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Simply stuffed full of stuff

Some special features have evolved to lure fans and cinephiles.

November 13, 2005|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

LOOK at the box of a major studio DVD release and you're likely to find an ever-lengthening list of extras: hours' worth of commentaries, mini-docs, outtake reels, games and branded doodads. ("The Big Lebowski," to cite just one example, comes packaged with photos, drink coasters and a bowling ball polishing cloth.)

It's a costly bid for buyers that has the studios thinking, tinkering and contemplating evolution, especially as they ponder what fickle audiences really want when they slip in a disc.

"It is a paradox," says Peter Staddon, Fox's senior vice president of marketing. "As people have more and more DVDs in their collections, they have less time to watch them. There are so many competing ways they can watch content -- with TiVos and regular TV. I think the content that gets more viewed are the behind-the-scenes, blooper reels and deleted scenes."

But the classic commentary tracks, he says, are low on the list. "When the DVD first started out, the initial base came across from the laser disc collectors, who were very film-centric, and they listened to commentary and hung on every word.

"If you go to any mass-market retailers and ask somebody who is buying a DVD, 'Do you listen to the commentary?' I bet more than half will say no. They don't have the time."

Filmmakers like talking about their work, and a core audience of cinephiles likes to listen, so no one's backing away, but some directors are expanding far beyond commentary. For instance: shooting scenes that venture into new ratings territory.


GEORGE ROMERO'S "Land of the Dead" arrived on DVD last month, and "when that film went into production, the filmmakers made parts of the movie specifically for that DVD -- that was the extended, unrated version," says Ken Graffeo, executive vice president of marketing for Universal Studios Home Entertainment. "The same with 'The 40 Year-Old Virgin.' They are going to have 17 minutes more of the movie. Filmmakers ... have been able to extend the entire entertainment viewing package."

Interactivity is another fertile front. When Disney re-releases the 1955 animated feature "Lady and the Tramp," the DVD-ROM will include a virtual puppy, based on one of the characters in the film, that viewers will be able to raise and care for on their computers.

That's in keeping with Disney's larger goal on DVDs, says Andy Siditsky, senior vice president of worldwide DVD creative services and production. "We have always tried to push the limits of what we can do -- to use interactive features. On our 'Cinderella' DVD, the audience could discover the film in many different ways, ... interactivities to a DVD-ROM design studio to a backstage experience where you get to learn how 'Cinderella' came about."

The extras evolution will be pushed along next year with the introduction of two high-definition digital discs.

"They are going to give you a better, higher-resolution picture quality," says DVD producer Matt Kennedy of 1K Studios. "Both of the new formats are going to offer an increased level of interactivity."

Kennedy envisions action movies and thrillers that allow viewers to control the video, answer questions "and do things that are a little more interesting to adults." The new-generation features, he says, will begin to arrive in 2007 or 2008.

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