BROOKE GLADSTONE: For film geeks looking to heighten the home viewing experience, there's a new toy on the web that's sure to please. It's called DVD Tracks [sp?] and it's do it yourself DVD commentary. You can record and share your own insights or you can download other people's commentary and listen while you watch the film.
BOB GARFIELD: Here's a taste of some of the commentary you could be listening to while you curl up with, say, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
MAN:This part is-- for me-- ohhhhh-- may be the creepiest part in the movie. I'm not a vegetarian. I, I do - I do eat burgers when I can [LAUGHS] afford them. I'm a poor ass college student; I-- I can't [LAUGHS] [avoid] to be a vegetarian.
BOB GARFIELD:Fascinating insight -- from just a regular guy. The whole operation was inspired by a Yahoo Internet Life column by Roger Ebert called You Too Can Be a DVD Movie Critic. Patrick Stein, a computer programmer from Minneapolis, launched the DVD Tracks web site. Mark Yarm wrote about it for Salon.com, and he joins me now. Mark, welcome to OTM.
MARK YARM: Hi. Thanks.
BOB GARFIELD: Do you think this is a step closer to the--age of fully-integrated internet and television experience -- so-called convergence?
MARK YARM: I mean it's a step in that direction. Right now it's very clunky. You have to put your computer alongside your, you know, television set and your DVD player and, and play. But in the future, you know, there might be DVD players that can play an MP3 concurrently with the image.
BOB GARFIELD:Well apart from the obvious attraction to, you know, a diary writer to share his thoughts which whatever public may be out there, do you think that the technology has a future that may transcend, you know, its basic masturbatory quality? [LAUGHTER]
MARK YARM: When it's made a little easier, perhaps more people might enter into the fray. There are a couple of commercially available DVDs that pick up on this and one is Kevin Smith's movie J and Silent Bob [sp?]. It's the first commercially available DVD I know that has a commentary feature, and basically using a DVD-ROM you can upload your commentary on select scenes to the movie site which is hosted by Miramax and share them with other users. The Spider Man DVD comes out in early November, and that also is going to have a commentary feature on it, but the only problem there is that you won't be able to share it with people - you'll have to play it back on your own computer.
BOB GARFIELD:Is that because of the intellectual property rights? The studio doesn't want to surrender its DVD to-- the annotation whims of anyone who wants to download his thoughts?
MARK YARM: Hollywood doesn't want you to alter its movies. I don't think they're going to object to a bunch of MP3s on, on some site, but once you start getting in there, into the DVD and changing stuff, they're going to get annoyed.
BOB GARFIELD:Hollywood has historically been very short-sighted about technology and how it may actually help sales rather than hinder them. If everyone could record his own thoughts on DVDs, isn't one of the possibilities that Hollywood would be selling a lot more DVDs?
MARK YARM: I spoke to a man named Ernest Miller [sp?] who is a fellow at the Information Society Project at Yale, and his argument was you know why not have people be able to sell these things on Amazon? You know, when Triple X comes on DVD. You wanted to buy that -- you could see who, who's made commentary on it, and you know - if they got a big name - that might attract people, and people could see what sort of commentaries were up there and it would add value to the DVD.
BOB GARFIELD:Well, and that I think gets back to Roger Ebert's original idea which was to give a perspective to a piece of art that someone on the production team, like the director, wouldn't be able to provide.
MARK YARM: Right. I mean for instance he said why don't we give it to someone who was on the set but was disgruntled, and then they could you know dish the dirt on everything that happened behind the scenes, or have a psychologist remark a memento or a different expert. He also gave an example maybe a, a vet -Vietnam Vet comment on Platoon - so people could lend their particular area of expertise. Right now, DVD Tracks isn't particularly doing that. It's mostly, you know, a bunch of guys, almost exclusively guys, commenting on, you know, Star Wars. Not that they're not necessarily entertaining or insightful, but it's not reaching that full potential that Ebert had envisioned.
BOB GARFIELD: Right now it's a - just sort of a digital vanity press.
MARK YARM: I mean I, I guess you could say that if, if you wanted to be cynical [LAUGHS] about it.
BOB GARFIELD: I do.
MARK YARM: Okay. You do.
MAN:I wrote a term paper on this thing and I'd like to share bits and pieces of it with you as we comment on the movie here. Got an A+ on this in a-- History of Cinema class. I, I guess the guy really liked it.
MARK YARM: It's mostly-- [LAUGHTER] people just sharing their thoughts and, you know, everyone says who cares. Some people care.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay. Mark Yarm, thank you very much!
MARK YARM: Thank you!
BOB GARFIELD: Mark Yarm is a freelance writer. He wrote about DVD Tracks for Salon.com.