It seems the next evolution of Blu-ray software has arrived, in the form of Warner Bros' Maximum Movie Move and Universal's U-Control feature entitled Take Control.
The first Maximum Movie Mode disc was Watchmen (US/Can only) while the first Take Control disc was Fast and Furious.
Both basically offer the same opportunity and features. The playback branches out to a separate clip/chapter where the person presenting can talk about filming the scene, point to things on the screen, have split screen showing comparisons and also pause, rewind or fast forward the action. All this is done with the presenter on screen walking around a virtual set. Once this is finished, the movie returns to the normal presentation for the next scene(s). Both other other features - such as "focus points" or text/image/video overlays too.
I'm very impressed with both - although it has to be said Universal's Take Control isn't quite as seamless as Maximum Movie Mode (although its better than Universal's similar Know You Mummy feature on Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor). Watchmen's In Movie Experience loses some points for not allowing the photo galleries to be selectable from the main menu (unlike its focus point featurettes).
It's becoming harder and harder to actually work out how long special features on such discs are. UK Universal discs give the total running time for supplements on the back and it says these are 2hr 22min for Fast and Furious, but I doubt this contains the various U-Control features and commentary, meaning another two to two-and-a-half hours can probably be added on.
Both of the new systems allow a director to really tell you everything that they want about a scene - from the storyboards to the shooting to the effects and more. Interesting as Watchmen's Maximum Movie Mode is though, its not quite a replacement for a commentary, and its a shame Watchmen doesn't come with one. It should be noted that Fast and Furious still has a normal director's commentary available if you so choose.
But is this how people want to watch a movie? I'm sort of in two minds about it. Nine times out of ten, a well edited single "making of" documentary is the perfect way to present information. That's why most Picture-in-Picture tracks fail in general - because they're not really edited well. They just pop-up and then disappear, with no regard to their own flow or the flow of the movie.
But presenting information as part of the movie as seen in these new technologies really works when particular scenes are deconstructed. Something which would look out of place and slow down a general "Making of" - both discs really reveal almost everything about each particular scene. The problem is, studios seem to think by including these, they don't need to make a general "making of" documentary. I'm pleased Fast and Furious as a normal commentary, even though I will probably never listen to it, because these new formats don't replace proper documentaries or the commentary format. They should be seen as additions.