Saturday, November 30, 2013

Weekend Weigh-in: Do You Still Watch Special Features?

Get on the record before physical media is gone forever.

Once upon a time, special features like deleted scenes and commentary tracks were the kind of added value content that would convince us to drop $100 on a laserdisc. Now pretty much every movie that comes out on DVD and Blu-ray has bonus content. You can hear Shawn Levy's thoughts on making The Internship and watch behind-the-scenes footage for Gangster Squad. Has the proliferation of special features devalued the experience for you?

Now that everything has bonus content, do you still find the time to work your way though it? If so, what are some of your favorites -- are there discs you would recommend just based on the quality of the special features?


  1. Special features are still the deciding factor for most of my purchases. The "exclusive" special features annoy me though, and I would sometimes opt to not buy any version at all than to travel to an out of the way store to get the best features.

    I usually watch all the documentary style special features, which are the main draw as I see good "making of" or "history of" special features like a second movie (of sorts) giving good value for money.
    I dont listen to commentaries unless there is something special expected, and I usually dont bother with the more technical features.

    If special features do go away I will be very disappointed.

  2. So many "special features" are just EPK fluff that it can be difficult to discern what's worth it and what's a talking head laden studio mandate. Companies like Criterion and Shout Factory/Scream Factory are incredibly consistent when it comes to providing worthwhile special features. There are also certain filmmakers like Edgar Wright, Guillermo Del Toro and Robert Rodriguez who can be counted on to truly let the audience in on their process (say what you will about the laziness of Rodriguez's movies of late, the dude is still excited to show off and talk about the filmmaking process like few others).

    Special features gave swayed my purchasing decisions since the days of laserdisc and I still love them. I love that I have the option to listen to Martin Scorsese, John Carpenter, and Wes Craven talk for hours at a time over certain movies. My favorite is probably the cast commentary on Re-Animator, as none of them had seen the movie or each other in some time and the fun they were having watching it together was infectious.

    When I got my first laserdisc player way back when the mere idea of commentary tracks blew my mind, and I still love the concept. I love it when they surprise you, too. There's a director's commentary on The Substitute 4 that's genuinely great, it really digs into the specifics of getting a DTV movie together cheaply and quickly. The fact that we live in a world where special care is given even to the last chapter of a (mostly) DTV series is something I'm genuinely grateful for. Plenty of commentaries and such are bored actors/directors describing what's happening onscreen (sadly the brilliant Mel Brooks is among the guilty there) but there's lots of gold out there, too, and it all adds up to the fact that we truly live in the best possible era (er, ah) to be movie nerds and to be collectors of physical media.

  3. I still watch special features. Like Brad said above they are still a selling point for me as well. I just recently completed working my way through all nine hours of features on the Hobbit extended edition blu-ray.

  4. Heck yeah, I still watch special features!! The idea of special features is part of what got me into collecting DVDs in the first place. I love watching documentaries or listening to commentaries about how movies are made and behind-the-scenes stories almost as much as I love watching the movies themselves. I thoroughly enjoy loaded "special editions," and yes, it has, in the past, been a deciding factor on whether I am going to purchase something or not. They're also still a reason why I am willing to pay more for a good Criterion release.

    In short, I really, really don't want to see special features go.

  5. I LOVE special features, and it's one of the reasons I buy a DVD or Blu Ray in the first place. I tend to only buy films I really like and want to physically own, and having a plethora of special features to enjoy is a huge selling point. I love the documentary style "making of" content and am a sucker for a good DVD commentary.

  6. Since it's pretty clear that we all still go for the special features, I would be curious to hear what everyone's favorite special features are. My Hall of Fame includes:

    "Under Pressure" - the documentary about The Abyss that accompanied the special edition laserdisc (I believe it's available on YouTube).

    Any commentary featuring John Carpenter - especially if Kurt Russell is there as well

    The commentary on The Silence of the Lambs with Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, and Jonathan Demme

    The making of documentaries for Psycho and The Birds (The Birds feature really made me appreciate how complicated that film's effects were)

    Vivian Kubrick's featurette on the making of The Shining

    Criterion's "visual essay" about the Dali dream sequence in Hitchcock's Spellbound (now sadly out of print, along with their superb DVDs of Notorious and Rebecca)

  7. Special Features are the reason I upgraded from DVD to Blu-Ray in the first place, and I'm very anxious about the fact that physical media is disappearing. My personal favorites are:

    "Beyond Beauty", the retrospective making of feature on Disney's Beauty and the Beast

    "1939 Hollywood's Greatest Year", a self explanatory documentary on the Gone with the Wind blu-ray

    The making of features on both Jaws and Jurassic Park

    Pretty much everything on Criterion's release of Rashomon (with special emphasis on the audio commentary)

    Disney's audio commentaries on Snow White, Fantasia, and Pinocchio (the first two feature excerpts from Walt himself).

    The making of Psycho

    As I stare down the numerous Criterion releases on my shelf that I've never found the time to explore through, I know the list will get much bigger eventually.

  8. Some of my favorite special features have been audio commentaries. I especially enjoyed, Ric Meyers track for the Criterion Seven Samurai DVD, as well as the filmmaker commentaries on This Is Spinal Tap (guys are in character watching their own "doc"), Ghostbusters, and Big Trouble in Little China.

    1. I made a mistake, that was Michael Jeck on Seven Samurai not Ric Meyers. Though any track with Jeck, Meyers or Donald Richie is fantastic.

