As much as I lament the continuing decline of attendance at the cineplex, it’s also easy to understand. While I hope the day never comes when I have no choice but to view the latest movie offerings on a television screen (however big or hi-def), I can appreciate the wealth of features that the DVD format has to offer. Three months after I catch the latest release on the big screen, I can plop down on my couch with a remote in my hand. But to watch the film all over again? Oh, no.
Instead, I immediately check out the bonus treats — those “special features” that, when they’re good, can only enhance your appreciation of a film. Below is a list of the 25 best DVD special features currently (or, in some cases, not) available.
25) The Matrix
The first DVD to crack a million in sales (driving early adopters to the then-new format) came housed in one of those since-abandoned Warner Bros. cardboard snap-lock cases that time should forget. But it’s what’s on the disc that will always be remembered. Beyond the obligatory commentary track — which doesn’t feature Keanu Reeves (I’m not complaining) — the disc contains some of the earliest hidden features (including “What Is Bullet Time?”), now commonly referred to as “Easter Eggs.” The sequels may have been lacking, but the original still holds surprises within its rabbit hole. Go on: take the red pill.
24) Pulp Fiction — Collector’s Edition
As DVDs go, this two-disc re-release supplies probably only a Quarter Pounder with cheese worth of extra features. Who knows if that “le Big Mac” edition will ever be served up, so enjoy this tasty treat for what it is: a reference-standard transfer of the (for better or worse) most influential film of the ’90s. Quentin Tarantino has yet to record commentary for any of his films (strange for a man who can’t seem to stop talking), so we’ll have to make do with an onscreen trivia track. Still want more? How about five deleted and alternate scenes and an entire episode of Siskel (R.I.P.) and Ebert devoted to Tarantino?
Special Mention: Kill Bill, Vol. 1 — Limited Japanese Box
A long-out-of-print collectible (I’ve got one) that sheathed a full-bloody-color transfer of the film; anyone who tries to take it from me will face my scale-model replica of The Bride’s Hattori Hanzo sword.
23) Akira — The Special Edition
When Akira opened back in 1987, it connected like a hard fist to the disaffected youth who had grown tired of the antiseptic offerings from a floundering Disney. The era of cyberpunk was upon us. Twenty years later, it’s dead, killed off in two quick shots by the Matrix sequels. Well, fuck the Matrix! (After you watch its extra features, of course.) You can bring back Akira (without all the punching) within the comfort of your own living room. Navigation is a bit archaic, but the Production Report, Director Interview, and more than 4500 stills are obsessively thorough.
22) George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead — Ultimate Edition
Arriving on the shuffling heels of no fewer than three previous DVD releases, this Ultimate Edition lives up to its undead potential, unearthing four discs’ worth of indispensable material for fans of the seminal 1978 sociological horror classic. You get three versions of the film (including the European cut, Zombi), each of which features a distinctive commentary track; two documentaries (behind-the-scenes and an all-new look back with cast and crew); multiple galleries; trailers; TV spots; and a “Monroeville Mall Tour” (the film’s primary location) with actor Ken Foree. No more room in hell? How about in your DVD collection?
21) Gladiator — Signature Selection/Extended Edition
One big epic, two big DVD releases, five discs total for Ridley Scott’s 2000 Best Picture winner. Does it deserve it? While I may take umbrage with the Best Picture nod, I nevertheless find the film immensely entertaining (love that music!). The same can be said for the extra features in both of these editions. The out-of-print Signature edition featured a Scott commentary, trailers, and behind-the-scenes stuff, plus two historical documentaries dealing with Rome and the gladiator games. The newer three-disc set offers a 17-minute-longer cut in addition to the theatrical version, a massive production documentary, and commentary by Scott and best-actor Oscar winner Russell Crowe.
20) The Battle of Algiers — The Criterion Collection
Gillo Pontecorvo’s neo-realist politically charged 1966 masterpiece, a verité recreation of a key year in the violent Algerian uprising, warrants every bit of its three-disc treatment. There’s a nice high-definition transfer of the film on the first disc, and the second disc features three documentaries dealing with Pontecorvo and the film, including the 17-minute Five Directors, with Spike Lee, Mira Nair, Julian Schnabel, Steven Soderbergh, and Oliver Stone displaying deep adulation. A third disc contains four documentaries on the film and its history, a highlight being The Battle of Algiers: A Case Study, featuring Bush whistle blower Richard Clarke. An informative 56-page book offers even more reading suggestions.