Celebrity rubberneckers, re- joice. Put down your copy of Us Weekly. You can read that two-page spread on what movie stars eat for breakfast later. Digital technology isn't just for medical breakthroughs and, you know, boring stuff like that anymore. Yes, in the past few years celebrity commentary tracks on DVDs have become ubiquitous; on the upcoming Ocean's 11 disc you can have Brad Pitt and Matt Damon in your ear, discussing the movie, as you, Brad, and Matt watch it together.
But leave it to Tom Cruise to revolutionize celebrity gawking. The new special-edition DVD of Jerry Maguire ($27.95) comes with not only a commentary track from Cruise (his first), co-stars Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Rene Zellweger, and director Cameron Crowe, but a second disc featuring a cut of the film that allows you to watch Cruise watch himself. So you see what he's seeing, the movie plays in a small box on the bottom of the screen - a reverse of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
I'm embarrassed to say: It's fascinating, strange stuff.
And Cruise has nothing to say, either. Watching a superstar watch his own work, you realize to Cruise it's just that, work. Slouched into a red coach, eyes buried beneath a hat that looks not unlike a macrame plant holder, he stares, mouth agape, offering little. He laughs a lot (always aware of the camera watching him). Mentions doing voice-over work while in London shooting Eyes Wide Shut. Talks about his child co-star Jonathan Lipnicki, and how Courtney Love auditioned for the film.
But that's about it. Gooding and Zellweger effuse over how good everyone is, saying things like “Wow”, “Oh!”, and “That's great.” Crowe, not surprisingly, is the most talkative, and even he's relatively quiet. Zellweger's teary eyes get puffier during the “You complete me” part, but mostly, everyone stares at themselves in awe, never wanting to talk above a whisper for fear they will drown themselves out saying their lines.
At least the film itself is still charming and warm - it's the best reason to grab this disc, although there are a few interesting extras: deleted scenes, footage of sports agent Drew Rosenhaus, the entire Crowe-written text of Jerry's manifesto, and camcorder footage of Cruise and Gooding rehearsing the “Show Me the Money” scene. Loose and improvised, it says more about the film than the unscripted chat on the commentary track.
If there's a drawback to the DVD edition of Rintaro Katsushiro's Metropolis ($27.98), the striking new Japanese anime epic that had a limited theatrical release earlier this year, it's that the film is too big for TV. Any size TV, wide-screen or square. Like Fritz Lang's 1926 sci-fi classic, from which it takes its name and some of its inspiration, the setting is a futuristic city where urban sprawl means building up. Skyscrapers jostle for space. Streets cross and crisscross, and traffic, in the sky and on the ground, provides endless gridlock. You're forever looking into corners of shots, noticing bits of action; the TV tube, however close you sit, cannot contain so much detail.
The story, which hardly matters in the face of so much lyrical splendor, borrows from Lang's story about a city being overrun by technology and incorporates bits of Blade Runner and Dr. Strange- love. It's an adaptation of a 1949 Japanese manga (comic book), and, like the new Spider-Man movie opening tomorrow, director Rintaro's film treats the look and feel of comics as an art form to be taken seriously. It also pushes anime one step forward. If you haven't been able to get into anime, the name for adult-themed Japanese animation distinguished by its doe-eyed characters and apocalyptic scenarios, this could change your mind - don't miss the scene where buildings crumble as Ray Charles croons “I Can't Stop Loving You.”
The DVD package comes with a second, three-inch mini disc that, don't worry, will work on your machine. It includes interviews with writer Katsuhiro Otomo (who directed Akira, the famous anime film), a history of the original comic book (written by Speed Racer creator Osamu Tezuka), and a demonstration of how animation layers combine to create a picture that makes good use out of that angle button on your DVD remote.
New on video: Ali (Michael Mann's flawed bio-pic of The Greatest is the kind of ambitious failure you wish Hollywood made weekly; it's as stylish as you would hope, and features some stirring moments, but Mann never quite captures a subject that's as complicated and huge as they come); Not Another Teen Movie (Gross-out take on every cliche in teen filmdom; not as awful as you think, not as fun as it should be).
New on DVD: Friends: The Complete First Season ($69.98). Love it or hate it, looking back, the show captures the Gap Generation in all its affected charm. What's amazing about the DVD package is how complete the show already felt a few episodes in. Matt LeBlanc's hair aside, these episodes could be from any season of the series. The four-disc set includes the first 24 episodes, with a commentary on the pilot from the producers, and a guide to the show's guest stars.