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Time is of the essence, and I’m pretty sure everyone reading this has already formed a perfectly rounded and valid opinion on all of Kevin Smith’s films, so the film review aspect of this particular Blu-ray collection review is going to be short and probably not so sweet. Actually, the extras are all pretty much old news too, so you might just want to read the video and audio sections. Well, there are some new extras on Chasing Amy, so read those. Wait, this review is late. The people interested in this probably already bought this set, so that part is moot too. Um, I guess I suggest re-reading my Star Trek review? I thought I did a pretty good job with that one.

Kevin Smith Collection

Clerks


1994 was an interesting year in film, at least in terms of cultural significance (quality of product is, of course, up for debate). The early years of the decade were mostly defined by the early days of digital effects, which culminated in big budget event movies like Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park. Yet, only a year after Spielberg and ILM blew our minds with digital dinosaurs, popular American film took a step back into the past. Pulp Fiction pulled inspiration from the ‘70s, Forrest Gump and Shawshank Redemption pulled inspiration from the Golden Era of Hollywood and Frank Capra, Four Weddings and a Funeral brought the romantic comedy back to the Academy’s attention, and a little Jersey shot movie practically redefined independent film (on the shoulders of El Mariachi and Slacker). The ‘important’ films that defined this one-of-a-kind touchstone year haven’t aged as well as most of us thought they would, but their dated nature seems to cement their distinctive spot in film history. No film more defines the era for thousands of Generation-Xers than Clerks.

At the time of release it felt like Clerks had been made just for me. I was in high school by the time the film came out on video, and was in a garbage punk band. My band had set up my dad’s garage with a television and VCR, and we watched a bootlegged copy of Clerks several dozen times after practice. In the end the band was quoting the movie at each other like Ramones song lyrics. It’s probably no accident that the rest of my high school experience was redefined by film over music. I’m sure there are thousands, if not millions of similar stories of high school and college aged lives changed by this film, perhaps even more than Pulp Fiction, which was more life changing for Gen-Xers old enough to experience the nostalgia. Clerks has since been replaced by Dawn of the Dead, Dog Day Afternoon and The Third Man in my personal filmic obsession log, and frankly speaking I could live the rest of my life without ever seeing the film again, but I can’t possibly place enough value on those initial, life changing viewings. Younger readers might not ‘get’ the experience, and that’s okay, it’s an awkward exercise, and like the other sons of 1994 it hasn’t aged well, but it’s important you guys understand what this film meant to so many of us at the time.

Kevin Smith Collection

Chasing Amy


Smith followed up Clerks with a medium budgeted studio comedy called Mallrats, which was attacked by critics as a giant ball of sell-out salad. Retrospectively speaking, his next film, the incredibly low budgeted Chasing Amy, was a giant ball of critical placation salad. Despite the fact that their surprise acclaim basically made Clerks ‘okay’ for a Disney subsidiary release, critics and Smith don’t really mix. He’s a fan filmmaker, and he speaks most eloquently when speaking to his fans, not to his critics. Chasing Amy is the most plot driven of Smith’s first three films, but a long shot, and the plot is the film’s biggest problem. The acting is solid, especially Jason Lee (who juggles scene stealing comedy with reserved emotionality) and Ben Affleck (an actor with some of the most undeserved backlash I’ve ever seen), and the dialogue is punchy, vintage Smith, but the storyline is largely unbelievable on logical and emotional levels (despite all its apparently personal connotations for Smith). The comic nerd stuff still works very well, and remains some of the writer’s most quotable material, but these parts are sketches, not integrated scenes. Chasing Amy is no failure, but it’s got some wrinkles that have grown cumbersome over the years.

Kevin Smith Collection

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back


Following the growth found in his biggest critical darling, Chasing Amy, and his most accomplished, original, and vastly underappreciated film Dogma (still my favourite), Smith stepped way back into Mallrats territory with Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. A step back isn’t an inherently bad thing, and it’s good to placate your fans, but Jay and Silent Bob was the first Smith film I didn’t like. Dogma was a slice of Smith’s most original voice, complete with his most daring physical direction. It was a comedy, but it had a dark side, and successfully pulled drama from strange and fantastic consequences. Jay and Silent Bob is nothing but jokes, with no emotional weight, or dramatic spirit. Smith quotes his self ad nauseum, hides behind false modesty, and it impacts with the sharpness of a second generation Xerox. I still laugh at Silent Bob’s big line, and the Gus Van Sant counting money gag though, so it’s not a total wash. Coincidentally, this film and Scream 3 both become much more entertaining if you pretend they’re taking place at the same time.

Video


We star with Clerks, which was shot in black and white, on 16mm film. Sure, it was blown-up for the theatrical release, but 16mm is 16mm, and 16mm is not that pretty. The print is grainy as all hell, the details are blown out to all hell, the harsh whites bleed like all hell, and the blends are rough as all hell. Mostly it’s the grain that my eyes can’t see around. The blacks are good and deep, but that’s about it. I don’t even have any colours to praise the HD upgrade brightness of here. I’m floundering for anything else to say here. I suppose this was to be expected, so my words probably shouldn’t be taken as complaints.

