With Sightseers winning Best British Film at the Empire Awards, and being released on dvd and blu-ray this week, TVO thought it would be as good a time as any to reflect on the film once more.
Back in August 2012, TVO teased you all with a spoiler-free preview. Then in November, as the film’s release drew nearer, we had planned a more in-depth review, but such plans got lost in amongst our blitz of competitions, interviews, location guides and profile pieces.
At that point, we simply didn’t have the time to do it justice, and frankly, we wanted to let the dust settle and help the film’s jolts remain spoiler-free for as long as possible. Now it feels like an opportune moment to sit down and revisit the film, and tease at the extras available on the dvd and blu-ray releases available now via The Velvet Onion Amazon Store.
So with a BIG SPOILER WARNING before we continue, we have to admit, it’s time for a confession…
We’re incredibly biased towards Sightseers. Quite understandably, of course, considering our relationship (dare we say friendship?) with stars Alice Lowe, Steve Oram and Richard Glover. During the course of the publicity boom for the film’s theatrical release, TVO got to know the likes of director Ben Wheatley, producer Claire Jones, cinematographer Laurie Rose and supporting actress Rachel Austin, too, and all of them were delightful human beings. So too, were folks behind the scenes, like Zoe Flower and Andy Green on the marketing team. Truly, we wished them all the greatest success.
In spite of that, when TVO first sat down to watch the film, we were ever so slightly worried it might be a flop. Could a movie based on an extended character-comedy stage routine about two caravan-dwelling serial killers actually be worth shouting from the rooftops about? The early reviews from Cannes certainly suggested so, but what if the results hadn’t gelled, and we had to turn to those wonderful people and support their work behind forced smiles?
We needn’t have worried. Sightseers was every bit the triumph we hoped for, and as the reviews poured in from around the world, it seemed everyone else agreed. Empire, Total Film, Mark Kermode, Sight & Sound – the champions of cinema in the UK all backed the film, and with damn good reason. This was a powerful insight into the way in which good people can snap – their kindhearted natures giving in to tribal instincts… and carnal desires. It portrayed real people, in a natural manner, with characters you cared for. It was also absolutely hilarious, and that’s the sincher.
As Chris & Tina, Oram & Lowe have drawn upon years of collaboration and improvisation to create a fully three-dimensional coupling. We don’t learn about how they met, we don’t see their initial courtship or get a hint of what may happen once the end credits role, but for those glorious 88-minutes, they are truly real. So convincing are the duo, there are times when even TVO forget we’re watching such familiar faces, and just buy into the tale of the ginger faced man and the angry woman.
With gentle underplaying, Richard Glover’s turn as rambling inventor Martin is a perfect foil for the couple’s increasingly unhinged relationship, spurred on by their own nemesis: Richard Lumsden’s Rambler for Chris, Rachel Austin’s bride-to-be Chailey for Tina. Given somewhat more scope to play with, Jonathan Aris & Moncia Dolan’s double-team of Ian & Janice act as a contrast of our anti-heroes: successful, well-presented, clean-living… even their caravan is sleek compared to the ramshackle, trinket-filled death machine Chris owns. Of all their victims, Tony Way is given the least to do, but it’s always a joy to see him on our screens however small the part, and it does of course, give Ben Wheatley an excuse to kill him again.
And then we have two scene-stealers: Eileen Davis as Tina’s mum Carol, and Smurf the dog as Banjo (or is it Poppy?). The former manages to bring shades of Tina’s characterisation into her performance, whilst simultaneously reminding TVO of our collective mothers and pulling most of the best lines during her brief, but important appearances. The latter is, quite possibly, the most adorable dog in cinema history, and if you don’t fall for him, you’re evil. Maybe even a witch. Yeah, that’s right. You’re a witch.
That the film never stands still is a testament to it’s cast and crew, who filmed in all weathers at some of the most beautiful, yet inhospitable parts of the North of England. The schedule was tight, but everyone pulled together and delivered a film which, much like all the best British movies, gets better with repeated viewing. Some time back, TVO suggested to Alice Lowe that this could be a film much like Withnail & I which does respectable business now, but becomes a cult classic as the years go by.
Having seen the film with audiences several times since that first screening, and now several times at home on blu-ray, that analogy appears to hold ever increasing amounts of water. We may have gone in biased, but dragging the ‘Not-We’ in to watch the film with us has been a runaway success, and for months now, those who joined TVO in cinemas have been itching to own their own copy, and spreading the word themselves.
