Neil Gaiman's(New Video, 12.7.2004)
A Short Film About John Bolton
If you haven't already heard of Neil Gaiman, chances are this disc won't go down very smooth. Best known for creating one of the greatest graphic novel series ever, "The Sandman" -- a re-working of a tired comic book character into a mythic universe that also incorporates biblical themes, Greek mythology, contemporary issues, among other sources -- Gaiman has become a paramount figure in the world of literature. His recent novel, "American Gods," won him both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 2002.
As a huge fan of Gaiman, this reviewer was hoping to fall for yet another, now cinematic, tale from one of his favorite writers. However, the (short) film is a mixed bag. Yes, it's entirely likeable but does seem fairly pedestrian and derivative. The first and second halves are very different in tone, the former being light and awkwardly comedic, not unlike The Office. The latter (horror) half is where things kind of fall flat and the ending, unfortunately, leaves much to be desired.
John Bolton, a painter who creates hypnotic, nude, grotesque portraits of female vampires winds up being the subject of interviewer Marcus Brigstocke (appearing as himself). Marcus wants to find out the method behind Bolton's enigmatic artworks so he follows him around town and then, subsequently, into his gothic studio/lair. Of course, there he becomes a helpless victim and his demise soon follows. The end plays out like a (pretty good) episode of Tales From the Crypt where we even cut back to an illustrated representation of the murder.
The quality of the short, in terms of a/v, is satisfactory. Obviously, the faulty transfer is deliberate in some instances, mainly towards the end of the film. The short is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen (which is too bad) but the overall quality is completely watchable. The sound, however, doesn't fair as well. First off, there is a syncing problem throughout some of the extra features. Also, there are no subtitles. During the many readings by Gaiman, these would have been appreciated. The sound comes in two channel audio, which is fine, as there isn't much to hear other than the spoken word.
Thankfully, the film is not the only attraction on this DVD. There are plenty of intriguing features where we see Gaiman and hear him discuss topics other than the short. In total, there are over two hours of bonus features. The most notable extra is unquestionably the 1 hour and 43 minute benefit performance that Gaiman appeared at to support the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Gaiman is as charming and articulate as ever, rather than the uber-goth that many would expect. He reads several of his short stories and participates in a Q&A, in which he discusses his yet-to-be-made (and now apparently cancelled) Terry Gilliam collaboration, Good Omens.
"The Making of John Bolton" interview with Gaiman runs about 10 minutes and has him discussing the origins of the story, among other relatively interesting anecdotes. In the "Drawn In Darkness" feature, we get an audio track over the DVD menu, where Gaiman reads the short story which was the inspiration for the film. In this format, the story read by Gaiman is far more interesting on the horror front than the film version. There's also a fairly enjoyable commentary track by Gaiman and Marcus Brigstocke. They discuss shot construction, editing, pacing, etc. Both seem to have a good time discussing the film, which makes for a better viewing/listening experience for us at home.
Finally, there is a John Bolton photo gallery, showcasing the artwork that was made for the film. This is truly great looking stuff. There's also a biographies section, which is pretty self-explanatory.
For Gaiman fans, the extras on this disc alone should justify a viewing. Gaiman is a pleasure to listen to and he's a good reader to boot. -- Neil Karassik