This Is Spinal Tap – Special Edition Review

Raphael Pour-Hashemi has reviewed the Region 2 release of This Is Spinal Tap – Special Edition.

Claimed to be one of the funniest films of all time and certainly one of the most popular spoofs. The R2 lacks some extras from the Criterion version, but gains others, including an anamorphic transfer.

This Is Spinal Tap is a documentary chronicling the ‘loudest English rock band’ Spinal Tap’s tour of America. Hosted by interviewer Marty DiBergi, the eighty minute film contains musical numbers from the band’s tour alongside backstage and rehearsal footage, depicting the band discussing musical politics and throwing tantrums over the usual rock-star problems.

Except…This Is Spinal Tap is a hilarious spoof, and actors fill the parts to such a believable extent that you’d seriously think that the goings-on presented in the film are real, if it weren’t so damned funny. Director Rob Reiner, who actually appears in the film as interviewer Marty DiBergi, has written a comedy classic, with the help of the three Tap band members Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer (of Simpsons fame). Not only are the situations extremely funny, but they are also expertly observed, and the film works because the band are so convincing. Guest, McKean and Shearer all hold down an English accent brilliantly, and when you consider the trio wrote and performed all of their numbers in the film, alongside writing the actual film screenplay themselves, then you have to give them the utmost credit. Given that there is over an hour of deleted material from the film, it is an indication of director Rob Reiner’s slick artistry that he has the bravery to keep the film down to an hour and twenty minutes, when he clearly had more material to throw in. This however, is one of the film’s few problems, in that it feels like a trailer in places, and is probably twenty minutes too short. Yes, there is an argument that the film works because none of the pacing slows throughout, but the film still feels as if it’s lacking a core in places. This minor quibble aside, you’d have to think long and hard as to what is actually wrong with the film.

Extremely episodic, yet full of classic situations that will forever be remembered, This Is Spinal Tap is of consistent quality throughout. Take for instance the scene in which the band murder Elvis’ songs whilst paying respect at Graceland, or the constant death of their replacement drummers, or when their art-rock homage to Stonehenge becomes a comedy number due to an error in dimensions! The most memorable scene, however, involves Nigel (Christopher Guest) explaining to Marty DiBergi why the band’s amplifiers are better than their rivals because they go up to eleven instead of ten!! This brief guide to scenes is skimming the surface but only due to the fact that the list of classic scenes is endless, and fans continue to argue over which is the best.

Not only is This Is Spinal Tap one of the best rockumentaries of all time, but it’s the best ‘mock’umentary of them all, and is regarded as one of the funniest films to ever grace the cinematic screen. It’s currently placed at number # 177 on the Internet Movie Database Top 250 and the film was so successful that the fictional band it created have actually released spin-off albums and partaken in sell-out tours.

This Is Spinal Tap works so well because it doesn’t aim high, and instead scores one hundred percent on the tests it wishes to take. It’s a realistic, ‘fictional’ documentary with an extremely heavy dose of hysterical farce. The soundtrack is rocking, the acting believable and the script and direction perfect, showing clearly that the film goes all the way to eleven.

Presented in anamorphic 1.85:1, which beats the Criterion version, the picture quality is moderately satisfactory, with grain often intruding upon the transfer and print shimmering occurring throughout. Some scenes look fine however, so the transfer is a hit-and-miss affair.

Presented in 5.1 surround, the dialogue is mostly mono due to the documentary style the film has been shot in, and the dialogue mix is quite low on volume. However, the concert scenes are tremendous, and become a sonic assault to the audio senses, appearing in full surround and giving an authentic concert experience.

Menu: A funny menu, with cartoon animated graphics representing scenes from the film appearing over a matte-black background, complete with in-character commentary from the band talking over the menu.

Packaging: A stylish and minimalist artwork, with a plain black background with the band’s logo adorned on the front. Comes in a single amaray casing with a clip-on insert for the second disc (which contains all of the extras). Also included is a four page booklet/chapter insert which gives insight into where the band members are now, and a ‘Drummer Necrology’, listing how and when the drummers of the band met with their deaths.


