Mallrats: Night of Mallterror

Well hey, it's April Fool's Day!  This calls for something light and silly... how about Kevin Smith's Mallrats?  That's one I've had on my to-do list for a long time, with multiple editions ready to compare even before Arrow swooped in with their fancy, limited edition restoration.  Maybe it's not the most essential title, but it's perfect for today.
I discovered 1995's Mallrats when it hit home video like most of America.  I'd been aware of its theatrical run, but it was a huge surprise when it turned out I thought this by-the-numbers teen hormone comedy starring Beverly Hills 90210's Shannon Doherty was actually pretty brilliant!  I never would've touched it if I hadn't recognized it was from the same writer/ director as the indie darling Clerks.  That was just enough to push me into a "well, I've already seen everything else in the store, but boy is this going to suck" rental.  The names Jeremy London, Jason Lee, Joey Lauren Adams and Ben Affleck all meant nothing to me at the time, though I did recognize Michael Rooker from Henry: Portrait Of a Serial Killer, which was a touch of inspired casting.
"The dirt mall" a.k.a. the US1 Flea Market,
a place that was just as awesome as it's depicted in the film.

Watching it today, it doesn't entirely hold up, but a lot of it still works.  Much of Mallrats is an endearingly crude send-up of the kind of films it was marketed as, but there are some points where it's just the filmmakers being genuinely immature and letting us down.  Never mind the stuff that hasn't "aged well," like the jokes/ crucial plot point surrounding "Trish the Dish" and child molestation.  But Lee is the perfect actor for Smith's voice, like Fellini's Mastroianni, and this is some of his smartest writing, in a vehicle that works better than any of his subsequent work, which rapidly descended into Awful territory (sorry, View Askew fam).  This and Clerks are the only two Smith films I need in my collection as an adult; "I have no respect for people with no shopping agenda" is still one of my all-time favorite movie lines.
Mallrats debuted as a special edition DVD in 1999 from Universal, including over an hour of lost footage.  There was actually supposed to be a laserdisc, too.  There'd already been a barebones one out for a few years, but the new special edition laser and DVD were supposed to coincide.  I actually went to New York where Smith was signing copies on release date, and that's where I found out the laser had been cancelled and there were only DVDs.  This was before I had a DVD player, and I was so annoyed I never bought the original DVD until it was reissued as part of Universal's "High School Reunion Collection," along with other teen-lead titles like Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Weird Science and Dazed & Confused.  Actually, all of the main characters in Mallrats are post-high school age, but who's counting?  Obviously not Universal.  Anyway, as soon as I copped that, it was reissued as a restored 2-disc set in 2004 with an all new director's cut and everything.  D'oh!

It was reissued a few more times along the way, including as a 2009 "Triple Feature Film Set" with Fletch and Happy Gilmore before ultimately being released on blu in 2014.  Universal's reissued that a time or two, too - my copy is a 2018 release.  But in 2020, Arrow came to sweep the playing field, giving the film a new 4k restoration, 3 cuts and even more new extras in a fancy, 2-disc limited edition.  And in 2022, they released the unlimited single disc standard edition.  Don't worry, though, I've got the 2-discer, so we can examine everything.
1) 2003 Universal DVD; 2) 2004 Universal DVD; 3) 2009 Universal DVD;
4) 2018 Universal BD; 5) 2020 Arrow BD; 6) 2020 Arrow bonus BD.

[This first shot is missing from Arrow's TV edit.]
Starting with the 1999 DVD, it's not bad.  It's slightly windowboxed to 1.82:1, which, hey, is close (all the rest are letterboxed to a proper 1.85).  But it's anamorphic, progressive, the colors look accurate - that's pretty solid for a disc from the 90s.  But it does get better in 2004; they didn't just add extras.  The AR's fixed, the colors are brighter/ stronger, and the compression is stronger, sharpening up detail (look at Lee's teeth in the first set of shots, for instance).  It was a nice upgrade.  So it's interesting, then, that the 2009 DVD goes back to the old 1999 transfer.  I initially assumed the Triple Feature, which puts Fletch and Happy Gilmore together on disc 1, was just throwing in disc 1 of the 2004 set in as their second disc, but nope, they went backwards.  I guess they used the set as a way to offload their remaining stock of the out-dated discs.  Oh well, nobody's messing with that Triple Feature DVD in the HD era anymore anyway.

