I'll come up with something in a minute.


DVD extras have taken sort of a hit in the last few years apparently. It seems people watch them less than they did when DVDs first hit the market and that if they watch them they only do so once. I can confirm part of this, because I watch the special features much less than I used to. I know part of it, and I’ve discussed this with other so it’s not just me. There seems to be a threshold for how many times you can watch people talk about how everyone was wonderful to work with and how hard it was to make these costumes/sets/props and so on. After enough times, the process becomes routine even to the viewer. Unless the production did something really groundbreaking in either technical or artistic fields, I’m not too interested anymore.

Give you an example. I skipped through most of the two bonus discs on the four disc Kingdom of Heaven set because while it’s a good movie, they didn’t really do anything really new. Except Ridley Scott, he told a complete story with a fully formed narrative, but that was only new for him and wasn’t addressed in the bonus stuff as far as I know. Most of what I saw would be old hat if you watched the Star Wars prequel or Lord of the Rings documentaries. Not that there was anything wrong with the documentaries, they actually had more work put into them than a lot of making of features do and if you’ve not seen some of the earlier examples I mentioned this would be a good one to start with. The problem is that there is only so much you can put into one of these things without resorting to buying a 45 minute video from The History Channel or one of the Discovery Channels to fill up the disc a bit.

Warner Brothers has done another bit that makes me not want to watch DVD extras as well. See, they got some famous people to talk retrospectively about Film Noir for a documentary they made as a bonus disc on a Film Noir set. All well and good, no problem there, but you do sort of notice that a lot of the people are either actors who have… time on their hands to do an interview and experts who will always talk for an hour about their favorite subject. Okay, no real problem there, only then they decided to get a bunch of these people to talk about movies that were only tangentially connected. Michael Madsen talking about Film Noir makes sense, he’s been in a few movie that can be classified as Neo Noir if you want to mix Latin and French all willie nillie and don’t mind sounding like a twat.

The problem is that since they clearly had Mike for the day, when they were done talking about film noir of the 50s, they started him on gangster movies of the 30s. When they were done there, they cut the discussions with all these people and edited them into about two dozen ten minute long documentaries, one per disc of at least three different sets. Okay, they get the ‘No Waste’ award for using as much of the interviews as possible, but they also come off a little repetitive because they forget that they used bits in other documentaries and now I’ve heard Michael Madsen make the same statement three times. As extras go, they aren’t bad really. It’s just that they start to feel repetitive if you watch a bunch of them together, which you do if you’re watching a set of movies you just bought. In fact, in the Stanley Kubrick Collection, which I just got in the mail today, they do the same thing. Not Michael Madsen, but Sydney Pollack has shown up on the 2001 and Shinning bonus discs so far. Again, not that his statements aren’t valid, but they do confuse a bit.

Although, while they re-use a few statements here and there and I get the impression that they really wanted value for money when they recorded these interviews, at least they tried. For the most part, the makers of these little films gave it their all and I must assume they did so working under a budget of about 75 cents. Most of those DVDs make up for the lightness by having lots of shorts from the time period so the disc is a little time capsule with a single contemporary addition that doesn’t detract from the event.

The problem is that a lot of the so called extras don’t even attempt to come up to those levels. Mostly you get a version of what’s known as an Electronic Press Kit, which is a fancy way of saying “Almost, but not quite totally propaganda for this film.” If you’ve ever watched one of those Showtime (or is it HBO?) First Look things, that’s an EPK. Some members of the cast talking about who their character is, where the movie was shot and other interesting things you could slip into a 2 minute piece on Entertainment Tonight.

It’s that last bit that can put you off watching DVD extras forever. Wall to wall “He was great to work with, she was great to work with, everyone was great to work with” statements, an over excited voice-over actor telling you about how they used the latest technology to bring the story to life, and generally giving you information that you could have gathered for yourself by reading the back of the box. Now the problem with these, is that the EPK mindset can infest other parts of the disc. Unless you’ve got some confident people, you can always sort of tell that people are speaking very carefully and have been edited even more carefully to make sure no one takes and offense. As a result, even in depth documentaries often can come off as bland and feeling disingenuous at times.

May I just take a moment to point out that I spelled disingenuous right on the first try? That’s pretty cool for me. I know lots of big words, I just can’t spell them.

Anyway, my point was… what was my point? Oh yeah! Unless you’ve got a movie that really changed things, have some harrowing story about getting the movie made, or have some amount of historical footage for the history junkies, I’ve been skipping a lot of special features lately.

July 23, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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