Save Our Special Edition DVDs

What happened to the top quality special edition DVD of a few years back? Mark wants to know...

I bought The Dark Knight on Special Edition two-disc DVD this week (the film gets better the more times I watch it) and it occurred to me while rummaging through the extras on the second disc that it had possibly the most disappointing extras of any DVD I’ve bought this year.

No interviews with any of the cast. No retrospectives of Ledger’s powerhouse performance. No audio commentaries. No meaty documentaries studying what went into to production of one of the year’s finest films.

All I got were a few small featurettes covering bits of the stuntwork, the IMAX filming process, the sound and Batman’s new gadgets, six pointless reimaginings of scenes as rendered in the IMAX format, six extremely dull segments taken from the fictional news channel Gotham Tonight, some galleries featuring poster and production art, and trailers and TV spots. Other than the featurettes, they’re all just fluff, and the featurettes themselves are too short to be considered significant.

So here’s my question: when did Special Edition DVDs become, well, not special anymore?

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I know there are many examples of fine special edition discs doing the rounds, discs that include interesting audio commentaries, insightful features, interviews with all concerned and quirky extras that raise a smile.

But there are also countless examples of releases being badged as Special Editions that are just not up to par. Take the two-disc special edition DVD of Wanted, for example. This is a balls-to-the-wall, fast-flowing, ultra-violent, special effects heavy experience that surely deserves a wide array of features and interviews explaining the productions process and a full investigation into how the film was developed and how its special effects came to be. Instead, the disc throws up some paltry featurettes giving little insight, a rubbish extended scene, some boring interviews and a general sense that no-one really gave a shit when it came to putting this stuff together.

These ‘Special Editions’ often promise so much on the packaging, but scratch under the surface and you quickly realise that the extras are largely press kit interviews or features that cross over into each other, repeating much of the same information.

Then there are the Special Editions that just fail to offer up anything interesting whatsoever. The two-disc edition of Die Hard 4.0 includes a terrible ‘comedy’ music video, all about the Die Hard franchise, by a band called Guyz Nite, then dares to include a behind the scenes look at the video. Are you kidding me? Add to that a crap gag reel (for decent gag reels, check out the Spaced DVD) and a second disc of so-so documentaries, press kit-esque featurettes and a decent, but very short interview between Bruce Willis and Kevin Smith, and what you have is not a Special Edition, but a bloody rip-off.

It’s not just recent movies. Special Editions of classic films should surely give the viewer more analysis and insight into events surrounding the movie. Whether through archive footage or modern discussions and interpretation, it’s not an impossible task. So why is it that a film like Duel, one of Spielberg’s best works, receives such a shoddy treatment on its Special Edition? No commentary (this is Spielberg after all), a couple of relatively dull featurettes on the making of the film, a photo gallery and an original trailer. Why does Walter Hill’s cult classic The Warriors feature just four short featurettes, an introduction by the director and the original theatrical trailer on a disc titled the Ultimate Director’s Cut and packaged to seem like the definitive DVD to beat all DVDs?

I’m not against the notion of special editions – far from it. The remastered Bond editions show how it can be done, matching excellent audio commentaries with retrospective interviews and superb documentaries, voiced by Patrick Macnee. You then have the obvious examples of the Lord of the Rings DVDs, and the superb discs for both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. All feature interesting features, interviews and commentaries and all serve to give the public discs that can be truly labelled ‘Special’.

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So, I’d like to ask other studios, directors and actors why they can’t all team up to do the same. The term ‘Special Edition’ should be a mark of excellence. An indication that the buyer is holding a definitive interpretation of a film, one that will offer up nuggets of information, captivating interviews and enthralling features. That so many discs have been released using that badge to sell discs without any thought for the buyer has sullied the whole ethos behind the Special Edition DVD, and if moviemakers can’t deliver the goods, then they shouldn’t release the discs full stop.

There was a time when Special Edition meant just that. I, for one, want to ask the industry to work harder to save its damaged reputation.

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