Less concerned with who’s first up against the wall than with how to decorate it

Skip to content

Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Bennett
    April 26, 2014 @ 1:33 am

    I adore audio commentaries as a form of both entertainment and critique, and am continually saddened by how they seem to have gone out of fashion since the hey-day of the DVD format. My favourite commentaries (be they Doctor Who, Sherlock, The Simpsons, Futurama, LOST or Disney/Pixar) always involve the creative leads of the project. This can vary between writers, directors, or producers – but basically I want to listen to someone who agonised over creative decisions across every frame of the finished product (I also find many of the people who hold these positions to be witty, humorous and insightful in general).

    There is an exception to this – the early films of Walt Disney Feature Animation have excellent audio commentaries that only feature snippets from the film's creators (being, as they are, inconveniently dead). The bulk of these commentaries is an edited discussion of the work between notable experts (and self-professed fans) such as Leonard Maltin and Eric Goldberg, and make for unflaggingly interesting listening. If Doctor Who ever makes another home-video round, I hope that similar fan-expert tracks will be made.

    Of all the commentaries I've listened to, Forest of the Dead's podcast commentary is also my favourite. Davies, Moffat and Tennant make for an unstoppable triple-act, and in a just Universe would have a commentary recorded for everything. Everything.

    At the very least, I'll always have The Monster of Peladon Part 4.


  2. elvwood
    April 26, 2014 @ 1:35 am

    I love the Arc of Infinity commentary. It's not particularly insightful, but the banter is just a joy – I've watched it more times with the commentary than without.

    The first DVD commentary that really grabbed me was Roger Ebert's on Dark City. It was the one that got me interested in thinking about direction / cinematography rather than just sitting back and letting it all wash over me. I haven't heard it for years – it was a borrowed DVD – and I don't know how I would feel about it now (or indeed if it would be interesting for someone who knows as much about the subject as yourself), but it was revelatory.

    Joss Whedon's commentaries on Firefly and Serenity are good value.

    That's all I've got!


  3. matt bracher
    April 26, 2014 @ 3:00 am

    Doctor Horrible's Sing Along Blog has a beautiful musical track, along with Joss Whedon's performance of a song about commentary tracks. That song was possibly the best part of the second "This American Life" live theatre broadcast.


  4. Jesse Smith
    April 26, 2014 @ 3:05 am

    I always enjoy any commentary with Russell T Davies or Peter Davison in it.

    I'm currently in the middle of watching the Scream of the Shaka DVD, which I had never seen before, and the commentary on that is very interesting, just because it's such a unique little offshoot of Doctor Who's history. I wasn't actively following the show in 2003, so hearing Paul Cornell and others place it in the context of the time is really interesting.


  5. reservoirdogs
    April 26, 2014 @ 3:20 am

    A Series of Unfortunate Events. In which the author of the book series keeps complaining to the director about how they made a movie based off of his books and would much rather be playing the accordion than do this commentary track.


  6. SpaceSquid
    April 26, 2014 @ 3:44 am

    I love the Garth Marengi's Darkplace commentary. It's just supposed to be a Spinal Tap-style excuse to tell more jokes, but Richard Ayoade can't quite bring himself to completely quiet his inner director, so in among all the nonsense (which is pretty funny, or at least you're unlikely to not enjoy it if you liked the show itself) the occasional useful piece of information appears.


  7. brownstudy
    April 26, 2014 @ 3:48 am

    "The Aristocrats" — a documentary by Penn Gillette about a profane and filthy joke told among comics to see who can out-gross each other — has a commentary by Gillette and Paul Provenzo that is almost like a separate audio documentary on the craft of comedy. It's like the movie was the tip of iceberg and the commentary is what they really wanted the movie to be about.


  8. Chicanery
    April 26, 2014 @ 4:02 am

    I know it's obvious, but I love the This is Spinal Tap in character commentary. I will never not laugh at Nigel claiming everyone is dead.


  9. jane
    April 26, 2014 @ 4:20 am

    I'll second Ebert's Dark City commentary. Great work on a great film.


