Since moving into a new apartment last week, one thing hasn't been available to me on a regular basis: the use of a computer. Before the move, I'd grown accustomed to writing reviews in the comfort of my own home, but it's just one more thing I'll have to live without until everything falls into place. Since the day of this writing---Labor Day---was a rare case where yours truly was actually work-free for an entire 24 hours, I decided to put another review under my belt. Without the use of a computer, though, it obviously wasn't as simple. Reluctantly, I drove down to my part-time evening job to write this thing up from behind the ol' desk...but something occurred to me as I organized my notes and turned the computer on.
I wasn't even supposed to be here today.
For fans of Kevin Smith's 1994 debut Clerks, the above sentence speaks volumes. The film's most rabid fans are those who can identify with protagonists Dante and Randal, a pair of pals who work side-by-side at Quick Stop Groceries and RST Video. Essentially, their daily lives consist of berating customers, playing street hockey and debating pop culture with each other (or anyone who'll listen). Like Seinfeld, this is "a comedy about nothing", choosing to tell its story with sharp character interaction and clever dialogue. It does for convenience stores what Office Space would later do for cubicles, only with more cussing and less color.
However, the real feather in the cap of Clerks isn't the film's plot, but how much of a sacrifice it was for Kevin Smith...and of course, the influence it had on the industry since its 1994 release. The story of the film's production is every young movie lover's dream: put everything you have into a low-budget feature (including selling off most of your prized possessions), and then having the last laugh when your hard work eventually pays off. Clerks paved the way for future films by Kevin Smith and company, including the excellent Chasing Amy and Dogma, and really set the bar high for independent films. Breakout success stories like this are few and far between; see also Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's career jump-start with Good Will Hunting, or the the undeniable hype machines for both The Blair Witch Project and The Sixth Sense. They really add to the magic of movies, don't they?
Still, beneath the critical acclaim and cult following, there's a confident, funny, brash film lurking underneath, and I love it as much today as when I first saw it in 1994. Clerks has actually aged quite well (and thanks to the magic of DVD, looks better than ever), and it still speaks for a generation of minimum wage register jockeys. Sure, it's no Citizen Kane (or is it?), but it's about as good as films get on a $30K budget.
The ten year anniversary of Kevin Smith's debut has finally arrived, and the gang returns for one blockbuster of a three-disc release (easily trumping the first DVD outing, an overpriced rehash of the original laserdisc). View Askew Productions has been notorious for producing some of the most loaded Special Edition DVDs on the market, and there's no argument that the Clerks X: 10th Anniversary Collector's Series really lives up to their reputation. The film itself is the same Clerks that fans know and love (unlike a certain sci-fi trilogy discussed in the film), blessed with a great new technical presentation and several hours' worth of excellent new special features. Let's get started, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality:
If you never thought you'd see the day when Clerks earned four stars for video and audio quality, think again. While it's true that the film's grainy black and white transfer can't compete with major studio releases, let me again direct your attention to the film's low budget. The decision to shoot in black and white was purely financial (as Kevin Smith has verified on many occasions), and the equipment wasn't top quality, either. Even with these limitations (and considering the production team was still learning the ropes), Clerks isn't an ugly-looking movie. The grain is as much a part of the film as Jay and Silent Bob, and this new DVD release keeps imperfections to a strict minimum. Blacks are solid, contrast is surprisingly good and there's not much dirt to speak of either. In short, this anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen transfer is about as good as Clerks will ever look on DVD, and anyone who stays away from this film based on said imperfections should go fornicate themselves.
Likewise, the film's audio quality was never really anything to write home about, but this DVD really makes lemonade out of it. This brand new 5.1 mix won't test the limits of your home theater system, but it's head and shoulders above past efforts. While most of the action is anchored squarely in the front channel, the frequent uses of music in the film really open up the soundstage nicely. While it's unfortunate that the film's original mono mix hasn't been included (unless you speak French), this won't likely upset most Clerks enthusiasts. The dialogue is more easily heard and the music has more punch, and that's never a problem in my book. English and Spanish subtitles have also been provided, as well as an Enhanced Playback Track that will be covered shortly.
Menu Design, Presentation, and Packaging:
Three discs, three seperate menu designs and layouts, and not a bad one in the bunch. Each one is highly appropriate for the content found therein; for example, the above menu (from Disc One) features clips from the film as "Berserker" plays on in the background. With simple and straightforward navigation, this is the best kind of menu presentation: the kind that you don't really even notice, but looks great anyway. The 91-minute film itself (located on Disc One) has been divided into 18 chapters, and a layer change was not detected. The packaging is also excellent, as this three-disc set is housed in a foldout digipak case with a black slipcover. A nice booklet loaded with photos and early promotional material is also included. In all regards, it really gets high marks for presentation...but we're just getting to the best part!
Spread out neatly over all three discs, the treasure trove of extras included here is easily this release's high point. To get things started, we're treated to a Classic Commentary that runs over the entirety of the film's original cut on Disc One. This is the same great commentary found on the original laserdisc (as well as the original Miramax DVD) and it's as funny as ever. Recorded in 1995 (during the filming of Mallrats), this commentary features Kevin Smith, producer/editor Scott Mosier, Brian O'Halloran ("Dante" in the film), a very drunk Jason Mewes, co-star Walt Flanagan, and more! It's full of great moments, tons of laughs, and chock full of insight for aspiring filmmakers.
