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October 4, 2012 3:27 PM   Subscribe

What are your favourite DVD extras? Which DVD movie/TV shows have the best extras/bonus material?

I was all set to buy The Avengers on DVD, but the extras on the UK DVD release turned out to be so unimpressive that I decided not to part with my hard-earned cash after all. It's sparked my curiosity, though: What are the best/most interesting DVD extras? Which director commentaries are genuinely interesting and/or entertaining? Are there any DVDs where the extras are truly innovative and different?

The Lord of the Rings extended edition extras are my own personal benchmark for quality bonus material. Recently I watched the 'making of' documentary on the Jaws anniversary edition DVD, which was a lot of fun. What are your recommendations?
posted by meronym to Media & Arts (43 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I like the Star Trek movie DVDs, particularly The Motion Picture with the director's cut. They have an on-screen trivia track that runs throughout that provides background, technical stuff and even cultural context.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 3:28 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is really niche, but I have been hooked on the Newsradio commentary tracks. I am, however, a little too fond of that show.
posted by griphus at 3:29 PM on October 4, 2012

Seconding Newsradio.

The Simpsons Seasons 1 - 8 generally have great extras. Commentaries on each episode, character commercials from the original run (Bart/Butterfinger for example), deleted scenes (some with extra commentary!), various specials, etc. The episode commentaries vary in quality but the middle seasons (3 - 7) I think are particularly good (many are excellent).
posted by moxiequz at 3:38 PM on October 4, 2012

I think I would encourage you to check out the Freaks and Geeks DVD set. There are 18 episodes and "29 audio commentaries by the actors, writers, directors, network executives, parents of cast members, and obsessive fans" (according to Amazon.)

I seriously love the show, have spent countless hours watching these episodes with and without commentary, and STILL haven't listened to all of the commentary yet.
posted by smirkyfodder at 3:42 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Alien Quadrilogy
Blade Runner Final Cut
Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz
Garth Marenghi's Darkplace
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:49 PM on October 4, 2012

If you're in the market for great commentary tracks, the directors Werner Herzog and David Cronenberg seem to be shoulders above the competition, in my experience. They produce some pretty good films, too.

Others say that the Kurt Russel-John Carpenter commentary on Big Trouble in Little China is practically the apotheosis of the form, but I haven't heard it.
posted by mr. digits at 3:57 PM on October 4, 2012

My favourite is the audio commentary on the MGM special edition of This is Spinal Tap: the cast does the commentary in character - mostly insulting DiBergi ("that's not even his real beard") and acting befuddled and confused about everything else.
posted by Paragon at 4:00 PM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Criterion dvds generally have really good bonus content. But the best commentary I've ever listened to is on the dvds of the Weird Al Show. It was a short lived tv show in the style of Peewee's Playhouse that was... not very good. But Weird Al's commentary is so informative (it goes into great detail about how the tv station ruined the show) and funny that it makes a pretty crappy show really good.
posted by catwash at 4:01 PM on October 4, 2012

A lot of old classic films like the Warner Brothers gangster films (Little Ceaser, Public Enermy etc), Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood etc have interesting commentary tracks by film historians.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:11 PM on October 4, 2012

Planet Earth.
posted by nathancaswell at 4:27 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've heard excellent things about the three disc edition of Panic Room. Not a huge fan of the movie, but I'd be tempted to get it just for the commentary.
posted by backwards guitar at 4:33 PM on October 4, 2012

I love the presentation on the first SAW box - you can navigate through a house full of Jigsaw traps and if you find the right way out (house of the 2nd movie), you get to the extras. Those are the usual, interviews, commentary, making of - but the way you have to discover them is a lot fun. There is no menu to select what you watch; you uncover a new extra with each survived trap/room.

I'm not sure if the box is a limited edition, it's the first 2 movies with a mini Jigsaw mask.
posted by MinusCelsius at 4:43 PM on October 4, 2012

MR show
posted by couchdive at 4:55 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

The commentaries on Sam Mendes' movies (American Beauty and Road to Perdition) were some of my favorites. He does a great job of explaining why they shot each scene in that particular way, some of the techniques they used, how the scene was lit (the usual top quality stuff from Conrad Hall) etc
posted by TwoWordReview at 4:57 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

backwards guitar: my recollections of the other Panic Room commentary tracks have faded but the writer's commentary sticks in my mind because of William Goldman's bizarre obsession with the fact that Nicole Kidman was originally slated to play the lead role.

