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THE MORNING BUZZ: Better Quality Special Features in the Pipeline

26 Jul, 2002 By: Thomas K. Arnold

One of the most interesting things to come out of DVD producers panels at DVD at 5 and the VSDA convention is that we're going to see not more special features on DVD, but better special features.

Since the format was launched in 1997, we've seen a steady acceleration in the amount of extra material on DVDs. Documentaries, commentaries, deleted scenes, alternate endings, interactive games for the kids, interactive “flyarounds” of movie sets and more – it's a far cry from the theatrical trailers that too often were the only addition to early DVDs.

Special features are a prime selling point for consumers – although it's debatable whether the public actually watches all this extra stuff or just likes knowing that they can – and also brings the home video community closer to Hollywood's creative community, because of the involvement of directors and other creative types in the production of a DVD. Indeed, my colleague Bruce Apar went so far as to call DVD producers the “D.W. Griffiths” of our generation, pioneers in the transmogrification of video from used movies to original entertainment.

I'm as big a fan of extras as anyone – I love the cast bios, particularly on older films, and deleted scenes are right up my alley as well. My kids are also infatuated with the interactive games companies like Disney put on their children's product – to the point where they don't even want to watch videocassettes anymore.

And yet I can't help but wonder, what's next? How many documentaries on every aspect of production can you cram on a DVD before it's overkill? And while I appreciate the value of directors commentaries, do we really need commentaries by the cast, crew and key grip? To tell you the truth, I've never watched a single commentary the entire way through, preferring to pick and choose parts of the film where I maybe have a question or two (such as The Usual Suspects, which took me awhile to figure out – okay, call me stupid!).

I think we're reached our state of the art in today's extras, and I, for one, am eager to know what's on the horizon. I'm glad the panelists said better, not more—there's already far too much stuff on the typical new-release DVD than I can handle.

I know Hollywood's best minds are thinking hard on where they can go next, and I know for a fact that interactivity and Web-access are involved.

But can't some of this stuff make it to disc now, instead of yet another commentary or documentary?

One of my favorite extras of all time was the interactive map on L.A. Confidential, in which the camera took you to places in Los Angeles that were featured in the movie. That's something I'd like to see more of.

I also like the historical footage on New Line's Thirteen Days – the Kennedy speeches, the missile shots, etc. That's something I'd like to see more of.

And I really enjoyed the interviews with cast members on Universal's Creature from the Black Lagoon, to see how well (or how poorly) they aged. That's something I'd like to see more of.

Oh well. I guess I'm just going to have to wait and see.

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