December 22, 2009

A decade in DVD

It's easy to forget that, 10 years ago, DVD was still in its infancy (Scene Selection! Interactive Menus!) To Pay tribute to this late-'90s innovation, here's a glance back at some of the format's finest and weirdest from the past decade.

Freaks and Geeks: Yearbook Edition (Shout! Factory) 
It cost a cool million to ensure that the music originally licensed for Judd Apatow’s now-legendary 2000 series remained intact — an area most TV-on-DVDs skimp on (and probably why The Wonder Years remains unavailable). Long before this yearbook hit store shelves, fans could order it online, and it was US$120 + shipping well spent.

Eraserhead (Absurda) David Lynch’s first feature was also his top-requested title among American arthouse crowds. Then, in typical Lynch fashion, he surprised us with this unusual edition, available only online, packaged in an enigmatic cardboard box and featuring a Lynch-approved TV calibration test.

Fight Club (Fox) Hands-down the most inventive DVD of its time, it introduced two discs’ worth of features by way of tripped-out menus. Director David Fincher was actively involved in the movie’s home video presentation — a rarity in 2000 — and tangled with Fox in order to get its bizarro, brown-paper-box-art approved.

Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back (New Video) D.A. Pennebaker’s legendary Dylan doc might be the sweetest DVD package of all time, containing a 168-page companion book from 1968 — with hundreds of photos, a transcript and a flipbook of the “Subterranean Homesick Blues” sequence. For kicks, they even threw in a pseudo sequel.

Mr. Arkadin, a.k.a. Confidential Report (Criterion) Containing three variations of Orson Welles’ overlooked 1955 gem, which had previously been butchered to shreds due to various levels of studio meddling, Criterion’s massive treatment boasted a new comprehensive version that was a huge triumph for both film history and preservation.

Memento: Limited Edition (Alliance) “Infuriating” doesn’t even begin to describe a release that requires you to obtain codes online to navigate nutty menus in order to access all of the features, one of which was the ability to watch the film in chronological order.

The Adventures of Antoine Doinel (Criterion) A dream come true for any self-respecting film buff, with François Truffaut’s early shorts and five-film Doinel catalogue featuring the director’s alter ego Jean-Pierre Léaud as the titular lead.

Dawn of the Dead: Ultimate Edition (Anchor Bay) We all knew it was coming, but when Anchor Bay re-released George Romero’s cult classic as a four-disc set, jaws dropped. All three incarnations were gorgeously restored, each containing separate commentaries and extras chock full of gory goodness.

The Director’s Label Series (Palm Pictures) A painstaking collection of music videos, commercials, shorts and other oddities from three of the most innovative artists of our time: Michel Gondry, Chris Cunningham and Spike Jonze. There were two volumes, but the first was a bonafied brain-buster.