Believe it or not, it's been 15 years since Good Will Hunting came out of nowhere to turn Matt Damon and Ben Affleck into Oscar winners and ginormous movie stars. The story behind the 1997 film has since become filmmaking legend; the kind of thing aspiring actors tell to one another late at night in cramped West Hollywood apartments: If we write our own script and say his name three times, Harvey Weinstein will appear at midnight and make us famous!
New to Blu-ray this week, GOOD WILL HUNTING: 15th ANNIVERSARY EDITION adds some terrific retrospective features to a movie that's worth watching again.
The story is part of Hollywood lore now: Damon and Affleck were struggling L.A. actors when they wrote and sold their screenplay about a South Boston boy genius, which eventually found a home with Weinstein's Miramax pictures. The boys had the temerity to cast themselves in the lead roles, and made it a condition of the deal that the parts could not be recast.
When director Gus Van Sant and A-list movie star Robin Williams signed on, Damon and Affleck were off to the races. The film was a huge commercial and critical success, and earned the two startled 20-somethings the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
The new Blu-ray package features a fascinating four-part retrospective on the making of the film, including interviews with Damon, Affleck, Williams, Van Sant, producer Chris Moore and fellow 1990s success story Kevin Smith. The mini-doc drops some interesting trivia and addresses some long-standing rumors.
The most persistent of which is that Damon and Affleck didn't write the script at all. Or rather, that their original script was heavily doctored by the studio and marquee screenwriter William Goldman. Not so. While the original script was pitched as a thriller (the FBI tries to recruit Will as a codebreaker), Damon and Affleck handled all the rewrites that shifted the focus to Will's relationships with his psychologist (Williams) and girlfriend (Minnie Driver).
More tidbits: Director Michael Mann passed on the script because he didn't think Damon had movie star potential. Morgan Freeman was considered for the psychologist role. Many of the scenes between Williams and Damon were improvised, and Williams' pitch-perfect walk-off gag (“Son of a bitch... He stole my line.”) was an inspired ad-lib.
For devotees of such excruciating minutia, these moviemaking details are simply delicious. Anniversary reissues on home video are a sometimes dodgy proposition, but this package has clearly been put together with care. Also included in the Blu-ray release: Several relatively meaty deleted scenes; a separate (but short) interview with Damon; some behind-the-scenes footage recycled from the previous DVD release; and a commentary track with Affleck, Damon and Van Sant.
If you've already seen the film (and who hasn't?), here's my suggestion: Check out the extras first, then watch the movie again, and you can enjoy Good Will Hunting on a whole other level. The film is one of those minor miracles that occasionally manifest in mainstream Hollywood moviemaking, when all the right people make all the right decisions, and the stars align. Also watch for the lovely Ms. Driver's charming, funny, quietly brilliant performance.
Double Secret Bonus Trivia: In his book Which Lie Did I Tell?, screenwriter Goldman officially denies the rumor that he doctored the Good Will Hunting script and concludes: “I think the reason the world was so anxious to believe Matt Damon and Ben Affleck didn't write their script was simple jealousy. They were young and cute and famous; kill the fuckers.”
Also New This Week:
Sacha Baron Cohen's fierce satire THE DICTATOR comes to DVD and Blu-ray in a special “Banned and Unrated” edition, with 20 minutes of additional footage plus deleted and extended scenes.
Jack Black shifts gears with the true-crime dark comedy BERNIE, directed by the original slacker, Richard Linklater.
The Iranian family drama A SEPARATION won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film last year, and was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay.
The 2011 UK romantic drama WEEKEND has been issued to Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection, with the usual generous suite of extras.
Writer/director Dustin Lance Black (Milk) returns with the indie drama VIRGINIA, starring Jennifer Connelly and Ed Harris.
For the kids, Disney has cleared the vaults and issued several titles to DVD/Blu-ray combo pack, including CHIMPANZEE, THE TIGGER MOVIE, LADY AND THE TRAMP 2, POCAHONTAS and POCAHONTAS 2, and THE ARISTOCATS, which comes highly recommended by our surprisingly discerning four-year-old girl.
Plus: Cuba Gooding Jr. in the assassin thriller One in the Chamber; Josh Lucas in the nautical weepie Hide Away; and TV-on-DVD season collections from The Closer, House, Mike & Molly, NCIS and Revenge.