DVDs: are extra features worth it?

Two essential Coen brothers’ films have finally been given DVD release dates. Miller’s Crossing (1990) and Barton Fink (1991) will both be released by 20th Century Fox on May 20.

I don’t know why the hesitation with the transfer of these two underrated cinematic achievements, but hopefully it’s because they felt the DVDs would benefit from some well-deserved, retrospective Special Features.

Several of the Coens’ DVDs have suffered the fate of having weak or a total lack of supplemental material. The Man Who Wasn’t There is the only one of their films to include commentary by the team, and none of the others that have been released on DVD have had any decent documentaries, deleted scenes, or production notes.

These insufficient DVDs are a dime a dozen, and easily identifiable when the Special Features listed include a “Main Menu” and “Scene Selection.” There really is nothing special about these features (I don’t mean to point fingers, but Warner Bros. is most often guilty of this). Unfortunately, many deserving films get cursed with poor DVD releases, such as Batman and Raging Bull, the directors of each (Tim Burton and Martin Scorsese) have both recorded commentaries on other films, so they’re obviously not against the concept.

For some reason, there are some directors, most notably Spielberg, who will not record commentary tracks for their films. Whether this is for personal or business reasons, it can become frustrating. My feeling is this: if you want me to buy your movie for the second time, the very least you could do is talk about it for two hours.

What companies will also often do, is release a DVD with little or no special features, then release the “2 disc Special Edition” several months later (an advanced warning that New Line will be doing this with the remaining two Lord of the Rings films, as they did with the first). This is why it doesn’t always bother me when films like Barton Fink or Jackie Brown are not released on DVD right away. I would rather wait a couple years than be stuck with an insufficient disc or two copies of the same movie.

Fox is a company who has been very good to the DVD consumers in this respect. For instance, when the Fight Club DVD wasn’t up to par by its video release date, they waited a couple of months and released one of the best DVDs available.

Fox has also now began to release the single disc versions of their movies after the double disc, special feature-packed versions (such as Moulin Rouge and The Abyss, so those only interested in the film itself can have the choice of saving some money.

However, all this being said, the film buff must also be weary of double disc special edition releases. For example, Magnolia and The Royal Tenenbaums were both good movies that were given the two disc treatment with hours and hours of uninteresting, dull bonus materials.

Quantity doesn’t always mean quality. There is also an “elite” series known as The Criterion Collection which will sometimes charge upwards of $100 per movie. Don’t let the title fool you, there is absolutely no reason to pay that much for any of these discs.

So let us cross our fingers and hope that Fox comes through again and provides us film nerds with some good special features that will do justice to both Miller’s Crossing and Barton Fink. In the meantime, here are some hits and misses from some other DVDs.

Essential Documentaries:

– “Tour of the Inferno” on Platoon
– “The Making of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
– Close Encounters of the Third Kind, making of documentary
– “Doing Time With the Suspects” on “The Usual Suspects”

Essential Commentaries:

– Quentin Tarantino on True Romance
– Roger Ebert on Citizen Kane
– Sam Mendes on American Beauty
– Terry and Dean on FUBAR
– Francis Ford Coppola on The Conversation
– Darren Aronofsky on Requiem for a Dream
– The Coen bros. and Billy Bob Thornton on The Man Who Wasn’t There
– Cast and Crew on any Kevin Smith movie
– Makers of Cast Away (I never knew Sound Design could be so interesting, and you’ll be surprised to learn how much of the film is CGI)

Commentaries to Avoid

– Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette on True Romance
– Spike Lee on Bamboozled
– Kirsten Dunst’s portions on Spider-Man
– Actors on Ocean’s Eleven (“Steven did a great job on this scene” is all you’ll hear throughout most of this commentary)
– Jay Roach and Mike Myers on Austin Powers is The Spy Who Shagged Me (it’s non-existent, the menu says it’s there, but it’s not)
– Any commentary by the Farelly Bros. (consist mostly of them pointing out their friends and family in the background)


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