Saturday, February 4, 2012

Opinion piece: Watch and learn on DVD and Blu-ray

A few days ago a fellow blogger you most surely know well, Bill from Bill's Movie Emporium, published an interesting article about his opinion on DVD and Blu-ray supplements, or 'bonus features' as they are typically referred to on the back of packaging. It was a good read, as is often the case whenever I happen to pay his site a visit, although it was mostly the case just because it allowed me to know about more about the side of things from someone who does not, in fact, care much for the added content on home video formats.

While Bill and I frequently find common ground, I am of a different mindset on this topic. Granted, if a movie for which I have a deep appreciation for is available at reasonable price on DVD or BD, I will still make the purchase. Ironically enough, that was the case with The Rocketeer, released on BD in December and the first film in our Comica Obscura marathon. Other than a trailer, the disc is what us DVD and BD fans refer to as a 'bare bones' disc. The truth of the matter is, the more quality supplements are produced for a disc, the more satisfied a customer I become.

It goes without saying that the single most important reason to purchase a DVD or BD, especially on street release Tuesday when prices are high until they begin to drop several months down the road, is one's attachment to a given film. If a newly released BD is for a film one does not care for, then the quantity and quality of the supplements will carry little weight in the purchase decision making process. If it is a film one loves, then the bonus material, especially when a disc is stacked, will mean the consumer gets a lot of bang for their buck. If one stops and thinks about it, it is interesting to consider that said material is labelled as a 'bonus', a 'supplement, a 'special feature.' After all, when done with the right amount of attention and care (which, admittedly, is not often enough the case with studio releases), a supposed bonus feature becomes a true companion piece, adding a wealth of informative and educational knowledge for the film lover to dive into. 


Therein lies the principle reasons why I am a great admirer of bonus features. Between the Seats offers a series of review every single week for the pleasure of you, the readers. Said articles consist of my opinions on each and every film, and via those reviews I do my best at articulating and, at times, even intellectualizing what the meaning, purpose and effect of specific films and scenes might be. It is a tremendously fun exercise and I am always thrilled to receive so many comments and page views from people who actually think those articles are worthy of their time. The opinions featured in them came from my mind and heart. The most important thing in a film review, what should come before anything else, is what the reviewer thought of, felt about, and how they reacted to said movie and why (that second element, 'why', maybe being the aspect a few too many reviewers do not invest sufficient time articulating, sadly). That's the gist of a review, no questions asked. Not critical analysis, but reviewing. When all is said and done, when the film has been viewed, when thoughts and emotions were digested, formulated into words and phrases and eventually published on a blog or whatever medium one has as one's venue, I personally very much enjoy furthering the movie experience. This can mean reading what others have to say on the internet, which I do with decent frequency, but also learning about a film's production history, from the screenwriting process all the way to the marketing. This is where the bonus features come into play. It is rare that learning about a film production will drastically change my opinion of a picture. It may have occurred once or twice, but even then I am having difficulty recollecting a perfect example at the moment. 
However, understanding how a movie was made and why it was made in a given fashion can complement one's understanding of it, whether they enjoyed it or not. It is not because, after listening to interviews from the cast and crew about the titanic challenges faced, that one should suddenly have a change of heart and proclaim adoration for a film they disliked. Of course not. That being said, the simple matter of knowing the various hurdles the filmmakers were forced to overcome (and may have utterly failed to overcome in some instances) can, at the very least, provide some context as to the film's existence, its state. 'This film has a terrible script. It's horrendously uneven, to the point of being schizophrenic.' Lo and behold, that mess of a script went through the hands of three, four, five screenwriters who had different opinions of where the story needed to take the characters. It remains a shamefully uneven script, consequently bringing the movie's quality down a few notches, but at least you know why now. 


Why were specific actors chosen for specific roles? What did they think upon first reading the script? What were the director's original intentions? What were the studio's original intentions (sometimes an even more powerful force than the director him or herself)? The film was made in Japan in the 1950s, and the country's post-war cultural shifts meant that so and so themes were to be explored. This was adapted from a 1000 page novel, which was evidently far too daunting a challenge to stuff everything into the script and therefore changes 'x', 'y' and 'z' were made. So on and so forth... Some people do not feel the need to know any of that. Truth be told, they don't need to know it. An opinion is an opinion is an opinion. We all bring our own baggage to the films we watch anyhow. Still, that added layer of context, which can be provided through great bonus features, is something I happen to cherish. As a something of a history buff, I sort of have a gene for appreciating the context of things, events and the people involved in them, which of course includes films. Probably the best example of bonus features which enhanced my appreciation for a movie is the 5-disc Blade Runner set, which on its second disc has a three hour long documentary on the making of the film!

What is your stance on DVD and BD bonus features? Do you sink your teeth into them? Can they make or break a purchase? Or perhaps do you not even flip to the back of the DVD packaging when picking up a favourite film at the store, unconcerned about whatever else other than the film is on the disc?

Thanks for reading.


thevoid99 said...

For me, supplements give me a chance to see how a scene is made and what are the director's thoughts and such.

Criterion is the company that often does those things and they give you more than your money's worth.

Being someone who wants to become a filmmaker and have already completed a script a few months ago while continually working on other script ideas. I find them to be educational on how someone would make a scene or present an alternate version of that scene.

Plus, if I'm going to buy something. I better make sure that I get more than a great quality version of the film. I would love to have Drive in my DVD collection but considering that the DVD supplements aren't that great. I'm going to wait out for either the price to drop or to give it a proper DVD release with loads of material.

edgarchaput said...

@thevoid: Ha! I just bought 'Drive' today! I haven't checked out the bonus features yet though.

What the status on the project for which you completed a script? Is that going ahead in any direction?

Bill Thompson said...

I do like supplements for all the reasons you pointed out Edgar. The point I was putting forward is that I look at supplements as more of a supplemental thing. They can e a good resource, and I I do on occasion watch them myself. However, my main interest is in the film, and I almost never check a disc for what supplements it has before I buy a film. That's the attitude that I think separates me from most other cinephiles.

thevoid99 said...

Right now, I'm going through some financial issues as I need funds to get the script copyrighted. It's a 40-page script which is far below the average script. I'm working on other projects for the time being although very slowly as it's hard for me to get ideas through.

edgarchaput said...

Working on multiple projects at once cannot be easy.

I'm guessing the 40 page script is for a short film? Or maybe one for which there is little dialogue?...

thevoid99 said...

The latter as I'm going for a more minimalist film that is more driven by images rather than dialogue. I would credit the films of Lynne Ramsay and Sofia Coppola for that idea.

Lindsay said...

Great write-up and I have to agree. I don't really buy DVDs and Blu Rays often but I think it's a great point that the addition of bonus material can really help open up a film.