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Do We Really Need DVD?

 article about vhs to dvd
Looking back, VHS was rubbish wasn't it? How did we endure all that
tracking, endlessly turning the dials in a futile attempt to remove
that unsightly snow from the top and bottom of our picture? And what
good is a VHS copy of Basic Instinct if the screen shakes like an
epileptic whenever you press pause? Even worse, while we paid good
money to forever own VHS copies of our favourite films, the quality
would inevitably deteriorate, and after a few short years a team of
experts was required to determine exactly what the battered black
rectangle previously contained.

DVD changed all this. Our
shiny little friends sell by the bucketload and only a blind man or a
fool could argue with the picture quality. But, crystal clear visuals
aside, are those silver circles really so wonderful?

The
problem can be summed up in those two unintentionally ironic words:
special features. It sounds promising doesn't it? Not just extras, but
special features. The classic example is the trailer. Whether youve
paid ten dollars, fifteen pounds, twenty euros or several million yen,
you should not have to see the words original theatrical trailer
sitting all alone under the heading special features. Its an insult,
not only to your intelligence and your wallet but to the word special
itself.

Now, I love a good trailer as much as the next man,
maybe even more so. But, I hear you ask, what is it that trailers do?
They sell the film, thats what they do, so if you've already made the
commitment of either buying or renting the DVD thats in your machine,
then why do you need the trailer? Are you going to go out and buy it
again?

I think wed all be better off if the powers that be
came up with a new phrase so they could be a little more honest with us
and say something like stuff weve put on here just fill a bit of space
or things no one will ever watch more than once.

In this more
realistically monikered section, alongside the trailers youd find the
obligatory, and obligatorily bad, making of featurette (is it just me
or is featurette just a horrible, horrible word. Purely aurally, I
mean, it just sounds so unpleasant. Say it to yourself, featurette.
Ugh.) The making of will usually have a title thats nothing more than
an extraordinarily bad pun on the films original title. For example,
The Pulp Fiction making of is called Tarantino Fiction. If you stare at
the disc hard enough, you can almost see the laziness.

These
things fall into three categories, which I'm going to label as follows;
1) genuine, 2) press-kit patchwork and 3) nepotistic charity.

1) Genuine
I'd
guesstimate that something in the region of 95% of making ofs are
garbage, but this leaves another 5% which are genuinely good. Im
thinking of Paul Thomas Andersons Magnolia Diary which does exactly
what it says on the box. Its an honest diary of the making of Magnolia,
which is an insight into how Anderson works, both visually and in terms
of directing actors, as we follow him through the conception,
pre-production, shooting and post-production. The making of a film is
often a dramatic narrative all of its own, so with some real thought
and effort the capturing of this process can stand up as a work in its
own right. A good example is The Joy Of Madness, Hana Makhmalbafs
documentary about her sister Samiras filming At Five In The Afternoon,
which was deemed to be so good it was released in theatres. Hana was
just 14 years old at the time, which begs the question: if a little
girl can make a decent fist of it, why cant a multi-million dollar
production studio?

2) Press-kit patchwork
Of the
remaining 95% its safe to say that about half of these are press-kit
patchworks. Basically, some hateful individual gathered up all the
promotional interviews that surrounded the films release, edited them
together so that the interviewees are talking about more or less the
same thing and then hired whoever it is that seems to do all the
voiceovers for these things. (Ive always wanted to meet the mysterious
voiceover man) to vaguely link it all together and give it some
semblance of authenticity. The resulting compendium of promotional
interviews is about half an hour of co-star backslapping, and directors
lying through their teeth about how Julia or J-Lo was so easy to work
with and not the power mad diva shes been made out to be. As with the
trailer, its just marketing, encouraging you to buy the film you
already own. If you do own any discs with a making of like this, and if
you can work out how to do it, I recommend scratching the disc in a
very precise manner so that just the making of featurette is ruined.

3) Nepotistic charity
This
is the most tragic of all the making of headings, whereby a famous and
talented director leaves one of his lesser famous and lesser talented
family members in charge of the making of. Its a nice gesture but
no-one should have to see the results, and no one should ever have to
pay money to own them. My favourite example is Rushmore The film itself
is priceless, almost perfect, but Wes Anderson has let his brother Eric
Chase Anderson handle documentary duties. The resulting feauterette
(ugh!) suggests that the reason Wes Anderson is so talented is because
he inherited every last drop of camera wielding talent in the Anderson
clan. A bit like in that film Twins with Arnold Scwarzenegger and Danny
De Vito, when Arnie gets all the good genes and Danny gets whats
leftover. Actually, this is a little harsh as Eric is a talented
illustrator, but would he have been in charge of the The Making Of
Rushmore if Wes werent directing?

What of that other DVD
stalwart, the directors commentary? A good one can be a wonderful
thing. It can provide fascinating insights, reveal aspects of the
filmmaking process and be a source of interesting trivia. Good examples
include Richard Kellys commentary on Donnie Darko which goes some way
to solving the riddle of the film or the in character cast commentary
on This Is Spinal Tap which is almost as good as the film itself.

More
often though its either far too technical, even for those who are
interested in such things, or too chummy, heading back into Julia was
wonderful to work with territory. As a result, many commentaries are
duller than waiting for a bus, and the chief reason for this is that
the directors you really want to hear from are the ones most reluctant
to exercise their vocal chords. Can you imagine a Tarantino commentary?
And wouldnt it be fascinating to hear what the famously reticent Coen
brothers have to say about Barton Fink?

All this aside, the
most offensive aspect of the whole DVD industry is the aggressive
marketing, which again makes elaborate use of the word special. Not
just special editions, but collectors editions, anniversary editions,
double disc collectors editions, ultimate editions and all other kinds
of editions which are just the same film with varying degrees of
second, thirds and fourth rate supplementary material. Did you know
theres a regular Terminator 2 DVD, a Terminator 2 Ultimate Edition DVD
and a Terminator 2 Extreme Edition DVD?
And you might think that
Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring is a long enough title
already, but now you can buy The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship of
The Ring Platinum Series Special Extended Edition. Title not long
enough for you? Then you need The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship of
The Ring Platinum Series Special Extended Edition Collector's Gift Set
(pictured).

It's been said before, and it will be said again
but all these special editions exist purely to squeeze more money from
the DVD buying public. The spotty teenage Gandalf enthusiast who
shelled out his paper round money for the original Lord Of The Rings
DVD now has to dig even deeper into his pockets for the new, more
elaborately titled disc. And did Police Academy really warrant a
Twentieth Anniversary Edition?


We're being force fed the idea that it's necessary to collect these
shiny expensive circles, but who can honestly say they get their
money's worth? Outside of a few absolutely classic films that stand up
to repeated viewing (Im thinking The Godfather here) are DVDs really
worth owning? All those people who rushed out and paid good money for
Bad Boys II, how many times will they sit through that in their
lifetime?

Worst of all, the crystal clear image and faultless
pause facility of the pixilated image, means that Im now fairly certain
that Sharon Stone was wearing underwear after all. The world was a
better place when I thought she wasnt.




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