Kevin Smith Collection
Chasing Amy’s shortcomings are a little more disappointing. The film is twelve years old, it was shot on the cheap on 16mm (then blown up to 35mm like Clerks for theatres), and Smith was trying to capture the low-fi nature of Clerks after the budgetary ups of Mallrats, but this transfer is still disappointing. The colours are much brighter than the Criterion DVD, especially the reds, and the hues are pure with very minimal compression noise or bleeding, but that’s about where the upgrade compliments end. Grain is thick and constant, and details are pretty smoothed. The whole thing is also either incredibly dark (though the pure blacks are a plus), or a bit blown out. The source lighting makes the difference transfer has plenty of edge enhancement to go around, though it is much thinner than the DVD release. I’m working on a 46” set, so I’m guessing this will increase with screen size. The details are at least very consistent from foreground to background (there aren’t a lot of close-ups in the film), and this is surely the best we can expect from the source material.

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is the only film in this collection to be filmed on 35mm film, and the only one to be presented in 2.35:1 widescreen, yet it doesn’t fare all that much better than the other two films. This 1080p transfer clearly stands above a standard definition disc in clarity, details, general consistency, colour quality and brightness, but it’s a step below most major release Blu-rays. The wide angle and background details are less sharp than the mid or close-up shots, and even the good details are middling. There’s plenty of minor edge-enhancement over the whole print, and a lot of slight doubling and (what appears to be) DRN problems. The transfer is clean for the most part, with minimal grain, and only a few print artefacts. The colours are cartoon inspired, so they’re bright and full on the print, but the transfer isn’t as poppy as I remember the film looking in theatres, and the hues are a little dirty. Again, better than the DVD, but not as impressive as the format is capable of, especially considering the film’s age.

Kevin Smith Collection

Audio


Clerks was also not made for DTS-HD 5.1. It was barely made for Dolby Surround. The on-set dialogue and incidental sounds are inconsistent, and distorted based on actor placement and volume levels. The ADR work is much clearer, and much more consistent, which makes for an awkward blend. The Dolby upgrade sees a few directional ambient effects moving through the stereo channels, especially when the film wanders outside of the Quick Stop, but mostly we’re talking minimalist location work. The musical track is big and brash, and takes advantage of the rear surround channels by creating a wall like stereo field on the left and right. The LFE is aggressive, and some of the vocal tracks are actually pretty well centred. The only minus is a bit of an echo effect.

Chasing Amy comes with another unneeded DTS-HD 5.1 track, but the source material is a solid step up from Clerks. PCM Dolby Surround would probably still do the job plenty well, but there are enough stereo and surround tracks to make the track worth a good god damn. The audio quality is inconsistent from the standpoint of the original mix quality (background audio cutting out during dialogue, etc.), but there aren’t any noticeable problems specific to this disc. The dance club scene towards the beginning of the film, and the rain scene in the middle are two moments where the track earns its keep. These scenes add plenty of bass, and a few bits of discreet rear channel separation. Dave Pirner’s soundtrack, which is an indelible part of the film’s success (this means a lot coming from me because I despise Soul Asylum), along with the other music, sounds just about perfect, and adds something nice to the LFE.

Kevin Smith Collection
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back features a real budget, and a real concern for sound design. It was also made recently enough to fill out all 5.1 channels. This PCM 5.1 track is not a waste. The film is cartoonish, and spoofs big budget action, which leads us to all kinds of explosions, whizzing bullets, screaming animals, passing cars, nature ambiance, and plenty of other stuff. The climatic Mark Hamill fight is particularly bass heavy, and features some effective pseudo-light sabre directional effects. James L. Venable’s score is in-keeping with the over-the-top and referential sound design. The composer, who is most famous for various cartoon scores, kicks out a myriad of styles, while still keeping his voice clear. The score is well mixed into the action and all important central dialogue, but doesn’t bleed too much into the rear channels.

Extras


The Clerks disc comes fitted with all the bells and whistles of that fan-loved Tenth Anniversary release, including two versions of the film, each with their own commentary tracks and enhanced viewing modes. The theatrical version features the old Laser-Disc commentary with Smith, producer Scott Mosier, and various cast members. This option allows for a Blu-ray exclusive, enhanced trivia mode that allows for PiP factoids, numbers, and quotes. The First Cut Version starts with a rambling intro with Smith and Mosier (08:40, SD), and features commentary from Smith, Mosier, Mewes, Anderson, and O’Holloran, with a multi-angle option to either watch the movie full-frame, watch the movie with a PiP commentators, or to watch the commentators alone full-frame. The theatrical commentary is amusing in its lack of professionalism (it seems that Jason Mewes was asleep for the majority of the track), and the First Cut commentary is a bit more on the genuinely informative side, but also a bit repetitive after the other track.

