Bonus Features’ Brave New World
It’s intuitively obvious to the casual observer that the home video market has changed substantially in the last decade. But one thing we don’t talk about much is how the shift from disc-based delivery to purely digital movie storefronts like Vudu, iTunes, and Kaleidescape has changed the nature of the supplemental materials designed to enhance movie appreciation or document the filmmaking process. What really brought this all home for me last week was an amazing little featurette in which director Denis Villeneuve deconstructed one of Dune‘s most pivotal scenes.
The segment is part of Vanity Fair‘s ongoing “Notes on a Scene” series, which of course means it won’t be included with the upcoming home video release of the film given that it wasn’t produced by Warner Bros. or Legendary Entertainment.
And for reasons I’m not sure I could fully articulate in an article of finite length, that realization upset me at first. I want this featurette to be part of a permanent collection, attached to the film itself, either in a digital library or on a disc sitting on my
shelf. I, in a sense, want to own that clip in some form.
Which, when you think about it, is silly. Unless Vanity Fair gets banned from YouTube (hardly likely) or YouTube disappears altogether, Villeneuve’s exhaustive breakdown of the “Gom Jabbar” sequence isn’t going anywhere. No matter the format in which I ultimately purchase Dune
late this year or early next, no matter how packed with bonus goodies it may be, or no matter how threadbare, this fantastic 17-minute cinematic supplement will remain out there in cyberspace, ready to be consumed no matter when the urge strikes.
So, why was my initial impulse, after viewing it, to be sad that it won’t be codified as an official bonus feature and collected with all of the studio-approved supplements we’ll no doubt eventually be able to buy? Well, for the past three decades or so, I’ve been conditioned to view the supplemental material created for a film as an essential element of that film’s home video release. It started with those wonderful Criterion Collection LaserDiscs of old and continued with the amazing special-edition DVDs and Blu-rays created by documentarians like Charles de Lauzirika, Van Ling, David Prior, and Laurent Bouzereau.
In those days, of course, it made sense for documentaries about the filmmaking process, audio commentaries, and puff promotional featurettes to actually come on the same disc—or at least on another disc in the same package—with the film itself. It was such an entrenched model that it has been replicated in the era of digital delivery, kept alive by the likes of iTunes, Vudu, and Kaleidescape, all of whom generally offer some sort of bonus goodies if such are available.
But now that physical media has ceased to be the main vehicle for home movie consumption for most people, is there really any valid reason for this model to persist as the only method of supplementing movies? Well, my heart and my brain are in disagreement over this.
The more I think about it, the more I see the advantages of this more de-centralized, less ordained method of distributing and consuming bonus features. After finishing that “Notes on a Scene,” I stumbled upon an incredible conversation between
Steve Hullfish and Dune editor Joe Walker on the Art of the Cut video podcast.
Would that ever appear on a two-disc special edition 4K Blu-ray release of Dune? Almost certainly not. Too many f-bombs; too much discussion of films from other studios. But it’s one of the most engaging and informative “bonus features” I’ve consumed in
quite some time, largely due to the fact that it isn’t official, studio-sanctioned, or in any way promotional. Or at least it doesn’t feel like it.
But make no mistake about it: Most of these bonus materials to be found on YouTube are still undoubtedly studio-blessed, and are acceptable only because they’re created by media entities perceived as proper and legitimate. But what about the independent content creators who continue to make valiant attempts at analyzing and deconstructing films like Dune, only to keep getting shut down by illegitimate copyright strikes?
Writer and critic Thomas Flight, for example, recently posted a fantastic analysis of Hans Zimmer’s score that really helped me articulate why it works for me when most of the composer’s music rubs me the wrong way. His video essay also helped me understand that Villeneuve’s Dune is essentially an opera, a realization I would have eventually come to on my own after
a few more viewings once the shock wore off (shock that someone finally made a good film out of Herbert’s book, to be specific). But still, I appreciate the catalyst.
The problem, though, is that Flight has had to re-edit his video significantly, multiple times, just to avoid the algorithm-driven copyright trolling that’s rampant on YouTube, and the complete version of this particular video essay can only be found on Nebula—a streaming
service many independent content creators are migrating to simply because YouTube always sides with established corporate media entities and takes a “guilty until proven innocent” stance when it comes to Fair Use. And that’s a real shame, because there’s no way anything as elucidating as Flight’s thoughtful analysis will end up on the special-edition home video release of Dune.
So, needless to say, there are advantages and disadvantages to this great decentralization of cinematic supplemental material. On the one hand, we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to film commentary and deconstruction. Some filmmakers, like Rian Johnson, have even taken to using the podcast format to deliver audio commentaries for films while they’re still in theaters. Of course, if you follow that link, you’ll find the commentary for his Knives Out is no longer available now that the film is on home video proper.
And for someone like me, who came of age in the era of film collecting, that tenuousness is as scary as it is exciting.
Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.