Before VH-1 began it's Behind the Music series to chronicle the rise and fall of legendary rock n' roll bands, there was "This is Spinal Tap." A "mockumentary/ rockumentary" look at distinctive rock band Spinal Tap, the film takes the viewer deep into the life of the members of the band, following them through the fame, the fortune, the throngs of fans, the difficulties of staging a show around a 18 inch model of Stonehenge, the infighting within the band, the tragic loss of drummer after drummer and the aftermath of losing fame.
Filled with classic scenes and humor that has only become funnier as more and more rock and roll bands seem to go through much of the trials and tribulations depicted in the film, This is Spinal Tap definitely works, 16 years after its original release. The "these go to 11" and "Hello Cleveland!" scenes are still extremely funny, even after multiple viewings of the film. The film benefits not just from the comedic talents of Director Rob Reiner, but also from the immense talents of bandmates Michael McKean (David St. Hubbins), Christopher Guest (Nigel Tuftnel) and Simpson's voice man Harry Shearer (Derek Smalls). All three add a lot to the film in their own way, and, although it's embarassing to say, the music is good too! As if the documentary materials itself didn't make the film funny enough, songs like "Hell Hole," "Sex Farm," "Big Bottom," and the infamous "Stonehenge" only add to the humor and enjoyment of the film. The band sounds good, and the film is constantly entertaining whether during the deliberations for the "Blacker than Black" album, the "Flower People" retrospective, or the scene in which Derek Smalls gets stuck in a pod while on stage.
The film (and the deleted scenes contained on the DVD) feature cameos by the likes of Fran Drescher, Billy Crystal (as a mime who works at a mime restaurant) and Bruno Kirby, who plays the band's limo driver who has a much more developed role in the deleted scenes, after partying with the band one night.
While this is certainly one of the classic comedies of the 1980's, the latest DVD release from MGM comes with one important caveat: The captions, identifying the people who are being interviewed (over and over again) and identifying the locations and venues that the band visit are inexplicably omitted from this print. While the film is certainly funny even without these captions, it is an extremely unfortunate omission and it is unknown whether or not MGM plans to fix this error.
Despite this omission, this film is still very much worth watching. For anyone who has not yet seen this film, it is a must see. The film is consistently funny and entertaining. It sets its own standard for both rockumentaries and "mockumentaries" which has paved the way for numerous imitators which have followed.
"This is Spinal Tap" is presented with a fresh digital transfer in widescreen enhanced format. While the film shows both its age and the rough documentary style employed by Reiner, the film looks good. The colors and tones are at times a bit muted, but it is on the whole quite enjoyable, the only visual problem being the lack of captions which did not make it on the digital transfer.
This is Spinal Tap sounds great with a 5.1 Dolby Digital Sound transfer. Both the music and the dialogue sound good, although obviously again, the documentary style somewhat impacts the film's sound presentation. Most notably, despite the fact that the film features music and dialogue extensively, the volume is sufficiently even so that a viewer need not adjust the volume in order to enjoy the film.
This is the area where this DVD shines the brightest. The DVD features approximately an hour of deleted scenes, feature length audio commentary by the members of the band, a follow-up interview with Marty DiBergi (Reiner), music videos for "Big Bottom" "Listen to the Flower People" "Hell Hole" and "Gimme Some Money"; the theatrical trailer and 3 television ads for the film, a short clip of the band on the "Joe Franklin Show;" 3 ads for "Rock N' Rollers" sandwiches, and a "Flower People" press conference.
An absolute highlight of the bonus materials is the feature length commentary. The band members never break character and talk about how they took the "pod" idea from a Purim party, how just about everyone they encounter in the film is now dead, how at times they didn't know that DiBergi was filming, the ways in which he was trying to "rub their nose in it" and what certain experiences depicted in the film were actually like. While this all comes at the expense of a true behind the scenes look at the genesis of the movie, it is extremely funny and entertaining nonetheless. The comedic talents of Shearer, Guest and McKean come through well in the commentary and the chemistry the bandmates have with each other, years after the film was made is immediately apparent and quite enjoyable.
The Deleted Scenes- It is extremely interesting to see the different directions that Reiner would have taken the film with the hour of deleted scenes included on the DVD. They feature a lengthy scene with Billy Crystal as a mime waiter in a mime restaurant, and how they use the walking against the wind routine to make people feel guilty and eat more; a couple of scenes involving Bruno Kirby's character smoking a joint given to him by Nigel, reluctantly at first, but ultimately enthusiastically, featuring him performing in his underwear; later appearing in another scene as he is driving the band in the limo, talking to DiBergi and making sure that the scene would not make it into the finished film. The scenes also feature more great material with the band, including a scene in which each of the band members have developed cold sores. Although watching an hour of disjointed scenes can be a bit tedious, watching these scenes is definitely worth the time, as they are generally quite funny.
Among the other extras, the music videos serve as a nice reminder of the cheesy artistic tactics used in music videos of the 1980's. In addition, while the film itself did not always provide the full version of these songs, the music videos does. The viewer is therefore treated to songs such as "Big Bottom" in all of its glory. Further, the follow-up with DiBergi is also funny, just because it Reiner portrays him with a certain desperation, as his career has soured in quite similar fashion to the that of the band, stating "Hey, Kubrick's last film sucked."
While some will refuse to purchase this film because the captions were left off of the transfer, and they will try to hunt down a copy of the Criterion Collection version of the film or wait until MGM realizes and corrects its error, this film is definitely worth renting and, even in its current state, is a worthy addition to any DVD collection. The humor of the film is as fresh today as it was in the early 80's, perhaps even fresher because a bit of distance can further allow the viewer to laugh at all of the 80's rock conventions which are rather accurately depicted in this film. On a scale of mockumentary comedies from 1 to 10, this film definitely goes to 11. Further, if MGM does fix its error, this version of the film might become a collector's item.