Kevin Smith Collection
The strangest extra on the disc is ‘Oh What a Lovely Tea Party: the Making of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back’ (87:10, SD), which in intro Smith explains was only added to the Clerks disc as something of an incentive to Blu-ray buyers (it wasn’t made available on the Jay and Silent Bob Blu-ray). Though out of place, the documentary is quite fun, covering the making of Smith’s biggest budget film from an on set camera point of view. Cast and crew interviews are smoothed into the mix, and the overall effect is surprisingly deft, especially after years of watching mind-numbing, structure-less hours of fly on the wall, raw footage collections. The doc also features a logical chapter break structure, which is depressingly rare for such extras.

The more obvious extras start back up with ‘Clerks Lost Scene: Animated Shot’ (10:00, HD). This animated scene, which comes with an intro from Smith and Mosier, can be viewed in context of the film as well, and brings to mind the beauty of Clerks: The Animated Series (my personal favourite thing in Smith’s canon), which might have made a great extra for this new release. That said, this is still a very cool extra. This is followed by ‘The Flying Car’ (08:10, SD), a short film that premiered on The Tonight Show, which also features a Smith introduction. That’s followed by a selection of nine shorts featuring Jay and Silent Bob made for MTV (with a beautiful ‘play all’ option, 18:00, SD), the original theatrical trailer, a Soul Asylum music video, four cast auditions with intro (12:00, SD), and a three part look at the restoration process (emphasis on sound, 12:00, SD).

Kevin Smith Collection
This brings us to Snowball Effect (90:30, SD), a feature length documentary look at the making of the film, and its ‘lasting impact’ (to quote the menu system). The doc starts way back with Smith’s childhood, including pictures, and footage from his school plays. These early stories have a clear impact on Clerks, which is an amalgamation of mainstream and independent film education, and the documentary’s structure tells this early part of the story in an incredibly eloquent manner. Things eventually move to the production of the film, which is just as interesting (financing, casting, dirty dialogue, filming, release), but not quite as entertaining, mostly because this stuff has basically moved into the realms of modern film mythology (read ‘Down and Dirty Pictures’ today!).  The ‘lasting impact’ part is not a very large part of the doc, maybe a minute of film time. The doc is supported by ‘Mae Day: The Crumbling of a Documentary’ (11:00, SD), Smith and Mosier’s college short, with intro, and thirteen Snowball Effect outtakes (37:30, SD). Things are completed with the 10th Anniversary Q and A (42:00, SD).

Chasing Amy starts with an all new commentary track with Smith and Mosier. It’s been a while since I listened to the old Criterion track, but if I’m remembering things correctly this is a solid companion piece to the old track, which was recorded pretty shortly after the original release. My memory does not serve well enough to say if the participants repeat themselves too much, but their fresh eyes serve the track, producing a more entertaining than informative track. But the entertainment value is tops, especially the self-effacing bits from Smith, and some genuine tears from Smith at the very end.

Kevin Smith Collection
‘Tracing Amy’ (82:00, HD) is another great feature length, retrospective making-of documentary, and something that was not available on the Criterion disc. The doc covers the difficulty of making another film after Mallrats bombed, and how that difficulty lead to a more independently minded feature. The other major factors were producer Scott Mosier’s relationship with actress/writer/director Guinevere Turner, and Smith relationship with Joey Lauren Adams. The more usual stuff for such a doc is covered as well, such as casting, financing, filming, production design, editing, and release, mixed with focus on the problems that drove Mosier to near madness, and the homosexual aspects of the film (which did not go over well with the vocal elements of the lesbian community). Once again the interviews are set to footage from the film, and other films, and behind the scenes footage and photos. ‘Was it Something I Said’ (18:00, HD) is a sweet little conversation with Smith and actress Joey Lauren Adams, who discuss their relationship, which was a clear influence on the film Chasing Amy. The story is very sweet, and the so is the interview. The set is wrapped up with another 10th Anniversary Q and A (27:50, SD), 11 deleted/extended scenes (25:00, SD), outtakes (05:00, SD), and a trailer.

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is a sad shadow of the original DVD release in the realms of extras. Things start, and pretty much end, with a commentary track featuring Smith, Mosier and Jason Mewes. It’s a referential movie, so most of the track energy is devoted to explaining the references. There are some good bits, and the track is never boring, but it isn’t as glorious as the newer retrospective tracks. The only other extra is a ‘Movie Showcase’, which is a selection of three scenes that best show off the format’s capabilities.

Kevin Smith Collection

Overall


Kevin Smith’s hardcore fans don’t need me to share my opinion on the subject, but the more passing fans might want to stay away from this set. Assuming they already own the Clerks tenth anniversary DVD, and the special edition of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, there isn’t anything so far as new extras on those Blu-rays, and none of the transfers are really worth the upgrade based on my memories of those old DVDs. The Chasing Amy disc, which is available for sale on its own, is worth the purchase for the new extras, which are a great compliment to the old Criterion DVD release, including a feature length documentary, and a brand new commentary. The transfer is still pretty weak, but was created from a 16mm master, apparently. Now I’ve got to get around to actually seeing Zack and Miri Make a Porno someday.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.


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