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Beauty and the Beast

Diamond edition adds to a top-notch film —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Beauty and the Beast fall for each other

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The Commitments, the world’s hardest working band, finally get treated right on this Collector’s Edition two-disc DVD, which features the movie in an immaculate widescreen presentation.

The Goal Is Dublin Soul

The world’s hardest working band finally get treated right
The world’s hardest working band finally get treated right

Based on Roddy Doyle’s book, the first in the Rabbitte family saga now referred to as The Barrytown Trilogy (The Snapper and The Van complete the chronicles), The Commitments follows Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins) as he pursues his dream of forming a rock band and taking it to the top.

In Ireland there are about as many rock bands as there are pubs, so Jimmy’s mission is all the more challenging. After running an ad in the paper, the talent and the wannabes come out of the woodwork, bringing with them everything from classic folk to heavy metal.

Jimmy’s got a vision, though. He wants to bring soul to the working class of his hometown. Taking inspiration from Wilson Pickett, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and all their soul brethren, he assembles an Irish dirty dozen of colorful, foul-mouthed characters and together they take on the world – and each other.

The Dreamers

There are many things to admire about The Commitments, the cinematic equivalent of lightning in a bottle. The cast are real musicians with real talent. Most notable is lead singer Deco Cuffe, as portrayed by Andrew Strong, a then-16-year-old who stuns audiences with his rough, powerful voice. But everyone can hold their own, from the fabulous Commitmentettes to the pianist. Even Arkins is a bona fide musician in his own right, but as the band manager he only acts in the film, aside from singing Treat Her Right during the opening credits.

Alan Parker — who also directed Fame, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and the cinematic version of Evita — is at the top of his game here, aided by a smart script and some of the best acting to ever come out of a gang of first-timers.

The only experienced actor in the band prior to filming was Johnny Murphy (Waiting for Godot), who, as the smooth-talking and hard-riding Joey “The Lips” Fagan, serves as an elder statesman for the band as he advises young Jimmy and the gang in the spirituality — and sexuality — of soul.

As Jimmy sets up gigs for these “guerillas of soul,” the tensions and pressures mount. Even as the band improves and the fan base grows, the debt-collectors come for payment and internal back-biting and personality conflicts torment the very soul of the band.

With a perfect cast, great music, and a crackling, edgy Irish sense of humor, The Commitments effectively captures the joys and heartaches of dreaming out loud.

DVD Extras

When The Commitments first appeared on DVD, during the format’s infancy, the disc embarrassingly boasted of its pan-and-scan format as a “bonus feature.” While that disc was also re-issued last year, this Collector’s Edition DVD rights all wrongs and is a treat for fans. It’s also a great way to introduce the film to those previously left out of the loop. Even the menus, styled after vintage concert posters with scratched-up black-and-white clips from the film, help set the mood for the movie and its supplements.

On Disc One are the movie and a worthwhile running commentary from director Alan Parker. His chat offers bits of trivia, the obligatory film talk, and other comments. Included are revelations regarding the strategy surrounding the recording of the band’s performances and some funny insights into the film’s audition sequence. Parker also explains why a sequel is a bad idea and why pan-and-scan editions of widescreen movies are worthless.

Disc Two provides plenty of nice surprises. At the top of the list is the new 50-minute retrospective documentary, The Commitments: Looking Back, which catches up with most of the cast and key production personnel, including author Roddy Doyle. Fittingly, some of the brand-new interviews are conducted in Irish pubs with pints of Guinness at the ready.

More Extras

Another excellent addition is Dublin Soul: The Working Class and the Changing Face of Dublin, a 15-minute documentary featuring interviews with an independent member of Parliament, several cast members, and Doyle. They discuss the unemployment crisis that gripped the working class and further separated the “Northsiders” from the “Southsiders.” Included are historic film clips of Dublin and new footage shot at some of the locations used in The Commitments. It’s also neat to see Michael Aherne, the band’s pianist now working as a civil engineer in Dublin, explain some of the new plans for Dublin’s land use.

Returning from the original DVD release is the “Treat Her Right” music video, this time with a cool, humorous introduction by Parker and Robert Arkins. The disc also includes two new songs (audio only), showcasing the solo careers of Arkins and Andrew Strong. Both are catchy tunes and both offer further proof that the real talent behind the fictional band deserves a much wider audience.

Like the best concerts, the DVD’s new materials are so well done, there’s enough to leave the diehard fans satisfied but pleasantly hungry for just a wee bit more.

Also on stage are a rather brief behind-the-scenes photo gallery and a collection of promo materials, including the theatrical trailer and TV and radio spots.

Finishing off the set are two “making of” segments with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews dating back to the film’s release. The first is a 20-minute documentary entitled The Making of Alan Parker’s Film The Commitments. The second, with the truncated title The Making of The Commitments, was included on the original pan-and-scan DVD and it is merely an abridged edition of the first documentary.

Picture and Sound

The film is at long last presented in a spectacularly fresh widescreen (1.85:1) anamorphic edition, restored and remastered with solid Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. For the first time on any home video format on North American soil, the presentation gives viewers the chance to see The Commitments the way Alan Parker intended it to be seen.

While the package liner notes indicate the Spanish and French tracks are in Dolby Surround, they are, unfortunately, only mono tracks. Also available are English and Spanish subtitles.