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Burning Questions: The Best of Bonus Features

Hey everybody. Michael C here to rifle through your video collections like a guy at a garage sale.

All of us probably have enough material residing in the bonus features of our DVD collections to fill a respectable film studies course for a semester or two.

The first time I was introduced to a bonus feature was a double VHS box set of Scream with a second cassette featuring a Wes Craven commentary. Since then, like most cinephiles, I’ve spent countless hours wading through commentaries, behind the scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, and other supplemental material, much of it interesting, some of it entertaining, a good chunk of it filler.

Since so many of us have amassed movies collections over the years to rival the Library of Congress, it stands to reasons there should be some gems buried in there. So it is with genuine curiosity that I put this question to the floor: Which Bluray/DVD extra features do you treasure for their own sake, apart from the films to which they are attached?

The bonus feature I most often return to is Magnolia Diary: the documentary chronicling the creation of PT Anderson’s ’99 opus of dysfunctional parents, children and frogs.

Behind the scenes cinematic chronicles are a sub-genre of documentaries that have produced masterpieces such as Heart of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse and Burden of Dreams. Magnolia Diary doesn’t quite belong in that distinguished company but I would easily rank it the equal of Lost in La Mancha, the doc recording the painful death of Terry Gilliam’s long-in-the-works Don Quixote movie.

What sets it apart from the thousands of other making of docs is the stunning amount of access, going so far as to wander through the orchestra during the recording of the score. There are numerous moments where we eavesdrop on the most sensitive moments in the process, as when Anderson runs lines with Melinda Dillon and Philip Baker Hall for their dramatic confrontation.

It plays like a documentary companion to Making Movies, Sidney Lumet’s essential book on the filmmaking process. It's packed with goodies like Julianne Moore explaining how she pitched her performance to the operatic tone of the script, or the director and Philip Seymour Hoffman having a friendly argument about just how much actorly "business" he adds to the simplest of actions. There is much ado about transforming the climactic plague of frogs from a screenwriter's flight of fancy to a filmable reality.

So that is my favorite bonus feature. What’s yours? Is there a commentary you return to often? Let's hear about it in the comments.

You can follow Michael C. on Twitter at @SeriousFilm or read his blog Serious Film.

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Reader Comments (33)

I still find the lengthy features on the Lord of the Rings Extended Edition DVDs really amazing. You can really see the passion, and tensions, that came with making the movies. Most of all though, you see the love and camaraderie that bonded so many of them, to the point that it's deeply moving in the Return of the King set when filming finally completes. I swear I cry every time Peter Jackson wraps for the final with Elijah Wood and begins to tear up.

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Z

LOVE the Thelma & Louise Commentary!!

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

The in-character Spinal Tap commentary? I'm not big on a lot of special features, unlike many.

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

On the subject of PT Anderson, I will also throw out there that Boogie Nights has one of the all time commentary tracks, the higlight of which is a seemingly intoxicated John C. Reilly expounding at length about Burt Reynolds' unique walk

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C

Brian Z - That's exactly what came to mind when reading this article. Jackson's King Kong production diaries are also excellent.

I think The Criterion Collection has a great track record with providing excellent supplements for most of their releases. One of my favorites is Brian De Palma's Blow Out, which features an hour long interview between Noah Baumbach and De Palma himself as well as one of the director's earlier films. The Night of the Hunter and Cronos also have great bonus features.

David Fincher's films always have great commentaries and supplements as well, especially The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

I know that deleted scenes are sorta low-brow, and I normally find them to be of lesser quality than the film they come from, but I have always thought that the deleted scenes from Mrs. Doubtfire were just as funny as the rest of the film. Surely they were cut just for time. Definitely a memorable DVD extra.

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

I loved the Titanic deleted scenes (most of them) and wished they were put into the movie for some sort of director's cut or something. Maybe I just didn't want the movie to end, aha. I especially liked the one where Rose goes to find Jack right after he saves her from jumping, and the one on the Carpathia. All the Titanic features were great though.

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

Favorite collection of deleted scenes: In the Loop.

A clear case of too much good material for one movie. Judicious edited out but still as funny as anything left in

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C

All gag reels tend to look the same to me; I can only handle so many instances of people laughing when they forget their lines. The exception? The Down with Love reel. I can't exactly put my finger on why I find it so hilarious, but I've watched it at least twenty times, and it's still as funny as the first time I watched it.

