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Originally broadcast in the UK, A Life Less Ordinary is an intimate profile of Phil Collins, one of the world's best loved performer/songwriters.

Corinne Bishop
Phil Collins
Writing Credits:

Not Rated.

Widescreen 1.78:1
English Dolby Surround
English, Spanish, French
Not closed-captioned

Runtime: 60 min.
Price: $24.98
Release Date: 6/17/2003

• Extended Interviews

Search Titles:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Phil Collins: A Life Less Ordinary (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 27, 2003)

Did I miss a memo that declared avid interest in Phil Collins from DVD owners? I guess so, for the spring of 2003 presented a Phil renaissance in that regard. Okay, “renaissance” may be a little strong, but two Collins DVDs hit the shelves within a few weeks of each other.

Called Live and Loose In Paris, the first one presented parts of a Collins concert from 1997 and attempted nothing more than a straight live performance. The second brings us more up to date as it attempts to flesh out Collins’ entire career. A BBC production, Phil Collins: A Life Less Ordinary comes from 2002 and it follows his life right up until that point in time.

Ordinary starts in a tantalizing way. Instead of just the usual fawning praise about its subject, it notifies us of Collins’ potentially annoying omnipresence in the Eighties and the way his life went downhill in some ways during the Nineties. With those teasers out of the way, the program heads back to Collins’ childhood, and we get the standard biographical notes. We learn of his relationship with his father, a factor that will come full circle by the end when we get notes about Collins and his very young son.

From there it launches through his career in the standard manner. We hear of Collins’ days as a child actor in the live production of Oliver! as well as his early bands. We get information about how he joined Genesis in 1970 and watch as the band grows more successful. We see him take over that group’s lead vocalist position following the departure of Peter Gabriel and then observe as Phil becomes a solo star in the Eighties. The project then follows him into the Nineties and covers his works in musical and other veins such as his starring turn in the 1988 film Buster. We also learn of Collins’ relationship troubles, including the infamous fax to his wife.

Throughout the film, we get new interviews with Collins as well as a few archival remarks. In addition, we find scads of statements from those connected to Phil. We hear from relatives like current wife Orianne Collins, adoptive daughter Joely Collins, sister Carole Deamer, mother June Collins, brother Clive Collins, and son Simon Collins. We also get notes from production manager Steve Jones, tour/road manager Danny Gillen, Oliver! actor Jack Wild, childhood friend Ronnie Caryl, musicians Peter Gabriel, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks, Sir Bob Geldof, Ozzy Osbourne, journalist/broadcaster Stuart Maconie, journalists Nina Myskow, Chris Welch and Matthew Wright, singer/songwriter Fish, Genesis road manager Richard MacPhail, son Simon Collins, former Virgin Records exec Jeremy Lascelles, producers Sir George Martin, Quincy Jones and Babyface, actors Julie Walters and Bob Hoskins, DJ Emma B, Buster director David Green, and friend Sir Jackie Stewart.

Ordinary tosses in a lots of good archival materials too. One of the most fun shows Collins’ motion picture debut as a teen in a Sixties atrocity called Calamity the Cow; some of the program’s most entertaining moments stem from memories of that fiasco. We also see home movies from Collins’ childhood and even photos of his stint as an adolescent male model.

While Ordinary shows quite a few clips from Collins’ musical career, unfortunately none of these come complete. Probably the longest features his performance of “Against All Odds” at 1985’s Live Aid. Collins was everywhere that day; he performed his own sets in London and Philadelphia and also drummed with Led Zeppelin and others. The program covers the event fairly well, but it would have been nice to see more music.

That sentiment cropped up frequently throughout Ordinary. We get snippets of Collins’ music, but the absence of full renditions gets a little old after a while. Admittedly, this kind of program really isn’t about the music as much as it wants to provide a biography, but I’d still prefer a piece that gave us more of an indication why Phil became a musical star in the first place. Perhaps the participants assume a familiarity with Collins’ music, which makes sense, but I do feel a better balance could be maintained. Even though the something like Paul McCartney’s Wingspan occasionally became frustrating due to the incomplete musical clips, at least it featured them fairly prominently, whereas Ordinary skips over them to a heavy degree.

Overall I think Ordinary seems entertaining and informative, but it also flies by too quickly. It really zooms through Collins’ early career and Eighties success, and that feels odd. We’re told of Collins’ enormous popularity in the Eighties but we never get to savor that side of things. Despite a minor focus on Live Aid, the show zips through the No Jacket Required era and doesn’t ever go into these topics with much depth.

Some of this may become rectified with the DVD’s extras; the set includes about 95 minutes of “Extended Interviews”, which means those segments last longer than the main program itself! I’m sure those will add depth to the production. However, Ordinary itself feels a little too much like an appetizer and not the main course at times.

Still, I will give it credit for covering all the important topics, and the show also seems more frank than one might expect. Admittedly, we stick mostly with Collins’ side of things, and we don’t get a grand overall perspective. At times it feels as though the show partially exists to promote Collins’ album Testify; I doubt Ordinary would exist if Collins’ didn’t feel the need for publicity.

