What a great idea! What a blown opportunity!
As if to stick it to all naysayers worldwide, Death Cab For Cutie released their major label debut "Plans" and found a way to both appeal to the fans of streamlined pop/rock while remaining true to their indie rock roots and devotees. The lovely trudge of "Marching Bands Of Manhattan", the lilting acoustic instant classic "I Will Follow You Into The Dark" and the pure pop/rock spirit of "Crooked Teeth" all lifted "Plans" up from the miasma of indie rockers crushed beneath crossover boulders.
So the idea of making a companion DVD was a natural; the trick was to remain true to that contrarian spirit. The solution, giving independent filmmakers a small budget, a song choice and directorial carte blanche was inspired. Of course, with lots of good ideas would come a few Jean-Lucs Gone-Bad, disappearing so far up their own bums that they'd cease to exist altogether. No problem. Sometimes even bad art is as valid as good and, as we all know, both are critically subjective. Some of the videos, then, are pretty good, some not so good, and in the case of Rob Schrab's robot puppet band interpretation of "Crooked Teeth" pretty darn awesome.
Now, the problem. The authoring of this DVD is a disaster. The audio is great, no complaints there, but black levels are mostly inconsistent and occasionally plain awful. Macroblocking is all over the place, as is mosquito noise and other DVD issues suffering from compromised bitrate. Yeah, yeah, I know that some of this stuff was shot 16 millimeter and that grain and saturation levels are naturally inconsistent, but there are ways of at least getting things close to consistent. The randomness of quality is infuriating.
I could even deal with that, but what I can't get over is the faulty menus. Yeah, the faulty menus, wherein you have on-screen menu controls but no menu graphics. Make a selection, any selection. You won't know what you've picked until AFTER you've picked it, when the menu finally pops up. I tried this disc on several machines, from the most expensive I could find to the cheapest I could suffer. Every one of them went ape-nuts on me. So what does this mean? It means that I believe this disc was intended as a special edition freebie, but when the label found out people might actually BUY "Plans" on its own merits, they separated the set to get some more of that sweet, sweet cash. At least, that's my opinion because, as a DVD purchaser, I would never be satisfied by such a clunky product. If this was a bonus disc, I could let it slide.
So the bottom line is this: get "Plans", because it is worth the bucks. Consider "Directions" only if you find you can't live without. Avoid it if you would prefer the company do right by the consumer and the band's work.