Oh, the dreaded extended cut.
Going into this, I wasn't sure what it would be like seeing Walk the Line again. I loved it when I caught the flick during its theatrical run, but I haven't seen it since. Would I even notice the extension? Would the bloat be evident? An even worse fear was that I might not be able to take the film seriously after seeing it so effectively eviscerated by Jake Kasdan in Walk Hard - The Dewey Cox Story. It could be like that friend everyone has who got pantsed in front of the entire school and now no one can look at him without snickering and picturing his tighty whities in their minds.
Turns out, Walk the Line has cast-iron armor against such ridicule. On watching it again, I was reminded how much I liked this picture. Just like the first time, the music got my toes tapping and my hands clapping, and the romance between Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) and June Carter (Reese Witherspoon) got my heart racing and my eyes misty. Recently I reviewed Pride of the Yankees, and despite standing on the legs of a sports biopic, the main story in that movie was the romance between Lou Gehrig and his wife, and so too is Walk the Line not really a story about a musician's rise to fame but instead is a drama of a great love affair.
Perhaps that's why this movie is a living and breathing entity when its closest cousin, Ray, is more of a lumpen approximation of the same. Despite having virtually identical structures, Walk the Line comes alive where Ray rings cold by being too dogmatic an imitation of its subject. Phoenix and Witherspoon don't do dead-on impersonations of their real-life counterparts, but instead sing in the spirit of the originals. It's sort of like when early in the movie Sam Phillips (Dallas Roberts) shuts down Johnny's audition, telling him to stop singing the same old gospel tune in the same old way and instead sing something he really means.
Phoenix and Witherspoon have a smoldering chemistry that makes the couple's decade-long courtship believable. You can see why he would continue to chase her, and why she would make him work so hard to earn her love and trust. In retrospect, it seems obvious why Reese Witherspoon won the acting Oscar for Walk the Line, as she's really the one who props the film up. Without her, it's another episode of "Behind the Music," with a drug-addicted genius throwing his money away in pursuit of the next high. The presence of June Carter in the Johnny Cash story transforms it from another tale of fame and excess into a more timeless story of being true to one's own values and having the faith to weather personal storms for the bright new morning waiting behind the clouds.
Most of Cash's songs, from "Cry, Cry, Cry" through to the title song, are declarations of his rugged individualism. The movie doesn't even have time to touch on his many political causes and the stands he took on controversial issues, but even without those, we still get a portrait of a man struggling to make his mark. He's all kinetic energy and scattered ideas, and without the stability of June Carter, he would have never gotten on the straight and narrow, he'd have never walked that line. I'm half-tempted to get "WTL" tattooed across my knuckles to remind me to stick to my own ridiculous notions of existentialism and love.
So, yes, Walk the Line manages to shake off the Dewey Cox satirization. (Well, for the most part. When people said lines that inspired songs, or when Johnny first got offered his pills, or all the stuff about his dead brother--I smiled a little, I admit.) What of the weight the movie has gained?
I think the best compliment I can pay Walk the Line: Extended Cut is that I didn't notice the additions at all. The problem with a lot of extended versions of films is that the trims in the original release made sense, making for a leaner picture that gets right down to it without messing around. Granted, when it's all said and done, this movie was only bumped up 17 minutes, from 136 to 153 minutes; even so, looking over a list of what was restored, it turns out that it's material that makes the movie richer for me. Many of the additions were deleted scenes that were available on previous Walk the Line DVDs, and they include more material with Cash's first wife (Ginnifer Goodwin) that actually helps to make her a more sympathetic character. Likewise, other scenes that have been included for the first time or extended manage to enhance different aspects of the story. Johnny's breaking of a test record, for instance, shows his naïveté, and June taking him to church shows more of his healing process, while also driving home further aspects of Johnny's guilt over the loss of his brother (also enhanced by the reinstatement of Jack's funeral).
More important are the musical extensions, where we see Johnny working on "Cry, Cry, Cry" and "I Still Miss Someone." These show us more about his creative process, and how his songs often conform to his personal pain, sometimes easing it, and in the case of his wife catching him writing "Cry," adding to it.
That said, I can't really make the claim that Walk the Line: Extended Cut is a vastly better film than the regular ol' Walk the Line. The return of this footage doesn't hurt the film, but its absence didn't hurt it either. There is nothing to indicate that director James Mangold has been allowed to right some egregious wrong done against him, that his vision for Walk the Line had been hopelessly mangled and without those 17 minutes, his film was a pale shadow of what it could have been.