The film's written by David Koepp but they paired him with Goldman to have somebody to ask questions and make outside comments and Goldman keeps coming back to the topic of Kidman through the entire runtime. Downright creepy.

I still think the golden benchmark for supplementary materials was on the 'Ultimate' edition T2 DVD released back around the turn of the century -- which I think was ported from the Laserdisc supplementals.

Most of it was text on various screenpages but it went through the entire process from being able to read the entirety of the shooting draft of the screenplay to going through the process of adding foley to the movie--and allowing an a/b comparison of a selected scene with and without its foley.

It took me something like seven hours to go through the entire disc and when I was done I:

a) had a ringing headache.
b) felt like I could make my own action movie.
posted by whittaker at 4:58 PM on October 4, 2012

The Conan the Barbarian commentary with Schwarzenneger and the director is just awesomely entertaining. And hey, that DVD will not cost you more than a fun-size candy bar.
posted by Kafkaesque at 5:06 PM on October 4, 2012

The commentary tracks on Futurama DVDs are excellent.
The Alien Quadrilogy extras were also very good. I liked that Fox released a DVD of Alien 3 in which almost all of the extras consist of people saying how shitty Fox are and that they ruined the movie.
posted by drugstorefrog at 5:23 PM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I just remembered that Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog DVD commentary is actually a full on musical itself.
posted by smirkyfodder at 5:31 PM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I love the extras on the Monty Python and the Holy Grail special edition - including the 'French taunting scene' translated into Japanese and then retranslated back into English ("I disrespect your auntie!", IIRC)

Seconding Spinal Täp
posted by Mchelly at 5:31 PM on October 4, 2012

Lord of the Rings is also my personal benchmark, so much so that I've ditched most of my physical DVDs but hold on to that one for the commentary.

The commentary to Doctor Horrible's Sing Along Blog were fantastic--it's a musical commentary.

I also remember really liking the commentaries for the first season of Stargate Atlantis. Some of them were so-so, but some of them were hilarious. The ones with David Hewlett are worth seeking out for sure.
posted by MeghanC at 5:32 PM on October 4, 2012

Apollo 13's anniversary edition has a commentary track by Jim Freaking Lovell and his wife Marilyn. It is dead interesting. He talks about the science, his actions, Ron Howard's interpretation, etc. When his wife talks about how hard she was praying while waiting to find out if they survived re-entry, I burst into tears. There's also a separate track from Ron Howard, and a couple of pretty good documentaries about the moonshot and the making of the movie.

I recall "You've Got Mail," which is not actually a movie I like very much, having a pretty interesting director's commentary by Nora Ephron, where she reflects quite a bit on her past movies and what she's learned about directing. (And then I always have to go watch bits of Sleepless in Seattle to see the things she said she did wrong as a new director, and, yep, they're right there!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:40 PM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Another great John Carpenter-Kurt Russell commentary is The Thing - they seem to be getting either stoned or drunk as they do it, so it kinda veers further off course and they get really giggly. I lost that DVD a few years ago but I remember it being fully loaded with extras, I think a couple of making-of-docs and a feature on the animatronics.
posted by mannequito at 6:09 PM on October 4, 2012

Came here to also recommend Apollo 13. Both the featurettes and commentary are outstanding.

Also, any of the Evil Dead trilogy with Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi's commentary.
posted by ShutterBun at 6:14 PM on October 4, 2012

The extras for "Deliverance" were almost more interesting than the film itself and I like the film.
Wealth of of trivia, anecdotes, explanations, they put a lot of effort into it.
posted by canoehead at 6:18 PM on October 4, 2012

Director Robert Rodriguez's 10 Minute Cooking School.
posted by Juliet Banana at 6:19 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Most of the Adult Swim shows I like - Sealab 2012, ATFH, Metalocalypse - have a lot of funny bonus material, sometimes hidden in hard-to-find places in the menus.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:26 PM on October 4, 2012

Seconding Spinal Tap -- it's almost like getting an entirely new Spinal Tap movie since they are in character.

