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Inside-the-box idea

Extras, Extras, Read All About Them. But Buyer Beware: They Range From All You Could Want To A Simple Waste Of Time.

November 25, 2007|Dennis Lim | Special to The Times

Depending on your point of view, the upcoming DVD edition of "Blade Runner" will seem like the platonic ideal of home-video entertainment or a case of completism gone crazy. Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi classic is being released Dec. 18 in a five-disc "collector's edition," featuring five versions of the film (the original U.S. and international theatrical cuts, an early work print, the 1992 "director's cut," a definitive "final cut") and about eight hours' worth of extras, including deleted scenes, photo galleries and a making-of documentary. (An "ultimate collector's edition" will include all of the above in a replica of the metallic briefcase carried by Harrison Ford's character, Deckard.)

More than most movies, "Blade Runner," with its geekily obsessed fan base and notoriously tangled production history, would seem to justify the full archaeological treatment. Charles de Lauzirika, the DVD producer who also served as the restoration producer, combed through 977 boxes of film canisters to find material for the supplements and for the missing footage required for the new "final cut." He also conducted more than 80 interviews around the world for the accompanying documentary, "Dangerous Days," which, at 3 1/2 hours, is considerably longer than "Blade Runner" itself.

The concept of the special edition emerged in the 1980s when the Criterion Collection started including supplementary features for laser discs. With its commitment to picture and sound quality and in-depth extras that provide a historical and cultural context for the film, the New York-based company has long been the widely acknowledged gold standard in the DVD market.

But what was once considered a bonus for cinephiles is now a come-on for the casual viewer -- even the most perfunctory DVD releases these days trumpet blooper reels or alternate endings. On some level the glut of extras and the growing attention to packaging (with the inclusion of booklets and even coffee-table books) are a bid to reinforce the sense of DVDs as collectible physical objects, even as the looming threat of downloads seems poised to change the business.

From the perspective of the buyer, extras are an index of value. "I think the average consumer, even if they won't watch the special features, will look at the back of packaging to make sure they've got them," said Lauzirika, who has worked closely with Ridley Scott on the multi-disc "Alien" and "Gladiator" sets, among other projects. "Casual fans might sample the deleted scenes, which tend to be very popular, but it's the die-hard ones who really dive into the extras right away."

Still, even in this age of proliferating director's cuts, digital restorations and anniversary reissues, the kind of labor-intensive research and excavation that Criterion pioneered -- or that Lauzirika embarked on for "Blade Runner" and for another of the year's most impressive sets, the recent Gold Box edition of "Twin Peaks" -- is far from the norm in DVD production. "The studios tend to want a smooth operation," Lauzirika said. "They'll go to these factories that will pop out these extras that don't mean much but just fill space."

"DVDs have gotten more elaborate," he added. "But a lot of them have also gotten dumbed down. They're very promotional and not particularly interesting for fans. I don't like being sold something, especially after I've bought the DVD. I want to know what went into the movie: the process, the challenges, side stories, early concepts that were abandoned. I don't want to see a two-hour trailer."

Since the best DVD releases are labors of love, the participation of the filmmaker can be critical. Lynch was closely involved in all aspects of the "Twin Peaks" set, which, not coincidentally, features some notably inventive extras, among them the documentary "A Slice of Lynch," which reunites the director and a few collaborators for a casual but revealing conversation, a welcome relief from the standard talking-head format.

For the perfectionists at Criterion, which often puts out director-approved editions, access to filmmakers (or their estates) is seldom a problem. "We often work on projects that are so near and dear to people that the level of participation is incredible," said Criterion executive producer Kim Hendrickson. The upcoming Criterion release of Ang Lee's "The Ice Storm," for instance, will feature interviews with all the key cast and crew members. The famously fastidious Wes Anderson has a relationship with the company dating to "Rushmore," and his first feature, "Bottle Rocket," is due out in a Criterion edition next year.


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