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DVDs More Than They're Cracked Up to Be With 'Easter Eggs'

Web sites and word-of-mouth reveal secret games, bloopers, even alternative endings.

July 07, 2001|MARC SALTZMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Easter has come and gone, but the "Easter eggs" that interest film fanatics have nothing to do with the ones decorated every spring.

Dozens of today's DVD movies contain Easter eggs: hidden treats secretly embedded on the discs as rewards for those clever (and determined) enough to find them.

Easter eggs are undocumented extras not listed on the DVD box; they might be hidden bloopers, deleted scenes, alternative endings, mini-movies, trailers, musical scores, cartoons, interviews, little-known information, video games and so forth.

For example, on the just-released DVD for "Cast Away," pressing the right sequence of buttons on the remote control brings up a comment from the film's director, Robert Zemeckis; on the "Charlie's Angels" DVD, there are plenty of extras for the movie's fans who can't get enough of Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu.

Easter eggs aren't a new phenomenon; computer programmers have long planted their "digital fingerprints" on games, applications and operating systems. They began to surface on DVD movies about two years ago, and sci-fi favorites last year, including "The Matrix," "Terminator 2" and "Independence Day," have accelerated the word-of-mouth phenomenon.

So if they're secret, how does one find out about them?

As is true of eggs in computer software codes, information about most DVD eggs is passed by word of mouth. Savvy Web surfers may also check such popular sites as DVD Review (http://www.dvdreview.com) and DVD Easter eggs (http://www.dvdeastereggs.com).

At movie studios, DVD eggs are considered icing on the cake for the movie enthusiast.

"We pride ourselves that our DVDs stand out from VHS products; by hiding eggs in our discs, it's an extra layer of entertainment for the hard-core user," says Mike Mulvihill, vice president of content development at New Line Home Entertainment.

"We want to deliver the impression there's always something deeper for those who want to dig for them . . . even those who have watched everything that's been documented. . . . There may be that extra material that's waiting for them to find."

Where they come from and who adds them vary from DVD to DVD.

"Sometimes it's the filmmaker. For example, Brett Ratner, the director of 'Rush Hour' supplied us with his Easter egg, which consists of a short five-minute film entitled 'Evil Luke Lee' that he shot with a VHS camcorder when he was in high school," says Mulvihill.

"In other cases, it's us. The Easter egg in 'Little Nicky' was planted by us, and we chose what to hide too."

Michael Stradford, vice president of DVD programming and content for Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, explains, "The director of the movie usually has the option to place an Easter egg on a DVD, but usually it's from someone on my team, my crew."

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In most cases, he says, Columbia TriStar Homer Entertainment does not need approval to place an egg on the disc.

"Personally, the special edition of 'Dogma' is one of my favorites. Yes, it's a rude one, but let's just say [writer-director] Kevin Smith was an active participant on it. . . ."

Stradford acknowledges that Easter eggs are popular but believes they are not critical for DVDs.

"The way we approach eggs is that if it's something cute, funny or odd, and it may not hold up on its own as a documented feature, we like to include it as a small gem."

"But less than 20% of all our titles have them," he says.

The company that hides the most DVD Easter eggs says it's beginning to shy away from them.

"Initially they were cool, a treat for the early adopters," says Peter Staddon, senior vice president of marketing at Fox Home Entertainment. "But now we find people are saying, 'If there's material on the disc, just show it to me.'

"We're not putting on as many now, maybe about 25% of all our titles," he says. "And they're only the ones where there's a lot of material and the film may have a cult following," like "X-Men" and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

Staddon says Fox Home Entertainment usually decides what material goes on the discs. Sometimes the decision is made by product managers, sometimes by the people who oversee the DVD product from inception to retail shelves and sometimes by the marketing department.

"Usually, the talent does not have a very hands-on attitude at this stage. . . . It's very unusual for a filmmaker to ask for it, but it happens."

Mulvihill says New Line Home Entertainment's new Infinifilm brand will be "more proactive"' in including secret areas. Beginning with "Thirteen Days," the Kevin Costner movie about the Cuban missile crisis due July 10, users can put the disc into a computer with a DVD-ROM drive and click on the Infinifilm Web site tab from the DVD's main menu. That will take users to a secret site not accessible to regular Web surfers.

Information will be at this Web site explaining how to unlock Easter eggs in other New Line DVD discs.

"We're developing a one-to-one relationship with our consumers," Mulvihill says, "where they can find out about Easter eggs from us and not from outside sources."

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