Universal Home Video
Cast: Kevin Smith, Jason Lee, Jeremy London, Jason Mewes
Extras: Commentary track, Featurette, Music Video, Deleted scenes, Photo Gallery, Biographies and Production Notes
Whether or not we want to admit it, we are all on the quest for the perfect DVD. You know what I’m talking about. We’re all looking for that DVD that combines a great picture, great audio, and great supplements. Let’s see if the newly released Universal Collector’s Edition of Kevin Smith’s "Mallrats" comes close to offering this perfect package.As with Smith’s other two (released) films, "Clerks" and "Chasing Amy", "Mallrats" has a deceptively simple plot. Brodie (Jason Lee) and T.S. (Jeremy London) have both been dumped by their girlfriends. Brodie is left by Rene because she finds him boring while T.S. is rejected by Brandi after he inadvertently causes the death of a girl who was going to appear on a gameshow created by Brandi’s father, Mr. Svenning (Michael Rooker). To forget their sorrows, Brodie and T.S. go to the local mall. There, they run into a colorful cast of characters, including (Smith regulars) Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith), fan-boys Walt and Steve-Dave, Trish, a 15-year old writing a book on sex, and Marvel Comics legend, Stan Lee. Once Brodie and T.S. realize that Rene and Brandi are in the mall as well, they set out to get their respective girlfriends back by enlisting the help of Jay and Silent Bob to help sabotage Mr. Svenning’s gameshow, which is being broadcast from the mall.
While the plot is easy to follow, it’s the dialogue and relationships of the characters that makes "Mallrats" work. Many may consider "Mallrats" to be Smith’s weakest work, but it is still light-years ahead of most comedies out there. Smith writes dialogue like no one else, peppering the language with clever references and foul sayings to create dialogue that sounds real. Smith has said that his goal is to create believable characters, and his dialogue helps to instill the reality of his characters. Sure the script sounds "scripted" at times, but for the most part, the words coming out of the character’s mouths in "Mallrats" sound realistic and reflect what most of us would say or think in those situations.
As for the situations in "Mallrats", they may point to why some Smith fans have turned their backs on the film. While Clerks" and "Chasing Amy" are both very funny, they both also have very serious moments. However, for the most part, "Mallrats" is just silly and fun. And in this case, silly and fun equals entertaining. Yes, it’s dumb when the Easter Bunny gets beaten up. Yes, I rolled my eyes when Silent Bob was dressed as Batman. But, I also laughed and I believe that it was Kevin Smith’s intention with this particular film.
Smith often teases himself (if Ben Affleck isn’t already doing it) about not having much of a visual style. As Ben Affleck once said, "There are more camera movements in 10 seconds of "Armageddon" than in all of your (Smith’s) movies combined." However, in "Mallrats", Smith and director of photography David Klein have created a nice looking film. Despite Affleck’s teasing, there are some camera movements in "Mallrats", including some crane shots and a nice 360-degree shot of Lee when he first enters the mall. Also, the garish colors of the mall are used to full effect to emphasize the environment of the movie.I talked about Smith’s dialogue earlier and its importance to the film. The only thing more important than the dialogue in a film is the actor that is delivering it – and there are some fine actors in "Mallrats". It’s very hard to believe that "Mallrats" is Jason Lee’s first starring role, as he seems so at home in front of the camera. This former pro skateboarder delivers a tour-de-force performance as Brodie, the ultimate slacker. Lee delivers Smith’s rapid-fire dialogue like no one else. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Jeremy London. The veteran of TV’s "Party Of Five" seems very stiff when compared to Lee, and often trips over his complex lines. Doherty gives a competent performance, her true talent showing through when Rene gets bitchy. As usual, Mewes and Smith are wonderful as Jay and Silent Bob, leaving one to wonder once again, "What is Jason Mewes’ problem?" Ben Affleck has a small role in the film as the mall bully who is after Rene. In a cameo appearance, Stan Lee is very good, delivering his lines accurately and with true feeling. Granted, he’s playing himself, but he still does a better job than Jeremy London. There is also a neat cameo by Brian O’Halloran of "Clerks", playing the cousin of his character from that movie.