However, A Life Less Ordinary never becomes too puffy or self-serving. Collins clearly tries to gain our sympathy for his relationship woes and public perception problems in the Nineties, but the show doesn’t gloss over these topics and make him out to be a saint. I can’t call Ordinary a great documentary because it lacks the necessary depth to achieve that status. Nonetheless, it seems entertaining and efficient, and it covers a lot of subjects in a reasonably informative and engaging manner.

Resemblance footnote: boy, does Simon look like his dad! However, am I the only who thinks it’s a little creepy to see how much Phil’s current wife Orianne looks like his adoptive daughter Joely?

The DVD Grades: Picture B+ / Audio C / Bonus B

Phil Collins: A Life Less Ordinary appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Because it came from a hodge-podge of sources, I didn’t expect Ordinary to look very good, but the quality of the presentation seemed surprisingly positive.

That fact mostly came from the modern interviews, which offered excellent visuals. At all times, these clips were crisp and detailed, as I didn’t notice any hints of softness. Jagged edges and moiré effects seemed absent, and I witnessed no signs of edge enhancement or source defects. Due to the settings in which they were shot, the colors remained subdued, but they appeared appropriately rich and vibrant. Black levels were quite dense and tight as well.

If I rated the DVD based solely on the interview clips, it would have earned an “A” or an “A-“. Unfortunately, I needed to factor in the archival material as well, and that’s where Ordinary necessarily lost points. A mix of sources constituted all that stuff. Some of it seemed reasonably accurate and clean, but lots of it appeared pretty ugly. Source flaws weren’t that much of an issue except for things like the Collins family home movies, but otherwise many of the snippets seemed muddy or drab. I still felt impressed enough with the visuals of A Life Less Ordinary to give its picture a “B+”, though.

The Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of A Life Less Ordinary left me less impressed. Mostly a mix of music and speech, the track remained heavily oriented toward the front speakers. Actually, the center channel dominated. Music presented reasonably decent stereo imaging, though those qualities varied. I never felt that the songs seemed as concise or accurately localized as though should; they spread acceptably across the front but lacked much spatial definition. The surrounds seemed to do little if anything during the mix. Some reinforcement of music may have popped up back there, but since effects played an inconsequential role in the proceedings, the rear speakers offered only a minor part in the track.

Audio quality appeared fair but unexceptional. Speech consistently sounded solid, as the interviews were distinct and accurate with no issues related to edginess or intelligibility. Music fared less well, unfortunately. Since the songs almost never came to the forefront, this didn’t become much of an issue, but I thought they sounded decent at best. The music lacked much range or dimensionality. The songs were acceptably concise but not anything more than that. Since they stayed in the background, this didn’t cause problems, but I still thought that A Life Less Ordinary presented a rather ordinary soundtrack.

As for supplements, A Life Less Ordinary presents a mix of “extended interviews” divided into four separate categories. Not surprisingly, Phil contains the most material. These chats with Collins himself fill 38 minutes and 55 seconds of space. Next we get Genesis, Musicians and Crew, which provides 22 minutes and 58 seconds of material with Peter Gabriel, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks, Danny Gillen and Steve Jones, and Collins touring musicians Daryl Stuermer and Chester Thompson. Friends and Colleagues includes 12 minutes and 24 seconds of remarks from Julie Walters, Bob Geldof, Quincy Jones, Bob Hoskins, Disney executive Tom Schumacher. Lastly, Family presents 20 minutes and 11 seconds from Orianne Collins, Joely Collins, Simon Collins, Clive Collins. Carole Deamer, and June Collins. (Phil sits in on the chats with his wife and his mother as well.)

As I noted in the main body of this review, I hoped that the “Extended Interviews” would flesh out Ordinary, and happily, they did. The first two sections – “Phil” and “Genesis…” – are definitely the best. Collins elaborates on his music and personal life nicely, while the other musicians add lots of good notes about their work together. Except for the delightfully nasty and profane Geldof, the “Friends and Colleagues” category tends to be a bit superficial, and the “Family” area mainly tells us how wonderful Phil is. (The clips with his mum are fun to watch due to the sheer charm factor, but they don’t tell us much.) Despite the mildly erratic quality of the clips, they mostly provide lots of nice notes, and they add some good information to the package.

One nice touch: all of the interviews come with subtitles in English, French and Spanish.

He’ll never be seen as a seminal rock artist, but with a career that’s lasted more than 30 years, Phil Collins goes down as one of the most successful. Although it moves too quickly and can be somewhat superficial, A Life Less Ordinary provides an entertaining and informative examination of the singer/musician’s work and personal side. The DVD looks surprisingly good, but sound seems lackluster. A good complement of extended interviews adds real value to the package as well. Ordinary gives us an interesting look at a fairly talented musician, and I recommend it both for fans of Phil Collins as well as those curious to know more about him.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.7058 Stars Number of Votes: 17
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