Probably the biggest attraction of DVDs, at least for me, is the extras. I try (but don’t always succeed) in watching all the extras from any DVD I buy — “making of” documentaries, cast bios, trailers, insipid commentary tracks by the assistant producer — but the one thing I make a point of watching, including on rentals, is the deleted/extended scenes.
Often, you can clearly see why the scenes were deleted — because they don’t add anything, and may even contradict other parts of the film. In many cases, though, they truly illuminate. The second Lara Croft: Tomb Raider disk included an alternate ending. Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde had numerous bits deleted which expanded on and explained small plot bits, and so on.
The classic case, of course, is the Lord of the Rings trilogy, with each of the first two   (and undoubtedly the third) having more than 30 minutes of additional footage available. But most notable in this case is that these extensions and restorations were completely finished and incorporated back into the film, so they aren’t extras, they are inclusions. One of the earliest DVDs I rented — damned if I remember what it was — had an option where the deleted scenes could be watched “inline”, but because they weren’t fully produced with sound and post-production filters and such, the result detracted from the film as much as it added.
Not so with Lord of the Rings, of course; here the DVDs are the real movie, what ideally should have been seen the first time, except for concerns of length and pacing. While some fans would dispute it, I generally agree with the choices to make some of those cuts. When you’re in the theatre, your bladder filling up from a 48-ounce Pepsi, an extra two minutes of the Fellowship floating down the river or wandering through Moria may not add to your experience, but at home, where you can pause or stop the film and come back later, the added lushness and dialogue bits have much greater value.
With Legally Blonde 2, there were enough extra scenes with real meat to them (or even just fun fluff, since it is a fun fluff film, after all) that I found myself really wishing they had been reincorporated into the DVD. I suppose the answer comes down to money in the end: will the DVD sell enough extra copies if they do the extra work to pay for it?
Obviously in the case of Lord of the Rings, the answer is yes. That’s why they are doing, what is it, four DVD releases of each film? (Initial DVD, initial plus extras, with reincorporated content, and collector’s volume with a statue — which will presumably be of an oliphaunt in the third box.) The extension of this is that “fans” are the ones who will desire (and pay for) the extra content and extra work. We can see that a trend is starting here, as they have announced two DVD releases for Hellboy, one with 20 minutes of extra footage incorporated. (Sign me up now!) I’m actually surprised that they didn’t do this with X2 (the second X-Men film) last winter, but I’ll bet Spider-Man 2 gets the treatment this Christmas. It should become de rigueur for high-grossing “fan” films.
Updated on January 20, 2011
Turns out that the statue in the third boxed set was Minas Tirith.
So far as I can tell, the Hellboy DVD did not get the deleted scenes incorporated into it, even on the Director’s Cut version.