DVD & Blu-Ray special features – who needs them?

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special features On the excellent movie site ‘The Dissolve’ I was recently reading an article that observed that the advent of multiple ‘special edition’ Blu-Ray versions of blockbuster films doesn’t have the impact of fans of the film buying all the versions; instead it has the opposite effect of making people wait to purchase until the inevitable ‘ultimate edition’ comes out with all the features on the previous editions.

But for mine a more interesting issue came up while reading the comments section of the article  – namely, that special features on DVD/Blu-Rays in any format have largely become an irrelevance to me.

I found this realisation surprising because when I first started buying DVD’s a decade ago, the most exciting aspect about them were the special features you couldn’t get on VHS – especially director/cast commentaries.

Initially I had a preference for DVD’s with such special features as a ‘bare-bones’ DVD would seem like a waste of money. But now I realise that such special features aren’t that important to me anymore in such a purchase. Why is this?

I think one reason is that – especially with the fact that TV series became arguably more important to DVDs than movies – that content was king. If you could all 150 episodes of a favourite TV series in a box set for a reasonable price (something not possible with VHS), that was enough. If it didn’t have any featurettes on the series or cast commentaries, that was only a minor disappointment as the content of the shows itself is what mattered.

Another factor is the gradual decline in price of DVDs & Blu-Rays (in Australia at least) which means the majority of consumers are much more accepting of buying a ‘bare bones’ DVD for $10 instead of the $25-30 dollars it might’ve been 5 years ago.

Also there’s the time factor. Especially with the proliferation of complete TV series available for purchase, after watching 60 hours of a TV series are you going to bother rewatching 6 hours of what you just watched just to listen to a cast commentary? Put simply, there really isn’t the time to utilise such special features properly.

Don’t get me wrong I still enjoy cast/director commentaries on occasion and it can be interesting seeing deleted scenes of a movie. But – something I wouldn’t have believed 5-10 years ago – I don’t think such features are that big a deal anymore.

6 responses »

  1. I think the issue isn’t with special features not being ‘important’. I, and I’m sure many, love special features. Which are prevalent on YouTube. However, I could give a flying shit less about tv series special features, except for bloopers. A small army contributes to the writing of a tv show, directorsdon’t have the gravitas(?) they do in movies and it just doesn’t matter to me how they make, say Mad Men, because though I’m sure Weiner has a huge hand in the writing of every episode, he doesn’t necessarily ‘write it’. And I don’t care who directed and wrote, say, Curb Your Enthusiasm, since it looks like a third grader shot it and it’s mostly improvised. TV special features are stupid.
    And again and again yes, The Dissolve is awesome.

  2. I still like special features, and will listen to commentaries from directors or (for old movies) critics or scholars. Don’t care so much for commentaries by actors. The featurettes are fine, too. Now rental DVDs are making them inaccessible, though.

  3. The most frustrating type of commentaries are for TV/movies from several decades ago and the actor/director hasn’t seen the film since they’ve made it, meaning they probably recall less about the film than the viewer! Happens far too often.

    In contrast – as JS mentioned – commentaries by critics and scholars on films they know inside-out can be great if they communicate well. Ebert on Citizen Kane & one I heard a bit of from ‘On the Waterfront’ were standouts.

  4. The most frustrating type of commentaries are for TV/movies from several decades ago and the actor/director hasn’t seen the film since they’ve made it, meaning they probably recall less about the film than the viewer! Happens far too often.

    The 2013 commentary track that Jamie Lee Curtis/ John Carpenter recorded for the Halloween 35th Anniversary Blu Ray is a perfect example (particularly in comparison to the excellent commentary track they recorded for Criterion in 1994).

    It exists solely as a marketing bullet point, nothing more.

  5. Easily the most bizarre commentary I’ve heard was Mickey Rooney for his appearance on ‘The Twilight Zone’.

    Doing the commentary with an interviewer, this is an apt summation of how it goes:

    Rooney: (Yelling) HI! THIS IS MICKEY ROONEY! YOU’RE WATCHING THE TWILIGHT ZONE!
    Interviewer: Do you remember much about this episode?
    Rooney: No. I don’t remember anything.
    Interviewer: We’ll watch it together for the first time.
    Rooney: I don’t care … anything about it.
    Interviewer: What today’s audience doesn’t understand, and maybe we can put this in context … you’re playing a jockey but they don’t understand that for many years, anytime anybody said anything about a “short”, you were the butt of jokes —
    Rooney: (Yelling) WELL I’M TIRED OF THAT!
    Interviewer: Oh.
    (later)
    Rooney: Well, it was interesting to make, but I don’t see why people enjoy something like this now, but maybe they do. I hope they do.
    Interviewer: Had you met Rod ever? Serling?
    Rooney: Yeah.
    Interviewer: Do you remember where or —
    Rooney: No. I don’t remember anything about him. I wish I could help you.
    Interviewer: What was going on with you when you were making this?
    Rooney: (Yelling) I DON’T REMEMBER! IT’S TOO LONG AGO!!
    (later)
    Interviewer: I was looking for you to explain to the younger audience, because they don’t understand —
    Rooney: The younger audience doesn’t want to see this!
    Interviewer: Oh, that’s who’s watching this.
    Rooney: No it isn’t!
    Interviewer: Yes —
    Rooney: They’re watching (pause) sex-y things.

    (those excerpts taken from this review).

    I admire the makers of the TZ DVD’s for keeping in such a shambles of a commentary.

    It should be said that the TZ DVD’s are classic examples of what I mentioned before as one of the pitfalls of DVD commentaries – actors commentating on something they haven’t seen in four decades and as a result usually providing very little insight and drifting off towards talking about their own career.

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