By Andrew Jenck
From a young age, I’ve always been partial to bonus features included on DVDs. I would spend hours watching everything on the discs which proved to be a great introduction to filmmaking and what effort was required to make something I would watch just to have fun. Fast forward to today, and disappointingly, bonus features have become essentially an afterthought. With digital means and the smaller timespan between theatrical and home releases, behind the scenes have become so light, vanilla, and quick paced, designed to appeal to the short-attention-YouTube-crowd without going into anything specific. Hence, I was pleasantly surprised to find Knives Out, one of my favorites of last year, containing a large amount of extra content, complete with a feature-length behind the scenes documentary.
Knives Out is a “Who Dunnit” so going into anything specific could lead to spoilers and I’d highly recommend going into the film with a fresh mind. To sum up my thoughts: it’s a thrilling, hilarious story with a blatant but smart commentary on the upper class looking down and being out-of-touch with American immigrants. The script and scenery contain loads of hidden detail that helps the film improve upon rewatch. The cast is full of veteran actors and promising up comers, and Rian Johnson directs it very well. If you loved The Last Jedi or were at least intrigued by its ideas, this is a more well-rounded, tighter film and a lot of fun.
The Blu-ray contains the aforementioned documentary, the usual trailers and deleted scenes, a Q&A session of most of the cast, two commentaries, and a brief director featurette. “Making a Murder” is the highlight of the product, educating how the original idea for Knives Out was envisioned, set aside, and revisited by Johnson after Star Wars and follow along with the cast and crew up until the film’s opening. I didn’t have time to watch the commentaries, but I’ve heard they give greater insights with the film, especially the shot composition. The featurette is essentially a YouTube video that discusses the film in broad strokes, and is the weakest offering. The Cast Q&A is a fun time with insightful comments from a group of esteemed actors.
Watching the documentary, it occurred to me how more significant branding is to movie studios nowadays with other behind the scenes being fluffed pieces. Often times, blockbuster films are committee-driven, limiting the directors’ ambitions. Hence the behind the scenes features tend to be more fluffed; something the CEO feels represents the company in a positive light. Maybe there was a bit of fluff in “Making a Murder” but it understands that Knives Out is director-driven. All of the cast and crew discuss Johnson in great detail: how impressed they are of his film knowledge, his passion for the story, the advice he gives them, etc. The costume designers and sound editors surprisingly get their own sections of the documentary. Great care was given to making the clothing embody the characters and add hidden details for the audience to pick up subconsciously. The music and sound prove to be vital to add suspense and mystery to the picture. Everything works congruently to create a piece of cinema. A person could watch the documentary and get a general understanding of moviemaking.
Recently, Disney+ released a docuseries about the making of The Mandalorian; the first episode being a prime example of a fluff piece discussed earlier. The directors’ discussions don’t go two minutes with group laughter, the filmmaking is explained in the broadest of terms, compliments from the cast and crew is surface-level, any difficulties are rarely alluded to, and more focus is on their experiences with Star Wars in such a cliché manner. I’d recommend watching it after seeing “Making a Murder” just to know what peeks behind the scenes vs. what advertises the scenes.