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Saturday, August 2, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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DVD extras: One fan's overkill is another's paradise

Seattle Times staff reporter

"Daredevil" DVD


"Daredevil" was released on DVD and VHS last week by Twentieth Century Fox. Suggested retail is $29.98 (DVD) and $24.98 (VHS), although many retailers offer discounts.
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Frankly, a lot of "Daredevil" comic fans were just happy that director Mark Steven Johnson didn't screw up the movie itself.

"Yeah. I was one of them," Johnson says in a phone interview.

It doesn't take Matt Murdock or his hyper-senses to see that last week's new "Daredevil" DVD (Fox, PG-13) is a convergence of a couple of pop culture's greatest forces: not DD and his sai-twirling girlfriend Elektra, but the DVD explosion and the ascendance of superheroes.

The DVD boom has been so well documented in these pages that you're probably pausing one to read this. As for superheroes, you know they're a big deal when youth-culture-arbiter MTV holds its latest movie awards show in a comic motif and Superman ranks second only to Oprah on VH1's new list of the "200 Greatest Pop Culture Icons."

Even with mixed reviews and a fraction of "Spider-Man's" mainstream recognition (it's the fifth highest-grossing film ever), the movie of Marvel's blind "Man Without Fear" still made $178.5 million worldwide.

Bulging like the scheming Kingpin's waistcoat, "Daredevil's" two discs are packed with eight hours of extras, including exhaustive, warts-and-all behind-the-scenes material and enough about the original comic book to glut even the most die-hard fans. Which presents the question, does anybody want to watch all this stuff?

What's too much? Even the most couchbound film freaks have to be looking at the goat-choking mass of extras these days — deleted scenes (rightfully so, usually), self-satisfied audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes footage and increasingly tangential featurettes — and feeling the urge to regurge.

Background on Daredevil's 40-year comic history makes sense, but are the tykes who'll be chewing through their harnesses to get Disney's "Finding Nemo" DVD this November really jonesing for a Cousteau documentary and a fish encyclopedia? (They're coming.)

Director's choice

Johnson's answer is rooted in his approach to the entire filmmaking project: A lifelong comic geek at 38 whose favorite hero was always Daredevil, he directed the movie, wrote the screenplay and, like more and more filmmakers, incorporated the DVD into the process from the start. He was determined to make a DVD that went beyond the usual strokefests.

"It was a really tough movie to make," Johnson says. "I thought it was important to be really honest about it, and let people know, because usually you see those behind-the-scenes things and it's always 'Oh, we had such a great time!' I said to my assistant, 'Take my camcorder and just follow me through everything, and let's not shy away from it.' "

With the obstacles Daredevil faced on his way to the screen, Johnson could have wound up with another "Lost in La Mancha," the documentary about Terry Gilliam's disastrous, failed attempt to film a story based on "Don Quixote."

"That's what I figured. If they pull the plug on me I can make an obscure documentary," he says, laughing now.

For one thing, the DVD shows that the studio had a "fear of a man in a red devil costume." Yet the character whose rights they'd bought had been just that for four decades. A laughable series of test costumes and colors ensued before the eventual compromise, the dark-red bondage queen garb that star Ben Affleck ultimately donned.

"That's a good example of the kind of wars there were," Johnson says.

"There was Marvel, there was New Regency, there was Fox. It was like three different studios, a lot of politics, a lot of fear about how to handle this weird character — because it wasn't Spider-Man or Hulk, he wasn't Batman or Superman. He was very much unknown, and we were all afraid of — especially the studio — of it looking silly. From the costume on down, everything was a battle."

In his audio commentary with producer Gary Foster, Johnson points out bloopers and clunky effects shots. As a computer-generated version of the hero swings away from the murder scene of Elektra's father, Johnson remarks, "A lot of great digital Daredevil shots in this movie. This is not one of them."

The second disc is divided between the film and the comic book, with features branching from both options. Among them are a segment on the film's blind consultant, and an hourlong look at some of Old Hornhead's artists and writers.

"I think that we've paid more tribute to the comic book than anyone has before. Literally when can go on a DVD and you can make a choice — You want the movie or you want the comic book? — that's pretty cool."