If you like absurd humor and Will Ferrell, the Anchorman commentary is also pretty good. It has almost nothing to do with the film -- it's like watching Anchorman muted with Ferrell and McKay -- and a lot of others -- in the room riffing. There is actually a lot of good bonus material that came along with that DVD.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 6:27 PM on October 4, 2012

Gosford Park had excellent commentary and behind-the-scenes material. Ocean's 11 was also good, as I recall. The Rundown was decent (and is a woefully underrated movie, IMO). Dark City has an excellent commentary by Roger Ebert.

And in an anti-recommendation, Harold Ramis' commentary on Bedazzled is horrible and boring.
posted by Lexica at 6:52 PM on October 4, 2012

nthing Spinal Tap. The DVD I had included about 45 minutes of cut scenes that were of a quality level to match the movie (releasing a 3 hour spinal tap probably wasn't feasible), including a great seen with Billy Crystal in mime gear ranting and raving.
posted by el io at 6:55 PM on October 4, 2012

One of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force DVDs has a nice 'play all' joke. If you choose that option, then all of the episodes will play... at the same time.
posted by Paragon at 7:04 PM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Alice's Restaurant" didn't make a big impression on me as a movie, but I remember enjoying very much Arlo Guthrie's story telling on the commentary track.

Agnes Varda makes lovely movies, but I almost enjoy even more the movies she's been making about her movies, which the new releases all seem to include. She's always charming and interesting.
posted by bfields at 7:44 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Matchstick Men commentary is by the two screenwriters and, separately but on the same track, director Ridley Scott. Both address the creative decisions made; Scott talks about the look and gets into lenses he prefers and why, the writers talk about wrestling with how much information and when to reveal it to the audience, and how Scott turned a very routine scene into a memorable chase.
posted by pmurray63 at 8:56 PM on October 4, 2012

Thirding the Spinal Tap commentary track. They speculate about where each and every minor character is now, before inevitably concluding "He died."
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:13 PM on October 4, 2012

Also one of the Futurama commentaries contains a detailed discussion of why "underpants" is twice as funny as "underwear."
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:13 PM on October 4, 2012

Waking Life was a good movie, but Waking Life with the commentary on was almost enough to get me to move to Austin, Texas so I could hang out with people like that.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 9:16 PM on October 4, 2012

The extras on the classic (pre-2005) Doctor Who DVDs are usually excellent. Commentary tracks featuring Peter Davison and Janet Fielding (for instance on 'Earthshock' and 'Resurrection of the Daleks') are hilarious.
posted by rjs at 11:50 PM on October 4, 2012

The TV show Supernatural (which is also just a killer show) has great extras if you ask me. There are always commentary on a few episodes (sometimes by the actors, sometimes by the producers/writers/directors), lots of making of and history behind particular elements, and there is always a great gag reel.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 3:44 AM on October 5, 2012

I've said before that Roger Ebert's commentary on Casablaca will forever make him a hero of mine.

The director and setdresser commentary on Garden State is very well done with a lot of insight into the actual craft of making a movie.

The Criterion Edition for Spinal Tap not only has the commentary done in character, but included an additional hour and half of deleted scenes!

I'm a bit of a geek for commentaries, but I will say to stay away from the one for Fawlty Towers, it's so bad, I have to wonder if it's an intentional joke I just didn't get.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 5:06 AM on October 5, 2012

The DVD of "Fight Club" had numerous audio tracks with what you'd expect, director David Fincher, the 3 big castmembers, and so on. But the stand-out to me was the audiotrack with Chuck Palahniuk, the author of the novel on which the movie was (fairly faithfully) based, along with Jim Uhls, the author of the screenplay. Uhls would point to things that he loved from the book and had to carry into the movie, or things he had to work around cinematically, while Palahniuk could appreciate the same kinds of things from the reverse angle-- Uhls' cinematic invention, as well as the visual realization of some of the fantasy-based elements of the movie, like a sequence in which the unnamed narrator (Edward Norton) is doing some sort of guided visualization (in a self-help group), and finds himself in an ice-cave with a penguin.

