Remember when, in 1999 or 2000, you got your first DVD player? Man it was awesome. You were so excited to have this perfect piece of AV equipment that you went out and bought — not rented — a bunch of DVDs? You thought, "Hey I love The Matrix, and it costs about the same as that new Beastie Boys CD, and if I rent it I’ll probably just get $20 in late charges anyway, so I’m just going to buy it." There were lots of cool extras — commentary tracks, deleted scenes, documentaries on how they did that cool-ass "bullet time" effect"…
Bonus features are what gets people to buy DVDs. Initially, movie studios considered things like "Interactive Menus" and "Scene Selection" bonus features, proudly displaying them — often with exclamation points — on the back of the box. But then truly awesome DVDs, like The Matrix or Fight Club or Toy Story, came along and they had extra stuff that was actually worth watching. Sometimes so much of it that it wouldn’t all fit on one disc. They were truly Special.
But then, movie studios wised up and realized that if they listed enough bonus features on the back of the box, that would be enticement enough to make consumers buy it. Anymore, the words "Special Edition" are the most overused marketing copy in Home Entertainment.
Three days a week, I work at Videology in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Biases aside, it is a truly awesome video rental store — nice-looking, organized, well-stocked, good music on the stereo, and staffed by some of the least-snooty clerks ever.
But I digress. We keep the discs behind the counter in little sleeves, so when someone brings up the DVD case to rent a movie you have to take the discs out of the sleeves an put them in the case. And when you do this for six hours, you start to realize how many Two-Disc Special Editions there are, and how many of them just don’t deserve the extra plastic.
For example, the mean-spirited Ben Stiller/Drew Barrymore comedy, Duplex. Even if the movie was good — which it is not — does anyone need, or want, a Two-Disc Special Edition of it? (Apparently not, as it’s been discontinued.) Or the in-your-face-horrible J. Lo/Jane Fonda flick Monster-in-Law? Two discs! Seriously, who is watching these extras? This is a waste along the lines of the now-extinct CD Longbox.
Obviously, there are still worthy multi-disc sets. For DIG!, director Ondi Timoner shot over 2000 hours of footage and had to whittle it down to a 110 minute film. Almost all the deleted scenes on the two-disc set are worth watching, and the three comentary tracks give welcome perspective to the movie. Most importantly, more Joel Gion! And the beheometh that is the new four-disc edtion of the Charleton Heston sword-and-sandals epic Ben-Hur, includes the 1925 silent film version, and loads of archival footage, neat documentaries and that sort of thing. But thought was put into it.
And some people, like 40-Year-Old Virgin director Judd Apatow, go out of their way to make cool DVDs of their stuff. For Anchorman (which he produced), they had so many deleted scenes, they made a second movie, Wake Up, Ron Burgundy!, from them. And the box sets of his shows Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared are models of how it should be done. Unfortunately, most bonus discs would make better coasters than viewing material.