Next up on the first disc, we have the previously mentioned Enhanced Playback Track, a subtitle option that features tons of facts about the film (sadly, they're nothing new to View Askew veterans). We also get the film's much talked-about Lost Scene, which occurs inside a funeral home and may or may not involve the violation of a dead body. Seen below, this scene (playable on its own, or via seamless branching) has been newly animated in the style of the short-lived but still awesome Clerks animated series, although it's strangely presented in a full-color, 4:3 aspect ratio (with a video introduction by Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier, outside of the very same funeral home). The film nerd in me noticed another inconsistency in the "lost scene": the break in the film's original cut states that the scene lasts only five minutes, but the animated bit runs for at least seven! Fun fact: the scene was never filmed in live action, but only for financial reasons (it turns out that the production budget couldn't afford the expense of such a set).
Moving on, the first disc also houses the sorta-rare Kevin Smith short film The Flying Car produced for "The Tonight Show". It basically reunites Dante and Randal in character, and features the same sharp dialogue as Clerks itself. Next up, we get the complete collection of the much-requested Jay and Silent Bob MTV Shorts, which run about 17 minutes in total (also with intro by Smith). Also here are a pair of features found on the original DVD: the film's Theatrical Trailer and the Music Video for Soul Asylum's "Can't Even Tell" (with new intro by Kevin Smith and Green Lantern!). There's also a pair of Restoration featurettes, but they sadly don't include any actual demonstrations (just some brief technical interviews). The first disc closes with the original Audition Tapes of Brian O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson (Dante and Randal, respectively), and a few others. While this is easily enough for a great release already, there's plenty more left over!
Disc Two houses one of the most interesting extras: the complete, unrestored First Cut of the film (above right, in all its Super VHS glory)! This also features an additional 9-minute intro by Smith and Mosier, and features a majority of the deleted scenes before they were originally cut (including the awkwardly dark original ending). Although the technical presentation is awful (to say the least!), this is a rare case where I'm glad it wasn't restored in any way. It really allows the viewer a unique opportunity to see Clerks in its early stages of completion, and really makes for a unique viewing experience. Also here is a new Audio Commentary that plays during this "First Cut", featuring most of the original participants (and the addition of Jeff Anderson). It's the same great View Askew style of commentary we've all come to know and love, featuring more retrospective comments than technical ones. Although it's a shame that a new commentary couldn't have been recorded over the proper cut, it's a great feature to have. Also of note: this commentary was also visually recorded, and can be viewed as a full-screen option via the "Angle" button on your remote. Unfortunately, a "picture in picture" option isn't available. Two discs down, one to go.
Disc Three holds the mother of all behind-the-scenes documentaries, The Snowball Effect. This is a terrific feature-length piece that covers every aspect of the film production, and also give a nice account of things from a young filmmaker's perspective. There are loads of interviews with the cast and crew (mostly recent), and even tons of old photographs and video footage (like the picture seen above). All in all, it's one of the most entertaining documentaries I've seen on DVD thus far, and will definitely earn repeat viewings in the future. Moving on, we also get Kevin's first real film project (a school assignment), Mae Day: The Crumbling of a Documentary. Originally, it was designed to be a unique look at a local soon to undergo a sex-change operation, but that fell through during filming. Instead, it turned out to be just that: an account of a documentary that fell apart, complete with the cast and crew ripping into the young director.
Also here is a lengthy 10th Anniversary Q&A with Kevin and some of the cast and crew, as eager members of the live audience play the part of the interviewer (similar to the excellent An Evening With Kevin Smith). Next up is a mass of cut footage from The Snowball Effect, running for roughly 45 more minutes (an especially interesting clip shows Scott Mosier reminiscing about the 1994 Cannes Film Festival). Also here is a Still Photo Gallery (seen below), as well as a text-based supplement that highlights Kevin's journal entries before and after production. Lastly, we get a collection of Articles and Reviews circa 1994, including a pair of gems by Amy Taubin of The Village Voice.
All in all, it's an overwhelmingly satisfying collection of extras for any View Askew fan. One nitpick, though: the bulk of the featurettes were presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, which is sadly quite common in most DVD releases. In any case, it's hard to find many other faults with any aspect of Clerks X: 10th Anniversary Collector's Series. The only omissions from the original disc were the deleted scenes presented individually (although they appear on Disc Two's "First Cut"), but this is a relatively minor detail. Even with the unfortunately-scrapped plans to include a few other choice extras (including the super-rare and super-awful Clerks television pilot!), this is a great release in every category.
Bar none, this well-produced mammoth is the love letter that Kevin Smith fans have been waiting for. The film itself is a genuine classic, so it's good to know that the DVD backs up the main feature. From a great technical presentation to one of the best bonus features I've ever had the pleasure to wade through, the Clerks X: 10th Anniversary Collector's Series 3-disc set is easily one of the year's best offerings, hands down. Owners of the original release will definitely want to scoop up this terrific package, as it's one of the easiest double-dip recommendations in DVD's relatively short history. Overall, I'd have to be a fool not to include this set as part of the DVD Talk Collector Series---and although I'm a fool, Clerks X still passes with flying colors. Call off your day job and have fun with this one, will ya?
Other Links of Interest
DVD Talk Reviews of other films by Kevin Smith:
Clerks: Collector's Series (Original release)
Mallrats: Collector's Edition
Chasing Amy: Criterion Collection
Dogma (Both releases)
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
Read the DVD Talk Interview with Kevin Smith
Randy Miller III is a bald-headed art instructor hailing from Harrisburg, PA. To fund his DVD viewing habits, he also works on freelance graphic design and illustration projects. In his free time, Randy enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.