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DVD, Blu-ray and the Vanishing Extra

14 Sep, 2009 By: John Latchem

Once upon a time, with DVD was shiny and new, the prospect of bonus features was more than enough incentive to pick up a title, especially one a potential buyer might already have owned on VHS.

The extras weren’t too fancy back then. The basics included a commentary, deleted scenes and a behind-the-scenes featurette. A lot of discs had little text-based biographies about the cast, and some even used these text screens to describe the making of the movie.

Back then, listening to the filmmakers dish on their movie was a fun add-on, and for a lot of people provided not only new insight into the world of filmmaking but inspiration to want to be a filmmaker.

Commentaries had been included on Laserdiscs, of course, but who really bought those? No, DVD made the concept of bonus features widespread, and, eventually, kinda tiresome.

Nowadays commentaries are routine, behind-the-scenes extras are usually done on the cheap and deleted scenes are expected, if not already incorporated into a longer “director’s cut” or whatever.

When people started growing apathetic toward extras a few years ago, studios began separating the value-add. With a lot of films, consumers could choose between a bare-bones movie-only disc or a single-DVD version with just a few extras, or they could get a two-disc set that had even more extras on it. Batman Begins comes to mind. The idea made sense from a business perspective. Just take the movie disc, throw it in a package with more features and call it a “Limited Edition” for $5 more. Collectors would go for that.

Now with Blu-ray, we are seeing the same kind of strategy. A number of current titles, such as Observe and Report, are being put out as movie-only single-DVD versions or on Blu-ray with a ton of extras. Again, this seems to make sense, as the collectors who are interested in bonus material have probably upgraded their systems to Blu-ray. And those that haven’t upgraded, well, the obsessive personality type that drives one to want so many extra features (most of which probably aren’t watched anyway) will nag at them to get that Blu-ray player.

It also fits with the combo-disc concept. You can get a DVD with just the movie and the Blu-ray with the movie and all the extras when you want to watch those.

Personally, I think every disc should have some kind of option for the viewer to glean some insights from the filmmaker, be it through a commentary or featurette. Even BD Live could be useful in this area.

I lament what seems like the loss of good DVD extras in lieu of making them exclusive to Blu-ray. But if Blu-ray is the future of packaged media, studios had better figure out how to get consumers to adopt it, and saving the extras for BD makes sense for now.

Unfortunately, if widespread apathy toward extras keeps up, and studios don’t want to invest in them, it won’t matter which disc they’re on.

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