  10. Chris
    April 26, 2014 @ 4:52 am

    I love the commentary on WarGames for its insight into writing (the best lesson I learned is how to naturally sneak in exposition: make the characters argue; in arguments, people break down their positions to the basic concepts, which is naturally the exposition the audience needs but the characters clearly already know about and would not normally discuss).

    The commentary from Big Trouble In Little China is just fun, because it's Kurt Russell and John Carpenter mostly talking about the movie, but then they veer off into just catching up as friends, but the conversation flows well enough that you go along with it, and they eventually steer the ship back on course.

    I second Chicanery's comment about This Is Spinal Tap. You essentially get a complete second Spinal Tap movie to enjoy.


  11. Nicholas Tosoni
    April 26, 2014 @ 5:21 am

    A few of the best commentary tracks evah:

    "The Incredibles" with Brad Bird and the animation team
    "Pink Floyd: The Wall" with Roger Waters (songwriter/singer) and Gerald Scarfe (designer). Best moments: Waters making fun of Bob ("Pink") Geldof's Irish heritage.
    "Ghostbusters" with Harold Ramis, Ivan Reitman, and Joe Medjuck (1999 version, which adds MST3K-like silhouettes).


  12. Pôl Jackson
    April 26, 2014 @ 7:08 am

    Just about any Joss Whedon commentary on Buffy episodes is excellent. That's a man who takes his commentaries seriously.

    The Stargate: SG-1 DVDs are notable in that they have commentaries on every single episode. I can't honestly recommend them (I mostly recall the lighting director saying, "And here's how we did the light in this shot"), but its kind of amazing that they made that many of them. It made for soothing, sometimes entertaining background noise.


  13. Josh Marsfelder
    April 26, 2014 @ 8:04 am

    I'd recommend (of course) the Star Trek:The Next Generation commentaries and interviews, but only on the recent Blu-ray releases (where they're curated by the very down-to-earth Robert Meyer Burnett, who gets the creative personnel to open up in ways they wouldn't otherwise).

    I also really liked Jonathan Miller's commentary on his TV film version of Alice in Wonderland: He gets very passionate about his vision of the story and wistfully recalling what it was like to film it over the course of a few days. He's a great storyteller.

    The ones by film historians and archivists on the Kino home video releases tend to be interesting too.


  14. Seeing_I
    April 26, 2014 @ 8:34 am

    The "Five Doctors" commentary with David Tennant, Julie Gardner and Phil Collinson is a gem.


  15. T. Hartwell
    April 26, 2014 @ 9:44 am

    I presume the "actors whinging about how cold a location was" is a dig at the infamous "Black Orchid" commentary, so I won't go there.

    I adore a lot of the commentaries for Community- more season 1, since Dan Harmon was on every episode and he's not in later seasons, but there are some real gems later on (including one where they have Dino Stamatopoulos on and he mentions recording a commentary on another show that they didn't talk about all the stuff they wanted, so they actually call up the guy on his phone and start asking him questions, all in all spending maybe 5 minutes talking about the actual episode).

    I also remember the Jesus Christ Superstar commentary with Norman Jewison and Ted Neeley being quite lovely- a lot of it is recollections of their experience with the film (and you get quite a fascinating picture of the process) mixed in with how much the film impacted their later lives (Neeley talks about how he still has people who talk to him about how important the film was to them spiritually) as well as memories of co-star Carl Anderson, who passed away very recently to the recording of the commentary. It's quite touching.


  16. Doctor Memory
    April 26, 2014 @ 9:59 am

    Sort of the opposite really, but I will always treasure the "Fight Club" commentary track for making it clear that Brad Pitt, while pretty and a talented screen actor, has the IQ of a bucket of congealed paint.


  17. Jordan Murphy
    April 26, 2014 @ 10:08 am

    The Michael Jeck commentary on Seven Samurai gave me a greater appreciation of the film and Kurosawa's skill as a director.
    In a completely different sense, I love the commentary on Venture Brothers DVDs by it's creators Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer. They rarely stay on the topic at hand for more than a moment or two, but their wide-ranging riffage is very entertaining. And they do drop a few behind-the-scenes gems here and there.


