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Bits and Extras from the DVD Front - Director's Cuts and DualDisc DOA
Often there are things that happen in the DVD world that just don't seem to fit into our 'standard' coverage of DVDs, so I thought an occasional 'Bits and Extras' update could help capture some of these interesting stories/bits/etc that often seem to slip through the cracks.

After running DVD Talk for almost 6 years, I've found it takes a lot to get me REALLY excited about a DVD Special Feature. If you had to watch as many dreadful making-of's and listen to as many painfully bad audio commentaries as I've been subjected to you'd understand the dread I feel every time I hit that little 'Special Features' selection on a DVD menu. I was pleasantly surprised and delighted this week when I saw the menus for the upcoming Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (Unrated Extended Edition) (aka 'Dude Where's My Hamburger?'). The thing I liked best about the film was the interplay between Harold and Kumar, so it was great to see the DVD menus feature new live action clips of them 'driving' around and having fun. Each menu on the DVD has several time outs and I found myself sitting there for a good five minutes actually WATCHING the menus. Kudos to the folks who did the Harold and Kumar disc, you've impressed even a jaded DVD guy like me.

Don't get me wrong, as a concept I have absolutely nothing against the 'Unrated Director's Cut'. The Lord of The Rings Extended Edition DVDs are a fantastic example of how this can be an extremely good thing. In cases where films have been made into chop suey to appease the MPAA the 'Unrated Director's Cut DVD' is the ONLY way to really see the film as it was 'intended.' The number of these puppies has been on the raise lately and we're starting to see uses and abuses of the 'Unrated Director's Cut' that are anything but fantastic. Case in point is the recent DVD for Dawn of The Dead (2004) Unrated Director's Cut which featured digitally blurred out nudity.... um..hello!...What's the point of doing an unrated DVD and then blur out the nudity? Another casualty of the misguided 'Unrated Director's Cut' is King Arthur Director's Cut - Extended Unrated Edition a painfully slow movie that got even LONGER. Now the road to hell here was paved with good intentions - Director Antoine Fuqua was told midway thought shooting that his gritty 'R' Rated story about the history of King Arthur was going to need to be a much tamer "PG-13". So it's great to see the grit and gore restored for DVD (especially every extra frame of Keira Knightley) but my God man, don't forget about pacing. Also a total SNAFU of the DVD is that on the separate alternative ending on the DVD, Fuqua says that he likes the alt ending better... OK? So why isn't it on the end of the DIRECTOR'S CUT!?!? OK, enough ranting...

Speaking of SNAFU's. It's hard to think of a better example of how dueling formats and band aid solutions can destroy a sector than the 'Dead on Arrival" DualDisc Format. On paper it sounds dandy - DVD-Audio on one side of a disc and 'redbook' CD Audio on the other. The only problem is that the damn things have some SERIOUS issues on several high end DVD players and can get scratched when played in Playstation 2. Some major DVD Hardware manufacturing companies have said that any damage caused from a DualDisc could void the warranty. But the story gets worse - turns out the audio quality on the CD side of the disc isn't always up to the standard 'redbook' quality for CD Audio, so there's absolutely no having your cake and eating it too here. My only hope is that the folks in both the HD-DVD and BluRay camps spend time reviewing the lessons learned from DVD-A and SACD, otherwise I fear they're doomed to repeat them. (See notes on issues with DualDisc at Playstation.com and Pioneer's Web site.

Speaking of music - Paste Magazine (an alt.music style magazine) has been thumping their chest about the December/January issue which features both their usual CD full of great music and a special DVD: with over 20 fantastic music videos (including Jem - "They", Elvis Costello - "Monkey to Man" and Norah Jones "Those Sweet Words"). Also on the DVD, trailers for many upcoming Palm Pictures DVDs (including: Dig!, Time of the Wolf and Springtime in a Smalltown), 4 short films, trailers for several movies coming to theaters, a look at some indie/alt DVDs (some cuts as long as 20 mins long) and more. Considering Paste Magazine is offering this bonus DVD at no extra cost over their regular publication ($5.95), it's a pretty amazing deal and a DVD worth checking out.

I've been a They Might Be Giant's fan since I was in college. One of my fond college memories was driving up to Rochester, NY to see the 'two John's' play in a little club. They have always done so much with so little. I covered the documentary Gigantic (A Tale of Two John's) last year (and gave it rave reviews), and so I was happy to see them work on another DVD. This time around it's They Might Be Giants - Here Come The ABC's, a fantastic follow up project to their acclaimed children's CD No!. Here Come The ABC's (out on DVD in February 2005) is an extremely fun and enjoyable series of songs about the Alphabet and Letters. These songs are strung together with a number of colofun animations (and a few 'live action' sequences) all aimed at making learning letters fun for kids. The music from Here Come The ABC's will also be released as a CD. Both my kids (aged 3 and 6) absolutely love the CD and DVD and the songs are so well done I've found myself humming along to several of them. Definitely a DVD to add to your wish list if you've got kids (or are a huge TMBG fan).

Well.... That's about all for this first spin of DVD Talk's Bits and Extras. If you've got a bit or extra you'd like to see us cover or general feedback let us know.

- Geoffrey Kleinman

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