While I obviously liked the film, the Universal Collector’s Edition DVD is a mixed bag. While the supplements on the disc are outstanding, the presentation of the movie itself is sadly questionable. "Mallrats" is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio <$PS,letterboxed> format that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TVs. Exhibiting an accurate framing, the picture is clear and without obvious scratches or defects on the source print. Strangely however, the picture is very dark. The colors look overly muted and subdued. As I mentioned above, the film captures the bright colors (especially the neon) of the mall, but for some reason on the DVD all of the colors are very dark. I played the DVD alongside the Universal laserdisc of
"Mallrats" and the difference was extremely obvious. While the colors on the laserdisc are bright and lively, the DVD looks as if it is being watched through a blue filter. In the exterior scenes on the laserdisc for example, it is sunny. On the DVD, these same scenes appear to have been shot under very overcast skies. I tried changing every picture setting on my screen, but the image was darker under all circumstances.
There is also a problem with the audio on the DVD. "Mallrats" is presented in <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 surround, but the mix is very weak. Most of the sound emanates from the center channel. The soundtrack is made up of a number of rock songs and they sound flat and tinny — almost with an AM radio quality. Once again, when compared to the Universal laserdisc, the difference is obvious. The laserdisc has a rich, bassy sound, which fills all of the speakers, and makes the DVD sound like a mono recording. These problems with the video and audio won’t keep you from enjoying the film, but they are surprising for a special edition disc, even more so one coming from Universal.
Luckily the supplements on the disc more than make up for any shortcomings in the presentation of the actual film. For years, we have heard about the last minute changes that were made in "Mallrats" and how an entire sequence was dropped from the beginnings. At last, we can view that footage and much more in the nearly one hour of deleted scenes included on the disc. Included is the 20-minute original opening which was dropped, and many smaller scenes which referred back to that opening which had to be replaced. The original opening was dropped due to a poor response at a test-screening, and for once, I agree with the test audience. The deleted scenes on "Mallrats" are certainly no "treasure chest" of lost gems. I think that the movie plays better as it was released. However, seeing these lost scenes and hearing Kevin Smith introduce them, gives us insight into the filmmaking process and how something can seem funny on paper and not work once it’s on the screen. It’s great to view these scenes and understand the evolution of "Mallrats".Along with the deleted scenes, there is a 20-minute featurette, which is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Sure, there is the typical behind-the-scenes footage, but we also get Smith and the cast telling it like it is. Brutally honest and very raw, this group describes the making of the film, the problems with marketing, the critical backlash, and the ultimate box-office failure of the film. I should have known that any featurette carrying a disclaimer from Universal was going to be good. It’s nice to see filmmakers and actors being honest and having fun. Especially Ben Affleck’s comments are excruciatingly funny.
As if all of that behind the scenes info wasn’t enough, the DVD also features a feature-length <$commentary,audio commentary> with Smith, Affleck, Jason Lee, Mewes, producer Scott Mosier, and View Askew (the production company behind Smith’s films) historian Vincent Pereira. I have come to rely the commentaries on any film by Kevin Smith or Sam Raimi to be entertaining, and "Mallrats" doesn’t disappoint. As with the featurette, the commentary is raw and honest, and also very funny (although not as funny as the commentary on the "Chasing Amy" laserdisc). These guys never hold back when talking about problems and people they don’t like. (Unfortunately, they also talk about Smith’s latest film "Dogma" quite a bit. Is it ever going to be released?) The commentary is where we really get the full story on how Universal took control of the film and demanded a large number of changes. Listening to this commentary, it becomes very obvious that Smith has joined the ranks of Sam Raimi and Don Coscarelli, the director of the "Phantasm" films, as a young filmmaker who took his work to Universal and then lost creative control. The commentary was video-taped and at certain times during the film, you can watch the "live" commentary by using the DVD players angle function. While this is a neat feature, it’s odd that only certain parts can be watched. A "Mallrats" "bug" shows up in the bottom right corner of the screen to inform the viewer that the angle function can be used. However, when Jason Lee is doing his Jeremy London impression, we can’t see that! Weird!
The DVD also contains cast and crew bios, detailed production notes, which are the exact same ones printed in the DVD booklet, and production photographs. There is also a music video by the band "The Goops" which was directed by Smith. This video is funny, but weird, as it just features Jay and Silent Bob running around a totally white soundstage. It must be the cheapest music video ever. (Second only to Nine Inch Nails’ "March of the Pigs.")
I’m sure that there are many people who wonder why a silly teen film like "Mallrats" deserves to be a Collector’s Edition. For the fans of the film, this is something that has been a long-time coming. While it is not the best DVD of all time due to the technical flaws, the package is a "Mallrats"-fan dream come true. Now we can rest easy knowing that we have seen it all and heard it all and that we know everything there is to know about a very funny movie.