My favorite commentary by far is Kenneth Branagh's for Dead Again. It's the perfect mix of behind the scenes info, amusing trivia, and self deprecation. Branagh mocking his fake German accent is the highlight of the whole thing.

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLiz N.

The finest DVD extras to me are the first 17 Bond films. "Featurettes" of 45 minutes to an hour on every aspect of the Bond films, plus multiple commentaries put together by the very erudite John Cork, plus mini-features, vintage trailers, and more.

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Lipp

I bought that double VHS set for Scream. It came with a Ghostface snowglobe.

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJoey

The Scott Pilgrim commentary, the one with Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, and Aubrey Plaza, is still my favorite commentary on any film, ever. I have watched it multiple times-I love that that movie has multiple commentary. I need more Anna Kendrick in my life.

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

Volvagia: Totally agree. That commentary is almost as funny as the movie itself.

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

I don't know if it's my actual favorite, but I love the special feature on the special edition DVD of MEMENTO which lets you view the whole movie in "correct" chronological order. It's fascinating how it becomes a completely different movie, just as good as the original cut but somehow with a completely different feeling to it.

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

thefilmjunkie: Ditto the sentiment regarding the "King Kong" extras. They're almost an excess of riches.

Jennifer Hudson and Beyonce's screen tests, as well as Anika Noni Rose's audition (the Lorrell number that was cut from the film), are interesting extras from the "Dreamgirls" DVD. Hearing them perform in the recording studio is a sweet treat too.

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

Both sets of commentary on the May DVD are stellar. Lucky McKee and his cast/crew have such a great relationship that it sounds like a bunch of friends hanging out and making fun of a horror movie. They clearly love the picture, but they're the first ones to joke about casting Angela Bettis because she's the only actress in Hollywood who can emote through glasses.

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

the making-of of ALIEN 3 (epic) and usually the bonus of Fincher's movies (he's the anti-Nolan on the bonus)

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterfrench girl

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 45

I thought the full length documentary about the ending of the series was quite poignant with interviews with all the actors, the filming of the final scene, press and the behind-the-scenes stuff. Almost made me cry with how emotional the trio got.

Moulin Rouge

The Multi-camera feature focusing on Le Tango de Roxanne where you can switch between different angles and get to see the choreography in full without all the (gloriously dramatic) cuts. But the movie is chock full with lots of bonus things.

American Psycho

The commentaries from Mary Harron (technical as you would expect from a director) and Genevieve Turner (more hilarious) are pretty interesting.

I usually sift through the bonus materials on every movie i watch on DVD/Blu-ray because stuff like that appeals to my trivia-whore nature.

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck

@Derrek: you stole my awnser!
The multi-angle El Tango of Roxanne is my all time favorite.

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVictor S

I love any and all in character commentary: brother bear, and spinal tap. Pixar normally has really good two disc sets chockfull of bonus features and emperors new groove 2 pack is amazing.

Commentary: "Cannibal the Musical". Trey Parker and Matt Stone getting drunker by the minute, dishing all the dirt on their first film.

Gag reel: "I Heart Huckabees" has a great one.

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLyn

In the Loop's deleted scenes, which were every bit as funny as the actual bits in the movies, but a very clear education in editing (throw out what you don't need).

I also love, love, love the Soderbergh/Cameron commentary on Solaris. I actually like the commentary more than I like the movie.

I think the Silence of the Lambs commentary is the best use of spliced together tracks. They had the most insightful person providing the commentary at all times.

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJtagliere

Ooo this is a great question! The one that immediately leaps to mind is the Kidman-Moore-Streep commentary for The Hours. God knows how many times I've listened to bits and pieces of it during the summer. Fish Tank's Criterion edition has all of Andre Arnold's shorts including the stunning (And Oscar winning) Wasp, as well as auditions for the part of Mia, which is lots of girls dancing! Another Criterion - They have to be the best DVD/Blu-ray company in the world - that has an amazing bonus feature is the Robert Altman commentary for 3 Women. Highly recommend it!

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSeeking Amy

On the two-disc special edition of Singin' in the Rain from a few years ago, there were clips from movies that originally featured the songs later heard in SITR. The only one I can remember off the top of my head is "Good Morning" with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney from Babes in Arms.

It was quite interesting hearing these songs that I so strongly identify with SITR in a totally different context.

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLiz N.

