At worst, commentary tracks on DVDs (or Blu-rays, if you’re being really high-tech) are borderline intolerable. At their best, commentary tracks provide an entertaining insight into the unpredictable and often strange process of making movies.
As you’ve probably guessed, the commentary track on 21 Jump Street’s disc (out now, fact fans) falls into the latter category. It helps that the movie itself is an extremely funny one, and it’s evident that its directors – Chris Miller and Phil Lord – as well as its leads – Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum – had a great time making it.
While some commentaries are about as fun to listen to as a biscuit factory annual general meeting, the four chaps mentioned above are hugely entertaining, and some of the anecdotes they blurt out are truly outstanding. Here are a few of the weird and sometimes wonderful things we learned from the 21 Jump Street chatter…
Art imitates life
21 Jump Street’s opening scene sees a teenage Morton Schmidt (Hill) walk into school with a savage blonde hairdo inspired by Eminem. Although this seems like a simple visual gag to kick the movie off, Hill suggests that he really did have his hair styled after Marshall Bruce Mathers when he was a youth. “This is what I actually looked like in highschool,” he said.
Channing Tatum’s character Greg Jenko, meanwhile, peers out from beneath lank, long hair parted precisely down the middle – a look, the directors reveal, inspired by Tim Riggins’ do in Friday Night Lights. Taylor Kitsch must be so proud.
At Schmidts’ parents’ house, an entire wall is devoted to childhood photos, all of them embarrassing. As Jenko snarkily points out, Schmidt looks “like a young Jay Leno” in the largest, while Schmidt himself admits, “I look like Fred Savage!”
These pictures, it turns out, are Jonah Hill’s genuine childhood photos, borrowed from his parents. At the 21 Jump Street premiere, Hill’s mother said, “I don’t get why funny about those pictures. You look gorgeous.”
There was a line in the film about Abraham Lincoln inventing the word ‘tits’, but it didn’t make the final edit.
Fake bill boards
Numerous bill boards and signs from around Louisiana – where the movie was shot – were digitally overlaid with new ones in post-production. Something easily missed in the chaos of the finished movie, the directors happily point out their favourites during the commentary. Ads for bouillon cubes and something called Movie 2: The Sequel – all set in Helvetica, typography spotters – are among our favourites.
According to co-director Phil Lord, a brief scene involving a foot squashing a face nose won the admiration of Steven Spielberg. It was, he said, the director’s favourite sequence.
The former rapper Ice Cube delivers a particularly fine performance as a stereotypically shouty police captain, and gets some of the movie’s most memorable lines. Curiously, for an actor required to scream all kinds of obscenities, he was quite specific on what he would and would not say.
On a set where improvisation was encouraged, Hill asked Mr Cube if he’d utter the line, “You can gargle my nutsack”. Ice flatly refused.
On the topic of the genital region, one brief scene (which we shall be as vague about as possible, to avoid spoilers) involves a detached penis. Said member, the filmmakers reveal, was actually half a banana purchased from a local shop, with a touch of stage blood applied. The result is surprisingly realistic.
One scene sees Channing Tatum’s character step triumphantly from a limousine accompanied by John Woo-style white doves. Curiously, the birds had to be added in post-production due to the stresses of the sequence’s night time shooting schedule; the doves were asleep (“from flying around all day”, Hill notes), and their handlers wouldn’t allow them to be woken up.
One of the major revelations in 21 Jump Street was, for us, how good Channing Tatum proved to be at comedy. He throws himself into the role of earnest, painfully slow-witted Greg with everything he has – just as the character throws himself into a highschool orchestra rehearsal while high on the mythical drug HFS.
This scene, the commentary reveals, was achieved in a single take, with Tatum simply improvising bizarre lurches, tootles on instruments and raving utterances as he went along – the sublime, triumphant line involving one Miles Davis was made up on the hoof.
A moment where Tatum abruptly throws up on Jonah Hill’s arm was also Tatum’s idea; according to Miller and Lord, he came up with the idea on the last day of the first week’s shooting, and filled his mouth with a mixture of oatmeal and water. Hill had no idea what was about to happen, and his horrified reaction to the stuff hocked up on his arm was genuine.
Last minute dubbing
Chris Parnell’s pretentious drama teacher is one of 21 Jump Street’s delicious highlights – and in a film packed full of cameos from some of America’s finest comedy talent, that’s really saying something. Parnell’s finest moment is surely his self-regarding, smug monologue about his days as an actor, in which he provides a bizarre anecdote about “Taking cocaine with Willy Nelson’s horse”.
In the commentary track, it’s revealed that Parnell originally said something very different here; at the time of filming, the line was actually “Doing cocaine with Whitney Houston’s niece”. Unfortunately for the filmmakers, Houston tragically died after production had completed – in fact, 200 prints had already been churned out with the now controversial line in place, and had to be hastily put aside.
Parnell was therefore called back in to overdub something – anything – which would fit his lip movements in the original footage, and “Willy Nelson’s horse” happened to be a perfect fit. According to Jonah Hill, several other sentences were tried out, too, including the rather disturbing “Charlton Heston’s hearse.”
This, surely, is a rare instance of a hurried alteration actually altering a scene for the better. The surreal Willy Nelson horse line is, for us, far funnier and more surreal than the original one.
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