From Frodo to folkies, DVDs impress

Dave Rossetti

After a strong 2002 that saw them become dominant, 2003 was the year that DVDs became transcendent.

Even the most basic features of DVD were revised. Featurettes got their own featurettes and — most encouraging — a lot of innovation went into commentary tracks.

But despite all those changes, the class of the DVD world comes from the sequel to last year’s best DVD package.

1) “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Special Extended Edition”

After last year’s jaw-dropping set for “The Fellowship of the Ring,” Peter Jackson and company somehow managed to live up to expectations on “The Two Towers” collection. Again it’s four completely different and interesting commentary tracks and hours upon hours of features about every possible aspect of the movie that give the film amazing replayability, but die-hards had to be happy with the attention given to fan favorites Gollum and the Ents. But most importantly, the 43 additional minutes of film greatly improve this edition from the theatrical cut. It’s simply the best $25 you’ll spend all year.

2) “The Lion King”

Though the new song is fairly worthless, there’s only about 10 more hours of features to occupy your time with on this DVD. There’s plenty of games for the kiddies, but for the more patient viewers there’s amazingly expansive looks at the animals, environments, music and pain-staking creation process of “The Lion King.” With so many continents and genres captured in the features, the DVD even has pre-made “journeys” to help people navigate the massive second disc.

3) “A Mighty Wind”

The ultra-delicate balance of mocking and celebrating the folk music world that Christopher Guest struck in this movie gets an even more in-depth look on the DVD. There’s plenty more laughs through Guest and co-writer Eugene Levy’s deadpan commentary and some fabulous deleted scenes, but the simplest features are the best here. The fake television performances of the bands and the concert — presented here as it would have been for television — that closes the movie reveal the serious work and talent that went into this very funny film.

4) “Terminator 2: Extreme Edition”

Much like this summer’s “Terminator 3,” this revised edition of “T2” was fairly unnecessary (there’s already a fine “Ultimate Edition” DVD for “T2”), but supremely fun. Director James Cameron and co-writer William Wisher do a completely different commentary track from the first release and also track the impact of the movie’s technology (while also bemoaning the “morphing” craze of the early ’90s they started). The innovation here comes on a text commentary track that runs on the bottom of the screen and allows the entire film to still be heard. This superb idea provides great background information and allows you to jump straight to footage of a particular scene while watching it and the not-usually-this-benolevent Cameron also takes the viewer to film school by describing how each shot in the movie was done.

5) “Finding Nemo”

Let the kids go crazy while they learn about the different kinds of fish and get to stare at an aquarium with the full-screen disc of this set. You can still take the wide-screen version and enjoy the most integrated commentary track of the year. The genuinely funny commentary of the film’s creators gets supplemented by jumping straight to clips, storyboards and rejected ideas that relate to each scene and really enrich an already great film.

6) “The Adventures of Indiana Jones”

America’s two most lovable nerds have always been tripped up by DVDs. George Lucas still hasn’t released the first three “Star Wars” and Steven Spielberg took the guns out of “E.T.,” but on their “Indiana Jones” collaboration they almost get it right. While there’s — unforgivably — no commentaries on any movie in the trilogy, there are fantastic documentaries for each one that include the priceless screen test of Tom Selleck trying out for the role of Indy. There is a wealth of behind-the-scenes footage that somehow survived the last 20 years and pretty honest interviews with all the featured players that almost justify the $50+ price tag.

7) “Gangs of New York”

Sure, there’s a lot of history lessons about what mid-1800’s New York was like (including a dictionary of Bowery slang with words to annoy your friends with for days) and a lot of attention paid to the lavish sets of the film, but the biggest joy in these extras is getting to spend a few hours with Martin Scorsese. America’s most animated filmmaker is all over this DVD as he describes his 30- year process of making “Gangs,” walks through the sets with glee and describes his filming process in a commentary track supplemented with an NPR interview all with his trademark crazy — yet calculated — mannerisms.

8) “Scarface”

The favorite movie of rappers across the globe gets a more than proper release with a 20th anniversary edition. While also criminally lacking a commentary track, there’s lots of great interviews, highlighted by writer Oliver Stone describing how he get involved with cocaine and met plenty of gangsters to get a better feel for the world of “Scarface.” Throw in a hilarious look at how the film gets neutered for television showings and an amazing restoration of the bright colors and dark worlds of the film and it’s easy to justify all those rappers buying another version.

9) “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”

While the film’s humor doesn’t hold up all that well 15 years later, this re-release has plenty of quality features. There’s a pop-up trivia mode for little background tidbits and an extremely disturbing deleted scene of Bob Hoskins wearing an all-too-real pig’s head. But the DVD goes a long way to showing how great Hoskins’ performance was in working with the early stages of green-screening and giving a believable performance while often only having a stick to interact with.

10) “The Simpsons: Season Three”

The producers still haven’t gotten the DVD releases down pat, but as the episode content of each season is getting better, so are the features. Gone are the days of Butterfinger ads being the main feature as decent commentaries were available for every episode and a fun jukebox of “Simpsons” tunes was added. Most encouraging was a pop-up trivia feature for the “Lurleen” episode, an innovation that hopefully will be expanded for season four.

Also check out: The massive nine-disc “Alien Quadrilogy” was released this week and has more than enough features to keep you busy … There’s more time to spend with the electric Johnny Depp in “The Pirates of the Caribbean” release … “Family Guy” was able to put out decent releases for all three of their seasons in the span it takes “The Simpsons” to put out one … The “JFK” re-release is a conspiracy buff’s dream as Oliver Stone talks plenty about his theories.,”Matthew T. Olson”