It would probably be wrong to say that Kevin Smith speaks for my generation. He certainly has, as his production company name tells us, a View Askew, and that means that we'd all have to have the same sort of skewed view if he spoke for my generation. While it might be that we all see things somewhat off-center, I'm not convinced that we see things from the same off-center angle. Even so, while Kevin Smith doesn't speak for my generation, he certainly has the ability to speak to my generation — telling us things in a way we want to hear them.
Miramax is now releasing as a boxed set three of Smith's films on Blu-ray – Clerks (1994), Chasing Amy, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. It may seem like an odd group of Smith films to put together (it most likely has to do with which films Miramax has the rights to), but all the stories of all three films do take place in the same universe.
Clerks, Smith's directorial debut, is a terribly low budget piece, the vast majority of which takes place in a convenience store and which, as the title suggests, revolves around the lives of two clerks, Dante (Brian O'Halloran), who works at the convenience store and Randal (Jeff Anderson), who works at the video store next door. It is a film in which surprisingly little happens. Dante spends much of his time complaining, Randal spends much of his time cursing.
The success of Clerks, of all three of these films, rests not on what happens, but how it all unfolds via the dialogue. Smith, who wrote all three films, has a unique use of language. At its best, Smith's writing is full of smart references to all forms of pop culture – the dialogue is profanity laden but still smart. At its worst, the dialogue is full of references that were dated by the time the film hit the big screen and still profanity laden.
As smart and funny and low budget wonderful as Clerks is with its ability to tap into the ennui of apathetic, lazy, slackers from the New York suburbs, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back takes the stance that more is more. It takes two recurring characters from earlier Smith films, the titular Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith himself), and moves them front and center as they travel across the country to stop a film based on comic book characters which are, in turn, based on them from getting made.
It is certainly possible to argue that Jay and Silent Bob are two of the funniest characters in Smith's earlier films (they appear in both Clerks and Chasing Amy as well as others), but – as is acknowledged within the film itself – the notion of the two of them carrying a film is a little far-fetched, it also doesn't come off quite as well as one would hope. The characters, as with many supporting characters in sitcoms, are funny as supporting characters.
Perhaps though the biggest problem with the film is the utterly outlandish nature of the plot. Where the other two films included here are merely improbable, the story here is utterly ridiculous, particularly the portion where the guys aid (albeit unknowingly) in a diamond heist.
The film does feature some great cameos and numerous references to Smith's earlier films – in fact, without seeing other Smith films not included in this set, some of the jokes will be missed. Those moments certainly prove satisfying to fans of Smith's work and pop culture in general, but they are only moments and don't improve the film itself.
The best of the three films herein is Chasing Amy, the third entry into Smith's "New Jersey Trilogy" (coming after Mallrats, not a Miramax film and therefore not included here, and Clerks). The film is filled with great dialogue, a funny – and yet wholly appreciated – view of comics, and good performances by leads Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, and Jason Lee. The story, which centers on Holden McNeil's (Affleck) affection for Alyssa (Adams), who is a lesbian, is certainly the best crafted of the three features and the least juvenile as well (not that there's necessarily anything wrong with juvenile).
Though the story focuses on love and loss, Smith manages to handle it in a way which prevents it from ever becoming overly sappy. It is a love story, an odd one, but a love story, and as such repeatedly opens itself to moments where it could become tedious or bogged down. Smith avoids those pitfalls, and despite the serious nature of some of the discussions, keeps things moving appropriately and makes sure to crack enough jokes to keep the audience laughing.
The new boxed set comes with a huge number of special features for Clerks and Chasing Amy, but only an audio commentary by Smith, producer Scott Mosier, and Mewes for Jay and Silent Bob. The other two also contain audio commentaries by Smith and Mosier. In fact, Clerks contains two commentary tracks, both with more than just those two (Mewes and O'Halloran are on both and Anderson on the second). The second track accompanies a "First Cut" version of the film, which has some added scenes and a new ending. Chasing Amy also contains a fantastic, new documentary on the making of the film, as well as a conversation with Smith and Adams and a Q & A (all of which is new). There are deleted scenes for both Amy and Clerks, an animated version of a deleted scene for Clerks, and several other special features all of which seem to have been released on the Clerks X 10th Anniversary Edition DVD. The only new bonus features here are an introduction by Smith for Clerks and a making-of piece on Jay and Silent Bob.
In terms of technical aspects of the releases, Jay and Silent Bob both looks and sounds the best of the three. This is no surprise as it was the highest budgeted and latest release of the three features. The transfer looks beautiful and sounds wonderful. Clerks, also not surprisingly, is the worst, although it does come across much better in high definition and with an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track than one might imagine. The aforementioned "First Cut" of the film is all but unwatchable. As Smith explains in the introduction for the cut from the 10th anniversary DVD, it was obtained from a Super VHS tape, which accounts for the truly poor quality of both the video and the audio, with poor, muffled, sound (and not the soundtrack which appeared on the final cut of the film) and overly dark, indistinct, complete with wavy black lines underneath it all video. The decision to not improve the look and sound, Smith says, was purposeful but does make it awfully hard to look at in high definition. As for Chasing Amy, it lies somewhere between the two. The print is clean and the colors bold and bright and wholly appropriate for a film which revolves around comics, and, also contains a 5.1 Channel DTS-HD Master Audio track which provides crisp, clean audio (and sounds particularly good when there is music).
Though there is not a lot in the way of new features for Clerks and Jay and Silent Bob, for many the chance to purchase Clerks and Chasing Amy on Blu-ray for the first time may be too big to pass up. And, even if Jay and Silent Bob isn't the greatest film, Smith's voice is a unique one and well worth hearing. Though his films may be filled with curses as well as lewd and suggestive behavior, there is an underlying heart and wisdom about the world in them (when they're at their best), and they make for interesting – and different – viewing.