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Press Play to Access the Future

The DVD format has opened up new ways for audiences and future filmmakers to experience movies--some intended and some quite definitely not.

April 07, 2002|RICHARD NATALE

A funny thing happened to the DVD on its way into consumers' homes. The format developed a life, if not entirely of its own, that has taken it in many more directions than its corporate creators envisioned.

DVD was conceived as yet another way for studios to squeeze more revenue out the same movies they had sold and rented to the saturated--in economic terms, "mature"--videocassette market, by enhancing the picture and sound quality, and by adding extras such as filmmaker commentary and outtakes.

Its success has far outstripped expectations, and as a result of the DVD's booming popularity since its introduction in 1997, the audience's relationship to movies has changed. The home video was merely a small-screen version of a movie. The DVD is interactive--so much so that to the studios' alarm, technically sophisticated film buffs with a little determination and access to the Internet can relate to a movie in ways that were impossible only a few years ago, including moving and removing scenes and characters from a movie.

The implications are profound.

"People have been talking about interactivity for 30 years, yet nobody knew what it was, except for video games," filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola says. "The DVD gives the participant the controls over a movie in a creative manner." Viewers' ability to play with the flow of narrative storytelling could have far-reaching effects, he contends. "I hear that people are reediting 'Star Wars' [on their computers]. Soon they'll start making films that way. It could lead to new forms of cinema."

Phil Alden Robinson, director of "Field of Dreams" and the upcoming "The Sum of All Fears," is equally enthusiastic. "Do you realize that in all of science-fiction literature they never predicted digital technology and how it would change our lives and our art? It's an incredible tool," he says.

Not all filmmakers share that assessment. Director Oliver Stone doesn't see DVD "changing the nature of film, though it will certainly lead to further exploration. But," he concedes, "you never know where it's going to go next."

As proved the case with the music video, this ongoing evolution was the unintended result of technology that was motivated by commerce. The music video in its infancy functioned mostly as a marketing tool to drive sales of recorded music and to introduce new performers. As the medium evolved, it became more sophisticated stylistically and began to influence commercial, movie and television production. As audiences became acclimated to music videos' jump-cutting and nonlinear storytelling techniques, they were able to absorb information more rapidly and in different ways, allowing filmmakers to short-cut exposition and action without necessarily sacrificing clarity.

With the post-theatrical creative options DVD offers, the concept of a motion picture as a "finished product" is becoming a thing of the past; filmmakers can tinker and alter their work and offer the public as many variations of a particular film as the market will bear.

Stone, for example, is very involved in the DVD versions of his films, and in many cases they are different--sometimes drastically--from the theatrical version. The DVD of his 1999 football drama "Any Given Sunday" includes not only deleted scenes, but unused takes of scenes in the film, allowing viewers to watch alternate versions of the film.

"They're like novels that are being rewritten," Stone contends. "The perspective of time gives the filmmaker valuable insight." For the viewer, he adds, the opportunity to see outtakes and alternate takes not only shows "why I'm proud of that particular scene, but sometimes why it wasn't necessary in the finished film."

Callie Khouri, who has just completed her directorial debut, "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood," had the DVD release at the back of her mind throughout editing of the film. "It's a second chance at life in a way," she says.

Because of running time and dramatic pacing restraints, the theatrical film, an adaptation of a popular novel, undoubtedly will omit a lot--some of which will show up in the DVD. Other omissions, she says, will not and she will have the opportunity to explain why in her commentary. "Once you see certain scenes that were left out, you understand why they were not fundamental to telling the story."

Brett Ratner, director of the "Rush Hour" movies, concurs. "I'm thinking about the DVD as I'm making a movie. Things I'm going to put on it. Picking takes for the movie and for the DVD. I even remixed the sound for 'Rush Hour 2' for the DVD, because we have different kinds of sound equipment in the theater and at home. It was a way to enhance that experience."

On his current film "Red Dragon," a prequel to "The Silence of the Lambs," Ratner will have a film student assist on the making-of documentary, "following me from pre-production to post-production. It'll be exciting to see the real process, the frustration that's part of it."

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