nineties, and they show new clips of the band as they promote this product. Itís odd but it makes for a cool addition to the package.
Whew! That's quite a package of material, but it doesn't exhaust all of the stuff we found on the Criterion LD. Of the greatest significance are that disc's two audio commentaries; we got one from Reiner, producer Karen Murphy, and editors Robert Layton and Kent Beyda, plus another from McKean, Guest and Shearer. These two tracks mark the most notable material that doesn't arrive on the new DVD, as both were exceedingly informative and compelling; they provide a lot of great details about the production and do so in a very entertaining manner.
The collection of deleted scenes on the Criterion disc differs from the set found on this DVD. Actually, at first glance, it appears that the former tossed in many more clips, as it lists 32 deleted scenes to the DVD's 14. However, that description is misleading since the DVD numbers the clips differently; this means that some scenes that account for one chapter on the DVD may be in two or more segments on the Criterion set.
The more important number is the running time. The Criterion offers about 80 minutes of clips to this
DVD's nearly 68 minutes of segments. Actually, that total is also misleading, since a couple of Criterion's deleted scenes appear elsewhere on the MGM DVD; its "music video" of "Gimme Some Money" was a Criterion "deleted scene", as was the "'Flower People' press conference", so once those clips are added to the total, the two offer fairly similar running times.
Many of the scenes found on the MGM DVD also appear in the Criterion, but a surprisingly high number of them differ. I didn't make a formal comparison, but I think that roughly half of the DVD's clips are new to us and weren't on the Criterion release, and (obviously) vice versa. Cool realization: between the two packages, we probably come pretty close to replicating the film's original three hour-plus rough cut, since the combination of final movie and all the deleted scenes totals at least three hours and 20 minutes. I don't know if I'd ever want to actually watch a Titanic-length cut of Tap, but it's great to know that we're closer
to exhausting all of the film archives. My only complaint is that I would have liked to get al of the various snippets compiled in one place; I don't know why the MGM DVD leaves out so much of the other scenes.
The next most substantial omission from the Criterion set is "Spinal Tap: The Final Tour". This 20-minute film is actually a demo for the movie itself, as the filmmakers used their script advance to make this instead of writing a formal text. I found this clip's absence confusing, since I don't know why there'd be any rights problems with it. The piece itself isn't nearly as entertaining as the actual film, although we see the genesis of some of the latter's material since a few gags appear there in embryonic form. While "Tour" isn't terribly interesting on its own, it remains a vital piece of material for Tap fans, so I regret its absence.
Additional missing components are less substantial. A second longer and funnier version of the "Cheese Rolling" trailer appears on the LD; this one was created to sell the film to theater owners, and the shorter edition actually just abbreviates that original piece.
Another unusual bit on the LD is a late Seventies appearance by the band on a spoof of the old "Midnight Special" TV show. Reiner plays Wolfman Jack and introduces Tap, where they play a song that doesn't exist in the movie. As with "Tour", it's not the most entertaining program, but it's a great piece of history.
The final missing video piece is called "Roma '79". In the deleted scenes of both packages, we see snippets from a film in which Derek appeared. "Roma '79" was the movie, and the end of the LD shows this bit in its entirety. (Of course, there was no such film, and all that exists of it is Derek's opening scene, which is what we find on the LD.)
Finally, the Criterion LD included a wealth of text materials and photos. It used stillframe abilities to present many written details of the production, from the story outline to various notes that were made along the way. None of these make the cut on the DVD.
Here's a quick list of the various pieces that appear on both the Criterion set and this DVD. In addition to roughly 50 percent of the deleted scenes, the shorter "Cheese Rolling" trailer, "Heavy Metal Memories", the "Hell Hole" video, "Gimme Some Money",and the "'Flower People' press conference" are the other shared components.
This leaves these exclusives on the new DVD: the character audio commentary; "Catching Up With Marty Di Bergi"; about half of the deleted scenes; the "(Listen to the) Flower People" video; the Rock 'n Rolls ads; the theatrical trailer (non-cheese rolling); the three TV spots; the "Joe Franklin Show" snippet; and the "Big Bottom" video.
This Is Spinal Tap is one of the all-time classics, a nearly-perfect comedy that continues
to work amazingly well more than 25 years after its original release. If it loses any points, itís simply due to overexposure; Tap is such an influential film that itís become ubiquitous. The DVD gives us very good audio along with a nice collection of extras but it comes with subpar picture quality. Itís such a great movie that the flawed visuals almost donít matter, but they nonetheless disappoint.
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