The other thing that comes to mind is "Lost in La Mancha," a documentary about Terry Gilliam attempting to direct his version of Man of La Mancha with Johnny Depp as Sancho Panza, and the esteemed French actor Jean Rochefort as Quixote. The filming suffered a few disasters (weather rendering a set and all prior shooting useless, and Rochefort's health problems) and ran out of money. The footage that was filmed of cast and crew, behind the scenes and on-set, which had been intended for a DVD-extra, became the footage of this documentary.
posted by Sunburnt at 7:17 AM on October 5, 2012

The commentary on The Thing is pretty amazing, they get into a lot of detail on the effects and the creativity the small budget enforced.

They Live supposedly has Rowdy Roddy Piper in full Rowdy character throughout the commentary, though I haven't heard it myself.

The extended edition of Lord of the Rings is amazing. There are three separate commentary tracks, a production/design team track, a track of Jackson and the producers, and one of the actors. The actor commentary is interesting in that some actors were together for their commentary (the hobbits are all together, I think), which leads to some horseplay and such, which is a lot of fun to eavesdrop on. On the other hand, John Rhys Davies is alone, and he talks about how he was allergic to the glue they had to use for the make-up effects for Gimli, especially around the eyes. He says he ended up with open sores around his eyes, and wore granny shades to hide it. He says he spent most of his down time in his trailer while all of the other actors talk about hanging out and getting drunk together. Kind of a bummer.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:21 AM on October 5, 2012

Worth noting that the behind-the-scenes documentary for the Alien 3 reissue was trimmed for the DVD release, presumably to remove some of the most egregious dissing of Fox executives. That regime must have been out the door by the time the Blu-ray version came out, because it reportedly includes at least some of the deleted material. So if you have a choice of which one to rent ...

David Fincher's commentary on Se7en is very good, too, and the disc includes some deleted scenes that give you an idea how the movie was reshaped, plus a good close look at the development of the main title sequence. I like most of Fincher's commentaries a lot but found The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to be pretty dry. Maybe he was just exhausted.

Surprised nobody has mentioned Scorsese. The Scorsese/Schoonmaker audio commentary for Raging Bull and the Scorsese/Schrader commentary for Taxi Driver used to be the gold standard for meaty supplements. Those originated on Criterion laserdiscs, but I know they're on the latest Blu-rays of both movies. Not sure if the DVD versions were upgraded at the same time.

Speaking of Criterion, that company's release of Brazil is exemplary. The best crash course in the power of film editing that I know of is the so-called "Love Conquers All" edit that Universal was keen to release before Gilliam (and the L.A. Film Critics Society) shamed them into going with the director's preferred much longer and more downbeat version. The Criterion package includes that bastardized version of the film in full, along with a very perceptive commentary on the changes that were made and how they affected the film's mood overall. It's really an eye-opener. That boxed DVD set also includes a Gilliam commentary on the long version of the film that's very good. (All of Gilliam's Criterion commentaries are excellent, in my experience. I remember the one on The Fisher King being hilarious and the original one on Baron Munchausen being pretty darned candid. Unfortunately, those are both lost to the ravages of time.) Criterion does generally awesome commentary, so I'd check out whatever you're interested in.

Special features on Kubrick movies are rare beasts, but there's a good one on The Shining: "Making The Shining," a behind-the-scenes doc shot by Kubrick's daughter Vivian when she was 17.

Finally, if you like the Lord of the Rings special editions because you're a Peter Jackson fan, you might enjoy The Frighteners, which has an audio commentary and an utterly exhaustive making-of documentary.
posted by Mothlight at 8:27 AM on October 5, 2012

Couple I really enjoyed (unfortunately I do not have much time for this these days):
'Mad Max' commentary is great, but I really enjoy the "Mad Facts Trivia Track" subtitle track which supplies lots of cool facts on the production.
In a similar vain 'Free Enterprise' has a subtitle selection (as I recall) which provides information on the the material be referenced in a scene.
And, as mentioned above, Ebert's commentary for Casablanca is awesome. Reminds me that I should check out his other commentaries.
posted by evilelf at 8:40 AM on October 5, 2012

Any commentary with John Carpenter and Kurt Russell will make you laugh. Those two are gold together in a sound studio. Escape from New York and Big Trouble in Little China both have great commentary tracks.
posted by Deodand at 10:26 PM on October 6, 2012

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