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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 5/6/99

This is Spinal Tap
1984 (1998) New Line/Embassy Pictures (Criterion)

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

This is Spinal Tap (Criterion) Film Rating: "11" (see review)

Disc Rating (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/A/A

Specs and Features

82 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (1.70:1), dual-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailers, two audio commentary tracks (one with director Rob Reiner, producer Karen Murphy and editors Robert Leighton and Kent Beyda, and another with stars Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer), 20 minute demo reel Spinal Tap: The Final Tour, fake commercial for their album Heavy Metal Memories, video for Hell Hole, deleted scenes, abandoned subplots, alternate takes, animated film themed menus with sound, scene access (32 chapters per side), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none

As you can see, the only way to rate this film properly is by giving it an "11". This is the all-time mother of all rockumentaries. Forget Biography, Behind The Music or Lifetime's Intimate Portrait - this is what it's all about. This Is Spinal Tap made a minor dent in the Heavy Metal armor of the youth culture when it hit theaters in 1984. Over the years, that dent has become bigger and bigger, as Spinal Tap has gone on to become a major cult phenomenon on video - metal might be dead, but Tap lives forever.

The film amusingly tracks the fall of England's least important metal band, Spinal Tap. I have to say, with much hindsight, this film is one of comedy's greatest entries. It truly is a laugh riot, and I can't think of a better way to enjoy this film than on DVD. Rob Reiner makes his directorial debut, while also playing documentary filmmaker Marty DiBergi. DiBergi is following the eponymous English metal band as they try to claw their way through the Americas in pursuit of money and success.

The Criterion Collection furthers its high standard of DVD production to new heights with each disc it releases, and they didn't disappoint with this one. Even the animated menu screens are well thought out - we get hellfire lying at the bottom of the screen, licking and spitting at the onscreen options. The disc looks wonderful for a non-RSDL, non-anamorphic transfer. The film fits nicely at 82 minutes on one side. The supplemental side isn't as stellar, but overall it looks fine. The amount of supplemental material makes up for it - more on that in a second. The sound is the original 2.0 stereo (Dolby Digital on DVD) and it works fine. Some might have liked a remastered DD 5.1 track, just to open up the "live" portions a little more, but then that might have screwed with the idea that this is a "documentary". In its original stereo, it is just about perfect. Audio and video-wise, this is a well-rounded disc.

As for the features, let me just list them off for you: you get two separate audio tracks (one with the boys of Spinal Tap showcasing the comedic genius of this team, and another track, almost equally funny, featuring Rob Reiner and some key talent behind the camera). These both run the length of the film, and can be found on the movie side. The highlight of this disc, though, is the supplemental section. Can you believe that there are so many extras, you actually have to flip the disc over just to see them all? There are the hilarious promotional trailers showing an Octoberfest celebration that has absolutely nothing to do with the movie. There's also the original 20-minute demo reel that features some of the better bits of the film, shot with different supporting actors, and some scenes that didn't even make the theatrical release. This was put together to raise money for the production, and it gives a completely different look to some of the characters. They also throw in a fake commercial for a best-of album Heavy Metal Memories and the video for Hell Hole. Both look real, real funny. Last, but certainly not least, we have about an hour of scenes that didn't make it. Did you hear that? A whole hour of material that didn't make the final cut! Can you believe it? It's all really funny, but some of the funnier bits are the more in-depth scenes with Billy Crystal's ranting mime, and some great character work by Bruno Kirby as a chauffeur that can't get enough of Frank Sinatra.

Todd Doogan
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