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Nashville Scene Spinning Tales

Where to start your DVD collection?

By Noel Murray

MAY 1, 2000:  One day in the early '80s, we were all reading about CD players. A few months later, we saw them in stores, and we knew somebody who had bought one (and wouldn't shut up about it). A few months after that, we noticed that there were more and more CDs in the local record store, some of which had extra tracks that we weren't getting on our crummy ol' vinyl LPs. Then some nice parent (or grandparent, or spouse) bought us a CD player for Christmas, and that was all she wrote.

Now the same cycle is occurring again with the DVD player. Once the exclusive province of technophiles, DVD players are affordable enough to start whispering softly from the shelves. "You've bought everything else," one might say, or, "You've got a birthday coming up," or "Hey, I'm only about $250." At this point, there's really no argument against getting a DVD player, especially if you care at all about movies. The discs are as cheap as (if not cheaper than) videotapes, and though you can't record on them or from them, the durability, technical quality, and bonus features more than make up for those functions only your VCR can perform.

So let's assume you're going to get a DVD player. Now comes the fun part: What's the first disc to buy? The very question may send you spinning back to that first CD player and that first armload of CDs. What did you buy then? If you're like most folks, you got something classical, some new album you'd been meaning to pick up, and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. "Entertain me," you were saying to your new hardware, "and show my friends what you can do."

There are a handful of discs that qualify as the DVD equivalent of Dark Side, but the one that seems to be the most popular first purchase among film buffs is P.T. Anderson's sprawling Boogie Nights, and not just because its porn-industry-centered plot is full of sex and nudity. Boogie Nights just seems to be made for the DVD era--it's a long, messy movie with a smattering of fantastic scenes, which the DVD owner can skip straight to, as if they were his favorite songs on a filler-packed album. And not only that, the edition of Boogie Nights on DVD is loaded with the extras that make the technology worthwhile; embedded in the disc are deleted scenes, music videos, production notes, and a separate audio track that enables the viewer to hear Anderson's running commentary on the film.

So that settles it--buy Boogie Nights first, right? Well, maybe not. Word on the street is that there will be an even more loaded version of the film coming out this summer, to coincide with the release of Anderson's Magnolia. It's important to exercise some caution when making those initial purchases; you may end up feeling pretty vexed when your favorite movie gets repackaged in a better edition later on. There are several Web sites devoted to upcoming DVD releases (many of which also sell discs extremely cheaply), so it wouldn't hurt to do a little research.

But for now, you're at the store, with the big box in your cart, and you need a few discs to get you started. Here are a few great first purchases, full of the sort of features that show off your technology to the fullest:

A Bug's Life Regardless of whether you buy the regular or the collector's edition, you'll get a remarkable demonstration of digital artistry. A movie created without a single strip of actual film has been transferred to disc with no intervening media mucking up the picture--it's like your TV has been turned into a window to the outdoors (except of course that it's a window into pure digital technology). The double-disc collector's edition adds a ton of worthy goodies: There are featurettes on just about every stage of the film's creation, from design to casting to marketing, with examples that let the DVD owner examine sketches or compare scenes at different stages of development. With cheerful host segments and audio-only commentary by directors John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton, the A Bug's Life: Collector's Edition DVD is a crash course in computer animation as delightful as the film itself.

Ghostbusters First of all, you'll want this in your library because it's a crowd-pleaser. What's the point of having a new toy if you can't show it off? And what better way than with a movie that just about all of your friends and relatives can enjoy? Plus, the transfer is amazing. After years of seeing the film cut up on basic cable in a muddy pan-and-scan version, this crisp, colorful widescreen version is like seeing the film in a theater in 1984. If you choose to listen to the commentary track--by director Ivan Reitman, writer-star Harold Ramis, and some useless producer guy--the commentators actually appear silhouetted on your screen, MST3K-style, as they comment.

Out of Sight Director Steven Soderbergh is cementing his reputation as a favorite of cinephiles by becoming the master of DVD, which has already become the cinephile's favorite medium. His movies are full of technical razzle-dazzle and deep performances, both of which he describes with self-deprecating charm in his audio commentaries. Of the available Soderbergh DVDs, it's a toss-up between the recently released disc of The Limey (featuring a spirited argument between Soderbergh and screenwriter Lem Dobbs over who deserves credit for a movie) and the more popular Out of Sight. The Elmore Leonard adaptation gets the nod because it's a richer movie and more immediately entertaining. And there's an unusually cool unheralded feature of the disc--with twice as many chapter stops as standard DVDs, it's all the easier to find your favorite scene.

Rushmore Not quite two years after its unspectacular run in theaters, Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson's bittersweet coming-of-age comedy is already being heralded as a sleeper classic. It has even gotten the "Criterion Collection" treatment, which means that there's a special version of the DVD that costs almost twice what a standard disc costs, featuring extensive production notes and bells-and-whistles extras. There are at least three reasons to buy this disc, besides the fact that Rushmore is one of the best films of the last decade. One is the lengthy interviews with director Anderson and star Bill Murray from The Charlie Rose Show; two is the revelatory audition tapes of lead Jason Schwartzman (among others); and three is the special "Max Fischer Players" versions of blockbuster movies, made for the MTV Movie Awards. All of which enhance the one-of-a-kind environment of this wonderful movie.

The Matrix If you're looking for the true Dark Side of the Moon of the DVD world, you have to buy this disc. Notwithstanding the breathtaking action and cultish philosophy that have made the film a generation-defining piece of science-fiction, this DVD also has marvelously entertaining "how'd-they-do-that" featurettes. In fact, the technical personnel get more play in the commentary tracks and extras than the writer-director team of Andy and Larry Wachowski. There are even hidden features that can only be unlocked if you have a DVD-ROM drive on your computer, and the disc is notorious for locking up improperly-equipped computers and even DVD players.

Rabid technophilia and built-in glitches. What better way to get dragged into the 21st century?

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