Debra Goldman’s Consumer Republic

In its fifth week of release, Disney and Pixar’s animated feature Monsters Inc. could use a little shot in the arm. Last Friday, it got it with the addition of the audience pleaser du jour: outtakes added to the closing credit sequence. A brief ad blitz last week invited kids to come back to theaters for never-before-seen footage of the lovable inhabitants of Monstropolis blowing their lines and breaking character.

The death of reality entertainment has been greatly exaggerated. But instead of looking to Darwinian contests for thrills, audiences are finding a kinder, gentler reality in lines fluffed 25 years ago on The Carol Burnett Show and the humanizing foibles of performers who aren’t even human.

Not that bloopers have ever been out of fashion on television. They have the same lower-cortex appeal of banana-peel pratfalls and fart jokes. In the `90s, we had America’s Funniest Home Videos, which was to blooper shows what everyman editions of The Weakest Link are to the celebrity ones. Sitcoms such as Home Improvement ended every episode with outtakes. Blooper shows for Seinfeld, Frasier and Friends gave fans another outlet for their devotion. Outtakes are a way of audiences getting closer to performers they already love.

For the spread of outtakes to feature films we can thank, in part, DVD, which is expected to be in 25 million homes by the end of this year (and that doesn’t count PlayStation 2s and Xboxes, which double as DVD players). The 5.5 million units of Shrek that have moved off the shelves since Nov. 2 signal that the format has reached the tipping point, spreading beyond the early adopters to the living rooms of the mainstream.

With the triumph of DVD and its additional storage space comes an avalanche of directors’ commentary, outtakes, bloopers, inside looks and journeys behind the scenes. These added-value extras are part of the lure to get consumers to upgrade from their perfectly serviceable VCRs. Once DVDs become ubiquitous, no movie will be too boring, no director too callow, no production too mundane to be documented as if it were Citizen Kane.

Case in point: Pearl Harbor, last summer’s one-weekend blockbuster. The collector’s edition DVD of the film, released last week on the 60th anniversary of the day that will live in infamy, includes a National Geographic “Behind the Movie” feature, a commemorative map, a History Channel special and interviews with survivors of the attack-anything to help the audience forget how bad the movie itself is.

Sometimes the backstage peeks are simply better than the main feature. I have seen several Jackie Chan movies (courtesy of my husband’s iron-fisted control of the remote), but can remember nothing about them except the outtakes. Running during the credits, they famously show Chan risking life and limb in painfully flubbed stunts. Now that’s entertainment.

Indeed, the inside story of the making of the film can be the main attraction, while the movie becomes the added value. HBO, for example, is now screening the 12-part Project Greenlight, the reality TV spawn of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, whose much-anticipated series The Runner collapsed with the twin towers. The idea for Greenlight was to hold a script contest, with a production deal as the prize, and then film the winner from competition through the final wrap. As it turns out, making a low-budget movie can be more harrowing than tribal warfare on a deserted island.

It will be nice if the resulting movie, Stolen Summer, turns out to be a good film, earning the fairy-tale ending of box-office success. But the beauty of the concept is that it doesn’t matter if the film stinks.

The odd thing about all these behind-the-scenes looks is that the actual production of a movie is excruciatingly tedious. And the production of a special-effects-filled movie, with its model shops, its nerds at their computers and its actors emoting at nothing, is the most excruciatingly boring of all.

Illusion inevitably produces the desire to unmask it. It’s like the fascination fans feel when their favorite stars get fat, battle drug addictions and suffer breakdowns and messy divorces. Witnessing the flubbed line, the blown stunt, the tedious engineering of special effects is a necessary antidote to celebrity worship and spectacle-gazing.

No one listens to the Wizard of Oz’s injunction to “ignore the man behind the curtain.” These days the man behind the curtain is a main attraction.