For part of the joy of Sightseers is discovering the little things you didn’t notice the first time around, be they lines you hadn’t seen the funny side of at the time, set details that are on screen for just a moment or two, or even whole new ways to interpret certain events within the narrative. This is a film which rewards those who pay attention, whilst simultaneously delivering all the required hits for those who would rather just sit back and let the narrative take control. Ben, Alice, Steve, and everyone else on that glorious team – you did it, and we’re so proud for you.
The dvd and blu-ray editions of Sightseers both come complete with the same set of extras, though for some reason, Sainsburys are stocking a version of the dvd with more material that could surely have fitted onto this release, or at least been given a HD variant. Fans of the film are likely to have to shell out on both the supermarket dvd to get these exclusive extras, and the hi-def transfer of the film on blu-ray, and as we’ve not been able to secure a copy of the former in advance, we can only hope it’ll be worth that extra tenner.
What we can say is that the standard release is very good indeed, even if the low-budget for the release has meant there’s tantalising potential gone untapped. The blu-ray transfer is crisp and highly detailed, with grain present yet never obtrusive – indeed, it feels like it’s there because it adds to the feel of the film, rather than as a by-product of the stock. Laurie Rose’s stunning cinematography is given a luxurious transfer, with the dawn-stalking of Ian looking particularly beautiful. The ever changing weather within the film proves no challenge for the transfer, and those of a technical nature may wish to use the film as a benchmark disc to try out their home cinema’s handling of the varying setups, whilst the DTS -HD 5.1 sound mix is punchy but never overbearing.
Extras wise, most people are likely to go straight to the behind the scenes documentary, which is a chunky 35 minutes, detailing every sequence of the film without ever feeling excessive. It helps that the stars of the film (bar Richard Lumsden, for some reason) are all on hand to discuss their thoughts and feelings on the process and progress of the film, as are a number of crew members. The vast majority are happy to make viewers laugh, but don’t do so by playing up to the camera – they’re simply having a good time making something they care about, and it shows. TVO fans will be happy to note that both Tony Way and Tom Meeten crop up with a few choice nuggets of wisdom, and Richard Glover is on top form throughout, as to be expected, really.
With fascinating footage of the early rehearsals, the documentary lets you gain a real understanding of the efforts the team put in to create a believable atmosphere within the film, and an enjoyable atmosphere on set to help accomplish this, despite the increasingly inhospitable environments they found themselves in. Through it all, the piece stays focused on the efforts of Ben Wheatley, Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, and their shared emotions as the film wraps are a joy to behold. Perhaps it would have been nice to see what happened after the film wrapped, as it went into the edit suite then out to the festivals and the premiere events, but by focusing on what made this film unique the documentary never lulls or loses focus.
Supporting this is a very funny ten minute blooper reel, presented in narrative order. As well as the usual corpsing, this again manages to get across the fun atmosphere on the shoot, but also tantalisingly offers glimpses of a few deleted sequences which remain on the cutting room floor. The video-extras are rounded out by the numerous iterations of the same trailer in differing lengths, which feels a bit superfluous, as all these trailer collections tend to do.
Digging a bit deeper into the disc (and you’ll have to navigate slightly clunky menus to find them in the ‘set-up’ screen), you’ll find two audio commentaries. The first is a technical commentary by Ben Wheatley and Laurie Rose, which sounds a lot dryer on the box than it actually is. The pair are long standing collaborators and firm friends, and it shows with their witty and insightful commentary. Charming company to be in, the duo point out details viewers may have missed, offer a few nuggets of information about those deleted scenes, and are happy to tell you things which Ben suggests will “ruin every aspect” of the film – from bad print-outs of photographs to Laurie’s wonky camera work in one scene when he was laughing too hard at an improvised moment that stayed in the final cut.
In comparison, the second commentary, recorded after the first, is less insightful, but still fascinating. Here, Wheatley is joined by Alice Lowe, Steve Oram and Richard Glover. With Glover largely absent from the first half of the film, he acts as a surrogate moderator at times, genuinely interested in how things worked when he wasn’t around to observe them, and brilliantly describing a Ben Wheatley film set as “beautifully ordered chaos”. The conversation often gets very, very silly, but in amongst the laughs are genuine insights making this one a must-hear.
All in all then, this is a competent package which, given a bigger budget, could have been as spectacular as the film it promotes, but is nevertheless more than worthy of your attention. And above all else, this is one of the finest films we’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing, and the fact that it has such strong TVO connections is a cheeky bonus. The film is more than worth the asking price, and the extras are the icing on a particularly delectable cake. Check it out.