On one of the dvds for Anchorman, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay do an uncensored "commentary" where they rarely (if ever) talk about the movie. Interspersed throughout the commentary are cameos from other members of the cast who come in and bitch about not being in the movie enough and their best stuff being left on the cutting room floor. To top it all off, about halfway through the movie, Lou Rawls (old black soul singer) is brought in to help with the commentary and it becomes clear very quickly that he has not seen the movie and has no idea why he is there. Needless to say, the whole thing is hysterical and ranks up there with the Spinal Tap commentary in terms of pure comedic value.

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJosh

The Love, Actually commentary remains my favorite. It made me a fan of Hugh Grant; I couldn't stand him before that.

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterK

K - Ooh, i totally forgot that! I started but never got the chance to finish. Quite hilarious.

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck

I need that Scream VHS set PLUS THE SNOWGLOBE!

I don't tend to watch special features anymore since I don't have the time (I'd rather be watching another movie), but I do enjoy audio commentaries that are insane. Consider Leelee Sobieski's "Joy Ride" commentary, Schwarzenegger's "Total Recall" one, or the one for "Resident Evil" where a dog shits on the floor and Milla Jovovich discussed yeast infections from wading in filthy water. WHAT FUN!

July 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

I've got a few favorites -

Mean Girls deleted scenes. I quote them just as much as I do the rest of the movie (i.e. constantly).

Finding Nemo's commentary track is fascinating. You can go to bonus commentary track things and watch how they animated nearly every aspect of the movie.

I also think The Simpsons has excellent commentary tracks.

And go look up the Better Off Ted Blooper reel on youtube now.

July 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrady

The special features of Moulin Rouge were the first that I watched over and over again just for their own sake, and the only ones I ever saw where I still felt unsatiated; I wanted MORE, and I can't even say why, exactly, except that there's plenty of eye candy, but they somehow lack in the depth that the LOTR features offer. The highlight was Nicole and Ewan camping it up during "Your Song" in the Elephant. (The commentary tracks on the film, on the other hand, I listened to only once. Damn but Baz loves to hear himself talk, but in the end he says nothing that you haven't heard before. And he's on BOTH tracks.)

I think that MR had the most extensive set of extras at the time with the exception of the LOTR special edition DVD's; I'm not the biggest fan of that series, and I thought I'd be bored by the featurettes but I was fascinated by how truly in-depth they went into every aspect of production. The Twin Towers had a fascinating featurette on the making of Gollum, on Andy Serkis' work in that role, which answered a lot of my questions and the animators were a bit more honest than usual about the facts that there were two rival groups responsible for that animation, each with their own idea on the "best" way to go about it.

For the most part I find commentary tracks a bore; an exception is American Splendor (one of my all-time favorite films); the movie has the director, the stars, pretty much everyone important to the film showing up (sometimes coming in late, as if to a party) and like at a party, their conversation frequently overlaps. Fun.

July 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJanice

Although I don't think it's been included as an official "bonus" on DVD (it stands alone as a short film, I saw it on the International Release, Vol. 2 compilation) there is a brilliant making-of doc to accompany Jane Campion's Portrait of a Lady that is definitely my favorite, next to the truly amazing Magnolia Diary... as it runs in the same vein. It's called A Filmmaker's Journey: The Making of Jane Campion's The Portrait of a Lady.

Though dull in name, it is impossible to overstate how juicy this piece is. Not only is it full of delicately filmed observations and interviews with Campion, but it shows many scenes being shot, and the interaction between Campion and her testy actors. Shelly Winters is every bit the cranky, demanding old lady - Malkovich every bit the prickly contender he is known to be. Campion's intimate work with Kidman is sensitive and compelling - and perhaps my favorite, Barbara Hershey, is shown to be a thorough workhorse. I have watched this piece several times. It does exactly what it should: highlight the lengthy and intriguing process of making a film and creating insight to the original piece that practically makes the film itself better.

I also ADORE any Todd Haynes commentary, as he basically gives a master class in theory while perfecting the intellectual deconstruction of his own films.

July 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJesse

I'm not a big fan of commentaries at all, personally(put me in the Spielberg camp if you will), but I secretly ADORE the infamous Total Recall commentary. Verhooven is damn near indecipherable, and Arnold spends the entire movie describing what's on screen, "YAH HE'S WHERE I BLOW THAT GUY'Z HEAD OFF HAHAHA"

It's either amazingly terrible or terribly amazing, I can't decide.

July 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy

CORALINE has a whole lot of Making Of stuff on its DVD, and it's mind-blowing just how much effort went into making that film. Seeing it made the great film even better.

July 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEmil
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