Dogma: Special Edition

Dogma: Special Edition (1999)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino, Salma Hayeck, Jason Lee
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Deleted Scenes, Outtakes, Trailer, Biographies

I find it very interesting that movies that stir up the most fervent controversies the fastest, are films that touch upon religious subjects. As soon as a filmmaker suggests a different view on theological issues, the moral-apostles of the Catholic church are quicker to respond to it than anyone else – many times, even without having seen the actual film. It is a commonly known fact that the Church has always been rather militant in imposing their belief system upon others in the present and the past, but even today the hypocrisy is visible on a daily basis, while the Church preaches goodness, to help and to support the poor and needy, while itself taking from the poorest of our society without scruple, enriching itself in growing splendor every day.
As such it came hardly as a surprise that "Dogma" quickly became the target of many churchgoers. Writer and director Kevin Smith is not known for his tactility, but more for his outrageous, subversive sense of humor that is very observingly commenting on our society. What I find astonishing – if not simply mind-boggling – is the fact that the film speaks more for the church than it does against, and yet it is a piece of heresy in the mind of many. While I do not want to get into any religious discussions, I think the film’s approach to show that is irrelevant what you believe in as long as you have belief, is a message that is not only accurate, but also very poignant. Beliefs transcend classes, races, colors and social statuses and it should be the Church’s foremost interest to nurture the thought, but as we all know, change and modern thinking are not parts of the Catholic vocabulary.

This now, is finally the Special Edition release of Kevin Smith’s "Dogma" that most fans have been waiting for. Presented as a 2-disc release in a dual-Amaray case with a cardboard slip-sleeve, this disc promises a lot of additional material… and I mean a lot.

Enough of that, let’s check out the movie. Loki (Matt Damon) and Bartleby (Ben Affleck) are two fallen Angels. They have been banished from Heaven by God and are forced to walk the Earth for all eternity. One day they find a loophole in the Catholic dogma that would allow them to sneak back into Paradise through a backdoor, but they don’t realize that by doing so they would undo the fabric of the universe.
While Azrael (Jason Lee) is giving the two fallen Angels his support, Metatron (Alan Rickman), the voice of God, turns to Bethany Sloane (Linda Fiorentino) for help to avoid the destruction of all earthly existence. Bethany is the last Scion, a direct descendant of Jesus Christ, and only she is able to stop the two Angels from re-entering Heaven. Aided by two very unlikely prophets (Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes) she’s soon on her way to find the gate Loki and Bartleby intend to us for their return. She is soon accompanied by Rufus (Chris Rock), the 13th Apostle who was removed from the Bible text because he was black, and Serendipity (Salma Hayek) a muse with writer’s block in a race against time. Will they be able to get stop the two Angels before they destroy everything in existence?

After watching the movie, quite honestly I do not really understand what the fuzz is about. It is radical and it is violent, yes, but no more so than many other contemporary films that spur less controversy. The film is a very intriguing and thought-provoking story that allows viewers to reevaluate their own position on Catholicism and their own beliefs. Since it breaks with literally every preconceived notion the Bible has been associated with, it is a refreshing and inspired new approach. Covering so many aspects that we just take for granted as a result of the cleric teachings, it is easy to see that they lack some fundamental proof. Every open-minded Bible scholar knows that the text is interpretable – needs to be interpreted in fact – to be of any viable value, especially since the interpretation inflects everyone’s own hopes, wishes, experiences and world views. In that light, "Dogma" is a very modern interpretation of the subject matter, done by a very talented and imaginative young filmmaker.

The second most important thing about he movie is its integrity. As a result of the controversy surrounding the film I was expecting an utterly respectless film, only to be surprised by the result. While the film is respectless in its comedic terms, it is never so in religious terms. Every suggestion the film makes – no matter how far-fetched it may appear in the spur of the moment – is done in a manner that offers alternate ideas. It does neither ridicule, nor thematically change existing dogma, but rather provoke new ideas.

