WITH ALL THE bungled DVD commentaries out there, it's refreshing to hear director Stephen Daldry describe The Hours (on disc June 24) as the story of "the very acute and profound choices that people make and the cost of these choices in the search for happiness." Along with the other extras here, Daldry's succinct intellectboth in an audio track with Michael Cunningham, the original book's author, and in an introduction to four sharp making-of-the-movie featurettesprovides what other DVDs typically promise but rarely deliver: Articulate discussion about the acute and profound choices that go into the making of an articulate film.
The Hours got knocked by critics for its determined gravitas, and that tone of resolute seriousness in the commentary tracks will put off those same naysayers. Anyone else will be invigorated by the heady company. In addition to Daldry and Cunningham's astute observations, a separate track allows Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, and Julianne Moore to have their say. The three are measured in their reflections, but it's a kick to hear them discuss the film's meticulous aesthetic decisions. Of Oscar-winner Kidman's much-discussed fake Virginia Woolf proboscis, Streep says "It's the work that's enhanced by this little adjustment."
The disc provides the chance to consider the high craft that went into the film's many triumphs. In what was arguably the single best scene of any major film last year, Toni Collette, playing a "perfect" suburban hausfrau, tentatively reaches out in her grief to a nearly imploding Moore. Cunningham marvels that Collette is "an Australian truck driver's daughter who somehow just knew how a housewife from the '50s in America would move and speak. How do [actors] do this?" STEVE WIECKING
HOW DO STUDIOS expect us to snap up these dismal July 15 releases? Roberto Benigni's dreadful English-dubbed Pinocchio? Ted Turner's Civil War vanity project Gods & Generals? Jackie Chan's lame sequel Shanghai Knights? The femme Frankenstein riff May? The 1940 Tyrone Power biopic Brigham Young? (Haven't they heard about the Krakauer book?) Fortunately, amid these summer doldrums, Frances McDormand is excellent in Laurel Canyon; Criterion just issued a great Stan Brakhage double-disc package of his avant-garde shorts; and MGM is putting out a Billy Wilder collection that we'll sample next week. EDS.