There is a curse on our society. It is a dangerous and insidious plague that works its way into the very heart of the most precious part of our lives: our entertainment. I am, of course, referring to DVD bonus features. While tempting and tantalizing, they have cursed us with the knowledge of what might have been. This extra content often reveals the director’s original vision, before things like budget and other physical constraints get in the way. Without this knowledge, fans are more than happy with the final product, but with the additional knowledge we begin to ask ourselves how much more would we have loved what might have been.
Starship Troopers is my favorite book, hands down. I’ve read it at least a half dozen times. Robert Heinlein crafted a fantastic science fiction universe, and the centerpiece of that universe is the Mobile Infantry, with their suits of powered armor. These suits protect the infantrymen and provide them with enhanced strength, sensory perception, communications, and weaponry. These suits are described in the book as looking like giant, armored gorillas. Of course, this is not what appeared in the film. Instead, it was a box office disaster that didn’t have powered armor at all. That being said, the movie has some redeeming qualities as a B movie and I was willing to accept the movie for what it is—that is, until I saw the special features. In them, director Paul Verhoeven spoke very excitedly about what he was planning to do with the suits. Special feature interviews with Verhoeven show various concepts of what the suits might have looked like and, while they were all very different, they were all really cool looking. Instead we got really crappy body armor (This same armor made an appearance in episode two of Firefly). Had I never seen Verhoeven’s original vision, I would have never expected anything other than the final movie version.
While Starship Troopers was an all-around disappointment, of which the armor was just one small part, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek was an awesome film. Abrams was able to successfully reboot the franchise while still retaining the aesthetic, the positive vision of the future, the characterizations, etc. that made Star Trek so amazing in the first place.
Accompanying the reboot is a refreshingly streamlined Enterprise. Everything looks so shiny and sleek. Well, almost everything. The engineering spaces are completely out of place with the new look. They have more in common with the engine room of a modern cargo ship than with any of the previous incarnations of Star Trek engineering spaces. I felt that this disconnect detracted from the film and for quite a while I was forced to wonder why J.J. Abrams made that particular choice. When my answer finally came, I was both pleased and disappointed. Again, thanks to DVD special features (ok, this time it was Blu Ray) I was shown the original designs for engineering. Everything I could have hoped for, it was streamlined, and meshed perfectly with the rest of the redesign. So what the hell happened? Turns out it was the almighty dollar sign. There just wasn’t enough money in the budget to make everything happen, and since it isn’t as integral to the film, engineering was forced to take one for the team. Unfortunately, now that I have seen the concept art, I can’t help but think about what the engine room could have looked like and how cool it would have been.
Of course DVDs are not the only place to get these kinds of behind the scenes secrets. Thanks to the internet there is a plethora of information and it usually doesn’t take more than thirty seconds of searching on Google to find it. In recent years studios have gone so far as to release concept art well in advance of the movie’s release in order to drum up as much excitement and anticipation as possible. I’ve always thought this was tremendously risky. What if the final product doesn’t live up to the expectations of the fans? If they didn’t already have this information, they would have never known and might have been satisfied with what they actually got.
DVD special features are great. They can be lots of fun, but they also carry with them the inherent danger of ruining the final product for the fans. One must be careful not to become too fixated on those things that might have been. Instead we should be content with what we have and leave the speculation for someone else.