[17 June 2007]
Most people remember the Golden Age of collecting. Even if you’re not old enough to have experienced it firsthand, an uncle, cousin or some relative may have told you about the Mickey Mantle rookie card or the obscure McDonald’s happy-meal toy that would have been worth thousands if not for a slobbering dog or a spring-cleaning mother. The Golden Age of collecting was a time when you would collect whatever you wanted to, and then, if at some point a subset of the culture became interested in what you had, your collection gained worth. Sadly, that time has passed. Ask any stamp collector, coin collector or guy at the flea market selling his baseball cards by the truckload.
Yet companies that make products for the culture industry understand that collector’s instinct, that desire for an object deemed “special” or (at least) limited, and thus, everything has become “special”; a special four-cover Rolling Stone, or a special, slightly altered Darth Vader figure with a removable mask, for example. So, too, a large proportion of the DVDs on the rack have garnered some awkward variation of “Special Edition” somewhere on the cover. Most of the time, that title is a flat-out lie. Check and see: if the “Special Edition” or “Collector’s Edition” DVD is the only edition in print – it’s not, and this version of it is not that special.
Sadly, 20th Century Fox is recently responsible for re-releasing the barely-classic That Thing You Do!, in “Tom Hanks’ Extended Edition” form. This new version of the DVD is complete with two different cuts of the movie and an entire second disc of special features. Now, we’ve all been lulled by “Special Edition” at one time or another, but “two-disc”? That phrase all but guarantees a heap of features and extras that even the family pet can enjoy. Right? So where, exactly, does this shiny alt-new-classic DVD fail? Basically everywhere but (arguably) the movie.
That Thing You Do!, the also-included Theatrical Cut, is straightforward and endearing, a goofball movie about a goofball band. The characters are two-dimensional; the relationships are haphazard; The Wonders’ meteoric rise to fame is obscenely truncated (the band records one song and it sky-rockets to #7 on the Billboard charts before their two-month anniversary). But by the time you notice any of these things, the movie’s already over. There’s so much fun to be had, the conventions of storytelling and emotional connection don’t really set in until the second viewing. Tom Hanks, fresh off Philadelphia, Forrest Gump and Apollo 13, wanted to make a non-stop, entertaining film. He succeeded. Almost everything about the movie is light and easy-going. And though the amateur directing and writing (yes, it does show) mires any scene where an emotion other than elation is involved, at the end, you feel exactly the way Tom Hanks’ character does when he says, “That was an incredibly refreshing change of pace.”
The standout performances belong to Liv Tyler and Ethan Embry. With Embry playing the unnamed bass player, his immature facial expressions and lack of responsibility are delightful, if a bit low on screen time. And Tyler just exudes her role. I know her character, Faye Dolan, wasn’t written for her, but I might guess that she herself was written for Faye Dolan. She is vibrant, naïve and gorgeous in every scene, even when she’s delivering lines like “Shame on me for kissing you with my eyes closed so tight.” Oh, and of course, Tom Hanks is brilliant.
The Extended Cut is a different animal and an interesting inclusion. With almost 45 minutes of extra footage, this version gives Alien 3: Director’s Cut a run for its money. With this version the characters become more life-like, the band’s career more believable, but, understandably, it drags. In the theatrical version of this movie, watchability won out over an effort toward realism, and definitely for the better.
The jazz-interviewer subplot seems extraneous, and the film could’ve easily spared two minutes to illuminate Guy Patterson’s unexplained catchphrase “I am Spartacus.” The line falls flat all four times Tom Everett Scott exclaims it; however, in an early scene in the extended version, we see the origin of the line and it enlightens the phrase for the entirety of the film. Disappearances like this warrant a little explanation.
Calling That Thing You Do!: Extended a “Director’s Cut” would’ve been a mistake, because no director would try to say this version was finished, it’s more of a “contextualized deleted-scene montage”. Only few of these scenes would have made it into a “Director’s Cut”. It’s fun to watch once, but this extension certainly isn’t better, and ultimately not as fulfilling as the yardstick for all extensions, Lord of the Rings.
This extended version is missing some extensions. The lack of a commentary track is especially disheartening because on the second disc there’s a half-hearted segment called “The Story of The Wonders”, a 30-minute long vocalized rehash of the events of the movie. The makers of this DVD took a promotional interview of Hanks (from 1996) explaining the plot and characters, then interspersed it with shots from the film. Why would I watch that if I can watch the movie?
Worst of all, this specific interview is quoted multiple times in other featurettes on the DVD. “Making That Thing You Do!,” “The Story of the Wonders,” “That Thing You Do! Reunion,” “The Wonders – Big in Japan!” and “HBO First Look: That Thing You Do!” all share the same bits from interviews and different behind-the-scenes clips. Watching any two of these features will give you all the new information provided on the second disc. For efficiency, all of them could be combined into one 30- to 35-minute documentary, and could have easily fit on the first disc. Yes, that means the entire second disc is superfluous. It’s a charade to help sell the collection value of the DVD package.
That Thing You Do!, the movie, is humorous and entertaining. Skip the annoying extras, and you’ll actually enjoy it.