With digital video discs, expect anything. The digital platform is expanding, as your buying power should be, considering the average price for a player is only $200 and each DVD movie can be purchased for less than $20. But what about the quality of individual discs? And for cinema buffs, what does a studio provide in addition to the film?
The success that The Blair Witch Project experienced should have offered great opportunity for a so-called "special edition," especially when a $200 million box office champ is involved. But what spouted instead are a few lame features and a horrible menu interface.
Even though Artisan did attempt an all-out attack on the senses with this disc, only one additive is potent enough to even consider tossing Ben Franklin at: "The Curse of the Blair Witch." This interesting, thought-provoking and often "real" glimpse into the origins of the Blair Witch originally aired on the Sci-Fi Channel, and still manages to maintain its allure on DVD. The documentary touches on the venomous concept of the film being a real-life portrayal. Even though it did have better effect and placement during the film's theatrical release, the featurette still evokes a War of the Worlds atmosphere.
But only one pulsing supplement cannot prevent a disc from collapsing under its own weight. This supposed "special edition" contains illegible menus, humiliating DVD-ROM extras and minimal audio-video quality. The director's audio commentary is amusing, but Artisan has a dud on its hands in the way of supplements alone.
One studio has managed to create three exemplary DVDs in the past month without even emphasizing them as "special editions." Columbia TriStar, known for packing hours of extra footage into each of its discs, debuts Arlington Road with a long list of entertaining extras. Director Mark Pellington and actor Jeff Bridges discuss the filmmaking process, the controversy behind the storyline, and the struggles they had convincing the studio that the film would actually transfer well onto the silver screen. Bridges even touches on the faulty marketing of the film, accusing the trailer of revealing too much of the plot.
But there's still more to drool over. Theatrical trailers, TV spots, an in-depth "making-of" documentary, cast and crew biographies and filmographies, and a crystal-clear wide-screen transfer round off the pile of extras. Along with 117 minutes of charging, energetic performances and direction, nothing could complement this film better.
The Blue Lagoon, a 1980 feature that defines excellence in simplicity, is well deserving of its quality transfer from Columbia. This loaded DVD has recaptured the original allure of the film, revamping its color and rendering it onto the digital platform. There are only a few instances near the opening of the film that seem distorted, but overall it's a marvel for a reel of celluloid that's nearly 20 years old. Columbia even manages to secure a few special features to make it an even better value.
Highlighting this "special edition" is an audio commentary by Randal Kleiser — an interesting take on the behind-the-scenes jokes, struggles and chemistry that existed on the set. Exploring all the aspects of puberty that young males wish they learned in sex ed class, Lagoon perfectly reclaims its position in American cinema. The discovery of love, sex and the legendary Maya Angelou theme — perseverance in the face of adversity — are emphasized even further in the extensive supplements. A featurette for Lagoon, covering the "making-of" aspects of the film in a much briefer manner (the audio commentary allows for much more depth) offers the cast and crew's reflections from the intense yet tropically comfortable set.
However, a unique feature of this disc is "Brooke Shields' Photo Album." It's similar to production photographs on many other DVDs, escaping stereotype with only one difference: The pictures were snapped by the co-star herself. A theatrical trailer and talent files are also included, exploring more of the novelty that The Blue Lagoon has become.
But maybe the mood calls for something a little less dramatic. Then Muppets from Space contains all the elements that one could hope for. Jim Henson's classic, seemingly ageless creations glow with humor on this disc. Though this DVD is the lightest of the Columbia titles in the way of features, it's ten times more playful.
Director Tim Hall is joined by three of Henson's most popular Muppets for a commentary — Kermit the Frog, Rizzo the Rat and Gonzo the Great all provide delectable tidbits of insight into the making of the film. While Kermit ventures off to the digital popcorn stand, the viewer is entertained by the remaining three who appear on the screen "Mystery Science Theater 3000"-style, in silhouette, a delightful visual twist to the usually dull audio commentary.
This feature stands as only one reason why Columbia has been credited with the launch of the DVD format, something other studios could learn greatly from.