DVD Insider: Beastie Boys

Working at Sound & Vision, we sometimes wonder if the artists who make the music and movies we play on our tweaked-out systems have the same gear fetish we do. When we heard that the Beastie Boys' Adam Yauch had asked the prestigious Criterion DVD label to work with him on a collection of the trio's music videos, we suspected he might be a kindred spirit. A posting on the Criterion Web site, suggesting that The Beastie Boys DVD Anthology would go where no music DVD had gone before in flexing the format's potential for delivering multiple video angles and audio tracks, only reinforced our suspicion. And when Adam requested ahead of time that we use a progressive-scan DVD player when he came by to screen the discs for us, we knew for sure that he was the real deal.

Starting out as a punk band, the Beastie Boys achieved fame in 1986 with their rap-influenced debut album, Licensed to Ill, whose paeans to booze and babes became MTV and FM-radio staples. During the ensuing decade, both the band's sound and its social consciousness made evolutionary leaps. This is reflected in the Anthology's focus on post-Licensed to Ill videos as well as the disc space devoted to organizations that promote the cause of Tibetan independence. Rather than create a complete catalog of its video output, the band is instead offering a feature-filled sampling of its tastier tracks. (Frat brats will lament that the Boys' breakthrough hit, "Fight for Your Right [To Party]," didn't make the cut.) And given the Beasties' penchant for putting out raw, funny, conceptually unique videos, there's a lot here to chew on.

Main Menu The screening took place at our midtown Manhattan testing facility. Adam had come by with the discs because he was curious to screen the Anthology on S&V's reference rig, which consists of a Runco DTV-991 front projector with a 16:9 Da-Lite CinemaVision screen, a Faroudja VP301 video processor, a Sunfire Theater Grand II digital surround processor, a five-pack of Krell 250M monoblock amplifiers, and a B&W Nautilus speaker system. As he introduced himself to me, features editor Mike Gaughn, and S&V contributor Matt Zoller Seitz, Adam mentioned that bandmate Mike Diamond might show up. (Mike D was apparently suffering from a bad case of Video Projector Envy, having experienced Adam's own home theater system.) This was good news, two Beasties being better than one.

Schematic Overview Adam's request for a progressive-scan DVD player had cued us to his advanced state of A/V enlightenment - though ironically, since the Faroudja processor produced a superior picture with our projector, we ended up not using one. Further discussion of player lip-sync problems and other videophile esoterica drove home that we were dealing with someone who had this DVD stuff down cold.

The two-disc Anthology offers each of the 18 music videos under two headings, "Videos in Sequence" and "Videos with Supplements." Selecting a title from the first category gives you the video straight up, though with the options of hearing the Dolby Digital 5.1-channel surround mix, the two-channel mix, or a commentary from either the band or the director. Choose from the second category, and you can call up a wealth of supplementary material from the DVD's menu, including still images, audio remixes (in stereo) by artists like Fatboy Slim and Moby, and multiple "angles," which are often, in effect, different versions of the video. You can also switch tracks on the fly by pressing the audio or angle button on your DVD player's remote control.

Given the sheer structural complexity of the discs, we felt compelled to ask Adam if he'd been inspired by any other recent DVD releases, like Metallica's Cunning Stunts. His answer was an unabashed no: "I haven't watched any. Actually, someone gave me the Metallica and told me I should check out the alternate angles, but I never looked at it, and it's still sitting on my shelf."

From left: writers Al Griffin and Matt Seitz, S&V features editor Mike Gaughn, Beastie Boy Adam Yauch

The Beastie Boys DVD Anthology proved to be the most intriguing music DVD any of us had seen. Among its many attributes is a hip-looking menu design that makes use of Battlestar Galactica-like wire-frame space pods. "It has that late 1970s sci-fi look," Matt commented approvingly.

Although each of the set's 18 videos was remixed for surround sound, Adam was pretty humble when discussing the 5.1-channel soundtrack. "For most of the videos," he said, "we were basically taking the existing stereo mix and sorta augmenting it for a 5.1 mix. On some things, we edited the kick drums so that the bass [low-frequency-effects] channel would be totally clean without other instruments . . . which worked out nicely."

A more ambitious 5.1 mix was produced for the mini epic The Robot vs. the Octopus Monster Saga, which you can select as an alternate version of the "Intergalactic" video. "The one thing we really worked hard on for the 5.1 mix," Adam said, "was the long version of 'Intergalactic.' I went to a friend who works at C5 [an audio production studio], and he did a lot of sound editing and foley work. We cut a 9-minute version of the video and mixed it for 5.1 channels."

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