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DVD Special Features: How Special Are They?

Tuesday, February 3, 2004

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  • Featurettes are a virus, Mr. Anderson

    Featurettes are a virus, Mr. Anderson

Written by Tom Klein Beernink

One of the aspects of the DVD that supposedly makes it superior to video is the addition of “Bonus Features”. They give us insights into the filmmakers and the filmmaking process, as well as let us catch a glimpse “behind the scenes”.

In theory, it sounds like a good idea. And luckily, there are many examples out there which prove it can be done well. Think The Lord of the Rings. There’s also the incomparable Criterion Collection for film buffs who have a hundred bucks to drop on the Director’s Cut of gems like Rushmore or Life of Brian.

But then there’s Hollywood and the Bonus “Featurette”. The name should be our first warning: it’s like “Lite” beer. You know anything ending in “ette” has got to be lame. It ‘s essentially an extended trailer with the cast and crew wanking on about how so-and-so was born for the role.

For instance, If you’re unfortunate enough to watch the risible Underworld and its accompanying “featurette”, you’d hear repeatedly from cast members, crew and producers how “brilliant” the script is and how smart, exciting, original, blah blah blah the film, the director, the cast and everybody else involved in the film is.

The only trouble is, the film sucked. And so we’re left to conclude that - gasp - these people must have been acting in the featurette too. (But they sounded so sincere!)

And there are dozens just like it. To hear the actors and crew talk about Daredevil, Charlie’s Angels, Bad Boys 2, Terminator 3, How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days... you’d think they were the most fun, challenging, rewarding, tightly scripted, realistic, palpitation-inducing works of high art imaginable.

Most DVD Featurettes seem to be the creation of the same computer virus responsible for the modern movie trailer. And to think there was a time when I actually looked forward to watching trailers to upcoming films. If it’s a movie I know I want to see, I cover my ears and run for the exit, because I know that within 90 seconds, I’ll have witnessed most of the key plot points or the best jokes – and in chronological order.

And now these morons seem to have taken over the “Featurette” too. There are lots of rapid edits, celebrity sound bites (usually on set of the film in question), and mostly the same film clips you see in the trailer. You get to hear the stars gush over the director, and the director and the producers (finally, a vanity vehicle suited to their elephantine egos) gush over the stars in a carefully spun, mutual admiration circle jerk.

There are exceptions of course, although they tend to be from filmmakers outside of the Hollywood mainstream. Directors as diverse as Richard Rodriguez (Once Upon A Time In Mexico), Robert Altman (Gosford Park), and Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) give us something interesting and entertaining where we actual learn something. Or take Terry Gilliam, who hired some young documentary filmmakers to follow the evolution of Twelve Monkeys. What you get is a fascinating warts-and-all look into the filmmaking process. And then there’s David Lynch (Mulholland Drive) and Michael Mann (Ali, The Insider), two of the most interesting directors working in Hollywood today. Their latest DVD releases came with no special features at all. Good on them.

Special features can enhance our movie watching experience and maybe even teach us a thing or two to boot. But they can also rob us of much of the mystery; do you really want to see the wires hanging off Keanu’s butt in a sea of blue screens? Far worse still, they often sound like a product of the matrix. They’re a virus, Mr. Anderson…

What I wouldn’t give to watch an interview with Carrie Ann Moss on the second or third Matrix, saying “ I can’t believe what a letdown these films turned out to be. After the first one, we felt like we were into something special. I’m so pissed off that they’ve ended up being just another stupid, incoherent Hollywood action hero mess.”

Now that’s a look behind-the-scenes I’d like to see.

TKB

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