What Happened to the Bonus Features?

As someone who watches movies on DVD, I find it increasingly difficult that the practice of including bonus features is becoming very limited. Blu-rays usually have more bang for their buck than a DVD of the same film. I also find it hard that DVD re-releases of movies that at one time were filled with hours of bonus material are now reduced to maybe an hour plus if it has commentary. What happened?

To put this issue into perspective, let me take you back to the days of yore: VHS vs. DVD. For the longest time, I had grown up with VHS. It was the only format my family had. My parents gave me the task to rewind a stack of tapes when my younger brother and I were finished watching them. At the time, I didn’t see it as a problem. But then, I would see ads on TV where the movie would come out on DVD (always billed first) and VHS on the upcoming Tuesday. I was not aware of how great the DVD was until we got our first player in 2003. It seemed that we were late to the game.

In my opinion, the best years for the DVD in terms of bonus features were from 2002 to about 2007, around the time the HD-DVD/Blu-ray battle was going on. I could not only watch a movie (90+) but also go behind-the-scenes, audio commentary, multiple trailers, and more, keeping me entertained for four hours or more depending on the movie and how much effort was put into making the experience last. But then something happened as the new battle emerged for Blu-ray and DVD. The bonus features, and quality to an extent, began to disappear.

More bonus features would be included on the Blu-ray than on a regular DVD, similar to the VHS/DVD battle back then as there was the push for the VHS to become obsolete. Was I envious? A little, but I did not care that much until recently. It was not until I received a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack of The Muppets that the difference became more apparent. On the inside, the Blu-ray disc on the left had full color and more features. On the right, the standard DVD (the one I use since as of now I still do not have a Blu-ray player) was a cold, uncaring gray with one bonus feature. This was a slap in the face of sorts as I took it as “If you don’t adapt soon, you’ll be left in the dark.” But that’s not as bad as when I got the DVD-only print of Wreck-it Ralph. There were two bonus features on the disc (again, a lifeless gray) instead of one that the back had mentioned. The first one was Paperman. The second, unmentioned one was a short video on how to set up the digital copy of the movie you have. This video would have been useful if I had a digital copy that was not included. Yes, I understand the video can be used for other movies where you have a digital copy but to include it on a movie where it’s not needed is rather lazy and pointless.

My second gripe as I mentioned earlier is the re-release of movies to the Blu-ray and DVD format. I will use Monsters, Inc. as the example. When the DVD and VHS came out in September of 2002, we bought the VHS for a birthday present. I had borrowed the DVD at my library and was amazed by the hours of bonus content. Now that the Blu-ray and DVD have been released, I’ve looked at the bonus feature listings on both formats. Both fall way short of what was offered on the first DVD print. I have not purchased any of the current versions yet so I’m not sure how long the bonus content is but I know for certain that I will need the 2002 DVD version if I want as much information as possible.

Let me ask you this: are bonus features important to today’s moviegoer or are they a waste of time? I’m talking about what’s being offered today, not anything from the advent of the DVD when interactive menus and scene selection were touted as positive, must-have things.

The VHS Aesthetic

Yes, we are in the Digital Age; that much is certain. Movies look cleaner with digital restorations, new sound mixes, and bonus features on the DVD (either one or two with just the standard disc instead of a three-disc combo but that’s for another day or hours worth). However there are times where if I want to watch a movie and the DVD version is somehow unavailable, I need to settle for the VHS.

I usually don’t have a problem with it. After all, I grew up with VHS and was a little late to the DVD revolution (started getting DVDs in 2003). However, the only places I can find tapes are in thrift stores or garage sales usually under fifty cents. My logic is that I can pay cheap for a movie now with an outdated format then later buy a decent DVD copy for my video library. It’s not the greatest line of thought but it works for now.

The price I pay is, well, the loss of quality in both the print and how I view the print. I don’t see the movie in widescreen like I usually prefer. I have to constantly adjust the volume because the audio fluctuates from barely audible to obnoxiously loud. To put it in perspective, the standard level of volume on my preferred television is at 40 on a 100 level scale. I have to dial the volume down to about 20 when watching a tape because it’s that loud at times. On top of that, the one TV that I use the most has the strangest tendency to not register my remote’s actions to change the volume. I have to physically get up and change the volume, like in the early days. It’s not a matter of just getting a remote, it’s one where I would need to replace the TV (a boxy 40″), something I cannot do at this time.

The tape itself deteriorates over time. I can’t really change that. It annoying to watch a mostly decent print and then have the image flicker like a strobe light for two minutes before it magically restores itself. My eyes adjust as the image goes from color to black and white in the same manner like Natural Born Killers, except it’s not that consistent or warranted. At that point, I either try watching the movie as is or stop and wait until I find a better print.

Now there are times where I will actually grab a tape from my basement and watch it just because I feel nostalgic. However I need to keep in mind the payoff for watching it on tape.