After another year of spending untold hours curled up on my sofa watching DVD bonus features, a couple of things have become clear. One: I really need to go to the gym more often. And two: the past year gave us some really solid DVD and Blu-ray releases.
The following is a list of 2008’s eight most memorable DVD moments, a collection of extras and overall releases that kept me glued to that couch, happy to be entertained, enlightened and far, far away from a treadmill.
• Most Informative Extra: The Pop-Up Historical Guide on “John Adams”
By itself, this fine HBO miniseries is a riveting biopic about one of the fathers who founded this country. But when viewed with pop-up text that includes fascinating anecdotes and adds more context to the story, “John Adams” turned into the most entertaining history teacher I ever had.
• Most Clever DVD Case: “Mad Men: Season One”
This is a competitive category, especially considering all the stops the studios pull out during the holidays. (See what I mean in this video.) Still, of all the fancy DVD packages that arrived on my doorstep, “Mad Men: Season One” — with its sleek, lighter-shaped case and set of flame-red discs — was my favorite. A chic, retro and cigarette-heavy series like this one could only live in a house as smart as this one.
• Best DVD for the Cinema Scholar: The 50th Anniversary Edition of “Touch of Evil”
The features on this set should have been more robust. But the opportunity to watch and study all three versions of Orson Welles’ noir classic, packaged together here for the first time, gives budding directors a delicious and valuable opportunity.
• Most Promising DVD Development: The Arrival of More Classic Films on Blu-ray
The format war between Blu-ray and HD-DVD finally got resolved this year. Blu-ray emerged the winner and so did film lovers, who started to see more of their old favorites arrive in high-definition. “The Godfather” trilogy and several of the James Bond movies got the upgrade. And at year’s end, the Criterion Collection launched into Blu-ray orbit with its first slate of high-def releases, including “The Man Who Fell to Earth” and “The Third Man.” Let’s hope this is a sign of more to come.
• Most Detailed DVD Documentary: “I Am Iron Man,” on the Ultimate Edition and Blu-ray Versions of “Iron Man”
After watching almost two hours of material that covers virtually every aspect of this comic book blockbuster’s production, you may know more about “Iron Man” than you do about your own relatives.
• Guiltiest DVD Pleasures: A Tie Between the Arcade Games on the Blu-ray Version of “Wall-E” and the “Going Back to ‘Xanadu’ Featurette on “Xanadu: Magical, Musical Edition”
It’s sad when a grown woman can’t tear herself away from playing a series of “Wall-E” video games because they remind her of those halcyon, Colecovision days of yore. But it’s even sadder when that same woman feels pangs of empathy while listening to fans describe their love for the roller-disco cheesefest that is “Xanadu.”
• Smartest DVD Gag: “The Real Dewey Cox” from the DVD Release of “Walk Hard”
A parody of musical biopics deserves a parody of featurettes that appear on musical biopic DVDs, especially one as star-studded as this one: Sheryl Crow, Jackson Browne and John Mayer are among the musicians who pay “tribute“ to John C. Reilly’s alleged rock legend.
• Smartest DVD Gag, Part Two: Robert Downey Jr.’s Commentary Track on “Tropic Thunder”
“I don’t drop character ’til I done the DVD commentary,“ claims Kirk Lazarus, the Australian actor playing an African-American in ”Tropic Thunder.“ Of course, Lazarus is played by Downey and, as it turns out, Downey doesn’t even drop character for commentary purposes. That’s why you’ll hear him still speaking as Lazarus (who still thinks he’s a black man) during his DVD commentary with co-stars Ben Stiller and Jack Black. You follow all that? Even if you didn’t, trust me. It’s funny.