Journo Justin Beahm joins the SHOCK squad with a new column.
In the age of streaming and downloading movies, Blu-ray and DVD releases are more and more dependent on additional features being included to entice the buying public. Special Features Include will spotlight the cream of the crop, exploring the bonus elements that elevate a good release to a great one.
Distributor: New Line Cinema
DVD released: 2003
Original release: 2003
Director: Glen Morgan
Special features include:
– THE YEAR OF THE RAT 73 minute documentary on the making of WILLARD
– RAT PEOPLE: FRIENDS OR FOES?
– Downloadable script
– Trivia challenge
Crispin Glover is absolutely wonderful. Never has a role better suited an actor than with his titular turn in 2003s WILLARD from director Glen Morgan and New Line Cinema. The actor is best known known to the general public as George McFly from Robert Zemeckis 80s cornerstone BACK TO THE FUTURE, but fringe cinema aficionados adore Glover for performances in FRIDAY THE 13TH THE FINAL CHAPTER, THE ORKLY KID, RUBIN & ED, RIVER’S EDGE, and a handful of other fantastically offbeat films. The actor, director, writer, producer, and performance artist is a rare creature in entertainment, living off the grid and dipping down into Hollywood’s hot mess only to accept roles to fund his own movie making or if a role intrigues him enough to take the bait. WILLARD was one such film.
In 1968 Stephen Gilbert’s novel Ratman’s Notebooks was released unto the world, sharing the tale of a young man’s unraveling via notebook entries about his sick mother, his rat best friends Ben and Socrates, and how he enlists his rodent pals to exact revenge on his creep boss. The book was a success, birthing WILLARD, a 1971 film from director Daniel Mann, and sequel BEN a year later. Fast forward to 2002, when New Line Cinema kicked a WILLARD remake into motion, taking a shot with greenhorn director Morgan, best known at that point for his television writing (MILLENNIUM, 21 JUMP STREET). The cast that director Morgan and his team assembled was picture perfect, anchored by Glover in a rare lead performance.
The film is a masterpiece, with Glover in perfect form as the long suffering Willard Stiles, flanked by great efforts from Jackie Burroughs as his crumbling, omnipresent mother, and R. Lee Ermy in familiar territory as nightmare boss Mr. Martin. Strong stuff, beautifully shot, well acted, and one of the rare exceptions where the remake exceeds its predecessor. Despite its dark beauty and critical acclaim, the film was an all out flop in theaters, making just under $7million at the box office before bowing out humbly in the spring of 2003. Not the kind of performance a studio is looking for, and not usually the makings for any kind of future consideration outside of a bare bones video release before being shuffled off into oblivion. But this is no usual film.
New Line home video has a special designation for deluxe releases, the Platinum Series is where box office hits like THE MASK, AUSTIN POWERS, and FINAL DESTINATION end up. In 2003, the company shocked those of us mourning the tepid theatrical response WILLARD received by giving it the royal treatment and inclusion in the hallowed Deluxe Series. The single disc release is an all out love letter to Morgan’s film, complete with a rare Glover commentary, cut scenes, and so much more.
The commentary is a thorough discussion of the picture between its main architects director Morgan, producer James Wong, Glover and Ermy. To my knowledge, this is the only commentary track Glover has participated in, further testament to his passion for this project. The quartet wind through the running time with revelations about the complex production, glowing praise for the rat co-stars, and much more. One of the best commentary tracks I have come across.
The music video New Line paid for to help promote the film is as intriguing as the movie itself. In 1972 when BEN hit theaters, young Michael Jackson did the theme song, the tune that would be his first hit solo single and put him on the map as a performer outside of the Jackson 5. For WILLARD 2003, Glover covered the song in grand off-kilter fashion, wrapping production of the movie with a music video shoot. In the video Glover is singing to his friend Ben on an old vaudeville stage, in front of cast members and bizarre characters. What begins as a magic act where Glover makes rats appear out of nowhere evolves into a full on infestation, with intentionally phony looking rats overwhelming the star and his stage. A fantastic song and video.
RAT PEOPLE: FRIENDS OR FOES is a documentary short about folks who raise and collect rats. The piece explores the common misconceptions about the animals, and showcases the unique pet loving corner of the universe rarely given attention.
The real diamond on this expansive release is the 78-minute making-of documentary THE YEAR OF THE RAT by Julie Ng, who was at director Morgan’s side from front to back on the production. Her access to the proceedings is captured in what is one of the most extensive, inclusive film documentaries I have ever seen. From the earliest production meetings, to casting, to all aspects of rat involvement, to editing, scoring, press and promotion, and finally theatrical release, we are given absolute access every step of the way. In addition to the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink-too thoroughness, the documentary also allows us extremely rare access to Glover in his natural element in front of the camera. You see him laughing, focusing, mining his craft.
Morgan is an honest face on camera, and his investment in the film is clear. At the end, after the dismal theatrical walloping he took, Morgan shares his remorse about how misunderstood his picture is, and you can’t help but feel it too. After spending over an hour with him as he toiled in the trenches with his team of fellow artists to being WILLIARD to life, his final words are melancholy, but hopeful the film finds an audience one day. THE YEAR OF THE RAT is really an incredible piece, and the most precious addition to this disc.
There are additional DVD-rom features not to be missed, including the script in downloadable form, a trivia challenge, some information about rats, and more. Rounding out the release are the usual trailers, television spots, and that exciting fullscreen version of the film. The only thing missing is the extended R-rated cut of the film Morgan so wanted (New Line trimmed some of the gore to achieve a PG-13), but all the cut footage is included as a bonus feature, so it isn’t completely lost. All in all, this is one of the most fantastic DVD presentations I have ever seen a genre film get, especially considering all the movie went through before landing on home viewing format.
In 2012 I did an extensive interview with Crispin on his career. You can read the full interview HERE.