DOGMA: Special Edition (Mania.com)

By:Steve Biodrowski
Date: Tuesday, July 03, 2001

Fueled partly by pre-release controversy, but mostly by the presence of marquee value stars, DOGMA became writer-director Kevin Smith's most successful film, earning $30-million at the box officesmall by big studio standards, but not bad for a film that cost only $10-million to produce. The interesting thing is not so much that the film was a success, but rather that Smith managed to pull off a bigger-budget, star-studded film without alienating the fans of his earlier, smaller films, CLERKS and MALL RATS. Now that the majority of controversy surrounding DOGMA has faded, it's easier to judge the film on its own merits and conclude that it is an excellent piece of workwitty, clever, irreverent, and at the same time devoutthat easily sustains multiple viewingsexactly the kind of film you want to own on DVD. Unfortunately, the disc that came out last year was a bare-bones version offering only the film itself (in widescreen and full frame versions), plus the standard DVD features for sound set-up and scene selection. Now, at last, there is a Special Edition that contains all the extras you wanted the first time.


THE DISCS


The DOGMA double-disc "Special Edition" is sold with a wraparound cover meant to suggest the binding of a Bible. Presumably because this isn't very colorful, the box is sold enclosed in cardboard packaging with artwork of the cast on the front and technical details on the back. Open the box, and you find an eight page booklet wherein Kevin Smith explains that with this film he was attempting to "spread the Word of God" with a "shitload of dick and fart jokes."


Also contained in the booklet are reproductions of artwork that might seem unfamiliar if you've only seen the movie once. Watch again, and you realize that these images are poster advertisements glimpsed briefly in the background. This motif continues with the discs themselves, which are emblazoned with ads for Mooby's "Egg-A-Moof'in" and "Hosties" cereal ("unlevened sugar wafers...good for the body, good for the soul").


Insert the first disc, and the comic tone is immediately set when the opening logos segue to a Bible, which slowly opensand then seems to zip forward as if someone just hit the fastfoward button, eventually taking us to the "Lost Book of Dogma"i.e., the DVD's menu page. Disc One contains the film in widescreen format, plus two audio commentaries and an amusing option entitled "My Opinion," which calls up several different vignettes of a middle-aged woman extolling us not to watch the film because it's the work of the devil. You also get options for "Play the Movie" or "Don't Play the Movie." Clicking on the latter calls up an intertitle card with advice such as "Try the Rhythm Method" or "Turn Off Your TV."


Disc Two is packed with deleted scenes (100 minutes worth), story boards for three sequences, outtakes, a trailer, cast and crew bios (labeled "Saints and Sinners"), weblinks to the View Askew site, and an intentionally awkward promo spot for Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash, where you can buy merchandise from the movie. The menus for both discs are loaded with more advertising art glimpsed in the background of the film. Sometimes you can click on these images to call up special features, and sometimes you can't, suggesting that perhaps some of them are repositories for Easter Eggs if you can figure out how to find them.


THE FEATURES


You can watch the film in 5.1 Dolby Digital (English only) or in two-channel stereo for English, French, and Spanish; subtitles are included for English, French and Spanish. The framing of the 2.35 aspect ratio duplicates the theatrical experience, but some of the missing scenes seem slightly cropped at the edges. Otherwise, the picture and sound quality are not noticeable improvements over the previous disc, but then that's not really why you'd buy the Special Edition DVD anyway, right?


Unfortunately, you can view the film only in the letterbox format. I know this is the only way that any true cinephile wants to see a film on DVD, but this film was not shot anamorphically; it was shot on Super 35, with the bottom of the image matted for the theatrical release. A comparison of the widescreen and full frame versions on last year's disc shows that the full frame version adds significant picture information at the bottom of the frame, instead of magnifying the image and cropping off the sides (which is what happens with anamorphic movies). In most cases, this wouldn't be significant to the Special Edition, but the audio commentary frequently references this fact; at one point, Kevin Smith even informs us that the full frame version (also seen on VHS) reveals a "dead" body moving its foot. If we're going to hear details like this, it would be convenient if we could check them out for ourselves without having to rent the tape or dig out the old DVD.


The main feature of any Special Edition, the commentary, turns out to be a disappointment hereat least initially. The cast and crew audio track (with Smith, Ben Affleck, Jason Lee, Jay Mewes and others) is low on information, sounding mostly like a bunch of friends getting together and chatting. This is okay when the chat is interesting, but the group tends to talk over and interrupt each other, wandering off onto aimless tangents. The result is often dull; Affleck even laughs at one point about how boring one of Kevin Smiths stories is.


Lost amidst all this are interesting tidbits that are never developed. Early on, Smith says that his leading lady, Linda Fiorentino, was "not the easiest person to work with" and promises that there are lots of stories he canand willtell to support this assertion. Yet all we ever here is that she was unhappy about the shooting schedulewhich the filmmakers themselves admit was totally convoluted because of the need to accommodate stars who were coming and going to work on other pictures or, in the case of Affleck, receive an Academy Award for Best Screenplay (for GOOD WILL HUNTING).


