Criterion also upped this release a bit in terms of supplements. The original laserdisc contained only a commentary and the DVD release was also only to contain this same commentary. But after reworking the transfer Criterion included a few more goodies, though admittedly not much.
First from the main menu is an introduction by Jean Renoir, which is actually, more or less, a theatrical trailer for the film. Running 4 and a half minutes it has Renoir talk a bit about the film, concentrating on the many versions of the film after it was censored by the Nazis, certain negatives thought to be destroyed. He is proud to present the most complete version of it. Nice addition.
The remaining supplements are found in the section aptly titles ďSupplements.Ē
Leading the pack is an audio commentary by Peter Cowie, the same one used for the laserdisc. Cowieís tracks are love-or-hate for most and I usually like them, including this one. Cowie gives a wonderful scholarly examination of the film and its themes, really digging into the meat of the film. He also talks about the filmís production, its key players, and issues and controversy that surrounded the release. It is like sitting in some sort of seminar but I feel Cowie keeps it interesting and he has his thoughts nicely gathered.
Restoration presents a restoration demonstration comparing the DVDís new transfer to past presentations, including the original 1958 print of the film (which was a restoration of the film made up from both negative and positive elements) and the Criterion laserdisc transfer, which used the 1958 print. Itís explained, through text notes, that while they tried their best there was only so much they could do considering the available film elements. Eventually they were able to find the original negative, thought to have been destroyed by the Nazis, making a rather striking transfer from that. Running almost 5-minutes it not only shows the striking differences between the three versions (despite this feature being interlaced) and a nice step-by-step of the restopration, but also gives a rather interesting (if brief) history of the film.
There is an archival radio presentation of the acceptance speech by Renoir and von Stroheim at the 1938 New York Film Critics Awards. This is actually in extremely good shape and is unbelievably clear with a few minor problems. I don't know if it was well preserved or Criterion restored it but it does sound good. Both von Stroheim and Renoir give thanks and talk about the film. At four and a half canít say I found it terribly gripping but itís a nice little addition and Iím glad they dug it up.
And finally there is The Press Book, which presents the text presented in the press book for the filmís 1999 theatrical run and is divided into a few sections. Theyíre all presented as text notes that you navigate through using your remote. About the Title explains the incorrect Enlgish translation of the film, which states the English title should actually be ďThe Great IllusionĒ. The Lost Camera Negative gives a great history on the filmís original negative, touched on throughout other supplements on the disc. Von Stroheim on Renoir presents a piece written by von Stroheim about his first meeting with Renoir and his working relationship with the man. And then finally there is a collection of Cast Biographies, giving brief bios for Jean Gabin, Pierre Fresnay, Erich von Stroheim, Marcel Dalio, Julien Carette, and Dita Parlo. While brief theyíre all decent reads.
And finally there is an insert with a small essay by Cowie, sort of encapsulating what he covers in his commentary track.
The package says that a "letter to the projectionist" is included as a supplement but I must admit Iíve never been able to find this supplement. Iím unsure if Iíve just missed it after all these years or if itís simply missing from the disc.
Despite that one thing it is a nice DVD release. Not jam packed but theyíre all quite good, covering the history of the filmís negative, some information on the various versions, and also giving a great analysis of the film. All of it is worth working through. 7/10