However you may feel about the movies themselves, DVD and laserdisc audio commentaries were made for films like Clerks and Mallrats, in which the stories behind them can prove as interesting (if not more so) than the films themselves. Shot on a well-documented tiny budget, Clerks became one of the breakout independent films of the early '90s by portraying the listless lives of a convenience-store employee and those around him. Even if the benefits of DVDs' improved picture and sound quality aren't exactly reaped by Clerks, there's no denying its clunky charm, which this disc nicely supplements with a commentary in which director Kevin Smith and others (including what sounds like a deeply intoxicated Jason Mewes) reveal just what went into making it, gleefully pointing out continuity errors and odd moments resulting from budgetary restrictions. Also included are alternate versions of existing scenes and a wisely discarded ending that, had it been included, would have changed not only audiences' perception of Clerks, but probably its ability to be filed under "comedy" at video stores not run by nihilists. Smith attempted to follow up Clerks with what amounts to a bigger-budget exploration of some of the same themes, changing his focus to a group of shoppers in Mallrats. It's not a bad idea, but it doesn't translate into a good movie, with Smith's worst tendencies—cheap jokes and flannel-clad navel-gazing—ruling the day. Still, Mallrats proves that even failed movies (sometimes especially failed movies) can make interesting DVD fodder. Both in the audio commentary and elsewhere, Smith reveals that Mallrats seems to have been an ill-fated project from the word "go," as the aimless, painfully unfunny original opening included here proves. That the audio commentary—by Smith, Ben Affleck, and various other cast members—is sharper than most of the movie suggests just how much better its "smart Porky's" (as Universal execs dubbed it) concept might have been developed. Though the Mallrats DVD raises the question of how much time is worth spending on a movie with so few rewards, it also beautifully illustrates how a well-assembled disc can collect enough information about its subject to prove a mini-education in itself. Viewers will leave it as experts on Mallrats—a dubious title, but those seeking it need look no further. And if the experience imparts a few lessons on filmmaking (as it seems to have for Smith), that may not be entirely a bad thing.
More from The A.V. Club