They Might Be Giants-Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns) (2003) (NTSC)

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Released 4-Dec-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Music Audio Commentary-John Flansburgh, John Linnell, AJ Schnack (Director),
Additional Footage-TV And Radio Appearances, Raw Footage, Interviews
Deleted Scenes-never before released TV and radio appearances, raw footage
Music Video-9
Additional Footage-Live Performances
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2003
Running Time 103:03 (Case: 102)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By A.J. Schnack
Cowboy Pictures
Stomp Visual
Starring John Flansburgh
John Linnell
Frank Black
Dave Eggers
Joe Franklin
Janeane Garofalo
Ira Glass
Mark Hoppus
Robert Krulwich
Michael McKean
Conan O'Brien
Andy Richter
Harry Shearer
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI ? Music None Given

Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, Live performance - "The Guitar"

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    They Might Be Giants' two Johns of the title - John Flansburgh and John Linnell may have failed to meet when they were a year apart at junior high school in Lincoln, Massachusetts, but when they formed a duo in Brooklyn in 1982, they formed the vanguard of the New York independent scene that broke into the 'alternative mainstream' in the later years of the decade.

    From their beginnings in unknown East Village clubs where their main source of advertising was their "Dial-a-Song" answering machine (yes, it's still running. Yes, you can still get a 'free' song every day for the cost of a 3-minute phone call to New York. 0011-1-718-387-6962. "It's free if you call from work") and their backing band was a reel-to-reel tape system, Gigantic (a Tale of Two Johns) traces the band through the heydays of 1990's Flood to the release of 2001's Mink Car and work for TV shows such as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Malcolm in the Middle. There are excerpts of live performances from various points in TMBG's career (mainly featuring a concert recorded for this documentary in 2001), interviews with friends of the band and readings of snatches of the band's lyrics by actors such as Janeane Garofalo and Harry Shearer scattered throughout the documentary - all of which are welcome - but the film as a whole comes across as a series of anecdotes that offers very little insight into the band's inspirations, the background to the songs in the catalogue or the band members themselves.

    The heart of the problem is that the two Johns appear to be relatively private people, who have a talent for making a particular type of intellectually challenging pop, but who aren't overly analytical about what they do. Both comment at some point (either in the documentary itself or in the commentary) that they don't often have deeper meanings behind their work, and find themselves in trouble when challenged to provide one. This means that interviews are more a mixture of anecdote and personal reaction rather than something that provides any broadening of one's understanding of the band and its work. Much of the band's work is glossed over briefly due to time constraints, and one feels somewhat rushed (if not outright cheated) throughout the feature - the director has too much that he wants to cover and he can't get to the heart of the matter so he goes to the band's fans, who'll speak at length about how great the guys are, but who really don't add much more than any other fan can say. The documentary has a narrative running through it, but the director sometimes seems to be at a loss for interviews to support his structure, leaving what he has feeling quite uneven.

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Transfer Quality


    There's a lot squeezed onto this disc, including a 103-minute feature with two soundtracks on a single side, and for that the disc looks better than it should. It is a documentary, however, and archival footage and location shooting limits the disc's overall video quality.

    The disc is presented in its original 1.33:1 ratio and is not 16x9 enhanced. Note that this transfer is NTSC, so your equipment will need to be NTSC compatible in order to view this DVD.

    The film is perfectly adequate for this sort of material. Location shooting and concert footage can be quite grainy, and shadows are muddy, but indoor interview footage is quite well reproduced.

    Colours are, again, good for interview work, but when on location or in concert there is often too great a contrast between light and dark areas of the shot so that one will look washed-out while the other is barely visible.

    While the digital conversion is generally quite acceptable, minor macro-blocking is present throughout the film, especially in footage from the 2001 concert at the Polish National Home that forms the bulk of the performance pieces. Gibb Effect is present on every title overlay, including the identification of interviewees. Neither is overly distracting.

    There are no subtitle tracks on this disc.

    The RSDL change appears to be between tracks on this disc.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The sole audio track on this disc is a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track, which has some minimal differentiation between speakers during the concert footage. While this is sufficient for the purposes of the documentary, those looking for this film to provide them the sound of the band in concert should keep looking.

    Dialogue is quite clearly reproduced, although there is a noticeable rise in volume for concert footage.

    Music is produced well, but not exceptionally. It is apparent that video clips have been drawn from a lower-fi video source than having their audio taken from CD.

    Surround channels are not used in the audio track.

    The subwoofer is given a workout during almost all musical portions of the disc, but doesn't draw attention to itself in terms of crispness.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Audio Commentary

    Again, the commentary track to this disc - voiced by the director, the two Johns and writer/lifestyle broadcaster/friend of the band Sarah Vowell adds little solid information to the documentary track. The pauses aren't as long as have been heard in many movie commentaries, but long stretches go by without anything to say, and fill-ins such as Vowell and director Schnack comparing "founding fathers of Rock and Roll" to "founding fathers" of the USA are simply irritating. There is no subtitle track and the documentary's original audio is only a very thin drone underneath, so it is often difficult to understand what the commentary is referring to.

Additional Footage

    This is where the disc shines, and alone will make its purchase worthwhile for many fans of the band. There are live performances of thirteen songs buried in the extras, including Birdhouse in Your Soul from 1990's Tonight Show, introduced by Jay Leno, a sound-check version of Doctor Worm and performances of Boat of Car and Meet James Ensor at an in-store promotion. There is also footage of TMBG introducing Nick Rocks for Nickelodeon TV, the entire promotional video for Flood (including an acoustic performance of Particle Man, audio of a brief radio-play style piece by John Flansburgh, audio of a radio piece for NPR by the increasingly irritatingly-voiced Sarah Vowell and a recording of the original version of New York City which is referred to in the documentary and has become a live standard for the band. Including the music videos, there are a total of 23 songs (and another by the band Cub) in full among the extras of this disc, as well as two in the documentary itself.

Deleted Scenes

    There are two deleted scenes with attached commentary. They are comparable to the footage included in the documentary, and only time pressures and the fact that the boom is often in shot appear to have kept them from inclusion.

Music Video

    This disc contains five videos directed by Adam Bernstein, including Don't Let's Start, Ana Ng and Birdhouse in Your Soul. These are all featured on the disc They Might Be Giants - Direct from Brooklyn, which is not currently available in Australia, but here also include brief introductions by the band. There are also four music videos created for the US TV programme Brave New World.

Additional Footage

    In addition to the "deleted" interview scenes with the band members themselves, there is also substantial raw footage taken of various of the interviewees and bit-players in the documentary, including an entertainingly pointless backstage chat about masked bands by the Johns and Conan O'Brien.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    It appears that the region-uncoded NTSC disc released in Australia is the same one as is released in all other regions.


    Although the feature itself is somewhat disappointing - fans of the band may be grateful to know that other people also like the band, but repeated viewings are unlikely - the best reason to buy this disc lies in the extras, especially the rare performance footage and music videos. The number of complete (if sometimes poorly-recorded) tracks on this disc is surprising, and even more so in that it's not played up to in the disc's packaging.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Nick Gaut (A bio? Have I no privacy?)
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-535, using S-Video output
DisplayPanasonic TX-86PW300A. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderPioneer VSX-512.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-512
SpeakersWharfedale Diamond 8.3 fronts, Wharfedale Diamond 8.2 rears, Wharfedale Diamond 8 centre, Wharfedale 12" sub

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