Easter Egg Hunter

What do pastel-colored eggs have to do with Easter? And what exactly do Easter eggs have to do with DVDs? To answer the first question: I have no idea. Maybe it's just another greeting-card industry conspiracy. As for the second question: Easter eggs are bonus materials hidden deep within the menus of your favorite DVDs. Easter egg extras can be trailers, interviews, outtakes, cut scenes, music videos, or any other wacky, supplemental content that will make movie fans squeal with glee. Or at the very least, cluck - like an egg-laying bunny rabbit. To the great unwashed, DVDs are just another way to watch movies, though with better sound and a sharper picture. My mother initially dismissed them as fancy VHS tapes (whatever those are). But for die-hard film buffs, DVDs have become a way of life. DVD fans demand ever more extras to complement the films they love. And in case you didn't get the memo - fans love Easter eggs. They love the thrill of the hunt, the new dimension these bonuses add to a film, the few extra minutes they get to spend with extraordinary talent - basically, they love the extra bangs for their entertainment buck. See what you're missing out on? Until recently, Easter eggs were a DVD lover's secret. But as word has spread, these hidden treats have become more and more popular. There are whole Web sites devoted to revealing their locations, and even the movie studios are getting in on the action by advertising "secret" Easter eggs on DVD packaging. If you want to discover eggs on your own, stop reading now and pat yourself on the back for having "character." But if you want a little bit of help snooping about - read on.

Shell Games Easter eggs began as bonus goodies that computer programmers buried deep within software applications. Harder to find than the ones on DVDs, software eggs can be elaborate - like the Spy Hunter-style game hidden in Microsoft's Excel 2000. Even with the instructions - which can be found online - getting to these software bonuses can still be maddening. (This confirms my belief that programmers aren't automatons lacking social skills, but average, run-of-the-mill guys who like to have fun - with binary code.) DVDs, on the other hand, brim with Easter eggs for one purpose only: to make fans happy. "You should be able to stumble onto the Easter eggs as you explore the discs," says veteran DVD producer Jonathan Gaines, whose work includes the Superman and Some Like It Hot special editions. "They're a good way to get people to explore the menu, read it, and navigate it." It's easy to forget that DVD, while an ideal format for films, is also an interactive medium that owes as much to CD-ROMs as to videotapes. Unlike linear laserdiscs, which require you to either jump ahead by chapter number or fast scan to find a specific scene or featurette, DVDs offer menu screens to help you get around. These screens are an art form unto themselves, and a massive amount of work goes into creating them. It's here where most Easter eggs are hidden.

Eggs Unscrambled So what makes a good Easter egg? Filmmaker and DVD producer Mark Burnett, who worked on the DVD for The Usual Suspects and is helping to put together the up-coming, four-disc Lord of the Rings extravaganza, defines Easter eggs as simply "content related to a movie that had no place in the film itself." But he adds, "I think the most effective Easter egg is content that is only tangentially connected to the film." As an example, Burnett cites the animated Disney film Dinosaurs. The Easter egg in that DVD is a hidden documentary from the 1960s featuring Walt Disney talking about dinosaurs. Even though it's not directly related to the film or its production, it helps sweeten your enjoyment of the movie. Now, for the record - not all eggs are created equal. Some are just plain lame with a capital L-A-M-E. Some studios cynically plant stuff like dull trailers and phoned-in extras. But that's where we come in. Here's a list of our 10 favorite DVD Easter eggs. Keep in mind that great eggs don't necessarily equal a great film, so this is not a list of the ten best DVDs. Hardly. You will find some fine films mentioned, but this is a list of DVDs whose producers have gone the extra mile to satiate the appetites of fans. So grab your basket (and don't worry - you can go ahead and put all your eggs in it), pop some popcorn, and slap fresh batteries in your remote control, because the hunt is on.

Gladiator (DreamWorks) Easter egg: Multiple eggs are offered, but my favorite features test footage for a fight scene between Russell Crowe and a CGI (computer-generated image) rhino. How to find it: Pop the bonus disc in your player, then go to the second page of "Special Features." Click "Original Storyboards," then "More," and then "Rhino Fight." Highlight the rhino in the second storyboard, press the enter button on your remote, then select "View Test Footage." Final word: A brief glimpse of what could have been a fun sequence for this sword-and-sandal epic. Final Fantasy (Columbia TriStar) Easter egg: The best egg shows the CGI characters in this sci-fi yawner doing their own version of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" music video. How to find it: From the bonus disc, select "Highlights Menu" and proceed to the second page of the menu. Press the up arrow on your remote and then the right arrow twice, and a small box with imagery will appear. Highlight that and press enter. Final word: Brilliant, hilarious - infinitely more entertaining than the film itself.