March 22, 2002 4:00 AM PST

Hunting for Easter eggs? Try a DVD

Two weekends from now, people will search for hidden Easter eggs on the lawn--but they don't have to wait to find them inside the DVD version of "X-Men."

Easter eggs in the world of technology are not trinkets covered in hard, colored shells. Those found in software applications contain a different kind of goodie, usually consisting of a hidden message or command that developers tuck away as an inside joke or tip. They range from anything as tame as a list of the often-unnamed developers who wrote the application to something more substantial, such as extra scenes in a video game.

While Easter eggs are nothing new to software applications, they are increasingly finding their way into movies on DVD, especially recent releases such as "X-Men" and "The Godfather DVD Collection."

For example, viewers of "The Godfather DVD Collection" can watch James Caan's audition, an impersonation of Marlon Brando's "On the Waterfront" character, Terry Malloy, according to a Web posting on DVDeastereggs.com, a site that details how to find Easter eggs and gives a brief description of each egg.

On the "X-Men" DVD, there's a clip of an on-set joke that includes a cameo by Spider-Man.

The new features are the latest push to maintain the growing momentum of the DVD format. Last year, consumers spent $16.8 billion renting and buying movies in that format, which is more than twice as much as they spent on movie tickets, according to the DVD Entertainment Group, a nonprofit organization that advocates the DVD format. The amount spent on DVDs in 2001 was a 21 percent increase from the preceding year.

Consumers bought $4.6 billion worth of movies on DVDs--more than what they paid to buy movies on VHS tape, although videocassette recorders far outnumber DVD players. Last year, there were 25 million households in the United States with a DVD player, compared with 96 million with a VCR. In addition, DVD-ROM and DVD-recordable drives have become popular add-ons for desktop PCs, and DVD players are nearly universal in all but the cheapest laptops.

Easter eggs have "always been around, but now they're becoming more of a marketing tool," said Amy Jo Donner, executive director with the DVD Entertainment Group. "Studios are now publicly acknowledging them and in some cases actively putting Easter eggs in" movies on DVD.

It's not clear whether the Easter eggs have boosted sales, but some say that's not the point.

"I'm not sure that you can say that they've enhanced sales, but they are clearly popular," Donner said. "They're similar to looking for buried treasure, or like a modern-day Cracker Jack prize."

Cracking open some buzz
Geoffrey Kleinman, founder of DVDTalk.com, a forum for DVD enthusiasts, said Easter eggs are more about getting people to talk about movies and building online buzz.

"Someone will generally start a thread by talking about an Easter egg they found in a movie, and that will launch into a whole discussion about the movie," Kleinman said.

Martin Blythe, vice president of publicity with Paramount Home Entertainment, said Easter eggs are one of several features that studios have been pushing at an audience that is increasingly looking for more of an interactive experience. Film studios have already been releasing longer versions of movies, including scenes not in the theater release of a film, to tempt consumers into buying movies on DVD.

"For the generations that have been raised on gaming, they're more interested in interactivity, which is the direction that DVDs are now going in," Blythe said. "The dilemma is that we want people to find them, but we don't want to take away from the fun of hunting."

Rob Engstrom, founder of DVDeastereggs.com, said enthusiasm for the eggs doesn't come from just the studios and the developers. Seventy-five percent to 80 percent of the almost 600 Easter egg descriptions on DVDeastereggs.com come from readers. The remaining 15 percent to 20 percent come directly from movie studios.

Engstrom has noticed that more reports of Easter eggs are from newer releases of movies on DVD.

"They seem to be getting more frequent, especially in new releases," he said. "Some studios seem to be adding eggs just because they know people are looking for them...For programmers of the menu system, they're almost like a signature."

What came first? The chicken or the...
The inspiration for Easter eggs can be traced to one of the most commonly used key combinations in the computer world, Ctrl-Alt-Delete, which restarts a computer and was developed by David Bradley, one of the original 12 designers on the IBM PC. Bradley inserted the command code for programmers, but a magazine published the shortcut, and the public embraced it.

The 4.7GB capacity of DVDs gives developers and film directors more storage space to insert more than just shortcuts. Easter eggs can include segments that weren't part of the theater release, such as video clips, deleted scenes and messages from directors.

James Rocchi, a spokesman for DVD rental Web site Netflix, gives the example of "American Pie 2," in which the uncovered Easter egg shows stars of the movie throwing eggs at the screen.

Another example is in the movie "Mallrats." In the DVD movie's system menu, going to the Deleted Scenes icon and pressing the right arrow key on a DVD player lights the eyes of a robot that is in the corner of the screen. If a viewer presses Enter, a video clip of director Kevin Smith starts up in which he chastises viewers for having nothing better to do with their time.

"If you're watching this, I bet you thought this was going to be an Easter egg, something hidden. No, nothing, just us sitting here laughing at you as you lie there looking for Easter eggs on a D-V-D," Smith scolds on the DVD. "God almighty, get out there, live, smell the air, sniff a dog...You're looking for Easter eggs? No, no, no. What you should be looking for is apparel."

And yet there is another Easter egg on the "Mallrats" DVD: a music video of two key characters in "Mallrats," Jay and Silent Bob, dancing to the song "Build Me Up Buttercup." Going to the MCA Soundtrack Presentations icon and watching the presentation through to the end reveals the hidden video clip.

Rocchi called Easter eggs "garnish," adding that the eggs aren't enough of a feature to make a mediocre movie good, but depending on how the eggs are hidden and what they contain, they can make a mediocre movie into an interesting DVD. Besides, there's room on the disc.

"One of the exciting things about DVDs is that you can add new features to them, just like with software applications," he said. "And through word of mouth, consumer interest in DVDs can increase."

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