April 12, 2005

Isn't That Special

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At Dino’s trivia on Sunday night, I learned that 2003 marked the first year that DVD sales surpassed VHS sales. Indeed, DVDs are far superior, and much of their appeal can be attributed to the myriad of exceptional special features boasted by each disk. From deleted scenes and outtakes to directors’ commentaries and “making of” specials, DVD bonus features make watching a film more interactive and engaging than ever before.

On the DVD for Red Dragon, the prequel to The Silence of the Lambs, one can sift through Hannibal Lecter’s extensive FBI case file, complete with hospital records, photographs and descriptions of his various … meals. Viewers are also treated to an interview with world-renowned FBI criminal profiler John Douglas, as he explains the process one must undergo in order to profile and apprehend a serial killer. Relatively recently, a special edition DVD was released for the original 1991 The Silence of the Lambs, full of deleted scenes and all-new interviews with the cast. An amusing audio recording of Anthony Hopkin’s answering machine message at the time is also included, as he uses the memorable, raspy voice of his famous Lecter character to spook out callers.

DVDs have allowed viewers not only to re-experience their favorite films, but also to understand the film-making process and to see the film from completely different angles (sometimes literally). The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind DVD features a truly genuine conversation between Jim Carrey and director Michael Gondry, as they reflect on the making of the film. The special features for A Beautiful Mind include an interview with the real-life genius John Nash, as well as an inside-look at the development of the film’s screenplay. Other memorable features include the tattoo gallery on the Memento DVD, the “Miss Misery” music video (by the late Elliot Smith) in Good Will Hunting, and an intensive behind-the-scenes look at some of the most technologically advanced visual effects ever created in Minority Report.

Other special features are educational. For instance, the Gladiator DVD includes a history of ancient Rome. Also, amidst the ten-plus hours of bonus features for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, one can find an interactive history of pirates, in addition to an in-depth look into the anatomy of a ship. The DVD even includes footage of the film’s elaborate Hollywood premiere.

In 2001, the Online Film Critics Society recognized the Fight Club DVD as having the best special features of the year. This David Fincher thriller includes commentaries by Edward Norton and Brad Pitt. Also, in addition to deleted scenes and storyboards, novelist Chuck Palahniuk and screenwriter Jim Uhls discuss the various differences between the book and the film, while the film’s design team dissects the impressive visual effects featured in the film. Fincher’s other classic, Seven, is also a great DVD experience and includes an intriguing alternate ending which completely changes the complexion of the final scene. Speaking of alternate endings, the one included on Dodgeball’s DVD is beyond amusing, as the closing credits abruptly begin to roll after White Goodman’s (Ben Stiller’s) team wins the dodgeball tournament.

Perhaps more intriguing than the special features themselves are the hidden special features, more commonly known as “easter eggs.” Many films have them; it turns out you just have to look for them with the remote control. For instance, every time Ben Stiller snaps his fingers in Dodgeball, clicking enter on the remote control will reveal an outtake or an additional scene. A hidden feature on Pirates is an original 1967 commercial for the opening of the Pirates of the Caribbean Disneyland attraction (on disc 3, clicking on the dock’s gold plate) and one in Collateral shows Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx rehearsing their lines (on disc 2, highlighting and clicking left on the remote). These hidden features are almost reminiscent of video game codes. Another interesting “easter egg” is on The Sixth Sense DVD, as highlighting the jewelry box icon embedded on the screen will reveal a feature in which M. Night Shyamalan describes a clip from a film made when he was 11 years old. Finding these easter eggs certainly adds to the greater appeal of DVDs. No wonder they’ve surpassed VHS sales; they’re just more … special.

Archived article by Avash Kalra
Sun Staff Writer