About a year after the release of the original USA Films DVD, this Criterion edition was released, loaded with two discs of special features, the only real reason to possibly upgrade from the previous DVD.
On the first disc you get 3 audio commentaries. The first one is by director Steven Soderbergh and writer Stephen Gaghan. I'm guessing this one wasn't recorded exclusively for Criterion. Soderbergh talks about inspirations and a lot about his filming technique and the process of achieving the look of the film, and he also shares some horror stories. Gaghan talks about writing the script and how it was a project he wanted to do for a long time, and how it affected him. Itís a good track and both keep it going, and I like how Soderbergh at times criticizes his own film on occasion, pointing out sequences heís not too pleased with.
The second commentary features the producers Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz and Laura Bickford as well as consultants Tim Golden and Craig Chretien. The producers sort of glaze over things, never really delving into anything except on a superficial level. Thankfully the consultants offer more, talking about the war on drugs, and what is real and what is questionable about the film, sort of similar to the consultants found on the commentary for Criterionís Armageddon DVD. Itís a good track, though actually wish the producers were left out of and that the consultants had the track to themselves.
The third track is a neat one. This combo audio commentary/music score track features Cliff Martinez. Iím not usually big on score-only tracks, but this one is unique. In essence it is a score-only track but Martinez will pop up talking about the score, and even talking about his career in general. A couple of cues not used in the film show up as well. I usually donít recommend score-only tracks unless someone really loves the score to a film, but the setup for this one is unique and Martinezís comments make it well worthwhile.
The remaining supplements are found on the second dual-layer disc, all of which, in essence, presents something like a ďfilm school on a discĒ covering just about everything on making this film and making films in general, getting down to some of the nitty-gritty.
There are 24 deleted scenes with a gag scene also included, lasting about 26 minutes. These are interesting on their own, and there are a few I question about being removed, but for the most part their absence doesn't hurt the film. And the gag scene, lasting about 30 seconds, is definitely quite funny, involving Catherine Zeta-Jones and a star-struck border guard.
There are many featurettes and multiple angle segments that show you the process of not only editing and putting together this film, but any film in general, found under a section called Demonstrations. There are 3 sections, one for processing the Mexico sequences, one for film editing and one for dialogue editing, each with their own set of instructions and text notes.
Film Processing shows how the film for the Mexico sequences was exposed and altered over and over again until they got the desired effect, going through 5 steps. A commentary is also provided to explain to you what was done. While mostly a lot of jargon, it's definitely fascinating and informative just how much work went into making the film look so dirty.
Editing shows how 4 scenes were edited, including Overdose, Caroline is Caught, Javier Meets the DEA, and Monte Visits the Ayalas. This is presented as a multiple angle and is accompanied by a commentary. Each scene has multiple chapters, meaning you get to see different edits, or build ups to a final edit. The first angle shows the scene as a timeline, so you can see what layer is being jumped to. The second angle shows the scene without the interface. This is yet another unique "crash course" in movie making. Instructions are also included.
Dialogue editing concentrates, obviously, on editing the dialogue for the film, and I have to admit I never realized how intense a process it really was. With a commentary you are shown how background noise (such as radio music or rustling clothes) are removed to just leave the dialogue. It's amazing how seamless it is. And Larry Blake even admits to you how he had to redub a scene, without Soderbergh even knowing (Soderbergh being a director that hates redubbing).
There's also another section containing more additional scenes. These are presented in multiple angles and in their raw form. Basically each angle is a different camera catching the sequence, the most interesting of these being the El Paso center and the cocktail party that Douglasí character attneds. The El Paso center isn't presented with a multiple angle, but comes with a commentary and is actually footage of one of the storage warehouses for drugs seized at the border (and there is a lot there). The other sequences are also worth a look and thanks to the multiple angles itís rather fun to play with. If you flip angles on the fly as you watch, you can actually edit your own sequence together. The sequence plays out for 30-minutes, but if you go through each angle individually it plays out for 90-minutes.
The oddest feature on here would have to be the entire collection of trading cards representing the K-9 Drug Enforcement Trading Cards. There are about 99 cards here which you navigate through using the arrows on your remote. Stats are found on each card, including their biggest busts. Itís an amusing feature. At one point, if you click on the up arrow, there is an Easter Egg.
The disc then concludes with theatrical trailers and TV spots. An insert is also included with a short essay by film critic Manohla Dargis.
This is a rather nice release, and the supplements found on here are some of the most cohesive features on the process of making film. I found this all rather fascinating but would have liked a little more on the actual war on drugs, which only gets a little examination in this release. Still, in terms of a release focusing on the art of filmmaking, this is a solid set. 9/10