In 10 Words or Less
Kevin Smith goes long...again
Loves: Stand-up comedy, Good monologists, Kevin Smith's Q&As
Likes: Kevin Smith
Dislikes: Superfans, drug comedy
Hates: the Southwest story
The Story So Far...
Having earned his fame as the writer and director of a string of films known more for their dialogue than anything else, it was only natural that Kevin Smith would turn his talent with the English language and willingness to share anything and everything to a more direct medium, and his close connection with his loyal fanbase provided just the right opportunity, filling Q&A sessions that let him talk about his movies, his interests and his life. That these sessions were very funny helped turn them into a venture in their own right, and he now tours the country with his gift of gab. There have been three previous Q&A releases on DVD, and DVDTalk has reviews of two of them.
For his 37th birthday, a number of great importance to him and his fans, Smith returned to his origins, holding an epic seven-hour Q&A at the Count Basie Theater in his hometown of Red Bank, New Jersey, an event that was captured for posterity on the A Threevening with Kevin Smith DVD. Then, three years later, for his milestone 40th birthday, he came home again, this time recording Too Fat for 40 for the Epix network, which is now here on home video. Anyone who thought this celebration of four decades walking the Earth would be full of reflections on his life and the lessons he's learned hasn't been paying attention though to the previous two years, when he was reborn as a stoner at the age of 38 and decided to wrap-up his filmmaking career in order to tackle new challenges.
Though it certainly starts out like any of his appearances, with the exception of the animated opening sequence (by Smodimation artist Steve Stark), as Smith begins addressing the crowd, he's interrupted by someone shouting about Southwest Airlines, the air carrier he had a controversial run-in with (the incident that inspired this special's name.) So in response, he tells the origin of his tour bus, in which he traveled the country. 26 minutes later, he takes his first question, "What was it like to finally get to direct Bruce Willis, or did he direct you?" And with that, a man who has admitted time has lost some meaning thanks to his pot smoking, goes on to talk for nearly three hours, without any more interruption than a round of applause.
Smith can be a bit verbose in the A's to his audience's Q's, but three hours would be downright excessive when it comes to answering one question. Fortunately, during that time, he winds his way through a number of topics, including the question asked, his adoption of marijuana as a muse/motivator, his films, his heroes (including Wayne Gretzky and George Carlin) and his misadventures with authority figures, be they working for airlines or governments (both at home and abroad.) Though I'm no fan of pot comedy, there's no denying the story of him and his wife smoking for the first time is hilarious, and I'm not a big Gretzky fan either, but his discovery of a messiah born of Canada is equally funny. The power is in how he tells these stories, the details he includes and the inflections and tones he uses. The segment on Carlin on the other hand isn't really focused on being funny, but it certainly belongs here, as it has all the heart that informs Smith's best work.
While Smith is an extremely entertaining speaker, there are a few issues I had with this particular presentation, starting with the structure. Part of the enjoyment in these Q&As is the pacing, and taking various questions from the audience is a big part of that. While it's not as if Smith lets the proceedings get slow or anything, him just talking is a bit more like a lecture than his usual presentation. I can't say it truly suffered for it, but the energy felt different. Also different is the story about Cop-Out and Bruce Willis. While this particular issue isn't going to affect the vast majority of those watching, it will in a way they don't know. That's because your humble reviewer was present when Smith spoke before a select crowd on Long Island a few months after this special was filmed, and the Willis story was far more involved, far more detailed and far more emotional. It's unfortunate that that story (which was supposedly recorded for a podcast that has yet to appear) was a secret for those in the room (and anywhere else he might have told it) when it deserves to be heard by so many more.
The other issue I found was the inclusion of the Southwest stories, told in two parts during the night. Perhaps I watch and listen to more of Smith than most people, but I've heard this story many, many times, in many, many ways, and at this point, it's a bit tired. The tale is still amusing, but it's become a bit too familiar at this point, and when put alongside new material, it lacks punch, especially on such a special occasion for the man.
This three-hour special arrives on one Blu-Ray, with a DVD for the extras, in a standard two-hub Blu-Ray keepcase with a two-sided cover. The disc features an animated main menu with options to watch the special or select scenes. There are no audio options or subtitles, but closed captioning is included.
One of the main reasons why people buy Blu-Rays is for the enhanced visual and audio quality. That's not a reason to get this Blu-Ray. Though the side close-up angle and the crane shot from the side of the stage look tremendous, everything else is a mixed bag, including the main head-on camera, which comes off as soft, with little fine detail, and some haloing on the bright orange shoulders of Smith's hockey jersey. Skintones look solid, if a little blue (likely due to lighting), but the black levels could be darker, and there's excessive noise and compression artifacts when the camera scans the darker audience space.
The sound is even more frustrating, offering up just a Dolby Digital 2.0 track that sits front and center, with nothing to enhance the experience. Put the viewer in the audience. Good DVDs do this well, putting the comic in the middle, while their echos and the audience fill the side and rear speakers. Blu-Rays have no excuse to not at least meet this standard. Thankfully Smith's comes off clear and easy to understand, with no distortion.
In the past, Mr. Smith has provided memorable intros, most notably for the laserdisc and then DVD of Chasing Amy, but then there's the one attached to the start of this special, which is beyond superfluous as he simply comes on to say he's going to talk a lot, so why should he talk now. The only thing it does is offer a chance to see he's lost a bit of weight since the taping.
Oddly, the second disc of this set is a DVD, rather than a Blu-Ray, so the amount of content is limited, as is the quality, but at least there's some bonus content. After wrapping up his one-question main show, Smith opened up the mics for more crowd inquiries, with another 49 minutes of chat offered here (why the rest of the encore was cut is an unfortunate mystery (perhaps a lack of clearances?)) Right off the bat, the first two participants show just what the main special was missing, and that's the unique flavor of Smith's fans. The crowd at a Smith show can quickly turn on the person at the mic if they a) ramble or b) talk about themselves too much (after all, everyone wants a bit of the limited mic time) which creates a touch of drama, but Smith often saves the day, turning things around with a joke, a call for respect or a request for the time-suck to sit down. This set of clips is more in line with his usual presentation and may be more enjoyable to some fans than the main special.
"The Secret Behind the Stash" spends a tad over seven minutes looking at the effort that went into making the special, mixed with a mini-tour of Smith's New Jersey comic-book store, Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash. Fans probably have already taken a pilgrimage to the shop (or at least have solid knowledge of it) so there's not much new on that front (the store doesn't look to have changed much in the 10 years since I last visited.) The look behind the scenes is more interesting, as the co-directors offer a quick run-down of the tech and effort the production required.
The Bottom Line
Smith is an incredible storyteller, even if the audience for his stories is a bit limited (at least partially due to subject matter and language.) This special presents him in his purest form, as he delivers a marathon braid of life stories loaded with laughs that's a bit different from his usual stage shtick. The quality of the presentation is disappointing for Blu-Ray, and with a two-disc set, and an entire disc devoted to extras, you'd expect a bit more than just under an hour of extra material (especially when the previous all-DVD Q&A volume was longer.) But you'd be wrong in this case, and might be again if you make a purchase, though fans may not be able to help themselves.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.