Extra! Extra!
by Rusty W. Spell

We never acted this way over VHS tapes. We just watched our movies blissfully. Read this if you buy DVDs, review, DVDs, or produce them.

That fact that double-disc DVDs are more or less the standard release these days proves that people expect more than just a movie when they buy their DVDs. However, many of these "extras" that are so heavily advertised, even some of decent ones, end up being watched once and that’s it. All that’s left then is the movie. For that reason, we should ignore DVD extras as much as possible when deciding what to buy, basing our decisions instead of which movies (or TV shows) we actually like the best.

People who put together DVDs should be more thoughtful about which extras are included, not just loading it up with junk for the sake of making it look like more than it is. I know this seems a lot to ask when everyone’s trying to make money (nothing wrong with that), but I’m being an idealist here. It’s not too much to ask, even non-ideally, that people who review DVDs not put so much emphasis on the amount of extras, but instead on the quality of them. If we think movies are important, then the way they are presented are important too, and often a bad DVD presentation can hinder my enjoyment of a movie.

First of all, stop it with the crazy menus. I’ve read DVD reviews which have said the DVD had "boring menus." Boring menus? A menu is supposed to be there to get us around: simply and quickly. But instead we get menus that have all kinds of music and flying-around graphics that, more than anything, take too long. What’s wrong with just pushing the "Play Movie" button or "Audio Setup" button without any fanfare? We’re here to watch the movie, remember. The worst cases, of course, are the menus that use clips from the movie. Suppose we haven’t seen the movie yet (or, come to think of it, suppose we have): Do we really want to see out-of-context clips? We’ll see them when we’re supposed to—in the movie.

If you’re a director or cast member or whoever and you’re asked to do an audio commentary, do a good one, please. Most, I happily admit, are at least marginally interesting to me. Some are lousy, and a handful are well above average. P.T. Anderson’s commentaries for Hard Eight and Boogie Nights are better than other people’s actual movies. He’s funny, informative, keeps talking, tells interesting stories, gives insight, and – like in his movies – wears his heart on his sleeve in wonderful and touching ways. I know everyone can’t do this, but people should get as close as they can. Don’t be like McG commentating on Charlie’s Angels where he feels the need to explain the movie, actually saying things like, "And that’s Lucy Liu climbing up the side of the building because she’s going to sneak in." Seriously.

The main thing to remember is that just because a movie doesn’t have a commentary doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get it, or that it should get points taken off. Do we really want David Lynch to spoil Blue Velvet by talking over it? Only really good commentaries should exist in the first place, and some movies just don’t need them at all.

The majority of DVD extras consist of interviews and documentaries. Again, these can be very good (the mammoth documentary on the extended version of The Fellowship of the Ring being the best example), but usually they are just filler. Often that second disc in the "special edition" is crammed with crappy promotional specials made for television: about ten of them, all of them roughly the same. You’ll be sick of the movie after watching these (I guess I still love the movie M*A*S*H, but it’ll be a while before I can watch it again thanks to the horrible materials put on the double disc set). Unless the documentaries are worth watching, they shouldn’t be on the DVD at all. I know we’re not forced to watch them (they’re "extras," after all), but in a sense we are obliged to. I mean, there they are, just sitting there, possibly being something worth watching. But we never know until we watch them, and then they suck, and then we suffer. That’s what I want to stop.

The same goes for everything else. The general rule is to include an extra if it enhances the film. If it doesn’t, if it’s just there as an extra for an extra’s sake, then don’t include it. When people say Woody Allen DVDs are bad because they just have trailers, those people are wrong. You’ve got Annie Hall, don’t you? Why do you need some thrown-together extra to make you enjoy a great movie? Trailers are about the only things truly essential extra to include on a DVD anyway (and I do believe that they are, since the trailer is an art form unto itself and should be seen as a little partner to the movie).

But if something feels essential, include it by all means. Vivian Kubrick’s documentary for The Shining was essential. The Max Fischer Players presentations for Rushmore seemed pretty essential. Sometimes music videos are essential, especially when the movie is incorporated, like Huey Lewis’s "Power of Love" for Back to the Future. Or for TV shows like The Simpsons, it certainly is very considerate of them to include the characters’ Butterfinger commercials.

For extras that are just great to have, go check out just about any Criterion edition, or the best of the Disney presentations (they also have some of the worst) such as Snow White and Fantasia. Is it cool to have radio broadcasts of the premier of Snow White? Yes it is.

But as long as the movie looks good (anamorphic widescreen and all that) and sounds good (I like DTS myself), that’s the important stuff. As buyers, we should just buy the movies and TV shows we like; as reviewers, we should realize that bells and whistles are very loud when trying to watch a good movie; and as producers, we should show respect in our product. So there.

(Oh, and to whoever had the idea to put a picture of the Statue of Liberty on the cover of the Planet of the Apes DVD, you’re a dork. You must be the guy who goes around telling people the endings of movies they haven’t seen.)

Article Extra

Hey, look! An extra! My list of DVDs that have the best extras! These are based on the roughly-one hundred DVDs I currently have, so this isn’t based on a comprehensive selection at all. And I’m not going to update this, so whatever I decide today will stay here forever.

P.T. Anderson: Hard Eight
P.T. Anderson: Boogie Nights
P.T. Anderson: Magnolia
Walt Disney: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Walt Disney: Fantasia Box Set
David Fincher: Fight Club
Matt Groening: The Simpsons
Peter Jackson: The Fellowship of the Ring Extended Edition
George Lucas: The Phantom Menace
George Lucas: Attack of the Clones
Rob Reiner: This Is Spinal Tap
Robert Rodriguez: From Dusk Till Dawn
Quentin Tarantino: Pulp Fiction
Robert Zemeckis: Back to the Future Box Set

Copyright 15 Aug 2003 We Like Media.
You may email Rusty W. Spell.