How do you keep selling a movie that most fans already own? In the age of DVDs, the answer is easy: repackage it, polish up the picture and audio quality, and bundle in some "extras." Presto! A special-deluxe-anniversary-director's-cut-edition DVD in time for the holidays.
Are any of them worth the upgrade? Or, if you're buying the movie for the first time, is it worth skipping over the bargain-bin copy and paying for the latest and greatest release? Here's a sampling of some recent special edition releases:
The movie: A true classic, The Sound of Music has aged well. The Oscar-winning 1965 film is based on the true story of widower Captain Georg von Trapp (Christopher Plummer), his family of seven children, and their unique relationship with a former nun named Maria (Julie Andrews). Perhaps cornball at times, the movie's music is still ingrained in nearly every child's memory seemingly from birth, and the family's flight from Nazi Austria is as powerful a tale as ever.
What's new? That question is a little bit more complicated to answer here. The Sound of Music has been available in at least five earlier DVD versions, including two other dual-disc sets packed with extras. But it's hard to imagine wanting much more than the six hours of special features found on this edition, which include new audio commentaries and featurettes on both the film and the real von Trapp family.
Is it worth it? This edition bundles a fantastic-looking restored print of the classic film with everything you could ever want to know about The Sound of Music. The re-release may be mostly a marketing gimmick, but this seems to be the definitive version to buy of a film well worth owning.
The movie: Depending on your perspective, the film remains just as boring or as poignant as you remember it. For fans of fly fishing, the West, and slow, measured storytelling, A River Runs Through It is a real treat; others had best steer clear of Robert Redford's 1992 tale of becoming a man in the 1920s and '30s in Missoula, Mont. But Mr. Redford's gorgeously shot film, adapted from Norman Maclean's novel, admirably captures the essence of the film's memorable first line: "In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing."
What's new? Not much; this deluxe edition contains no deleted scenes, making-of documentaries, or any other special features at all. Instead, the movie is packaged with an only mildly interesting 32-page "Movie Scrapbook" with lots of pictures, cast biographies, and short essays. The film features remastered video, but no new multichannel soundtrack.
Is it worth it? Previously available only in an even more bare-bones release, the "Deluxe Edition" marks some improvement. The remastered video looks great and, for a film that depends significantly on its lush, Oscar-winning cinematography, it makes sense to go for the best picture quality for only a few dollars more.
The movie: The Frighteners is an odd, gruesome black comedy / horror amalgam that gives American audiences a glimpse of what Lord of the Rings guru Peter Jackson's films were like before he came to Hollywood. Mr. Jackson's first big-budget feature stars Michael J. Fox as a supernatural con artist in league with the ghosts he supposedly rids from people's homes. The phenomenal special effects are the main attraction here; otherwise the film is unpleasant and overlong.
What's new? Lots. The "Director's Cut" is 14 minutes longer than the theatrical release of The Frighteners, but the real appeal of this new, double-sided disc is the nearly four-hour making-of documentary, which details all of the homegrown advances in computer-animated special effects that made the film possible. While not put to a particularly good use here, Mr. Jackson's special effects company, Weta, would later use this hardware and technical knowledge on The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Is it worth it? For an extended version of The Frighteners, no. But Mr. Jackson continues to set the standard for how to make a deluxe edition live up to its name. Fascinating behind-the-scenes detail abounds, helping explain how a low-budget New Zealand horror maestro successfully tackled Tolkien's complex fantasy.
The movie: The Muppet Movie was the 1979 big-screen debut of Jim Henson's goofy puppets. The film itself is suitably goofy (and clever) and features a steady stream of (sometimes hilarious, sometimes superfluous) celebrity cameos from the likes of Steve Martin and Bob Hope. The humor is a little edgy at times, but also refreshingly non-PC.
What's new? For the 50th anniversary of The Muppets, Disney is re-releasing The Muppet Movie along with three other Muppet films. Extras are at a minimum (this disc features only a short profile of Kermit the Frog by Pepe the King Prawn), but the film itself has been restored and is offered in both widescreen and fullscreen formats.
Is it worth it? While the newly restored print of the film looks pretty good, and the new 5.1 channel audio improves the sound quality, The Muppet Movie isn't really a film designed to show off home theater systems. Committed fans and new buyers should look for this version of the disc; others won't notice much difference between the anniversary edition and previously available versions.