If you’re into filmmaking, or just into films, you’ll probably find the behind-the-scenes specials worth a look. If you only rent a film digitally, you may miss out, but the real Blu-ray (or, ugh DVD) discs usually include at least a short film or two showing how they made it.
Some movies come with no extras at all — Woody Allen films, for example. The film stands alone.
Other times, there’s something there, but it’s overly driven by marketing, or there was no budget to do a proper job. You may see extended, poorly-edited press interviews with the stars, or specials cut purely to promote the film where the actors talk about how nice all the other actors were to work with. Not very interesting.
Better productions include a decent amount of information, showing the actors and crew doing their job, then talking about it. You can learn a lot from watching these, and they’ll make re-watching the movie a much more engaging experience. Seeing how a DOP sets up their lights or how an actor behaves on set can be handy for anyone wanting to break into those fields, and watching the deleted scenes can be revealing indeed. Sometimes you’ll see really rough performances that just had to go; other times you’ll see alternate endings which disappeared for a very good reason. A commentary over the movie by the director and/or the cast normally gives away all kinds of hidden secrets, but you can do even better. Predestination includes a behind-the-scenes documentary that’s as long as the movie, and Wanderlust includes an entire alternate cut of the movie(!) built using outtakes.
My favourite behind-the-scenes extra snippet is on one of the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, movies I didn’t like. The director explains excitedly how they built the biggest set ever made so they could shoot two battling ships at the same time. He was quite proud of it, but just a couple of minutes later, the effects boss explains that they spent a lot of time painting out the ship in the background because it didn’t look right. Gold.
Because picture quality alone doesn’t cost much, these days, Blu-ray discs usually include extra features in HD, but sometimes you’ll see something much worse, like the extras for “Coco”. They’re all standard definition 4:3, which is downright weird. It’s not unusual to see extras where the quality is nearly as good as the film itself, just without the same colour treatment. Extra material like deleted scenes can look good or bad too, depending on how the post production process went.
At the end of the day, though, they’re worth watching. It’s like the liner notes on vinyl: pretty, worth a look, but harder to distribute in a digital world. Seek them out, learn about the craft, and be sure to make your own if you ever get to make a feature yourself.