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Could the 'Looper' In-Theater Commentary Track from Director Rian Johnson Start a Trend?

10.11.12 @ 11:09AM Tags : , ,

The theater experience is great for some, and terrible for others, and it greatly varies depending on the venue, the movie, and those pesky human beings that always seem to populate said venues. You’ve probably heard of director commentaries — and you may even have listened to a couple in your day — but how about a director’s commentary to listen to at the theater? Rian Johnson, director of Brick and The Brothers Bloom, has done exactly that for his new science fiction film, Looper.

First, here’s the trailer for Looper if you haven’t already seen it:

So if Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing a young Bruce Willis in a time-travel science fiction alternate universe doesn’t seem interesting, I don’t know what will. It’s in theaters right now, and director Rian Johnson has decided to do a DVD/Blu Ray commentary for the film, except instead of playing in the comfort of your own home, you bring the audio track to the theater and time it up with the film. He’s done this already for one other film, The Brothers Bloom, and the overwhelmingly positive response brought him back to do another one for this new film.

Here is the commentary (this will spoil the film if you listen to it now and haven’t seen it):

Cell phones are a problem in theaters, if you’ve ever seen the bright distracting glow of a screen in a dark theater, then at some point you’ve been completely taken out of the magic that is the movie-going experience. This commentary is only for those people who can respect those around them, or choose screenings that may not have as many people so that the audio playing in your ear does not disturb. Johnson even recommends at the beginning to figure out a way to pause and play the commentary without having to turn on your screen.

Basically, the way this works, is that there is a sync point at the beginning of the film where you’re supposed to un-pause the recording, and then let it play the rest of the movie. I have not had the opportunity to see Looper just yet, but I do plan on going to the theater a second time to listen to the commentary. It will be interesting if this commentary track gets more attention. I think this is an incredible way to get fans more involved in the film and actually support your bigger fans.

Could there be other interesting ways to combine external recordings with movie screenings? I don’t think it will be long before adventurous directors figure out how to expand their story using an audio track of sorts — perhaps even enhance the story in ways that regular viewers miss out on. I’m a big proponent of seeing movies in a theater, but it’s not always feasible for most people, and many live in areas that only show the biggest Hollywood films. Rian Johnson is as big a film geek as any, so if you are planning on seeing Looper, considering attending once more at a less crowded time and enjoying this commentary.

What do you guys think? Are there ways that you can imagine a story being expanded with an audio track? Could audio commentaries get you to go back to the theater  a second time, or maybe even give movies a second chance that you weren’t thrilled about on a first viewing?



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  • Although I already regret making this comparison as I’m writing it, the association with what some attendees do at sporting events is comparable here – with bringing headphones and listening to the play by play. Of course a sporting event is much different than a theatre film experience but the communal aspect of experiencing something simultaneously with a crowd of people is an overaching variable in most group “entertainment” platforms (concerts, theatre, sports, film etc..). My personal initial impression is one of trepidation as I perceive this to be another attempt to “personalize” and “individualize” an experience which is supposed to be collective. However, I recognize the need to continue to make people feel like they are receiving extra value with the purchase of their product, and buying a ticket to a show, is for theoretical purposes a product although it should be more than that. With that being said, aside from the obvious distraction that this can create for the audience as a whole, and with consideration to my cynicism, I fear that one day going to the theater will entail having your own personal screen on the back of the seat in front of you, where every individual will have the choice of setting up their own customizable film experience, sort of like on an airplane. This possibility makes me shiver with dread.

  • that’s kinda cool, I feel like with apps like Shazam that can tell you what song is playing it isn’t too far away that they would make where it syncs itself… maybe

  • Very interesting idea. I might give this a try. It reminds me of an event two years ago at a screening at one of the Alamo Drafthouses here in Austin. My good friend Emily Haggins (known for directing her first feature at the age of 12) did a screening of her first film with a live commentary that featured herself and three of the actors sitting in the front row of the theater with microphones and discussing the antics that went into making the film and some of it’s short comings as well. It ended up being a very enjoyable way to see the movie.
    Whether it be pre recorded or a live sit in, commentaries in the theater is an idea that I kinda like.

  • I’m split on this idea. On one hand, I like how they are trying to give more to the viewer so kudos for trying to be creative. However, I wouldn’t go into a movie theater for the first time to see it with the commentary, so that means paying twice to see it (around $20). I would more likely want to see it with the commentary on the DVD/Blu Ray and save money.

  • Kevin Smith used to do this for his films.

  • Yes– I’m pretty sure I remember Kevin Smith releasing a commentary track for ZACK & MIRI or CLERKS 2, don’t remember which, and told fans to go see the movie with their ipods and play it along with the film.

  • I think this is a fantastic idea. It brings a new depth to creative storytelling. I could see how it might become a problem if it became a trend though, with many people accessing their phones during the show.

  • I think this is actually a really cool idea! I went to see The Dark Knight Rises a second time in theater to see stuff I missed and because I think it’s a “movie theater” movie. I would have loved to hear the Nolan’s thoughts on the process. Definitely something I think directors should do more of in the future.

  • john jeffreys on 10.11.12 @ 5:32PM

    No, i want to watch a film in complete silence. Commentary is for the Q/A before or after the screening

  • Robert Shaver on 10.11.12 @ 6:24PM

    On DVDs and BDs I watch the movie first then watch it again with the commentary. If I could watch it twice in the theater with one ticket price, then I’d do it. I’ve worn my iPad shuffle to the movies. I’d rather listen to my podcast than the pre-show advertising. The good thing about the shuffle is that it has no display.

    Darren Aronofsky released a director’s commentary on the web for “The Fountain” because, he said, it didn’t get onto the DVD. I love that extra effort and I did listen to it while watching it again.

    On a side note, I’ve found lots of director’s commentaries not worth the effort. We should have a review section on this web site for people to comment and recommend them. As the first entry I recommend the commentary on “Hollywoodland”. I found several things Allen Coulter said about how he shot specific scenes, and more important, why he shot them the way he did, really insightful and useful.

  • There is no real downside to this concept. Put your headphones in and you can listen to it without having any effect on the other moviegoers.

    It’s a great way to encourage repeat viewings, which help theatre box office, but it’s free, so if you want you can download it and wait for the home video release to listen to it if you don’t want to pay for another theatre screening.

    Johnson’s Bloom commentary was great and I’m sure this is of a similarly insightful and instructive quality.

  • I like the innovation but worry that if half the audinace the commentary to those not doing it ha ha. Sure someone.will.deliver this in App.form.very soon with the ability to auto sync and.even be cued during the film.via audio triggers….? At which point it could get very interesting as way of delivering xtra atmos or whatever to the viewer, or in some.way personalise the experiance (dont know how but I’m.sure some clever clogs will think of a way) playing an mp3 is I’m sure just the clumsy beta test of this idea. Innovate or die.

  • Thanks for this article. It allows me to know details about information more for Audio Sound System And Hometheater.

  • Most films have a commentary track in the cinema – people with sight loss simply put on headphones supplied by the cinema to hear it. All digital-equipped cinemas can broadcast the track.