One of the most underappreciated elements of cinema is the DVD commentary, if only for the moment the world discovered a clip of Ben Affleck’s sarcastic Armageddon commentary. But with movies and TV shows increasingly viewed via streaming services, commentary tracks are slowly being lost to the ages. So writer Andrew Egan decided to explore the rise and fall of the commentary track in a new piece for Tedium.
Egan notes that even before the advent of DVDs, cinematographers and actors had long created “making of” segments that were limited to film festivals and fan conventions. But the 1984 Criterion Collection Laserdisc edition of King Kong was the first documented use of commentary as a special feature on a movie. It pioneered a format that would become commonplace on DVDs in the late 1990s and early 2000s. With DVD and Blu-Ray sales shrinking and streaming becoming the new norm, those sorts of special features are falling entirely by the wayside.
Interestingly, Egan points out that Netflix briefly offered an audio commentary option with the first season of House Of Cards, although it’s no longer available. Elsewhere, Amazon offers an audio commentary for Transparent with creator Jill Soloway and star Jeffrey Tambor while Hulu offers a commentary for its original series The Wrong Mans. But that’s relatively slim pickings and so far no streaming service has offered commentary on licensed content it didn’t create. Egan worries that, much like the huge percentage of silent films that were never converted to a more stable medium, “many of the special features used to market DVDs might be gone forever.”
You can read the full article, which also includes a countdown of the top five most entertaining DVD commentaries, over on Tedium. And for those feeling nostalgic about the era of DVDs, you can flip through our old Commentary Tracks Of The Damned feature, where we sum up the commentary tracks of cinematic trainwrecks.