More of a good thing is still a good thing, but in terms of consumer value, I'm not sure how much I would say you should feel compelled to dump the older DVD in favor of the new one. If you're tempted, then by all means, read on. There are some new extras that might make your decision easier.
The Walk the Line: Extended Cut has a gorgeous 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that maintains the look of the original theatrical release, making an effortless transition to digital home viewing. Colors are good, and there are no DVD boogie men lurking to break up the picture resolution or cause any frustration. There is nothing to indicate the DVD authoring this time around used any different source materials than the previous releases and is likely the same basic transfer.
A film with this much music needs special care when the audio is mixed, and Cash fans should enjoy either the 5.1 DTS or 5.1 Surround mixes, as they are both rich and full of vibrancy. Likewise, the basic 2.0 is nothing to sneeze at, and there are French and Spanish dubs.
Subtitles are available in English (both regular and for the deaf and hearing impaired), and Spanish, and though not advertised, I discovered a French subtitle track when I toggled through the options with my remote.
The Extended Cut is technically the third U.S. edition of Walk the Line on DVD. On its initial release in 2006, the movie came out simultaneously as a one-disc and a fancier two-disc edition, with the standard version being released a second time the following year with a new cover. The old discs had plenty of extras, and many of those are kept for this new 2-disc set-up.
For those of you keeping score, here are the features that make a return appearance:
* Director's commentary: a serviceable James Mangold track that runs with the movie. (This is the only bonus on DVD 1.)
* Theatrical trailer.
* "Folsom: Cash and the Comeback" - 12 minutes with other musical artists and writers talking about the climate that lead to the legendary Cash prison concert.
* "Celebrating the Man in Black: The Making of Walk the Line" - The standard discussion of the movie, featuring performers like Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson also reflecting back on what Cash meant to them. Not sure how Kid Rock snuck in there. He's always an unwelcome gatecrasher.
* "Ring of Fire: The Passion of Johnny & June" - More from the same commentators about the romance between the singing duo.
This almost accounts for everything on the old discs. The 2-disc version also contained three extended, uninterrupted musical performances, which have been expanded here as "Johnny Cash Jukebox," now eight songs with optional introductions by writers, musicians, and people involved with the production giving background on the songs. The tracklist includes "Lewis Boogie" (Jerry Lee Lewis), "Get Rhythm," "You're My Baby" (Roy Orbison), "Jukebox Blues" (June Carter), "Rock and Roll Ruby," "That's All Right Mama" (Elvis Presley), "Jackson" (Johnny and June), and "Cocaine Blues." Unless indicated, they are performances by Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash, and the others are performed by the respective actors.
The handful of completely new extras are as follows:
* "More Man in Black": Two deleted scenes that weren't put back into the movie, with optional James Mangold commentary. In one, Johnny interacts with another salesman before his recording career takes off; the other is a longer version of the piece in the film where a strung-out Johnny tries to cash a check.
* "Becoming Cash/Becoming Carter": A little over ten minutes about casting the main roles and how the performances were shaped, including how T-Bone Burnett recorded with Phoenix and Witherspoon.
* "Sun Records & the Johnny Cash Sound": Twelve minutes with musicians like Chris Isaak, Scotty Moore (Elvis' guitarist), Marty Stuart, and Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash biographers, and other commentators from musical worlds like the Grand Ol' Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame talking about the music that came out of Memphis and the Sun label as run by Sam Phillips.
* "The Cash Legacy": Fifteen minutes on the lingering influence of the music with Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Ozzy Osbourne, Trent Reznor, Mike Ness, the Statler Bros., Henry Rollins, Steve Earle, and other commentators.
* "Cash and His Faith": Johnny Cash's sister, his pastor, and some of the other commentators from the featurettes spend eleven minutes discussing Johnny Cash's relationship with God and how it affected his music.
* Trailers for Once and Waitress.
Both discs come in a standard-sized plastic case with a hinged tray. Inside the case is a folded one-sheet with chapter listings and liner notes; outside the case is a cardboard slipcover.
Highly Recommended. Though the Walk the Line: Extended Cut doesn't make any essential additions to what was already a quality film, it's a case where a few extra minutes doesn't hurt either. The central story of Johnny Cash's long-term romance with June Carter is a love story for all time, and Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon manage to recreate the music and the chemistry for truly memorable screen performances. Walk the Line: Extended Cut is a two-disc package, and in addition to bonus features from the 2006 DVDs, a handful of quality extras have been added to make it all the more special.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.