Special features are a highlight of buying a home video these days for myself and many others. Sometimes it can make the purchase worthy of the monetary value itself. You can read as much as you want, but nothing compares to a visual medium explaining, showing, and telling you about a favorite film or television show. Earlier today at Comic-Con I had the pleasure of sitting in during a special feature discussion in Room 5AB. The panel began with moderator Bill Hunt introducing his compatriots at Digital Bits, Todd Doogan and Dr. Adam Jahnke. He also went down the panel further, introducing Charles de Lauzirika (Prometheus, The Amazing Spider-Man), Cliff Stephenson (The Hunger Games), Robert Meyer Burnett (Star Trek: The Next Generation-Seasons One and Two), and Warner Home Video’s former senior VP of theatrical catalog marketing and current head of digital distribution, George Feltenstein. Legal battles, film restoration, and the struggles to turn around a DVD and Blu-ray with special features already included before a film even hits theaters were among the topics discussed. Hit the jump for more.
The panel started off with Burnett showing off a clip of a 75-minute Star Trek reunion conversation with a slew of the cast and crew. The small portion shown was enough to convince me it would be illuminating and entertaining. On the special features work and the entire process, Burnett said that it was “nothing short of astonishing” and that “no expense was spared.” Next-Gen was originally posted on video, with no cut negatives and 480 lines. That’s a lot of technical talk for it wasn’t ready for conversion to HD. They took five years to think about how and for how much, and ended up rescanning the audio and negatives individually, using computers to fix errors. The result? Burnett went back and watched one of his least favorite episodes. He also mentions that they will have a special section with the writers where they will go through the process of creating an original episode, and even shooting it.
Charles de Lauzirika was asked about his work on Prometheus and The Amazing Spider-Man. The unfortunate thing is that he really was held back from revealing too much because one hadn’t really been given a lot of specific details and the other barely even hit theaters. However, he compared his work on Prometheus to his work on the Alien: Quadrilogy and the Blade Runner collector’s editions despite the lack of time.
As for Cliff Stephenson, he was able to bring some footage and make a few interesting announcements. He mentioned that he actually got luck on The Hunger Games because studios dislike releasing DVDs on June or July, likely because of the peak of the summer blockbusters. So instead he was given an August 18th, 2012 release (yes, a Saturday). He also brought a clip of a two-hour documentary he filmed before filming had even began. During the clip we are shown a scene inside the arena where Katniss evades a forest of burning trees. Director Gary Ross talks about how he wanted the fire to be real, and that he and the stunt team laid out a path for Jennifer Lawrence to follow.
Lawrence is seen talking about how her ankles and back were a real concern during this sequence because she is literally running in a forest. So they had to take precautions. Even still, the fire is real. She explains how following a marked path of trees that aren’t on fire or exploding is easy. However, when it came to actually shooting it, those trees are exploding or catching fire and it quickly gets disorientating. She even thought to herself, “Great, this is how I’m going to die.” She runs all the way to the bottom, and “cut! Take two!” When Stephenson was pressed for whether he would be back for the Hunger Games sequel, he said that he had become familiar with Ross and enjoyed working with him. So now he’s working on Ross’s new project. He also broke the news that Jeff Mefford, who worked on the Kick-Ass special features, would be handling The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’s home video release.
Digging into the past, George Feltenstein was able to bring the upcoming 60th anniversary release of Singin’ In The Rain in glorious Blu-ray, which hits shelves on Tuesday. Instead of showing off some of the special features, he decided to highlight the intricate restoration they were able to accomplish despite losing the original Technicolor prints in a fire. Truly, the film looks outstanding, as we were treated to the classic sequence where Gene Kelly dances (and sings) in the rain. The color was perfect and you could see the rain drops bouncing off of the sidewalks and street. Yes, it is in 4:3 ratio, which is disorienting if you aren’t used to HD video in that format.
When they were asked what has become harder or easier in the 12 years of Blu-ray, they seemed to all agree things have gotten worse in a way. The format is finally settled in, but there isn’t a lot of new things they can do that has changed the game. Because the format and medium is constantly evolving, it keeps them working very hard. The quick turnaround has also plagued them. The release window from theater to home video has shrunk considerably and sometimes they have to have the DVD and Blu-rays finished and ready before the film even hits theaters. That causes a lot of stress, but it also hurts their ability to get quality documentaries that have a sense of perspective.
Feltenstein brings up legal issues as a real wrench in plans. Not that things are tied up, but when doing reflective interviews and things of that nature, particularly the litigious history of TNG, you get censored by the lawyers. Sometimes it isn’t even because someone has expressly forbidden it, but just the play it safe they have a tendency to nix controversial materials. Burnett mentions how Kevin Pollack was making fun of Stephen Balwin’s yellow pants in The Usual Suspects and how that kind of stuff would have never been out there now.
Todd Doogan mentioned how much he enjoys commentary, and Cliff Stephenson immediately chimed in that it was more about good commentary. There won’t be any commentary for The Hunger Games, and most of it had to do with the director and his friends, David Fincher and Steven Soderbergh. Stephenson talked about how Ross really didn’t want to do commentary, and when Fincher, Soderbergh, and Ross got together, they all agreed that they really couldn’t add much to new to what had been said about making a film. Stephenson admits that he was positively drooling at the idea of having those three, particularly Fincher, on a commentary track, but had to relent. He went on to talk about how in the DVD age, people have become incredibly familiar with how movies are made so some of the spectacle is lost there.
As the panel wrapped up, moderator Bill Hunt asked what was new that they could produce given technological leaps. De Lauzirika mentions that not much has really changed. Apps and interactivity is a new evolution, but he said he really wants to focus on what is being told instead of how it is told–fewer gimmicks and more stories. Cliff Stephenson added that he is interested in a hybrid second-screen technology where you could view something specific from a director or whoever is speaking. Perhaps during a commentary track, you have an iPad or laptop as well where you can view storyboards as the director is talking. Or mockups and things of that nature. He said that he has had a studio really interested, but they got cold feet with how expensive it would be to develop and implement. Before the panel ended, Feltenstein added that House of Wax had received the green light and that they would be releasing it on Blu-ray in the near future.
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