Anyone who’s ever seen a Kevin Smith movie knows he isn’t a filmmaker whose work screams out for hi-def. From the beginning, with 1994’s Clerks, Smith’s been at his best when he’s forced to do more with less; he’s a director who’s more about heart than aesthetic, and that focus tends to create an emotional disconnect in his bigger-budget work. A triple-disc box of Kevin Smith Blu-rays, in other words, might seem like just about the most useless investment a person could make — popping Clerks, Chasing Amy, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back into your Blu-ray player is a little like driving a Lamborghini to the grocery store: It’s a gross misapplication of technology.
To be certain, Miramax’s Kevin Smith 3-Movie Collection does feel like a pretty senseless cash grab on Disney’s part. For one thing, the studio has taken two of Smith’s finest films (Clerks and Chasing Amy) and bundled them along with one of his weakest (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back); for another, of the three, only Chasing Amy contains an appreciable amount of new bonus content. But before you write it off completely, understand two things: One, these movies are all available separately, and two, the collection is available at a fairly steep discount. If you’re a Blu-ray owner and a Smith fan who somehow doesn’t own these movies yet, this box should be an instant purchase. If you do already own them, on the other hand, you’ve got some thinking to do.
As you’d expect, the visual element of this box is, across the board, not its selling point. Filmed on black & white stock for $30,000 at Smith’s real-life place of employment, Clerks is a seminal film for reasons that have nothing to do with the way it looks, and although work has definitely gone into upgrading it to 1080p — the bonus features include three featurettes explaining just how much — the movie on Blu-ray is just as silly as it was on DVD. Clerks is a film that doesn’t need anything more than a VCR and a single speaker to get its point across. Does it look better in hi-def? Absolutely. Does it matter? Absolutely not. (To his credit, Smith totally cops to this in a new introduction, saying the studio just wanted more money out of the movie and would have done it with or without his input.) The movie’s beauty lies in its reams of dialogue, which use a pair of disaffected twentysomethings (Dante and Randal, played by Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson) as proxies for Smith’s hyper-literate musings on everything from sexual ethics to the morality of blowing up the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi. It was the movie that awakened a generation of moviegoers to independent film, because Smith spoke in a (mostly quite filthy) language they could understand.
Fifteen years later, Clerks doesn’t have quite the same impact, but that’s mostly because its good bits have been so thoroughly subsumed into cinematic culture that its flaws have a lot more room to stand out. It’s an ugly movie, one with a lot of awkward acting and stilted delivery of lines that often feel unrealistic, and its influence was so tremendous that if you watch it for the first time today, you might actually come away thinking it’s a lame ripoff of some other movie. If you loved it then, though, chances are you still love it now — and between the new, mostly irrelevant transfer and the stacks of bonus content (the vast majority ported over from the 10th anniversary DVD), it’s never looked or sounded better than it does here. If you love it, though, you probably own that 10th anniversary DVD, and given that the only really new content you get here is Smith’s mea culpa introduction and a documentary on the making of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, it might be hard to justify the purchase.
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Also making its Blu-ray debut is Chasing Amy, the 1997 dramedy that helped Smith rebound from the stinging failure of his Clerks follow-up, Mallrats. In terms of bonus content, Amy is the crown jewel of the box — Smith, always a huge proponent of extra features, has included a ton of them here, including a new commentary from Smith and producing partner Scott Mosier, a feature-length, very entertaining documentary about the making of the film, a reunion Q&A with the cast, and a reunion conversation between Smith and the movie’s star (as well as his ex-girlfriend), Joey Lauren Adams, plus the traditional deleted scenes, outtakes, and trailer.
Made for $250,000, the Blu-ray version of Amy is essentially, in terms of visual quality, a color version of Clerks — even if you’re not the type of viewer who goes over a film’s picture with a magnifying glass, you’ll quickly notice that the 1080p upgrade hasn’t done the movie any real favors. Most of the picture detail has been obliterated by excessive digital noise reduction, and although tonal consistency is adequate, that softness is distracting, which is a shame, because Amy is arguably Smith’s smartest film as well as his most emotionally resonant. He took a huge budget hit to be able to cast Mallrats vets Adams, Jason Lee, and Ben Affleck, and film fans should thank him for it, because it’s impossible to imagine a different trio bringing life to this material so beautifully. As Holden and Banky, Affleck and Lee have to play a pair of characters whose insecurities are amplified by their obvious intelligence; they aren’t unlikable guys, but they’re not particularly easy to root for, either. Holden, in particular, is a guy whose problems stem from painfully obvious and mostly rather lame places, and watching the movie, it’s not hard to just wish he’d grow up and get over it.
It’s still a movie with meaningful things to say, though, particularly when it comes to the unexplored feelings that can lurk below the surface of close male friendships. Its surface storyline depicts a pair of friends thrown off their axis when one of them falls in love with a lesbian (Adams), and that naturally received most of the attention, but beneath all that, Chasing Amy is really — as is pointed out more than once in the bonus materials — a tender, very intelligent bromance. Smith has gone on to make more ambitious films (particularly Dogma), but I don’t think he’s ever written a better script or gotten better performances out of his actors.
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After regaining his stride with Chasing Amy and Dogma, Smith earned a bit of a reprieve, which he took with 2001’s irredeemably silly Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. It goes without saying that it’s the best-looking of the three movies here — and also by far the dumbest. Jay and Silent Bob is nominally a satire of Hollywood and Web culture, but you get a fart joke before the movie is five minutes old, and unlike, say, South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, the subtext is mostly drowned under an avalanche of dumb gags and mugging. It’s a great example of what happens when Smith has a big budget to play with: He wanders off and forgets what makes his movies special. Smith has made some legitimately important films, so it’s hard to be mad at him for taking the opportunity to fool around with someone else’s $20 million — unless, that is, you bought a ticket when Jay and Silent Bob was in theaters.
Still, the movie has its fans, and it’s definitely the only movie in this box that actually looks and feels like a Blu-ray. It’s the same version of the movie that was released a few years ago, with the same minimal bonus features, so if you already own it, there’s literally no reason to buy it again. As a lighthearted tonic after a viewing of Chasing Amy, though, it sort of hits the spot, barn-broad humor and all. If it weren’t a studio-themed package, it’d be hard to understand why these particular movies were being lumped together, but as a decently priced gift for the Kevin Smith fan in your life, the 3-Movie Collection offers plenty of bang for your buck.
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