An Interactive Experience of Entertainment, Information, and Education
by Eric Homan
DVD: An Interactive Experience of Entertainment, Information, and Education
As a college instructor of time-based media study classes and as a major film buff, I wrote this article out of the initial excitement I felt when I first experienced Digital Video Disks (you know, DVDs!). Primarily, I wanted to watch movies on DVD in widescreen after years of seeing movies in pan-and-scan on VHS tape. I wanted better quality out of a movie experience. Laser disk, which offered similar features as DVD, was too expensive to afford and there weren’t enough video stores that rented out laser disks. While I was discovering DVD, I learned that this format offered much more than better image and audio quality. DVD provided several enhancements and special features to the entire home video experience. So I’d like to breathlessly share with you what stimulated me to write my discoveries down. I hope my excitement becomes contagious for those of you who still haven’t discovered DVDs’ possibilities as an interactive melting pot for entertainment, information, and education.
List of Contents
-More for Your Money
-Speed in Access
-List of Chapters
-Setting Up the Soundtrack
-Viewing Deleted Scenes
-Advantages for Foreign and English-Speaking Audiences
-Subtitles for Translation
-Fun with Dubbed Movies
-Extra Angles and Audio Tracks
-A Personal Photo Album
-DVD as Movie Encyclopedia and Archive of Information
-DVD as an Interactive Voyeuristic Journey
-DVD as Audio CD Player
-Future Improvements For DVDs
More for Your Money
Though the price of the average DVD movie is more expensive than a VHS tape, the consumer is getting a better deal as far as video and audio quality, durability (digital disks last much longer than VHS tape), and the amount of material the format can hold. For example, most DVD’s are packed with extra features like a making-of documentary, the movie’s theatrical trailers, production notes, widescreen imagery, soundtrack features, subtitles, and deleted scenes. Sometimes, the special features are as long as the movie itself. In a sense with a DVD, the consumer gets two movies for the price of one.
Most movie fans yearn to view movies in their original widescreen form when presented on their home television set. Yet ever since movies have been released on video and presented on television, the picture has been cropped to fill the television set, leaving most of the film’s carefully framed compositions compromised. Scenes involving two lead characters talking at opposing sides of a scene were sometimes left only with the image of two noses talking to each other. Panning-and-scanning across the image helped show what was going on in the widescreen image, but usually became a distractive and involuntary camera move. Still, the majority of the public naively prefer to have their television sets filled with an image rather than have black bars filling the top and bottom of their television screen, called letterboxing, to preserve the film’s image. Some viewers despise the black bars and feel cheated if their entire television set isn’t being filled with an image.
DVD offers the ultimate compromise. On each side of certain DVD disks, the viewer can choose if they want to see the movie on their monitor with one side in widescreen with the black bars, the other in pan-and-scan to fill the screen but crop the image. Some movies on DVD are presented only in widescreen, but still some DVD remote controls offer a solution for those who want their screen to be “filled”. By pressing the “Zoom” button, one can magnify into the image four times, eventually filling the screen with a magnified image still in acceptable resolution.
The latest DVDs are also designed for 16 X 9 television sets. This eliminates the presence of those black bars on the top and bottom of a 4 X 3 television screen and allows the widescreen imagery to show how much more vast and beautiful it truly is.
Speed in Access
Because DVD is on a disk, the viewer has the power to skip to a particular scene instantly - just as one would when selecting to a certain music track on a CD. When dealing with looking through a VHS tape, speed had always been a major labor. With DVD, the fast-forward and skip-to-the-next-chapter buttons on the remote control correct the pains of dealing with VHS tape when you want to watch just one specific scene in a movie. Also, the viewer doesn’t have to rewind the movie when it’s finished. DVD’s are a digital format and usually instantly starts up with the main menu every time you insert the disk.
Most DVDs come with making-of documentaries that offer behind the scenes footage and interviews with the actors, producers, and director. Sometimes, as in the case of the Three Kings DVD, the making-of-documentary actually enhances and articulates upon the difficult and challengingly ambiguous movie instead of simply accompanying it. The viewer can fully realize that “It was a surreal consumer culture war”. In a sense, a DVD movie with an in depth documentary is like supporting a painting with an artist’s statement. It elevates the movie experience. In addition, funny facts like “Iraq” was really filmed in Arizona are nice, too.