Fortunately, producer Scott Mosier seems to have been aware of these deficiencies. Disc One contains a second, so-called "Technical" audio commentarywhich, Smith informs us, was recorded at Mosier's insistence after the first audio commentary turned out so lacking in behind-the-scenes information. Despite its designation, the track does not delve into technical minutiae, so don't be scared off, thinking it's all about f/stops and light meters. There is some explanation about how certain scenes were achieved, and some talk about shooting the widescreen format with Super 35 instead of anamorphic lenses, but it's all done in a fairly light manner that never gets bogged down. In fact, this audio track comes closer to what one expects from a DVD presentation. With only three voices present (including Smith and Mosier), there is less interruption, and the speakers stay more focused, providing scene-for-scene information instead of rambling off onto other topics. The result is slightly repetitious of the previous track, but still worth hearing, even if the participants seem talked about by the end: "This commentary is running out of steam!" Mosier jokes as God makes her final appearance near the conclusion, and nobody has anything left to say.


One curious feature of both audio commentaries is that numerous words have been bleeped outand they're not profanity, but the names of people and companies. In particular, the involvement of Miramax (who dropped out of distributing the picture because of the controversy surrounding its religious subject matter) has been excised.


One other bonus feature tied in with the first audio commentary is called "More Hijinks with Kevin Smith, Ben Affleck..." et al. Select this feature when listening to the Cast and Crew Commentary, and during the film an image of the Buddy Christ will occasionally appear at the bottom of your TV screen. Hit enter, and the disc will insert two video images of the commentators into the lower left and lower right corners of your screen. The effect is not all that visually stunning, but with so many people speaking at once, it may help you keep track of who's who.


(A side note about the commentary tracks and corporate greed: From several statements made by the participants, it is clear that the audio recordings were made at most a few months after the film's theatrical release in November 1999; in other words, they were completed well in time to be included on the previous DVD, and one may rightly wonder whether leaving them off was a deliberate decision intended to increase the value of this Special Edition. Even assuming that more time was needed to assemble the outtakes and deleted scenes for this disc, the long delay between the two releases seems like a ploy to get fans to buy the film twice.)


DELETED SCENES AND OUTTAKES


According to various comments on the discs, Kevin Smith's script for DOGMA ran some 160 pages. Adding to the length problem, he uses a smaller size font than the industry standard for screenplays, meaning that his script was actually the equivalent of 200 pagesenough for a three-hour and twenty-minute film. That's approximately how long the first assembly of DOGMA lasted. With a final cut running 128 minutes (including credits), you don't have to be a mathematician to know that a lot of material was trimmed.


You also don't have to be a mathematician to figure that what was cut out falls short (by approximately one-half hour) of the "100 minutes of Deleted Scenes" promised on the box. Yet there is 100-minutes of footage contained on Disc Two. How can this be? Well, the truth is that "Deleted Scenes" is something of a misnomer, because most of the footage represents longer versions of scenes that are in the movie. Dialogue scenes that are trimmed to their bare essentials in the final cut are allowed to play out at full length; there is more texture, more interesting detail, but for the most part nothing truly essential was eliminated.


There are some bits and pieces that were entirely excised, including a wonderful monologue about a botched abortion delivered by Linda Fiorentino while her character is working as a counselor at a Planned Parenthood facility. Whether entirely new or just extended, all of the scenes are entertaining and work as self-contained units, but it's easy to see why their removal would benefit the film as a whole. This point is underlined by videotaped introductions that bracket the scenes. In many ways livelier than the audio commentary, these snippets, featuring Smith and several others, set up the scenes and explain the reasons for their deletion. Usually, the running time is blamed, but in some instances, Smith admits that certain material was repetitious or not quite as funny as intended (such as Jay and Silent Bob's song-and-dance routine).


Also amusing are the outtakes. Although several simply show the cast cracking up onscreen (without showing us what prompted them to break character), others are truly hystericalat least in the context of what else we have learned on the discs. For example, in the Cast and Crew Commentary, Smith upbraids Affleck for his attempts at ad-libbing lines. Amidst the outtakes is one scene labeled "Why Kevin Smith Hates Ad Libbing." The shot is an extended version of the dialogue between Bartleby (Affleck) and Loki (Matt Damon) on the bus, in which the actors attempt to vamp on the scripted version the way a jazz musician will play extended variations on an established melody. The ad-libs merely pad the scene, destroying the rhythm and weakening the impact of the punch lines. Seen out of context, the shot would be merely dull, but knowing Smith's feelings about it, we share in the realization of why ad-libbing might not be so great.


CONCLUSIONS


This Special Edition delivers so much that it's almost impossible to criticize. Even if the Cast and Crew Audio Commentary is disappointing, there is still more than enough good material to justify the purchase price. It will take at least six hours to get through all the bonus features on these two discs, and then you'll probably want to go back and watch the film again on its own, just to see how all the writing, production, and editing was refined into the final version. For the mildly curious or those who bought the previous DVD, this is easily worth a rental; however, if you don't already own DOGMA and if you're any kind of fan at all of Kevin Smith, or if you simply enjoy this film in particular, this is a must-have purchase.


























DOGMA Special Edition

Grade: A-

Reviewed Format: DVD


Rated: R


Stars: Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino, Salma Hayek, Jason Lee, Jason Mewes, Alan Rickman, Chris Rock


Writer-Director: Kevin Smith


Distributor: Columbia/TriStar Home Video


Original Year of Release: 1999


Suggested Retail Price: $29.95


Extras: Dolby Digital 5.1, two audio commentaries, bonus video hijniks, storyboards, deleted scenes, outtakes, talent files, trailer, Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash Spot, weblink to official site