Enough already

It's also the kind of thing that answers a question that the recording industry has been wrestling with: What's the real reason CD sales have slumped while DVDs are soaring higher than Hawkman? If you think it's just Internet song-swapping, call for your seeing-eye dog. It's value. About $15-$20 will buy one no-frills music CD or a whole movie on a DVD stuffed with more supplements than Lou Ferrigno.

But the flip side of that is DVD overkill. Music videos, features on the most minute aspects of production, games. ... Bloated "special edition" DVDs even made it to No. 24 on Mad Magazine's August cover story on "50 Worst Things About Movies."

"The studios just dump it on without any thought," says Craig Hyland at the Videophile shop in Seattle.

Much supplemental material just consists of the filmmakers patting themselves on the back, he says. Some labels are also worse than others when it comes to dubious extras. "Any of the Disney Vista series, where they just go on and on and on with worthless information," Hyland says. He singles out the four-disc " 'Pearl Harbor,' with the most incredible amount of crap that you could never want to watch." Multiple commentaries, a feature on the actors in boot camp, and 8 mm footage shot by the director's assistant are only a fraction of the bloated contents.

There are plenty of other examples:

• New Line's "infinifilm" series deserves an overdose award, packaging an addiction documentary with the Johnny Depp film, "Blow," Mark Fuhrman in a painfully awkward panel discussion on tabloid news with "15 Minutes," and the ability to cut away to audition footage during films. Its recent "Final Destination 2" release had a segment in which a neurofeedback specialist measured the responses of volunteers watching the movie's shock scenes.

• Universal's recent "The Fast and the Furious All New Tricked Out Edition" includes a wretched feature hosted by a Playboy Playmate on customizing cars.

• Columbia's disc for Vin Diesel's "XXX" has an ad for the new GTO and links to buy clothing.

• Warner's upcoming disc for the teen comedy "What a Girl Wants" includes a featurette on "fashion and etiquette" and a clothes-matching "What's a Girl to Wear?" game — along with two commentary tracks.

• And doesn't Fox's "There's Something About Mary" stop being funny after six hours of extras?

At Video Store Magazine, editor-in-chief Kurt Indvik says, "There has always been some discussion in the industry about how much do you want to put on a disc in terms of extras. Whether it's too much or worthless crap is always in the eye of the beholder. It depends on whether you're a significant fan of the film or not."

Hyperfans eat it up

However, Indvik notes that certain types of audiences devour the extras.

"I think for superhero comic-book type characters and also anime, they will watch anything. They'll consume any sort of media that involves their favorite characters, especially if it transcends the film and you have related print or television products that go along with it."

For his part, Johnson says he packed the "Daredevil" discs with so much that there wasn't room for the standard deleted scenes. He says he's got a version of the film that's 25 minutes longer, already edited. So he's going to pull a "Lord of the Rings" and later release another "Daredevil" DVD that contains the expanded version. And if "LOTR" is any indication, fans will buy that one, too.

"That's what I'm going to do," Johnson admits. "At some point I want to show people what's missing, because there's a lot of story missing from that movie."

No date has been set for that edition. Meanwhile, as they say in the funny books, he offers a glimpse of the missing material:

When no one else will represent a man (Coolio) accused of murdering a prostitute, Daredevil's lawyer alter-ego, Matt Murdock, and his partner, Foggy, take the case. Able to hear the man's heartbeat, Matt knows he's telling the truth. Playing blind detective with his hyper-senses, Matt follows the trail all the way to the Kingpin of Crime (Michael Clarke Duncan).

Johnson says the omission explains another blooper you can spot in the current DVD: "He and the Kingpin have their big fight, and you hear the sirens coming and Matt Murdock says, 'They're coming for you, Kingpin.' And you're going Why? Why suddenly now? It makes no sense. There's a whole subplot leading up to that moment."

Johnson says he hopes to be involved in the sequel. But now he's writing the screenplay for a lesser known Marvel character, Ghost Rider. He's set to begin directing it in the spring with Nicolas Cage in the lead. And as an unabashed comic geek, he gets a little worked up talking about it.

"Daredevil I absolutely adore, but you are limited to a guy putting on a costume and jumping out a window. Ghost Rider, there's literally no limits to it. You can do anything you want because you're dealing with demons. It's going to be an epic monster movie."

Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or mrahner@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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