  9. I watch special features whenever I can, which sadly isn't all that often, since so many Netflix discs only have the movie itself, and I hardly ever buy anything. Seems to me studios would do well to keep offering bonus content on separate discs, so they could earn two rental fees for those willing to order them also, but I guess the trend is that special features are for blu-ray purchases only. Alas.

    1. Hey, another person still gets Netflix discs! I watch the commentaries on them if I'm curious, but as you say many discs are just the movie. Rental discs tend to only have the movie, which I remember from renting them at the neighborhood movie store (we didn't have a blockbuster). Gotta actually buy the movie to be guaranteed something. But some of the rentals come with commentaries and light special features.

      I just watched the Police Story commentary with Bey Logan and (groan) Brett Ratner. While not an insight by the director (Chan) Bey had lots of trivia and pointed out all the television stars and Jackie Chan's crew as they appeared. And Brett talked about Rush Hour.

      Now, do they drive me to purchase? I haven't bought a movie in a while, but I have been considering some of the Dragon Dynasty or Hong Kong Legends just for the good packaging and commentaries. I'm on a bit of a Hong Kong kick right now. So ... maybe?

  10. I love special features when done well - particularly commentaries and "making of" documentaries. I will always choose a dvd with special features over one without.

    To me it shows that someone behind the production was passionate and cared about the movie - which is great if I like the movie. On the other hand, special features can help me get into (or at least understand) movies that I don't like or don't quite get.

  11. The about-to-end Barnes & Noble Criterion sale is always a litmus test for me as to whether I can blind-buy a movie with little or no bonus content to take advantage of the fact they're $20 or less instead of the usual $33-40 retail. But I always end in weighing bonus content as a deciding factor that pushes me toward flicks that are jam-packed with them. Just yesterday, after pacing around a Barnes & Noble forever, decided to go with 1966's "Le deuxième souffle" (a J.P. Melville film) and 1994's "Before The Rain" (Milcho Manchevski's Balkan states war drama) as my blind buys because of the listed documentaries and commentary tracks. And Criterion's new BD for Bergman's 1978 opus "Autumn Sonata" was very tempting since the 93 min. movie comes with a 3.5 hr. 'making of' documentary; even if the movie bores one to tears (as many an Ingmar Bergman movie is prone to do) the idea of watching three hours of Ingmar Bergman directing and interacting with star Ingrid Bergman sounds too good to pass-up.

    The streaming of these movies without bonus features is fine to me as long as it's that: an option. Hulu Plus, for example, streams many Criterion movies that the company hasn't put out on disc yet. That's cool in that, if an obscure or little-known director's work impresses you, the films online speak for themselves and don't take attention from the one's on disc. And the Warner Archive, as bare-bones as it is, it's nice to have since the alternative is that many a great or forgotten flick whose only sin was not making money get locked in a vault and are never seen (or sporadically shown) ever again.

    My favorite type of bonus features are the one's that put a movie's production, creation and message (if it has one) in context for audiences that might be unfamiliar with the time and place of their gestation. This inevitably leads to most of my favorite commentaries/documentaries coming for movies that were released some time ago, especially from scholars or former collaborators that remain objective but enthusiastic about their subject matter (like all of Adrian Martin's commentaries for Godard films, or Tony Rayns and Donald Richie on classic Asian cinema). Even the bonus features for "Titanic," released in 1997, benefited from the years in-between its theatrical release and the three-disc DVD release. James Cameron isn't a commentary track guy, but the two he has done (for "Terminator 2: Judgement Day" and "Titanic") excel at explaining stuff and sharing cool anecdotes that the passage of time has filled with context. Sometimes it backfires as with the Carpenter-Russell commentary for "Big Trouble in Little China," where precious and valuable time is wasted on Canadian hockey talk for someone's kid that gets really annoying on repeat listens. When Carpenter is on the ball though (as in "The Fog" or "Prince of Darkness") his commentary add so much to already great film work. And as much as I'd like Spielberg to come down from his mountaintop and into the commentary recording booth, I'll take an in-depth and well-produced documentary like the one accompanying the three versions of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" on Blu-ray as an adequate replacement.

    So, in conclusion: yeah, special Features rock. :-) Can't wait for JB to finally get around watching "The Spirit of the Beehive" on the TiVO and then starts wanting to know who/what was responsible for it. A two-disc Criterion jam-packed with interviews and documentaries awaits him in the library to sooth the thirst for knowledge a movie like this is sure to spring forth. ;-P

  12. As far as special features go, I usually try to go with ones that are entertaining and not the usual EPK fluff. Some of my favorites...

    The Snowball Effect-Clerks X Anniversary
    The Fuzzball Rally-Hot Fuzz
    It is Wonderful to Create-Most Criterion Kurosawa
    Directing the Director- Knocked Up
    Everybody Hates Michael Cera-Superbad

    As far as favorite commentary tracks, the Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg tracks for all "The Cornetto Trilogy" are funny and insightful. The tracks for "Mallrats", "Chasing Amy", and "Dogma" are hilarious on account of Kevin Smith and Ben Affleck's repartee together. Stephen Prince's tracks on "High & Low" and "Ikiru" are informative without being boring. Also, Guillermo Del Toro's tracks are entertaining just to hear how giddy filmmaking makes him.

  13. I love special features so yes, absolutely! I have enjoyed so many audio commentaries that have added to my enjoyment of the film. I also love some features of behind the scenes, either you get some funny moments or some interesting explorations of themes in interviews. I admit not all DVD special features are great, some just seem like a load of actors pretending they love each other, but I'd rather sit through a few of those to get to the pretty dam amazing ones rather them not have them at all.