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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 7/26/00



This is Spinal Tap
Special Edition - 1984 (2000) Embassy Pictures (MGM)

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

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

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A-/A+

Specs and Features

82 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, dual-layered (layer switch for extra material), Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailers, audio commentary (with Derek Smalls aka Harry Shearer, David St. Hubbins aka Michael McKean and Nigel Tufnel aka Christopher Guest), Catching Up with Marty DiBergi featurette, deleted scenes (14 chapters worth in all), Flower People press conference, Spinal Tap on The Joe Franklin Show, music videos for Gimme Some Money, (Listen to the) Flower People, Hell Hole and Big Bottom, fake commercial for their album Heavy Metal Memories, theatrical trailer, "cheese rolling" trailer, 3 TV spots and 3 commercials for Rock n' Rolls brand food pockets, animated film-themed menus with sound effects and music, scene access (32 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: French and Spanish, Closed Captioned


As we pointed out in the review of the Criterion edition of this film, the only way to rate this film properly is by giving it an overall grade of "11". Why? Well, because this is the greatest of all rockumentaries. Forget Biography, Behind The Music and Lifetime's Intimate Portrait. Forget all that crap you see on MTV about making videos or that show about stalkers - this is everything rock 'n' roll documentaries are supposed to be. This Is Spinal Tap was and is a major cult phenomenon. Everywhere you turn, someone's either ripping it off, paying homage to it or simply referencing it. Just a few months ago, fans where running wild in Internet auction houses trying to hunt down copies of the original Criterion DVD (which is now out of print). That rage has slowed a bit with the announcement of the new special edition from MGM. And this new disc is damn good, no doubt about it. But I'm letting you know right now... you're still going to want the Criterion disc too. Let me tell you why.

This Is Spinal Tap amusingly tracks the fall of England's least important metal band, Spinal Tap, from their days as a teeny-bop hair band, through their reinvention as a hippie love quartet. I've watched a lot of comedies recently on DVD, I have to say that this film is still one of the genre's greatest entries. I don't care what AFI has to say. It truly is a laugh riot. After major success as a comedy character actor, Rob Reiner made his directorial debut here (and also starring in the film as documentary filmmaker Marty DiBergi). The plot goes like this: DiBergi hears that his favorite band is doing a "farewell tour" and decides to document the experience as the band claws their way through the Americas in pursuit of money and success. All of their triumphs and catastrophes are caught on tape... and you won't stop laughing as you watch each and every one of them.

The only way to properly review this film is to hold it against the Criterion edition released several years ago. In certain quality aspects it's the same, but in others the difference is like night and day. First, let's talk video. This edition features a much cleaner looking video image over the previous release. While I like the more grainy "film" look the Criterion edition has, the colors, blacks and overall feel of the MGM edition is stronger. A lot of that comes from the fact that the MGM release features a new anamorphic transfer, which is a big step up, plain and simple. There is very little artifacting anywhere to be seen (even on the supplements, but we'll talk about that below). The image is formatted at 1.85:1 as compared to the 1.70:1 of the Criterion edition. In an A/B comparison, you don't see much difference and the field isn't missing any information, so there shouldn't be any complaints there. Sound-wise, the MGM disc is also much improved with a remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 track (compared to the 2.0 stereo track on the previous release). You won't care much about that in the straight dialogue sections of the disc, but it makes a big difference in the concert footage. The remixed sound is crisp, clear and rock solid. I actually liked the sound on this disc a great deal. You'll be very happy if this edition is the only way you have a chance to experience This is Spinal Tap on DVD.

Now... where you're still going to want the Criterion edition is in the extras. The extras on this new MGM disc are fine - actually they're pretty great (and I'll get to why in a second). But there was a bit "more" on the Criterion edition. First, there's only one commentary track on this edition, whereas the Criterion disc had two (one with the actors and one with Reiner and his producer and editors). The feel on those tracks was definitely cinematic. The talk was about how the film was made and the things they went through to get it done. This new MGM disc's commentary was recorded with the actual members of Spinal Tap (yes, the same actors as on the Criterion track... but they're actually in character here). And although it's frickin' funny, it's definitely different than the Criterion edition. So right there, you have one reason to get both versions if you're a fan. The second reason you'll want both, is that both versions feature some different deleted scenes. The deleted scenes on this MGM version are much better, in terms of quality, than the ones on the Criterion disc. They're significantly "cleaned up" and don't feature the little time code window on the bottom that appears in the same footage on the earlier release. The quality still isn't perfect, mind you - they are old, scratched in spots and faded in others - but they look much better here than the Criterion edition. On the other hand, the Criterion edition does feature more cut footage - another reason to find it if you can. And there's still another reason - this new MGM release lacks the demo filmSpinal Tap: The Final Tour, which appeared on the Criterion disc. It's a shorter version of the film - which includes a few different actors and scenarios from the final film - which was shot to raise money for the production. It's very cool and its absence is a major oversight on this new MGM disc.

That's not to disparage this new edition however, because it does have some new things we haven't seen before. First, as I mentioned above, there's an new and original commentary track with the members of Tap. It's very funny. You get a nice teaser of it when you first pop in the disc - the band members talk over the menu screens. I won't spoil it for you here, because some of what they say is hilarious. Next, there's a short interview with Marty DiBergi (Rob Reiner in character) where he talks about what he's been up to since the film was released (he designs mousepads for promotional releases). Included in the interview is a snippet of a press conference where Tap talks about the film negatively. It's pretty funny and looks great on DVD. Also exclusive to this disc is a very short clip of Spinal Tap on The Joe Franklin Show. It's not very funny, but it's not on the Criterion disc. There's also the film's original theatrical trailer, one of the "cheese rolling" promos (the Criterion DVD had two), some TV spots, music videos for Big Bottom (exclusive to this MGM release), Hell Hole (which is also on the Criterion disc) and two other songs, the fake commercial for Heavy Metal Memories and three commercials for a food pocket called Rock n' Rolls (I dunno if these are real or not, but I'm sure someone will let me know).

If I had to make a choice - and it would be a tough choice to make - I'd take this new MGM version over the Criterion. The movie itself looks better and this is just a better special edition than the previous release. It's generally more fun, with better menu screens and original dialogue. One last note, is that this new disc also features complete songs which play behind different menu screens of the disc (odds are the whole album is on this disc somehow) - a very cool touch. But I'm really glad that I have both discs though, because they really are different creatures when you hold them up side to side. The Criterion edition wasn't shabby, but it was an early DVD and now it shows its age.

MGM's new release of This Is Spinal Tap really is a great DVD special edition, and it's one that fans will just have to get. But if you really want the ultimate special edition of this film, you should make it a two-disc set by finding a copy of the original Criterion edition as well. I'm not one for sending people to Ebay, but that may be your only chance to snag a copy these days... and you will pay for it. But whether you can get your hands on it or not, you'll be plenty happy with this new disc. So what are you waiting for? Rock and Roll!!!

Todd Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com




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