Stephen King takes a look at some DVD extras
Like the SUV your uncle Fred bought before gas prices went up, DVDs are loaded with extras. Unlike your uncle’s SUV, which came with air-conditioning, onboard navigation, and power everything, you get the DVD extras whether you want them or not, and they’re usually dumber than mud. I suspected this for years; a month reviewing recent discs transformed my suspicion into certainty. I don’t know what the Big One is, but I am sure that DVD extras are one of the things that bite it.
The worst extra in all cases is the commentary track. It’s usually the director running off at the mouth, but he may be joined by the producer, an actor, or possibly some guy who just happened to wander in off the street. These tracks invariably reduce even brilliant filmmakers to bores showing home movies in their dens.
In a shot of Florida near the beginning of Meet the Fockers, co-producer Jon Poll informs us, ”This was actually shot in Florida.” Director Joel Zwick betters that in his Fat Albert commentary. ”What you’re viewing now is the 20th Century Fox logo,” he says as the 20th Century Fox logo rolls at the head of the movie. And when Fat Albert and his animated pals appear: ”This is animation, for those of you who have never seen animation before.”
The second-worst feature is the ”Making Of” documentary, which is particularly horrible in the Day After Tomorrow DVD package. The doc begins with some people mugging at the camera in fine home-movie tradition, while German beer-hall music oompahs in the background (perhaps a tribute to film director Roland Emmerich). From there things ooze downhill. People wander in and out of the frame, sometimes speaking audibly. The sound quality in this doc is awful, and it seems…to go on…forrrevvverrrr. My advice, after experiencing the Day After Tomorrow features, is to avoid any DVD with ”2-DISC COLLECTOR’S EDITION” on it the way you’d avoid a fixer-upper house in Amityville, Long Island.
The DVD extras I reviewed ranged from the boringly bizarre to the bizarrely boring. Additional Fockers features include a story called ”The Manary Gland,” which concerns a propman’s search on the Internet for a picture of the perfect breast. On Be Cool, you can access a video of The Rock, looking like some eerie first-draft version of Cowboy Troy, in a full-length country-western music video. F. Gary Gray, Be Cool‘s director, introduces the clip by telling us this is supposed to be a bad music video. What he doesn’t seem to understand is that you can’t satirize an art form that has already given us Kiss performing ”Lick It Up.”
I did unearth occasional semiprecious stones in the slag heaps — the freakily funny ”Jack-Jack Attack” short on the Incredibles DVD, for instance, and Fear Factory’s Spinal Tap-esque ”Bite the Hand That Bleeds” video on the Saw disc. But the inevitable blooper reels (invariably called ”Hilarious Bloopers,” in case we might not be sure what we’re dealing with) just depressed me. It could be that our increasing fixation on this sort of goofage is one indicator of our boredom with the movies themselves.
The most interesting featurette I looked at was on the Meet the Fockers disc. The well-shot ”Adventures of a Baby Wrangler” explains that the infant in the film was played by twins, that Mom had already taught them to sign, and that Robert De Niro worked hard to bond with them. But it raises a key question: Do you want the magic, or to know how the magic is done? The Day After Tomorrow gives us a magnificently flooded New York. Do we care that many of those scenes were shot in a tank-equipped Montreal studio, where the water was heated and the bacteria level was checked daily so the actors wouldn’t catch anything nasty? Sure, there are people out there (some are subscribers to EW) who eat that stuff up. I suspect the majority, however, could care less about bacteria levels or how many times it took a toddler to sign ”poop.”
The mechanics of moviemaking and the mechanics of mufflers are of roughly equal interest to the general public. The difference is, the Midas man doesn’t hand you a DVD along with his bill and say, ”I thought you might like to look at this at home. It’s true I added a buck to the total, but there’s an alternate ending where I leave off a bolt, and a deleted scene where I scrape my knuckles and yell some four-letter words. Plus the hilarious outtake where I give the front-end guy a wedgie.”
You can tell me I don’t have to watch the extras if I don’t want to, and besides, they’re free. Not always true. There is, for instance, the ”Suicide Ending” of First Blood, a brief clip piggybacked on a three-disc Rambo collection that retails for about 35 bucks. And don’t forget the so-called ”Special Edition” packages, buoyed by extras designed to, as far as I can tell, completely muddle your experience of the movie — for the right price, of course. Sometimes there’s a newly inserted ”lost” scene, which was probably lost for good reason. Other times you get new special effects dumped into old movies — and who cares, really, if they don’t quite match the old special effects?
I did find one useful extra during my search. In the newly released version of XXX, there was a free ticket to State of the Union. Even better: no Rock music video.