The First Audio Commentary
Even in its mid-nineties heyday, collecting laserdiscs was always something of a niche activity. Today, it seems downright irrational. After all, just about every film ever released on laserdisc is now available, in upgraded form, on DVD or Blu-ray (there are exceptions, but most can be streamed or downloaded). However, the widespread dismissal of the laserdisc ignores an important piece of the puzzle: the great breakthrough of the format wasn't just high quality transfers of movies, it was extras. If you weren't around for the laserdisc revolution, you might mistakenly believe that DVD spawned the audio commentary, but it actually pre-dates the DVD by more than a decade.
The first commentary ever recorded was Ronald Haver's discussion of King Kong, released by The Criterion Collection in December 1984. Like many Criterion extras from the laserdisc era, this commentary never made the transition to DVD or Blu-ray. In other words, the only way to experience this transformative moment in home video history is on a scratchy old laserdisc. Thankfully, I still own many laserdiscs, including this priceless (aka about $10 on eBay) collector's item.
Last month I posted an excerpt from Haver's commentary online, but it looks like a lawyer from Warner Bros. (or maybe just some futuristic software) discovered this and has prohibited embedding. Fortunately, if you click the retro Criterion logo above, you can still watch the video on YouTube. Warning for the impatient: whereas today's commentaries generally kick-in right as a movie begins, Haver doesn't get started until after the opening credits (at 1:57). -- Jonathan Doyle