Saturday, October 02, 2004

Special Edition Fever

The news that Fox is preparing a special edition DVD of Mike Judge's Office Space has pleased a lot of people -- particularly those who, like me, held off on buying the not-very-special-edition DVD in the belief that a special edition would come soon. There's a joke on DVD discussion forums that if you want a special edition of a movie, all you have to do is buy the "bare-bones" DVD, and a special edition will automatically be announced the next day.

The terms "special features" and "special edition" have been, shall we say, devalued over the last few years; I've seen DVDs where subtitles and closed captions are listed under "special features." But they've become a near-essential part of the DVD experience, and I think, to be honest, that sometimes I buy a disc more for the special features than for the movie. Not that I'd buy a movie I don't like enough to watch more than once (I'm a compulsive re-watcher and re-reader, so DVD is perfect for me: pop in my disc of Foreign Correspondent, skip a few chapters, and watch that guy getting shot in the face for the umpteenth time). But when buying a movie that I've already seen, I naturally start with the "new" stuff on the disc: the commentaries, the documentaries, the other frills. I especially like it when a DVD finds some extras to include that aren't commentaries or documentaries, standard making-of stuff; I like extras that are related to the movie but are about something other than how the movie got made. For example, the Office Space special edition will presumably include the animated cartoon that the movie is based on. Warner Brothers DVDs often includes cartoons and short films from the WB and MGM vaults; one that's actually related to the film is a short musical film on the DVD of Meet Me in St. Louis, featuring a jazzy rewriting of "Skip to My Lou" written and performed by the Martins, a quartet led by Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin (the master of wacky '40s vocal arrangements). Martin and Blane incorporated this arrangement, almost unchanged, into Meet Me in St. Louis, which explains why the guests at a turn-of-the-century party wind up scat-singing.

Anyway, the point, assuming there is one, is that interesting special features can sometimes make the difference between a purchase and a non-purchase. And, psychologically, there's a tiny bit of stigma that attaches to buying a "bare-bones" disc. It's sort of: this movie didn't get any special features; they didn't find anybody to do a commentary on it, not even some dull movie critic; they just gave us the movie. What's wrong with this movie? Of course there are great movies that don't get special features and lots of terrible movies that do; but still, special features and "special editions" in general have become kind of a status symbol for a movie and those of us who buy them on DVD. That's part of the reason why we're willing to buy a special edition of a movie we already own; if we love a movie, we want to see it given some respect. And nothing says respect like an overpriced Crtierion DVD featuring audio commentary by some tenured film-school professor reading from pre-prepared notes. Right?

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