  18. John
    April 26, 2014 @ 10:12 am

    Sorry, you're an American, you don't get to say "whinging".


  19. Matthew Blanchette
    April 26, 2014 @ 10:37 am

    He's an Anglophile, born of British parents, so that apparently entitles him to use British vocabulary that jars alarmingly with his real-life NPR accent.


  20. Matthew Blanchette
    April 26, 2014 @ 10:39 am

    As is the "City of Death" commentary track with Michael Hayes, Tom Chadbon, and Julian Glover. Just delightful.


  21. Matthew Blanchette
    April 26, 2014 @ 10:42 am

    If you can believe it, the commentary track for Kung Pow! Enter the Fist is a wonderful extended look at the creative process overlayed onto one of the craziest fun-dumb films of all time. (And, as was common in the early days of DVD and not so much now, the company went all-out on the initial DVD release, rather than going vanilla, so you get things like the original undubbed audio track and the director goofing about in a "book-on-tape" version. It's marvelous.)


  22. Gallifreyan_Immigrant
    April 26, 2014 @ 11:21 am

    I've heard that Arnold Schwarzenegger has a hilarious commentaries on his films


  23. Eric Gimlin
    April 26, 2014 @ 11:37 am

    I only very rarely listen to the commentary tracks. The only time I ever would is after I've fairly recently seen the show/ movie/ whatever without the commentary; and I normally don't feel like watching the same thing over even if it is different with the commentary. That's one reason I love the info text on the Doctor Who DVD's, even if sometimes more in principle than the reality: I'm able to read it while still enjoying the feature.


  24. Iain Coleman
    April 26, 2014 @ 1:21 pm

    I remain convinced that the commentary track to the Rob Brydon / Steve Coogan adaptation of "Tristram Shandy" is so integral to the artistic experience of the film that it should have been released in that form in the cinema.


  25. Mike
    April 26, 2014 @ 1:29 pm

    For a very odd reason, I'm very fond of the 'Genesis of the Daleks' commentary. of course Tom is always fun and when in conversation with Peter 'Nyder' Miles it's great.

    But there's a moment that always touches me and it's when Tom mentions Ian Marter and Liz Sladen immediately gasps 'Oh don't!' I was completely struck by how upset they still were at his loss and they spoke fondly of him throughout. Also that moment clearly packs more of a punch now Liz is no longer with us.

    It's probably not that remarkable a commentary, haven't heard it in a while, but that moment really resonated with me.


  26. Jarl
    April 26, 2014 @ 1:34 pm

    I can vouch for this: Total Recall is a beautiful mis-match between Arnold's first-person recounting of the events on screen and Paul Verhoeven discussing the various implications of the film's ending.

    Seriously, the degree to which Arnold Schwarzenegger identifies with the "characters" he plays is quite revealing.


  27. peeeeeeet
    April 26, 2014 @ 2:01 pm

    Some that spring to mind:

    "Pleasantville". The film is rich in themes but also a technical marvel (for its time, anyway) and Gary Ross goes through both aspects in a thoughtful and engaging manner. I found discussion of the musical choices illuminating: I wouldn't have caught the historical significance of "Rave On" without it.

    "The L Word – Land Ahoy". Three of the main cast rip the piss out of this pompous episode of an otherwise mostly OK second season.

    "The Real Ghostbusters Complete Collection" – I adore all the VAM on this, not least to see with how much affection those who worked on the show looked back on it. And it's a nice reminder of what a fantastic writing and voice acting pedigree that show had, at least in the early days.

    "Hamlet" – The Kenneth Branagh version. Lots of things I never would have thought about otherwise, such as how actors deals with long shots, or how you direct something that's been directed an infinite number of times before.

    Some surprisingly disappointing ones: Stephen Fry barely says anything on an episode of Blackadder. Charlie Kaufman and, to a lesser extent, Tim Burton also seem surprisingly taciturn.


