EW reports that studios are offering loaded special edition discs in the newest booming market

By Scott Brown
March 07, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST

Noted home-video writer Lewis Carroll said it best in ”Alice in Wonderland”: ”Every film is a winner, and all must have special-edition DVDs.” Okay, maybe he didn’t say that, but he certainly would have, had he owned a DVD player and waited in breathless anticipation for ”Good Burger: The Super Mega Titanium Edition.”

Nowadays, it seems no film has truly arrived until someone slaps it on a dual-layer disc, digs up its deleted scenes, and throws in a director’s/ actor’s/ writer’s commentary for good measure. Years ago, when such goodies came only on expensive laserdiscs, special editions were the domain of well-equipped cinemaniacs. But thanks to the industry’s push to mainstream DVD technology, enhanced discs are now far more affordable — and far more common. ”We’re making these for the mass market, not just film buffs,” says Ben Feingold, president of Columbia TriStar Home Video, who adds that, for now, profit is beside the point: ”Our strategy is to continue to excite the consumer about DVD.”

With feature-packed versions of ”Independence Day,” ”Men in Black,” and ”Terminator 2” coming soon — and such heavy hitters as ”Tarzan,” ”American Pie,” and overall best-seller ”The Matrix” still flying off shelves — there’s plenty to be excited about. But the glut of product also means studios must do more to make their special editions truly special. ”It’s got to be something over and above the commentary track and trailer approach,” says Peter Staddon, senior VP of marketing at Fox Home Entertainment. ”The bar has been raised significantly.”

To meet the challenge, filmmaker cooperation is key. Pulling together the extra elements can be a legal as well as a technical challenge, and the inclusion of backstage interviews and deleted scenes must be cleared with everyone involved. ”There are so many entities involved, especially on something like ‘T2: The Ultimate Edition,”’ says Michelle Friedman, Artisan’s director of DVD production, who had to chase down Arnold Schwarzenegger for a sign-off on the documentary, ”T2: 3D, Breaking the Screen Barrier,” on loan from Universal Studios Hollywood theme park. ”Universal owns the ride, Columbia TriStar distributed the movie, Artisan has the home-video rights…. I think you can safely say just about every studio was somehow involved in this.”

Director involvement is equally important. Aside from commentary, helmers provide behind-the-scenes footage (David O. Russell and David Fincher are building reputations for their on-set ”home videos”), vital creative input, and the occasional tchotchke (Artisan wants to include a tour of David Lynch’s extensive prop collection on its still in the works ”Twin Peaks” DVD). For the most part, directors are more than willing to cooperate. ”I actually approached them,” says director Ben Younger, whose ”Boiler Room” disc didn’t quite qualify as a Platinum Series DVD (New Line’s term for a special edition), even though it contains commentary, deleted scenes, and the film’s original finale. ”I would call it ‘special,”’ sniffs Younger, ”because it’s got the ending the filmmaker wanted.”

”It’s never finished,” notes ”Galaxy Quest” director Dean Parisot. ”With DVD, you have a second chance to get some perspective on it.” Lately, though, directors are getting a new perspective on their ”finished” product: the viewer’s. Digital technology means after the fact manipulation is possible — and who says the director has to do the manipulating? On the upcoming ”Men in Black” DVD, Barry Sonnenfeld hosts a ”screen editing workshop,” wherein viewers are invited to reconstruct a scene from the movie using the multiple takes stored on the disc.

This sort of audience participation excites ”Deep Blue Sea” director Renny Harlin (whose ”Cliffhanger” special edition hit shelves June 13): He’s already planning custom photography for the DVD release of his next movie, the Sylvester Stallone car-racing actioner tentatively titled ”Champs” — though shooting hasn’t begun yet. ”The audience will be able to choose whether they want to watch the actor driving or look at what the actor is seeing through the windshield,” says Harlin, who adds that he adores DVD and the creative flexibility it affords him: ”I’d say I have about 100 percent creative control [over my special editions]…. I’ll take the blame and I’ll take the glory.”

”Quest”’s Parisot isn’t so sure, at least when it comes to such a high degree of interactivity. ”As an audience member, I like being manipulated,” he says. ”As soon as it becomes interactive, it’s not a movie anymore; it becomes something else.”

But on the whole, filmmakers are giddy at the prospects of DVD. ”[With] ‘Godzilla,’ it’s actually my favorite print of the film, color-wise,” says producer Dean Devlin, who was unhappy with the final color process used in the theatrical print. ”When we went to DVD, we were able to restore its original quality.” Devlin also restored the original ending on the ”ID4” DVD; armchair pilots can now choose to see Randy Quaid destroy the alien saucer with a decrepit biplane instead of an F-18.

”It’s like the Wild West,” says Michael Stradford, executive director of DVD marketing for Columbia TriStar who oversaw production for the ”MIB” special edition. ”The format hasn’t been around long enough for it to be a totally corporate venture.” And yet, the canny marketing of DVD — which analysts predict will generate more revenue than VHS by 2002 — has made all of this possible. But the question remains: Is this just industry hype, or will extras-laden special-edition discs really become as commonplace as tapes? For his part, Renny Harlin hopes it’s only a matter of time before his entire repertoire gets the deluxe treatment. ”I get questions all the time about when there’s going to be a special edition for ‘Ford Fairlane,”’ he says. ”I haven’t been able to make Fox move on that.” When they do, we’ll know we’re through the looking glass.