List of Chapters
DVD’s are unusual for being a digital medium that allows the viewer to skip to a certain section or chapter of the movie as one might do by flipping to a specific chapter of a book. This gives the viewer the impression of the various stages and turning points in a movie that may not have been noticeable until they examine the list of chapters - reinforcing the connections between movies and novels. From reading the headings of these chapters, the viewer also receives a clearer understanding of the theme of each section in which the creators intended. It allows the moviemakers to articulate a scene that may have been elusive to most people - especially to foreign audiences while watching a foreign movie, like Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl. (One exception is David Lynch’s The Straight Story, who doesn’t believe a movie should be broken up and should be seen as a whole continuum.)
Setting Up the Soundtrack
Another advantage of DVD is choosing how you want to hear the movie depending on your sound setup. Most DVD’s offer the options of English Dolby Surround (2-Channel) or 5.1 Dolby Digital (6 sound channels). Basically, option one is for normal television sets that offer stereo surround sound in two channels. The other is for true surround sound where you have five separate speakers (a front, left, right, and two rear speakers) and a sub-woofer.
Depending on the significance of the soundtrack to the movie, certain DVD’s offer the option to experience a movie with only the movie’s score/ songs on. As with Little Shop of Horrors and The End of the Affair, the DVD movie can become a musical with images synched to the soundtrack - just without dialogue and sound effects. By selecting this feature, the viewer interactively alters the way they can view a movie. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, in particular, plays like a silent film with composer Danny Elfman magnificently playful score. If you’re a fan of the movie, the experience is like watching a dream alternate version. The viewer also can play the DVD movie while reading a book and simply listen to the movie as if it were its soundtrack. It’s like getting the movie soundtrack and the movie all in one.
Also, check out THX-1138: The George Lucas Director’s Cut for Academy Award winning sound designer Walter Murch’s fascinating isolated effects track that shows how many added invented sound elements run throughout the movie.
Viewing Deleted Scenes
One of the most voyeuristic pleasures of watching a movie on DVD is the option of seeing the deleted scenes from the movie. It’s like getting a personal glimpse after all these years of what had been missing from the movie. Viewing the deleted scenes present the few key links that had been left vague in the original version. Deleted scenes have a dreamish feel to them - they weren’t in the actual completed movie, but they were filmed and were supposed to be in the final version. In addition, no one in the general public (outside of Hollywood and laser disk owners) have seen these cut scenes until now, thanks to the amount of footage one can put onto a DVD disk.
Watching deleted scenes and alternate ending have also made the experience of viewing a movie into an alternate reality. Instead of one ending, we now have the memory of many (as in the case of Thelma and Louise, Fatal Attraction, Terminator 2, and Hannibal). This brings up the fascinating reality of having the choice to choose with a DVD if one would like to view such multiple endings. Movies have multiple-choice climaxes, not just one.
Advantages for Foreign and English-Speaking Audiences
Besides offering the option of turning on subtitles in English to a movie for the hard of hearing, most DVDs offer extra special advantages for foreign audiences allowing a more universal accessibility. Average titles usually deliver the possibility of turning on French or Spanish subtitles. The Taxi Driver DVD offers six different languages in subtitle over the film (English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai). DVD also allows foreign audiences to program the DVD to watch an English language movie dubbed in their own language; usually the options are in French, Spanish, or German.
In addition, audiences have much more control over how they wish to watch a foreign movie on DVD. As on the releases of Nights of Cabiria and Princess Mononoke, the viewer has the option of watching the movie dubbed in English, in the original language with English subtitles, or with no subtitles at all.
And finally, some eccentric movies prefer to have fun with the option of additional audio tracks for foreign language audiences. Under the “Soundtracks” option for the Mars Attacks! DVD, there is a joke option for “Martian”.
Subtitles For Translation
Sometimes subtitles are practically mandatory in order to understand and contemplate a movie. Take the heavy Scottish dialect accents in Trainspotting. Without subtitles, you’re merely guessing of what they’re saying. Also consider viewing The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers with and without subtitles. If you had trouble understanding Gollum’s guttural vocal patterns or if you have difficulty comprehending Tolkien’s Middle Earth dialectic speech expressions, turning on the subtitles is infinitely more accessible to the meaning of the characters. This way the average viewer will know the difference between hearing “elephant” from an “oliphaunt”.
Fun with Dubbed Movies
Do you know how bizarre and exciting it is to watch one of your favorite movies in a different language? It’s like watching an alternate reality version. Try experiencing Batman Returns with everyone in Gotham City, including Batman and Catwoman, speaking French. If you’re eccentric enough, you can enjoy a movie like Viva Las Vegas and watch Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret fall in love while speaking French. The surrealistic aspect that everyone in Las Vegas is French speaking, but sing in English is thought-provokingly surreal... if not hilarious and fun. Setting your DVD options allows you to experience a totally different film.
