Danny DeVito and laserdiscs -- The actor/director tells us why he loves the technology and why ''War of the Roses'' deserved a commentary track

The War of the Roses

Danny DeVito just hates watching movies at home on — he can’t even say it without sounding sarcastic — cassette. ”Tape’s awful,” the comic-turned-director groans. He’s speaking via car phone in the same Jersey-accented snarl he used in playing the cranky dispatcher in TV’s Taxi and vulgarian characters in Romancing the Stone and Ruthless People. A self-confessed ”gadget and hardware nut,” DeVito much prefers to watch movies (including his own, he cheerfully and repeatedly volunteers) on laserdisc. ”The quality’s way superior,” he says, ”soundwise and imagewise.”

Compelled by his twin obsessions with the disc medium and — did we mention this? — the totally wonderful film work of Daniel DeVito, he has created a laser-edition memento of his ”peak professional experience” to date: directing Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner as terminally quarrelsome spouses in The War of the Roses. Just out in stores, the $70 disc employs every high-tech trick the format allows. It letterboxes the movie’s wide-screen image, features an alternate soundtrack with DeVito’s ribald commentary on the making of the film, and appends a still-frame gallery of production photos, storyboard sketches, and the entire shooting script. The same kind of scholarly, exhaustive annotation is found on two discs DeVito prizes in his huge collection: Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, both with audio commentary by Martin Scorsese.

But Danny, bubbe, does War really merit the same reverential treatment as Scorsese’s masterpieces? Sure, DeVito says. ”I had a great desire to keep the memory of making War of the Roses with me,” he says, ”and this was a way to have a record of it, like an archival kind of thing.” He’s proudest of a section with about 15 minutes’ worth of cut scenes, framed by a specially filmed introduction that has him chatting directly into the camera lens. The segment closes with his wife, Rhea Perlman, piping in from offscreen, ”Danny, you’ve milked this movie to death — get on with your life already!”

Toting around a digital audiotape recorder, he spent months recording bits of commentary while traveling and while on location for the film version of Other People’s Money, which will be released this fall. Meetings about a Batman sequel, in which DeVito will play the Penguin, and Hoffa, on which he will direct Jack Nicholson in the title role, also delayed the War disc’s completion. ”So many scattered elements had to be pulled together,” DeVito says. ”But it was good practice for Hoffa. Now, as I’m going along, I’m thinking of what it’ll take to do the disc.”

Despite his beefs about poor quality control in the manufacture of many discs, DeVito is convinced laser is the medium of record for today’s aspiring auteurs. Soon, he says, directors will routinely oversee the transfer of their films to high-resolution video, personally supervising color correction and other aesthetic decisions, ”to preserve their work the way they meant it to be.” He laments that some of the cinema’s past giants couldn’t use laser. ”Don’t you wish,” he enthuses, ”that you could plop in a disc of Fritz Lang’s Woman in the Window or Scarlet Street and listen to Fritz talk about ’em?”

The War of the Roses
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