So let's talk blus.  It's another upgrade, but not by a whole lot.  The 2004 DVD was a bigger advancement from the 2003 DVD than the 2014 BD is to the 2004 DVD.  It's got cleaner edges and clears up the lumpy compression artifacts that are standing in for film grain, but that's about it.  Grain is barely hinted at, and granted, this is a movie with fine grain, but we should see somethin'.  And we do, finally, on Arrow's new disc.  Now it finally looks like film.  And while it's still matted to 1.85:1, we get a little more image around the edges of the frame.  Because this is a fresh, 4k scan of the 35mm OCN, except for the additional scenes added to the Director's Cut.
1) 2004 Universal DVD; 2) 2018 Universal BD; 3) 2020 Arrow BD.
So these are the three discs that offer the director's cut, which is really like an arbitrarily extended cut.  Basically, that hour+ of deleted scenes from the 1999 DVD were cut back into the film to create this overlong alternate version, which really does not play as well.  It's less funny and the pacing is a slog.  It's nice to have as a curiosity for serious Smith fans, but honestly, these should have stayed as deleted scenes.  It was wild to see how far afield the story once went (Jeremy London gets in a shoot-out with the mayor while dressed as a soldier from the Revolutionary War!), but all that's best consumed as deleted scenes.  Anyway, every disc also presents this film matted to 1.85:1.  For Arrow's new remaster, a "35mm interpositive element was also scanned in 4k for the content unique to the Director's Cut version," approved by Smith and DoP David Klein.  As you'd expect, then, the added footage doesn't look quite as good as the rest, but it's not bad, and you could easily miss the switch from the Theatrical to Director's Cut footage.  Universal's blu still benefits from HD, clearing up that compression and sharpening its edges.  And Arrow's grain structure isn't as thorough as the rest of the film, but it still improves on the older blus, once again zooming around to reveal extra picture along the edges.  In fact, it adds a bit more to this footage than the rest.
And Arrow's TV cut is mostly identical to the theatrical.  Their booklet explains that it "contains a few instances where an alternate take were used in the assembly.  ...These takes have been inserted using the best possible elements available."  And that switch is a lot more obvious, looking like a zoomed in video-tape source, ever so slightly window-boxed to 1.85:1.  But I guess the flaws are all part of the charm of the TV cut, since the biggest selling point is the poorly over-dubbed curse words and the "fake Jay" they have replacing Mewes lines, since he never went to the ADR sessions.  That's vaguely amusing, but they show clips of it in the other extras on these discs, so there's no real reason to have included this as a whole other cut in the set.  But hey, you can't be mad at Arrow for erring on the side of giving you everything they possibly can (although, as we'll see in a bit, they didn't quite do that).
So let's talk audio.  Universal has pretty much always given us the one 5.1 mix with optional English subtitles for everything, including the DC.  They bumped it up to DTS-HD on the blu, and the DVDs also included a French dub (on the Theatrical Cut only), with an additional Spanish dub on the 2004 disc, but that's the underwhelming story.  So that's another nice thing about Arrow, they recovered the original stereo mix.  So both cuts have both the 2.0 and 5.1 in DTS-HD with optional English subtitles, though the TV cut just has a lossy 2.0 (with the optional English subs).  But again, the flaws are part of its charm, I guess.
Extras are plentiful, too, and a little more complicated than I thought when I first pre-ordered my Arrow set a couple years ago.  The 1999 DVD (and my 2003 version) start us off rather nicely.  There's an audio commentary by Smith along with his producer Scott Mosier, Jason Lee, Ben Affleck, Jason Mewes and moderator Vincent Pereira.  If you're familiar with Smith commentaries, you know they're robust and boisterous, but still manage to impart some good insight and behind-the-scenes info.  You won't want to miss it.  There's also the 60+ minutes of deleted scenes, which are introduced/ hosted by Smith and Pereira, an over 20-minute making of featurette, a music video, fullscreen trailer, and an easter egg of Smith and Pereira basically making fun of DVD easter eggs.

The 2004 DVD, and Universal's later blu-rays, have all of that and more.  Besides adding the extended cut, they add a new intro to the cut by Smith to explain what you're about to see, a 50+ reunion Q&A with the Smith and the stars, a new 20+ minute retrospective, outtakes, on-set cast interviews, a sarcastic and surprisingly caustic Q&A with Smith, some bonus trailers and a whole bunch more easter eggs (a total of eight, including the one from 1999), mostly consisting of additional outtakes and interview clips.
Arrow keeps most of that, but loses a few key pieces, including the original 1999 'making of' featurette.  They also ditch the 50 minute Q&A and about twelve minutes of easter egg outtakes and fun little bits.  But they've added new stuff, which I have to admit, is a worthwhile trade.  There are two new interviews with Smith (one exclusively dedicated to producer Jim Jacks, who passed away in 2014) and one with Mewes.  And yes, all these extras get redundant and anecdotes start to repeat, but there's some good new info and hindsight in this stuff.  Then there are two featurettes that interview a bunch of crew members for the first time - one of them's animated, since they clearly only got audio recordings, but these are still great.  And that's just what's new on disc 1.

If you sprung for the Limited Edition, there's a whole second disc.  Besides the two alternate cuts, the bonus blu also offers another intro by Smith, this time for the TV, a vintage EPK featurette for the film's soundtrack, with Smith and Mosier talking about the bands they got to work with, two stills galleries, a new easter egg with Smith telling a funny anecdote about the Easter Bunny scene, and most impressively, two full hours worth of dailies from the original shoot.  The picture quality is a mess, and casual fans will be bored, but die-hards should be riveted.  The limited edition also includes a full-color 24-page booklet, a double-sided poster of both in-movie schematics, one of Arrow's standard film cards (mine was for Shock), reversible artwork and a slipcover.
Honestly, I think Arrow would've been better served forgetting the TV cut and hanging onto those extras they dropped, but it is what it is.  Any serious Mallrats fan needs at least the single disc of Arrow's not insubstantial upgrade, if not the limited edition for the second disc and swag.  But they'll probably want to hang onto an older Universal release for the additional extras as well.

...And if you missed the LE, don't sweat it.  Just as I'm finishing up typing this, I see Arrow has announced a proper UHD version, with Dolby Vision/ HDR and everything from the 2-disc set!  Between this, Time Bandits and Fear and Loathing all getting updates announced this month as I'm writing about them, I'm becoming convinced I have supernatural powers.  I'll have to remember to use them for good.  😁

1 comment:

  1. I personally do not like when Arrow gets their hands on movies like this and jacks up the price for their own restoration with packaging and extraneous cuts. This is my favorite KS movie, but a film one I'd never pay more than $22 for unless it UHD/Blu combo.