Friday, July 23, 2010

Not that special

When it comes to DVD releases, there is apparently nothing worse than a vanilla disc. The lack of anything outside the work itself is usually greeted with the expected disdain and disappointment.

Some of this is certainly deserved, especially when a vanilla release is used in a cynical bid to squeeze more money out of an enthusiast, when it is followed by the release of a more extra-packed version somewhere down the line.

But now that DVDs have been the dominant form of delivering visual entertainment for several years, (and are even on the way out), I've found that when it comes to special features, I really don't give a shit. While there are some extra bits and pieces that really offer something new and interesting, I rarely bother checking out directors commentaries or extended scenes, unless its a creator or project I have a particular fascination with.

Extended scenes are usually one of the worst cases. Having watched a film only to see a scene again soon after that goes on and on, only to have one extra line somewhere in the middle of it. Electronic press kits and interviews with cast and crew are also put on there seemingly just to pad out the disc and make it seem like a worthwhile purchase, repeating the same information over and over again.

After watching one too many, I can only assume that movies are made by a lovely bunch of people who are all very happy.

You can only hear the same anecdote so many times. The stories that come up at comic and science fiction conventions, repeated in a thousand forums. I've never attended any sort of Doctor Who gathering and even I'm sick of the eyepatch story.

As a medium that has never been slow to jump on any kind of bandwagon, comics have leaped with joy onto the special features train, with director's cuts, sketchbooks and scripts. Hard covers come with pages of superfluous material. Some of this is a little interesting, but you can only look at sketch pages for so long.

Marvel appears to be getting into the habit of filling out trade paperbacks with material from trade publications and its own handbook series. Pages of pages that try to convince you that Boom Boom is a great character. There are undoubtedly readers out there who swallow up this information wholesale, but is it to much to ask for a vanilla trade paperback? I'd be happy with that.

The first collection of the current series of that latest Punisher War Journal comic has the worst special feature I've ever read. Rather than have something new, it simply reprinted the first issue in black and white. The issue that is already in the comic.

Unless you're a huge fan of Ariel Olivetti's bulbous figures, it's hard to figure out just what the attraction is. And when the main cost of getting comics over here is the damn freight, a package which is 20% heavier for no good reason is also 20% more expensive. It's the unavoidable math that wipes much of the savings made in massive editions that run into hundreds of pages. The price per page ratios of something like the Essential or Showcase books are skewed.

It's almost as if, somewhere along the line, the package has become more important than the material. A movie or comic or novel or any work should be able to stand on its own merits, you shouldn't need the background. While interesting, it rarely revitalises. While illuminating, it can detract from the original material. David Lynch never does any bloody commentaries.

The same mindset can be seen in the race for high definition excellence, where companies seem so concerned with making things look pretty, the actual meat is lacking. Personally, it took a very long time to make the switch from video to DVD, it was more about the amount of cheap material available, rather than anything to do with picture quality. Why would you pay fifty bucks for a Blu-ray edition of The Sorcerer's Apprentice? Who does that?

The first time I saw the Wild Bunch was on a 10-year-old rental video tape that had been played through thousands of machines. It didn't make the ending any lets powerful. Just because you couldn't see the sweat on William Holden's face doesn't mean you can't see how weary he is.
It's the story that matters, the way it moves us, the way it makes us think. Not the number of pixels on a screen, or the amount of behind-the-scenes footage that clogs up a slow-loading disc.

If the entertainment industry put more effort into this core concept, it might not be losing so many of us.

And they don't need to convince me how great Boom Boom is. I already fucking know how awesome she is.

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