Studios pack DVDs full of added special features
Some DVDs have more than eight hours of extra material, but how much is too much?
By J. FREEDOM du LAC
May the movie-marketing motto be with you.
In a high-tech, high-impact ad that's been skywalking across the TV airwaves in recent days, 20th Century Fox is calling on consumers to "expect more from DVD."
The spot was merely meant to tout the studio's release of "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace" on DVD.
But the slogan actually seems to speak on behalf of all of Hollywood.
With bonus features having become one of the most significant selling points for movies on DVD, the studios suddenly seem to be engaged in a race to release the biggest, most audacious DVD of them all.
To produce a special edition on steroids -- a multi-DVD set whose second disc is packed with enough extras (as the audio commentaries, alternate endings, behind-the-scenes documentaries and such are called) to last the winter, if not longer.
"Everybody's trying to get the biggest DVD, saying they have the most extras," says Doug Thomas, senior editor for video and DVD at Amazon.com. "It's a huge trend."
With 20 million U.S. households currently owning DVD players, the studios are trotting out a dizzying array of massive DVD titles.
And we do mean massive.
Viewing time: For instance, Disney's recently released double-DVD "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" features eight hours of programming - even though the classic film itself is just 83 minutes long.
The "Phantom Menace" DVD is also eight hours in length, according to Fox. The movie itself accounts for just one-fourth of the material.
DreamWorks' double-DVD "Shrek" clocks in at a staggering 11 hours. Extras -- including a fascinating feature that actually lets you voice the lines of various "Shrek" characters -- account for 85 percent of the programming.
And then there's "Planet of the Apes," the two-hour Tim Burton remake that Fox has transformed into a 13-hour double-DVD.
That's a whole lot of monkeying around with a single title.
Too much? "It's nice that they're putting all this stuff on there, because a lot of it is neat," Thomas says. "But it may be too much.
"Who has time for 11 or 13 hours of a DVD?"
Actually, the studios' claims are often overstated -- no surprise, given Hollywood's penchant for hype. And an executive from Fox even admits to "playing a bit of the marketing game" with the "Planet of the Apes" numbers.
"It's that long," says Peter Staddon, the studio's senior vice president of marketing, "if you sit down and watch the movie, which is two hours, then watch it with director Tim Burton's commentary, which is another two hours, then the other commentary -- another two hours -- plus everything else, including all 28 of the featurettes, which have multi-audio and multi-angle functions."
No matter how you do the math, it adds up to an extraordinary amount of time to spend sifting through supplemental material from a film.
And certainly, not everybody cares about extras, which Thomas likens to the introduction in a book. ("It's nice it's there, but do you read it?" he asks. "Do you read it more than once?")
Worth the effort: But still, the studios are convinced the features are worth the extra effort and expense.
For one, there's a growing group of fans who are so enamored with extras that they don't necessarily buy DVDs for the movies themselves, but for the supplemental features.
The better the bonus features, then, the more likely a title is to become a top-seller among hard-core collectors.
And that holds true among more casual consumers, too. Studios are convinced that somebody trying to decide between two DVDs of equal interest will generally buy the one with the more appealing added material.
And yes, the studios say, they will explore the extras once they've made the purchase, which typically costs less than $30 for even the most feature-filled double-DVD. ("Phantom Menace" carries a list price of $29.95; DreamWorks' superlative "Shrek" set will be priced at just $19.95.)
"The majority of people buying these DVDs are watching the bonus material," says Kelley Avery, worldwide head of DreamWorks Home Entertainment. "It's really exceeded our expectations about how involved and interested consumers are.
"They want to be able to extend the entertainment experience they had in theaters, and the DVD format allows you to do that. It's immersive technology that really allows you to explore a film that you loved in its full glory.
"Not all movies have that quality to them, though; not all movies are 'Shrek' or 'Planet of the Apes.'"