DVD bonus features showcase award contenders' strengths

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These discs aren’t made for Acad voters. But studios certainly wouldn’t mind them — or other kudocasters — taking a look.

Unlike no-frills screeners sent to Academy or BAFTA members, these mass-market discs come with bonus features designed to highlight each contender’s strengths. That might be a harrowing commentary by 9/11 survivor Will Jimeno on Paramount’s two-disc edition of “World Trade Center,” a featurette on producer Wendy Finerman’s determination to adapt “The Devil Wears Prada” for the bigscreen or a sobering update on global warming on the “An Inconvenient Truth” disc.

Scribes, producers and costume designers — all potential nominees — get their due on the disc hopefuls. The tyro crew behind “Little Miss Sunshine” sheds light on their filmmaking process on two separate commentary tracks, while a featurette on “Oliver Stone’s New York” invites “WTC” viewers to trace the Oscar hopeful’s career. And several “Prada” extras herald costume designer Patricia Field’s fashion acumen.

To be sure, these discs also contain mainstream crowd-pleasers, like the “Boss From Hell” featurette on “Prada” and four alternate endings for “Little Miss Sunshine.”

With these discs, studios are trying to maximize DVD coin and awards awareness simultaneously. Over the past few years, studios have been releasing hopefuls on disc earlier and earlier; this year there are four key titles — “Prada” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “WTC” and “An Inconvenient Truth” — bowing during the holiday period, compared with “Cinderella Man” and “March of the Penguins” last year.

Universal has had mixed success bowing hopefuls on DVD late in the year, but last season Lionsgate showed it was safe to go out even earlier; it released “Crash” on disc in September, then blanketed Hollywood with screeners to remind all of its pic. “Crash” had sold around 4 million DVDs by the time it won the best picture Oscar.

“Gladiator,” credited with paving the way for early DVD bows by Oscar hopefuls, scored big first at the video store, then at the Academy Awards. It immediately commanded the DVD sales chart upon its November 2000 release; Universal has sold more than 10 million copies of the pic on disc. U sold 5 million DVDs of “Seabiscuit” its first week in a December bow that was credited with helping it get seven Oscar noms, though the pic ultimately didn’t win any golden statuettes.

Traditionally, bows were skedded after Oscar nominations or the kudocast, but now these releases are more intertwined with awards campaigns. Disc bows of pics with awards potential are mapped out way in advance. Last year, a flurry of contenders bowed in January and February, with each wave timed to kudos awareness.

“Obviously we are always looking at what the best dates are for our movies,” says Par worldwide homevid prexy Kelley Avery.

The decision to go out earlier in the award season is easier when pics have wider appeal and could generate healthy coin during the holiday giftapalooza. Fox execs consider “Little Miss Sunshine” and “The Devil Wears Prada” no-brainers for fourth quarter releases given their success at the box office. “Prada” has earned $124.7 million at the domestic B.O., while smaller-budgeted “Sunshine” has raked in $59.2 million. In fact, Fox Home Entertainment exec VP and g.m. Simon Swart predicts “Sunshine” will truly shine on disc when it debuts this week.

” ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ will be one of those movies that gets discovered on DVD,” he says.

Another Fox exec, marketing communications senior VP Steve Feldstein, likens it to “Napoleon Dynamite,” which had a boffo bow on disc during the same time of year. “People were buying two to three copies at a time so they could share it with friends and family.”

The biggest challenge for “WTC” may be getting people to get past their resistance to the 9/11 story. The disc, which bowed last week along with “Prada,” is packed with features on the bombing of the World Trade Center and its aftermath, but the discourse by survivors and rescuers can make for tough viewing.

The disc is also competing with Universal’s “United 93,” which bowed on DVD before the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks. The scaled-down package contains commentary by helmer Paul Greengrass and a loose docu on the families left behind in the crash — which had no survivors.

To read the reviews of these DVDs click here.

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