DVD extras have become far more sophisticated over the past few years, with producers and directors even hiring crews to chronicle the "making of" process for the digital editions of their films. Discs abound with multicommentary tracks, interactive games, vintage interviews, newsreels and photo galleries to augment the viewing experience.
But despite all this progress, a lot of extras have worn out their welcome.
The gag reel: People always love to see stars goof up a line or a stage direction -- just look at the long-running success of Dick Clark's "Bloopers" specials on TV -- but the spontaneity has gone out of gaffes and blunders. More often than not the gags seem pre-planned and rehearsed and are slickly edited and scored.
The gag reel on the Farrelly brothers' comedy "Fever Pitch" hits a gutter-level low thanks to star Jimmy Fallon's crass and rude ad-libs. He may crack up the cast and crew, but he leaves viewers speechless. Ditto the outtakes on the Jane Fonda-J. Lo comedy "Monster-in-Law."
Audio interviews: Digital versions of vintage films often include the radio show version of the movie, excerpts of audio interviews with stars or directors and, in the case of the "Wizard of Oz" and "Cinderella" sets, audiotapes of deleted songs or outtakes of the tunes. But it is an utter waste of time to feature audio interviews on the DVDs of more contemporary films. Case in point: Criterion's release of the Gus Van Sant film "My Own Private Idaho." Included in the disc is a lengthy audio interview conducted by "Far From Heaven" director Todd Haynes with Van Sant. Was Van Sant having a bad hair day and refusing to be put on film? What do you do while you are listening to the interview? Stare at the TV screen? Pay bills? The end result was a total bore.
Storyboard-to-film comparisons: Initially, this extra offered great insight into the art of filmmaking. But now it's as commonplace as those agonizing gag reels, and let's face it, more often than not the storyboards don't look all that much different from the finished product.
Production notes: DVD aficionados have probably strained their eyes trying to read production notes on their TV screen. Does anybody watch TV to read? Even more annoying than production notes is reading lengthy articles about the film on screen.
Audio commentaries: Actually, this deserves an asterisk because there are some wonderful commentaries out in the digital world. Martin Scorsese, Robert Rodriguez, Peter Jackson, Norman Jewison, George Lucas, Ridley Scott and William Friedkin are among the directors whose commentaries are always a pleasure and an education.
But DVD producers really need to audition folks before they allow them to do commentaries. Several have turned into crude frat-boy parties -- David Arquette, Scott Caan and Ahmet Zappa tried to out-gross one another during the commentary on the box office bomb "Ready to Rumble"; equally inane were the vulgar riffs between stars Anthony Anderson and Jay Mohr for another box office turkey, "King's Ransom."
Hiring film historians, writers or professors to wax poetic about a film also sometimes backfires. The commentaries frequently end up sounding more like a boring lecture -- remember Ben Stein in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" -- than an informative, entertaining glimpse at the film.