In-Character Commentary With Spinal Tap: Probably one of the funniest commentaries ever to grace a DVD, the commentary features the band members of Spinal Tap in-character talking over their appearance in the ‘documentary’. Because the actors so effortlessly fill their characters’ shoes you actually believe that these people exist, and fans of the film should be delighted with the commentary as it presents Tap at their funniest. It’s a pity that Marty DiBergi couldn’t have joined them to spice things a little, but when the commentary is this good, who’s complaining! Also, the commentary track is expertly mixed so that the three members occupy different sections of the left/right panning on the mix, which gives an added feeling that they are actually there!

Rare Outtakes: This is another tremendous extra. Here we have an hour and five minutes of deleted scenes from the film. Edited together yet split up for convenience into fourteen chapters, this is essentially a parallel Spinal Tap film with completely new material for fans. Granted, it lacks a narrative structure, but considering the episodic nature of the film, it doesn’t matter in this case. A stand-out scene involve the band corrupting Tommy the Limo driver with illegal substances and cajoling him into performing a Sinatra number in his underwear! The picture and sound quality obviously do not match the original film, and even though the sound is mono and the print has a few scratches and tears, it still is very watchable and doesn’t detract from the overall documentary feel. Presented in 4:3 fullscreen.

Catching Up With Marty DiBergi – Interview: Essentially, a five minute tongue-in-cheek pretend interview with Marty DiBergi (AKA Rob Reiner) reminiscing about making the documentary and his thoughts on the band (i.e. defending criticisms by them that he was merely a ‘hatchet job’). It’s quite funny, and very in keeping with the tone of the DVD, but you probably won’t want to watch it twice.

Flower Power Press Conference: A fake press conference shot in black-and-white featuring the band discussing relative issues on flower-power. Obviously it’s intended to parody the Magical Mystery Tour era of the Beatles, and on that level it’s very effective, if only lasting two minutes.

Spinal Tap On The Joe Franklin Show: Another two minute featurette featuring a seemingly real life appearance by the band on the Joe Franklin Chat Show. It’s a shame the interview isn’t longer, as this could have been an Ali G-esque send up of the interview being blatantly oblivious to the fact that the interviewees aren’t real.

4 Music Videos – ‘Gimme Some Money’, ‘(Listen To The) Flower People’, ‘Hell Hole’ & ‘Big Bottom’: Some excellent music videos that suggest the length of detail the filmmakers explored in order to believably create the different music eras suggested in the videos. The first video ‘Gimme Some Money’ has that ‘Beatles at Ed Sullivan Show’ look about it, and the ‘Flower People’ video is an alternate universe twin of ‘All You Need Is Love’. Again, these videos are excellent, and the songs are musically sound too, and quite catchy little numbers.

Theatrical Trailer: A three-minute trailer, edited and narrated to give the film a genuine documentary look. The trailer is very funny, and it isn’t long before you realise that the film is supposed to be funny.

Heavy Metal Memories: A two-minute video ‘As Seen On TV’ trailer advertising the band’s new album as if it were real, and then mutating into a teaser trailer for the film. Again, this shows the details undertaken by the filmmakers and the clever promotional campaign employed.

Cheese Rolling Trailer: A two-minute surreal trailer hosted by Rob Reiner in which he explains that his film isn’t finished and so he shows a clip of European cheese rollers festival instead!

3 TV Spots: Three thirty second TV spots, each titled differently according to what scene or marketing element they are trying to cash in on – ‘Reviews’, ‘Offensive’ and ‘Amplifier’.

3 Findus Rock’N’Rolls Commercials: Three commercials featuring the band advertising Findus’ Rock’N’Rolls Pizza Rolls. Not very funny, and only sixteen seconds long each.

This Is Spinal Tap is one of those films in which the hype and praise heaped upon it is fully deserved. The extras are missing a filmmakers commentary from the Criterion version and a few featurettes, but make up for it in other extras and due to its anamorphic picture quality. It’s a classic spoof of the highest order, and the overall DVD package matches its quality.

Raphael Pour-Hashemi

Updated: Dec 11, 2001

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