  28. Bennett
    April 26, 2014 @ 3:18 pm

    I've also noticed that some of the dumbest films out there have some of the most thoughtful commentary tracks. One I particularly recommended is Joel Schumacher's commentary for Batman & Robin. I usually don't enjoy solo commentaries, but Schumacher has a lot to say and by the end you can really appreciate how the film came to be as it is.

    I can already hear people shouting "Appreciate it? You ask me to appreciate it?"


  29. Eric Gimlin
    April 26, 2014 @ 7:29 pm

    In the more general category of commentary, I just found out About Time 5 is now available for Kindle. And it's an updated edition; a discussion of Douglas Camfield in one of the side essays makes reference to the Web of Fear find and the critical reaction to it. Very happy I hadn't gotten around to getting the print edition of 4-6 yet, after all.


  30. encyclops
    April 26, 2014 @ 9:28 pm

    I'm the same way, but every time I hear good things about them I always want to and never do. Now, with these comments, I have a fantastic list to start with. Thanks, everyone!


  31. Nick Petrillo
    April 27, 2014 @ 4:20 am

    There was one memorable commentary for The (American) Office where the only two commentators were BJ Novac and the head caterer, who spent the entire time talking about who liked to eat what while saying nothing about the episode itself.

    And then there was the one Simpsons commentary where someone called John Schwartzwelder's house phone to ask if he would appear on a commentary (as he had refused every offer), giving us likely the only chance we'll ever have to hear his voice.


  32. ferret
    April 27, 2014 @ 3:52 pm

    Philip Kaufman's solo commentary on his 1978 "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" was for me a fascinating insight into the making of that movie, his ideas behind specific shots etc… but it's hampered by his voice – a lulling monotone that is at times hard to keep your attention focused on.

    Paul Verhoeven's "Starship Troopers" commentary is hilariously dated – the film was a breakthrough in CGI integration (both in terms of quality and quantity) and Verhoeven spends much of the track chanting just two words as appropriate to the frame on screen: "Digital" "Real". The sound mix is pretty poor, so you may get a shock when he suddenly and loudly SCREAMS when describing how he wanted an actor to react in one particular shot.

    Babylon 5 has some good commentaries – unsurprisingly the J Michael Straczynski ones are the most revealing. The cast commentaries are a mixed bag, but usually a nice cozy affirmation that actors who work together for 5 or more years at a stretch make sure to have a lot of fun together.

    The Star Wars movies have the worst commentaries – edited together from lots of different peoples comments who are obviously not recording at the same time nor informing each others comments. It's bland, corporate-edited boredom – and contains little you won't find in interviews in other extras.


  33. ferret
    April 27, 2014 @ 4:15 pm

    Oh and "Dog Soldiers" – a UK film from 2002 about a group of squaddies that end up in the middle of a dark and scary forest fighting wearwolves – has a fun commentary involving most of the cast and a lot of alcohol. They sensible got drunk before recording the commentary, so it's fun from the get-go.

    Good film too.


  34. Multiple Ducks
    April 27, 2014 @ 10:01 pm

    I hear great things about the commentary tracks for the Twilight films, which feature Robert Pattinson and his only-slightly veiled hatred of the film series he's in.


  35. Carey
    April 28, 2014 @ 12:24 am

    I'm cheating with this one, but Arrow films are about to release a blu ray of the classic Vincent Price film (and one of the influences on V For Vendetta) Theatre of Blood with the League of Gentlemen's Mark Gatiss, Reece Sheersmith, Steve Pemberton and Jeremy Dyson providing a commentary track.

    Thinking about it, I very much like their commentaries on League DVD's anyway.

    Now if only someone would pay for Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat to provide a commentary track for their favourite film, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.


  36. Kit Power
    April 28, 2014 @ 2:55 am

    Agreed with all above that the 'This Is Spinal Tap' commentary effectively gives you a second move to watch every bit as funny as the original. Sheer genius. On a personal note, I've found Oliver Stone to give great commentary – as an ignorant consumer of film, the insight he gives about process, and in particular detail like type of film stock, framing, etc. I found to be genuinely enhancing. The standout for me was probably Natural Born Killers, but I've not yet heard a bad one (and Any Given Sunday I found to be far more entertaining and educational with commentary on).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.