On the other hand the film is not nearly as funny as I had hoped. There are a great many very funny scenes in the film, but is does not have the wall-to-wall radical black humor that films like Monty Python’s "Life Of Brian" offer. The material of the film has so much more potential that the final film appears a bit thin at times with large gaps between laughs, which could certainly have been filled. One thing I did find a bit out of place however was the language used throughout the film. While it may be hip to have a lot of cussing in contemporary movies, I find it distracting, especially since it is entirely superficial for the most part. Especially in the case of "Dogma" I found that the film did not need the strong language and many characters would have played off better without the constant involvement of cursing. All the characters are so carefully crafted that the language becomes distracting and obtrusive. I also found "Dogma" very dialogue-heavy in moments where actions could have replaced the lengthy dialogues. It makes the film a little hard to follow in every detail, as the dialogue is oftentimes dissipating and flat.
Nonetheless, Kevin Smith shows that he is an extremely imaginative, inventive and rebellious filmmaker with a great nose for refreshingly black humor. I can’t wait to follow his career to see how future projects will turn out. On a nice side note I also noticed that Smith did not credit himself for his acting part as "Silent Bob" in the film neither on the packaging nor in the movie’s end credits. It is a nice understatement that adds to the young filmmakers’ likability in a time when agents and lawyers spend more time and money negotiating credit-listing orders than actually helping to get movies made.
Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment is presenting "Dogma" in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> presentation on this DVD. The transfer is razor sharp and without grain or noise, and basically identical to the presentation of the film on the previous release. The source print from which the transfer is taken is clean and in perfect condition, helping to make this a first rate presentation. Framed at a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the transfer is highly detailed, creating a very pleasing look. Colors are finely delineated, restoring every hue and shade of the film in delicate detail. A slight hint of edge-enhancement is evident in a few shots to enhance the image contours but it is never distracting or truly noticeable. Blacks are deep but never lose definition and highlights stand out bright and bold without overpowering the rest of the image. Overall, this is a top-notch video presentation as you would expect from such a new movie, especially in the hands of a potent publisher like Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment.

The disc contains a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track in English as well as French and Spanish <$DS,Dolby Surround> tracks. Just like in the previous release of the film, especially the <$5.1,5.1 channel> mix is very expansive, creating a wide sound field that is immersive and very active. The track makes good use of the split surrounds, although for the most part it is used rather subtly to create engaging ambient surroundings. When fully engaged however, the discrete surrounds create a very aggressive surround environment for the track. The bass extension is good and generally unobtrusive. Very well balanced with the rest of the mix, the low frequency channel gives the audio a solid bottom end that firmly roots the sound effects and music. Dialogues are well produced and integrated, always remaining on top of the rest of the audio and hence always clear and understandable.

The disc contains two separate audio commentaries. The first one is a technical commentary featuring Kevin Smith, Scott Mosier and Vincent Pereira. As Smith points out in the beginning, this is not a humorous <$commentary,commentary track> but rather a technical analysis of the film with informative behind-the-scenes details and a wealth of serious production information. The track is very informative, and surprisingly, really quite serious in nature. The only distractor here could be that the guys are eating and talking with their mouths full occasionally… believe it or not.
The second <$commentary,commentary track> is more relaxed and funny in tone, featuring the usual suspects Kevin Smith, Scott Mosier, Vincent Pereira, Ben Affleck, Jay Mewes, and Jason Lee. The group has done a few commentaries together before and once again, the vibes they have are unmistakable, as the commentary goes from rants to in-jokes, anecdotes and sometimes just silly jokes. The commentary is highly entertaining yet at the same time manages to actually cover some interesting technical and philosophical aspects of the movie as well.

The heart of the second disc is a plethora of deleted scenes. Spread over countless menu screen, viewers have access to over 100 minutes worth of deleted scenes. All of them are introduced by Kevin Smith with explanations why each particular scenes was excised from the movie, as well as to how it came together. The quality of these scenes ranges from outrageous to really bad, hence creating a very interesting blend of tidbits that could have been part of the movie. One a side note, I want to point out that these deleted scenes are all individually accessible through some and wacky funny menus.

From that we go on to almost 15 minutes of bloopers and outtakes. These outtakes contain anything from flubbers to people being hit by microphones or missing their lines. For once, they are really funny and a great addition to the release.

Next up is a selection three major scenes from the movie – Mooby Sequence, Triplet Attack Sequence and No Man Attack Sequence – that are presented as complete sets of storyboards. With your remote control you simply skip through all the storyboards from beginning to end.
The movie’s trailer is also part of this disc as well as a section called "Saints & Sinners," which turns out to be a series of biographies and filmographies for all the principal cast and crew members.
Last but not we have a brief and somewhat humorous commercial for "Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash" and their line of ViewAskew merchandise.

Ultimately, this is clearly a release of the fans of this film. The feature presentation is basically identical to the one found on the previous release, but with its cool extras, this Special Edition offers a lot of additional insight and humorous moments that fans of Kevin Smith will undoubtedly love and cherish. Is it worth upgrading form the previous release? That certainly depends on your taste, but the excellent <$commentary,commentary track>s and outtakes alone are well worth the expenditure if you ask me.