Dogma (Special Edition) Review
Kevin Smith is best known for his seminal slacker comedy Clerks (1994), as well as Chasing Amy (1997), a film that dealt surprisingly sensitively and intelligently with a cartoonist's love for a lesbian.
However, Smith presumably felt that he was stuck in a rut, and decided to make Dogma, which he described as 'a serious theological film, albeit one with dick and fart jokes.' While he certainly succeeded with the latter, it is hardly a seminal theological work like Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ, or even as funny as Life of Brian. Yet its ambition is far beyond that of many so-called 'comic geniuses' (coughFarrellyBrotherscough).
The basic plot concerns two fallen angels, Loki (Matt Damon) and Bartleby (Ben Affleck), who discover a way to re-enter heaven via a church in New Jersey. Unfortunately, this will involve the destruction of existence as we know it, so Metatron, (Alan Rickman) the voice of God, recruits Bethany (a miscast Linda Fiorentino) to stop them, with the aid of a motley collection of a Muse (Salma Hayek), the 13th apostle Rufus (Chris Rock), and, best of all, Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith).
It's nothing like as religiously offensive as the protests might have you believe; Smith's argument, like that of the Monty Python team's, is that Christ himself is beyond reproach, but that organised religion is sadly lacking in keeping his teaching going. A more serious fault is that the film oscillates between literate comedy, slapstick farce and serious drama, with a wild disparity in tone. It is to Smith's credit that his excellent writing keeps the film going even when the plotting has become too bizarre to comprehend, and there are many quotable lines here. That said, it's definitely a more 'mature' film than his previous output, with the possible exception of Chasing Amy, and a welcome sign of intellectual development.
Columbia has given the film a nice 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. Identical to that of the movie-only version released last year, it's bright, clean and devoid of scratches or other damage, as you would expect of such a recent print. The one criticism that can be made is possibly more of a fault of the film than the transfer, but occasionally colours seem washed out and dull, as in chapter 19. Still, it doesn't make a great deal of difference, and the film is mercifully free of NTSC artefacting to a great extent.
Being a Kevin Smith film, you wouldn't expect an especially dynamic sound workout. And for 90% of the film, the Dolby 5.1 soundtrack doesn't see much action beyond the front speakers, suiting the dialogue-heavy tone of the film. When the 'major' action scenes do begin, as in chapters 26 and 27, there is more use of the subwoofer and rears, but this is not a test disc by any stretch of the imagination. No DTS soundtrack is provided; its inclusion is not missed, as this really isn't the sort of film that needs one.
Columbia has provided a good variety of extras. On the first disc, there are two commentaries. One is a surprisingly restrained and dry 'technical commentary' with Smith, his producer and his archivist, but the other is far superior, as it includes those three as well as Ben Affleck, Jason Lee and Jason Mewes. Anyone who has heard the Chasing Amy or Mallrats commentaries will know what to expect; many laughs, much criticism of Smith's directorial technique (or lack of it), digs at Affleck's star status, and a light-hearted look at the film's controversy. Incidentally, all references to Miramax, Disney and Harvey Weinstein are beeped out, for legal reasons, but they're remarkably easy to figure out all the same. A nice feature on this comedy is the ability to 'follow the Buddy Christ' and watch video footage of the cast and crew talking.
Other extras follow on the second disc. There are 100 minutes of deleted scenes with introductions from Smith and co, which vary between hysterically funny and downright dull. It's worth noting that most are extensions of existing scenes rather than entirely new material. There's also 13 minutes worth of outtakes, which are pretty par for the course, some storyboards, cast and crew biographies and trailers. Unfortunately the disc is missing the planned hour-long documentary 'Judge Not: in defence of Dogma' for legal reasons, but it is hoped that it will be released separately eventually. A mention must go to the funny and appropriate animated menus.
It's not Smith's best film to date, and his lack of directorial skill might irritate, but this is still head and shoulders above most of the so-called 'comedies' that are released. Columbia provide an excellent 2-disc set with hours worth of extras, as well as more than adequate video and sound quality. Recommended, as long as you're not strongly Catholic...