Comedy, Technology and DVD Extras: In Defense of a Dying Format

Media formats come and go, subject to the gale-force winds of technology and the retail market. Me, I'm still clinging to my Monty Python collections on VHS.

I've weathered quite a few media format changes in my day. The first music I ever bought for myself (Blondie's Autoamerican, if you're interested) was purchased on good old-fashioned vinyl, that rather Victorian format that has since been wholly replaced with bits, bytes, data clouds and most recently the rather glorious entity that is Spotify.

Media formats come and go, subject to the gale-force winds of technology and the retail market. I'm old enough to remember when floppy discs were actually floppy, when cassingles were a good idea, and when Beta vs. VHS was a legitimate debate in home video.

It's within this last arena – home video – where we're seeing the most radical changes these days. As with music, the physical format of choice – DVD – is slowly but surely on its way out. This is chiefly due to the improving ubiquity and convenience of on-demand and digital download options – whether via cable TV, game consoles, set-top devices or personal computer.

The slow demise of DVD (and it's posh cousin, Blu-ray) has taken a few adjacent industries with it, like Blockbuster and the friendly neighborhood video rental store. But as with vinyl records, there is still and will always be a market among collectors for DVD and Blu-ray. Some of us still like the idea of a physical artifact to hold and shelve and generally obsess over.

As a semi-rabid collector and unreformed comedy nerd – I still have Monty Python collections on VHS – my personal predilections run toward maintaining a library of classic comedy titles. For me, the best TV and film comedies are like the best Beatles albums. I return to them over and over, just to admire the musicality and clockwork precision of it all.

Below are four recent DVD and Blu-ray comedy releases that have found their way into my permanent collection, often on the strength of the suite of bonus material -- still in use but certain to become quickly obsolete -- usually referred to as "DVD Extras".

This is an element still lacking in digital download and on-demand options, I've found. Depending on the deals that studios cut with their distributors, the extras on Blu-ray and DVD titles are often limited or not there at all with digital releases.

If, like me, you enjoy exploring the excruciating minutia of film and TV comedy, it's worthwhile to get these titles on DVD or Blu-ray. This way, you'll still have something to watch when SkyNet takes over and detonates the data cloud. I've already set up two DVD/Blu-ray players, a 21-inch flat screen and a diesel generator in our backyard bomb shelter. I'm not taking any chances.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off: Bueller … Bueller … Edition

Rated PG-13 for language; available on DVD and Blu-ray

Director John Hughes' 1986 teen comedy gets the inevitable 25th anniversary repackaging, in DVD and Blu-ray. Three graduating high school seniors enjoy one last day of joyful truancy in the city of Chicago. Packed to the rafters with funny scenes and memorable characters, Ferris Bueller is among the best of John Hughes '80s teen oeuvre. The film made a star out of Matthew Broderick, who created a character for the ages in the loveable, slightly bratty and impossibly lucky Ferris Bueller.

Watching it again, it's clear that the movie really soars, thanks to supporting work from Alan Ruck, Mia Sara, Jennifer Grey, Ben Stein and especially Jeffrey Jones as the eternally unfortunate Dean Rooney.

The Extras: Both the DVD and Blu-ray editions gather together a half-dozen or so extras from previous home video editions, including a cast reunion and some worthwhile “lost scenes”.

The Blues Brothers / Animal House

Each rated R for various infractions; first-time Blu-ray reissues

In the late '70s and '80s, director John Landis delivered a string of successful mainstream comedies starring some of the best comic talent of the day. Consider this string of hits: Animal House, The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London, Trading Places, Spies Like Us, Three Amigos, Coming to America.

Landis' unhinged, reckless approach to filmmaking and comedy shines through in all his movies, but none more so than his first two big successes, Animal House and The Blues Brothers. Both, of course, also star John Belushi in his prime, which doesn't hurt.

Of these, Animal House doesn't age particularly well – the rude frat comedy seems terminally lame by today's standards. The Blues Brothers still seems rather immortal, though, thanks to its enduring musical comedy bits (all of Chicago line dancing to Ray Charles) and gleeful excess (50-plus cops cars destroyed in the final chase scene).

The Extras: Both feature extras from previous DVD releases, plus picture-in-picture and mobile device options. Animal House bonus features include a reunion doc, mockumentary and trivia game. The Blues Brothers includes an extended cut of the film, mini-docs on the film's production and legacy, and a tribute to John Belushi. As Blu-ray upgrades go, neither disc is strictly necessary if you have previous DVD versions. But the improved image quality and audio – especially on The Blues Brothers disc – is nice.

The Kids in the Hall: The Complete Series DVD Megaset

Unrated; available on DVD

Like Monty Python, The Kids in the Hall was anarchic sketch comedy with often surreal premises, a lot of cross dressing, and a defiant attitude entirely resonant with punk rock. The show was clearly conversant with youth subcultures of the day, and even featured – oh, my – an openly gay cast member in comedian Scott Thompson.

Circa 1988, Thompson's funny and flamboyant “Buddy Cole” monologues were pretty revolutionary. He basically stared down middle America (or middle Canada) and dared us to laugh with him, back when gay-bashing was popular and sometimes literal. Thinking back on it now, those early "Kids in the Hall" episodes were as important as my Pixies and Replacements records. They represented a larger, cooler world waiting just beyond high school graduation.

I lost an entire weekend digging through the 22 discs, 800 sketches and several hours of bonus materials. It's all there: Buddy Cole. Cabbage Head. Simon and Hecubus. The Head Crusher. Cathy and Kathie. Thirty Helens Agree. The Chicken Lady. Trappers. The Daves I Know.

The Extras: The bonus materials are spread across five discs, one each appended to the Season 1 – Season 5 collections. The oral history segments are the most fascinating, with each of the Kids holding forth in separate interviews, dishing on backstage intrigues and, often, one another. Among the DVD set's other bonus material highlights: audio commentaries on selected sketches and episodes; several fan-favorite best-of compilations; outtakes and bloopers; and some amazing footage of the Kids' pre-fame stage show at Toronto's Rivoli Theater.

It should be noted that none of the material in this repackaged megaset is strictly new. The complete series collection was initially issued to DVD in 2006, and you can still buy that package online a little cheaper.

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