Extra Angles and Audio Tracks
The Beastie Boys: Video Anthology utilizes the DVD possibility of changing the visual and the soundtrack to the viewer’s liking. For one of their music video’s, “Intergalactic”, one can press the “Angle” button on their remote control and view nine different editing versions of “Intergalactic”. Basically, the viewer gets the option of watching nine alternate music videos of the same song. If the “Audio” button is pressed, one changes the audio track to one of six alternate sound mixes of the song. What was once a passive entertainment experience has now become an active interactive experience because of the DVD format. The viewer becomes the director of how they wish to experience what they see.
A Personal Photo Album
Certain DVDs, like Jaws, Being John Malkovich, and Fight Club, offer the option of viewing exclusive photos during the time of the movie’s production. Considering that some of the images have never been seen before, it’s like flipping through the director’s personal photo album. If you’re a fan of the movie, it’s like getting a special digital book along with the DVD.
Sometimes, a photography collection on a DVD will actually enhance and expand upon the movie. In the case of Se7en, the viewer can look through the serial killer’s (Joe Doe’s) amateur photography of him torturing his Seven Deadly Sins victims with commentary of the actual photographer who took the shots for the film. These photographs end up telling their own back story to what ending up happening in the movie. What an extraordinary and creepy DVD extra!
The term “Easter eggs” refers to the hidden “secret” features one might be able to discover on certain DVDs. Often times, you have to search for them by looking at the interface and notice if there are any pictorial icons you might be able to click on (normally by clicking the right or left button on the DVD remote). Usually, these Easter eggs are usually humorous outtake footage that you weren’t meant to see. For example on the X-Men DVD, if you select a rose icon under the menu for movie trailers, you will be presented with a joke outtake from the movie where fellow Marvel comic book character, Spider-man, “accidentally” appears in the scene with the X-Men. On the Toy Story: The Ultimate Toy Box, if you click left when you’re under “Jesse’s Song” for the Story category, you get a joke “outtake” that the computer animator working on the scene thought would be funny if the car that left Jesse behind peeled out outrageously!
DVD as Movie Encyclopedia and Archive of Information
Not only do DVD’s offer cast and crew information and biographies, but also some have built-in factual encyclopedias surrounding the content of the movie. On The Mummy DVD, the viewer can select “Egyptology 101” in the bonus features to learn more about ancient Egyptian artifacts, their gods, the immortals, the plagues, and a map of Egypt.
DVD as an Interactive Voyeuristic Journey
On the “Special Features” disk for the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone DVD, the digital technology took anther giant step. The viewer could use their remote to actually “walk” around the Hogwarts School by using the remote’s arrow buttons to choose which direction to turn when visual arrows appear on the TV screen. This type of interactive journey used to only be available on interactive CD-ROM (like 1993’s innovative CD-ROM Peter Gabriel: Explora 1), where the interactee could walk around Gabriel’s recording studio). This type of adventurous interactive journey allows the interactee/ viewer to actively roam around in a voyeuristic 360 degrees discovery. This is an extraordinary feature for those who want who yearn with curiosity to know more about the movie they have just experience. Now they can actually browse around while a narrator talks them through their excursion. The trip can be educational, purely voyeuristic, or just plain entertaining.
DVD as Audio CD Player
Most DVD players double as an audio CD player when you put a CD into the DVD deck. This enables the DVD player to be a true multimedia system - DVD’s for video/ audio/ interactive experiences; CD’s for a purely sonic experience.
Future Improvements For DVDs
What I’m finding very disappointing about the majority of “special features” packed DVDs is that they have the same old making of documentaries in them. There’s nothing new or exciting about them. We already know how the movie was made with the script, the storyboards, the production, the CG effects, the music score, the sound effect, and the promotion. It’s time to evolve the content for DVDs a bit further than this standard stuff. It’s just not interesting after you’ve seen 50 other DVDs with the same routine information. The “Finding Nemo” DVD at least figured that out that they’ve already covered how they did the animation and put their PIXAR computer animated films together. Instead, they offered different, fun, and unique extras that hadn’t been already covered in their previous DVDs for their company’s feature animations.
Also, on the 2nd “Special Features” DVD under the usual “Trailers” category, the viewer usually is offered a typical three to six to choose from. What I’d like to see if for them to put in a real wide selection range of over a 100 diverse movie trailers. If DVDs can hold up to twelve hours of footage and movies trailers are on average two minutes long, why not do this? Movie people love watching movie trailers. Don’t just put on the movie trailers of the studio films that had just come out in the past year. Give us studio movies from the past decade or century. They have been over 40,000 American movies made so far (as counted by the American Film Institute). So there are plenty of movies to put on various DVDs.