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Montreal, Quebec, Canada
I am a Montreal-based actor, writer and comedian. When U.S. President John F. Kennedy was shot, I was three days old. I cried all day. My favourite books of all time are Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Last Temptation by Nikos Kazantzakis and The Ewoks Fun Time Activity Book by Chirpa and Pamploo. I am a member of The Vestibules, On The Spot Improv and The Best Buy Battery Club. Except for the Battery Club, I've been at all this stuff for over 20 years. Enjoy my blog.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

What Are the Hidden Agendas of DVD and Blu-ray Extras?

The other day I was checking out the extras on the Rise of the Planet of the Apes Blu-ray I got for Christmas this year. One of the special features focuses on the history of the Apes franchise.

A history of the The Planet of the Apes franchise? Really?

Given how much Fox, the owners of the rights to all things Apes, seems to want to find a new audience for the reboot and given how much the Apes franchise is either or unknown to or dismissed by just about anyone under the age of 40, I was kinda surprised they even went there.

And, in fact, they kinda didn't.

In one featurette, director Rupert Wyatt, screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver as well as actor Andy Sirkus all talk in very positive terms about the original Planet of the Apes. They all  say that they are big fans of the movie. However, 99% of the focus of the featurette is on the original 1968 film. Little or no mention is made of the later films.

I found this particularly bizarre as Rise of the Planet of the Apes is, for all intents and purposes, a remake of the fourth film in the Apes series, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (some say it is more a reboot of Conquest but, hey, let's split Ape hairs). The interviews imply that the writers somehow just came up with this idea of creating a back story for Planet of the Apes as a means of a rebooting the franchise. This is even more bizarre in light of the fact that Fox has had a Conquest remake/reboot in the works since almost right after the failure of the last reboot attempt, Tim Burton's 2001 "re-imagining" of the '68 film.

Also weird is that at one point Jaffa says that in one of the later films "reference" is made to an ape named Caesar who first defied his human masters and said "No". He adds that he thought it would be a great to actually see that moment on screen.

First of all: "reference"?  Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is an entire movie devoted to Caesar's story. That's slightly more than just a "reference". Secondly, the moment Jaffa refers to has already been seen in said movie; it is not something new to the franchise as Jaffa seems to be suggesting. For the record, the only "reference" to the event in question is in the previous film in the series, Escape from the Planet of the Apes.  Jaffa comments make me wonder if he has even seen these movies. Both he and all of the publicity I've seen about the movie says that Jaffa is big fan of the series.

There is more to this than just Apes fanboy nitpicking. It's like the featurette is purposely drawing attention away from connection between Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. What's the agenda here? Is just that they think most of the public at large only know the original film and not the sequels? Or do they not want to confuse potential new fans of the reboot? Or does Fox just simply  feel that getting into the whole history of the Apes franchise will "turn the kids off"?

Another example of  perplexing Blu-ray extras can be found on the Let Me In Blu-ray.  Let Me In is the "not as bad as you might expect it to be" remake of the amazing Swedish teenage vampire movie, Let The Right One In.  BTW, if you have not seen Let The Right One In, do so. It's one of the most engagingly creepy movies of all time.

Imagine Twilight directed by Ingmar Bergman.

As was the case with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the Let Me In Blu-ray extras gloss over the remake angle. In one of the featurettes on the background of the film, director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) says that he loved the 2004 novel, Let The Right One In by Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindquvist, since he first read it. He said that he always wanted to make a film of the novel.

Yes, it's true: the original Swedish film is also based on the same novel. However, the implication of the subsequent interviews with Reeves and the various producers of the film is that Let The Right On In is the only adaptation of the book that exists. Nowhere does anyone even bring up the original film.

As with Apes, this is kinda weird if you've seen both movies.

Let Me In is, in some scenes, a shot for shot remake of the Swedish film. The sets, costumes and cinematography are all variations on or recreations of elements of original movie. In. To be fair, there a few Americanizations here and there. Some scenes are ramped up big time, old-school Hollywood style. Overall, though, the Let Me In is a very close in mood, tone and look to Let The Right One In.

So, why then do they seem to be deliberately deceitful about the background of this film?

I know American audiences will not flock to European movies en mass, even when they involve trendy pop culture icons like vampires. Though, will it really turn off American viewers that much if they even know that the movie is in any was connected to a European film?

Sometimes the agendas of the DVD extras go another way. Take the Batman and Robin DVD...please (sorry, could not resist).

Of course, I'm talking about the 1997 movie that, in star George Clooney's words, "shut down the Batman franchise". Indeed, Batman and Robin is pretty much a universally reviled movie by both fans and non fans alike. Unlike the previous examples, the extras on this DVD are not so quite so deceptive in nature.

If fact, all of the interviews and commentary tracks on the Batman and Robin DVD are quite apologetic, often explaining where and how the problems with the film developed. Chris O' Donnell (Robin) says that the media "assault" for a movie like this can hurt a film in that it builds up false expectations. Director Joe Schumacher goes even further. He actually says, "I'm sorry" outright at one point.

So why point out that the movie that someone just bought or rented is really bad?

Well, in this case, I remember people talking about the apology on the DVD.  Let's face it, it attracted a lot of attention to a DVD of a movie that has such a bad reputation that it might never have left the Zip.ca warehouse. Perhaps they were trying to draw people to the DVD that way?

My theory is that the DVD extras can achieve two goals.

One is the DVD's are, of course, sent to critics. Often the extra content of the DVD/Blu-ray turn up in reviews. Many websites feature reviews of not just the movie but also of the special features. And, in some cases, the DVD extras have doubled as promo material appearing in electronic press kits and the like. In other words, the extras are tool in the overall publicizing of the movie in the media.

The second goal DVD/Blu-ray extras can achieve is that they can (hopefully) generate good word of mouth publicity (which even now is still often the backbone of a movie's success). So if, for example, the word gets out that Let Me In is not a completely original movie then that can impact future DVD/Blu-ray sales.

Negatively, apparently.

These are just a few examples I noticed recently.

Anybody out there ever notice the DVD/Blu-ray extras that seem to have some kind of an agenda going on?

Feel free to weigh in below


  1. Then there's the overtly hypocritical agenda of the special features that gloss over any of the difficulties of making a movie to immerse the viewer in the "wonderful magic of the movie-making process".
    I watched the Lord of the Rings - Two Towers special features after having numerous discussions with my colleagues who worked on the animation of Gollum. It was an all out war between departments, walk-outs by artists, etc. It was a titanic struggle that made for a fascinating story. The special features however, turned it into a walk-in-the-park love fest. I was stunned and pissed off. It was a blatant lie to aspiring artists that want to work in the field of visual effects.

  2. Wow. Great story and insight.
    But, yes, having written for and acted in many film and TV projects, I can tell you that, yeah, behind-the-scenes can get pretty ugly sometimes, especially on the bigger shows.
    It's an angle I had not thought of. Thanks for the comment and sharing your experiences.