Before jumping into all my nifty new Christmas presents (which include DVD box sets of the original KING KONG and the Blind Dead movies), I went back and reviewed the bonus features on the LAND OF THE DEAD DVD (reviewed in depth here).
One thing I realized while watching the behind-the-scenes stuff was that, as wonderful as special edition DVDs are, they do not replace the kind of journalism we used to practise in the heyday of Cinefantastique magazine. Not that anybody ever said they would, but I do know at least one aspiring publisher who approached me to work on a magazine he was planning that would cover classic fantasy films — and who suggested that we should not even bother covering films that had come out on DVD, because there could not possibly be anything left to say about the movies after all the behind-the-scenes details were revealed in making-of documentaries prepared for the disc.
Well, there may be rare cases in which this is true, but in general (especially when dealing with new movies), the DVD features are wonderful and interesting — but never fully satisfying. The problem is that, generally, these making-of featurettes that appear on DVDs are little more than promotional films — in a sense, extended commercials prepared to help sell the movie to audiences.
Of course, PR is not journalism, and the result is that you don’t get the whole story; you get a press release that presents a glossy one-side view, ignoring most if not all of the shit that goes down on the set of any film. The people who makes this stuff are paid by the studios, and they certainly know who writes their checks, so they’re probably not going to deliberately tick off their bosses by revealing details about unwanted studio interference, problems on the set, infighting, etc.
I know some people think this kind of material should never be revealed anyway. But I have to credit film journalist Dan Person with making a good point during an interivew I conducted with him about Cinefantastique magazine: a good story has conflict, and the making of a great film is a story worth telling. Telling that story in an accurate and interesting way necessitates getting into the nitty-gritty detals that might ruffle some feathers, but it is a worthwhile pursuit nonetheless.
You’re just not going to get that kind of full disclosure on today’s DVDs, so I repeat my opening statement: in-depth film journalism has yet to be supplanted by the supplemental materials on special edition DVDs. There is still a place for the written word and especially for critical thinking and analysis that seeks to be something more than just disguised p.r.