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This Is Spinal Tap (MGM edition)

An obvious homage to Martin Scorsese's The Last Waltz with a bow to The Rutles, Rob Reiner's 1984 This is Spinal Tap seeks to "capture the sights, sounds and smells of a hard-working rock band on the road." That the band is over the hill and limping across the U.S. on a tour of minor arenas, Air Force bases, and amusement parks is fundamental to the joke. Lead singer David St. Hubbins (Micheal McKean), guitarist Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), and bassist Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) — supported by keyboard player Viv Savage and current drummer Mick Shrimpton — are doing the bus-and-hotel routine to promote their new album "Smell the Glove," badgered and nannied by their manager Ian Faith (Tony Hendra). In the course of following their less-than-stellar U.S. tour, the dead-on satire skewers virtually every facet of the glitter-rock industry and lampoons the music of self-important stadium bands like Yes, Blue Oyster Cult, Iron Maiden and Led Zeppelin with searing accuracy. And with a new album in 2000, the re-release of the film in theaters, MP3 downloads available at Tapster.com, live performances and, of course, the much-heralded DVD edition of This is Spinal Tap, one has to marvel at the surreal nature of a fictional band, created to satirize rock bands, that ends up with a fanatical fifteen-year following of its own. Technophiles and Tapheads have a lot of crossover members, which is doubtless why the out-of-print Criterion DVD of This is Spinal Tap has sold for upwards of $200.00 on eBay. Luckily for us DVD lovers who have bills to pay, MGM's re-release of the film on disc offers many of the same features, and then some: a new audio commentary (in character) by Spinal Tap; a new interview with Rob Reiner (as DiBergi); music videos for "Gimme Some Money," "(Listen to the) Flower People," "Hell Hole" and "Big Bottom"; the hour of outtakes previously seen on Criterion's discs; plus TV commercials, theatrical trailers, and even Spinal Tap's appearance on "The Joe Franklin Show." How valuable the supplements are depends on how fanatic a Tap lover you may be. The outtakes are interesting, but mostly give one an appreciation of how good a director Rob Reiner was on his first film. The theatrical trailers are funny and a nostalgic treat for those of us old enough to actually remember when This is Spinal Tap was first released. And the new in-character commentary track is as genuinely funny as you would expect — but it's impressive more as an example of just how good McKean, Guest and Shearer are at improvisation than as a valuable addition to the film-viewing experience. MGM's DVD offers a very sharp, new digital transfer of the film in widescreen (1.85:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1. On the whole, the new supplements are different enough from the Criterion release to make both discs vauluable companion items for serious Tapheads. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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(Editor's note: Early discs of MGM's Spinal Tap reportedly were released with the subtitled locations ["Opening Night Party, Los Angeles, CA," etc.] missing from the print, while others reportedly could not turn off the French subtitles. This problem apparently was fixed before the disc went into wide release.)

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