Regardless of how his film style has evolved or not through the years, I think it can be safely said that Kevin Smith is a pretty good talker. Starting with hosting question and answer sessions when he was promoting Clerks and moving ahead to similar sessions at universities, his stories about his films and other fascinating anecdotes from in and outside the entertainment circle have made for some popular discussions. He hosts a Q&A at the San Diego Comic Con almost annually (in a room that holds more than 6,000), and his penchant for riffing on what's on his mind has led to two separate discs of spoken word. Aside from having enough content to run a streaming internet radio channel of his own, currently he hosts and/or takes part in three different podcasts of varying topics. Two of them are included here in a boxed set of three DVDs coinciding with the release of his latest film Red State to video.
The longest running of these podcasts is "Smodcast," a weekly show where Smith and his longtime friend and producer Scott Mosier discuss anything new and notable to either of them. Occasional live prerecorded episodes rule the day, but the content is original and generally entertaining. If there is nothing new to either of them, a homework assignment of sorts may be self-assigned by the pair for a future show, such as watching the Oscars or the most recent Harry Potter film. The rapport is full of joking around and often Smith is left wheezing and breathless, gasping for air at some of Mosier's banter. Of the different podcasts that Smith appears on, this one should be his gold standard when it comes to entertainment. Don't get me wrong, the other ones he does are good, but Mosier's sensibilities fit perfectly with his, and Mosier knows how to push his buttons and discuss things during the podcast. With Smodimations, Steve Stark illustrates some of the podcast's highlights. Running a tad under an hour (58:00), we see Smith and Mosier in various forms, be it characters from Hogwarts, animals or what have you. The podcast is funny as is, but Smodimations helps give the enjoyment a nice touch for you to enjoy things on.
Smith appears in human form on "Hollywood Babble-On," a weekly show co-hosted with friend (and Los Angeles radio personality) Ralph Garman. The shows generally run about an hour and a half (this one goes for 1:23:33) and features Garman's synopsis of the news of the previous week in entertainment, with a Smith reaction or quip peppered in. The show has become a user-contribution juggernaut within the Smith podcast arsenal, with many fans sending in theme songs to podcast segments and movie continuity errors. Some other fans who attend the live shows write in and request Garman to do shout outs to them in one of a variety of surprisingly good impressions. As for the show itself, the two discuss any news and notes, along with share any relevant thoughts and trivia to entertainment luminaries (of subjective wattage) that had passed on in the interim. The show does a nice, funny job of providing a cynical thumb in the eye of a Hollywood that at times has richly deserved it, but as far as the podcast itself goes, you can tell (and Smith has alluded to it in the past) that the show is more of Garman's baby, and Smith comes in and talks about how cute it is from time to time.
The one that Smith does the most heavy lifting on are his Q&As, and with "Too Fat For 40," recorded to commemorate his 40th birthday in 2010, he wrings out every possible bit of juice in his mind grapes. Originally filmed for the EPIX cable network and aired as a two-hour production, this is the unedited session, clocking in at a mammoth 3:19:18. Oddly enough, for a guy known for his Q&As, this one is spent answering one question, and moving on to a variety of subjects. And he's got a ton of them for this too, whether it was his incident when he was ejected from a Southwest airlines flight or when he decided to start smoking marijuana for the first time with his wife, and working with Bruce Willis. The stories are engaging and hilarious at times, particularly the one when he was arrested for smuggling as he was going to Canada to go to the Just For Laughs comedy festival.
There are times when the discussions get a little bit, I dunno, predictable. I mean, within three hours of Kevin Smith talking, you're bound to flirt with the scatological from time to time, and said flirtation tends to drag on. And on. But overall, you hardly seem to notice the time fly by in this special. Sure, Smith sweats and drinks a lot of water, but from his anecdotes alone, he was successful in keeping a crowd rapt in everything he was talking about. It's something he's managed to do well for almost twenty years now. You might not like his work, but his life from the modest New Jersey upbringing to where it's at now remains a source of enjoyment that others should pay appropriate attention to.
Note: For disclosure's sake, fans will notice that "Hollywood Babble-On" isn't a complete performance. When Ralph and Kevin look up at the screen, the clips are omitted. It's an inconvenience, albeit a relatively minor one.
Each disc is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, and each disc has varying degrees of quality. Too Fat For 40 was (if memory serves) shot in high definition originally and things look good in SD, with adequate blacks and accurate flesh tones and color reproduction. One the wide shots, you can see how natural the image is, with little in the way of edge enhancement. For Smodimations, the disc juggles the variety of colors in the animations well, looking fairly vivid with no oversaturation, despite some occasional crushing of black levels in the picture. Both discs would be in the 3/5 category. Hollywood Babble-On looks the roughest, almost like those who were hired to shoot for the night only found out a couple of hours before the show starts. There appears to be abundant moments of pixilation and image artifacts, and image noise that makes things a distraction at times during the feature. Call this one 2/5.
All of the discs come with two-channel stereo sound, which was what I was expecting for these (in essence) spoken-word performances. Dialogue sounds clear in the front of the soundstage with no noticeable rear channel activity other than an occasional moment of crowd noise. Each of the soundtracks is as clear as possible and free of mosquito noise or hissing and carries the workload adequately.
Extras appear on two of the discs. Too Fat For 40 includes more questions from the crowd (as Smith only answered one on the feature) that were omitted from the original program. At almost 50 minutes (49:24), Smith fields questions on comic books, his films and other assorted trivia. Next is "The Secret Behind The Stash" (7:24), where Smith walks us through the comic book and memorabilia shop he owns in New Jersey, followed by some discussion on the special itself.
Smodimations has the other extras. There is an episode of "Hollywood Babble-On" (47:00) that was taped on or about August 6 and the boys discuss the entertainment events of the day. The other extra is an episode of "Jay and Silent Bob Get Old," (1:08:10) taped around the same time. For those unfamiliar with the latter, Smith and his friend Jason Mewes get together and discuss things and Mewes discusses his life and his battles with sobriety. If you can find the first few episodes of this podcast I'd highly recommend downloading and listening to them, they're fantastic. The podcast has turned into more looking forward (and around) than looking back, so it's a different type of entertainment, but worth the time nonetheless.
This boxed set of Kevin Smith spoken word goodness is not only worth checking out for fans of Smith's work (hell, it's practically mandatory at this point), but also if you're new to Smith and have stayed away from him in the past. Technically and from an extras perspective it's not going to wow you, but for the entertainment factor alone, the stories are fabulous and well worth your time.