The big new idea in Blu-ray special features is that of "the second screen experience," something that you'll run on your phone or tablet in sync with the movie playing on your TV screen. This week, Warner Bros. have released Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows on disc, and the iPad extra through the app store. I've been playing around with both to see what they've managed to pull off.
The idea of a second screen experience, as I understood it, would be that my iPad would provide the secondary content. It seems implicit in the title. I would expect to fire up the player, link that and the iPad to the same wifi network, and have them communicate. I would expect the iPad to then provide content that supplemented what I could see on the main screen.
But that's not quite it.
The link-up worked as I expected. I made sure both the player and the iPad were connected to my wifi router. I opened the app, and chose the appropriate option on the Blu-ray menu. But then, everything was on its head.
The primary screen was the iPad. Seems all wrong.
I was expecting a split-experience where I, with the tablet, could enjoy some supplements while Mrs. Connelly just watched the TV and saw the film, fuss free. Instead of there being picture in picture and pop-up trivia obscuring the movie, I thought, this would all be parked on my iPad, where I could enjoy it and interact with it without annoying her.
But, actually, the iPad was being used for, largely, a stand alone supplement that, occasionally, could be used to cue certain bits of video on the Blu-ray.
Immediately this was a disappointment. My preconceptions about how the whole experience would go down had been dashed. But… if I accepted it for what it was, did this supplement have anything to offer?
The structure of the thing is simple enough that you'll find your way around easily. The top menu offers five themed areas to choose from, in whatever order you'd prefer.
- Motive: Genesis of the Story.
- The Events: Interactive Scene Breakdowns & Script Explotation
- Persons of Interest
- Scene of the Crime: Europe in the 1890s
- Surveillance: Tracking Game of Shadows
And each of these offers you more options, allowing you to dig into these areas, mining the various bits and pieces they've written and filmed for you. The best bits, I think, are the annotated storyboard pages, and the section about Conan Doyle. I enjoyed both of those a good deal.
In effect, it's like a new-fangled tablet-era version of website, something you can roam and enjoy at your own pace.
Indeed, seeing as the app is available as a free download and you don't even need to link to the Blu-ray to use it, the whole thing is less of a supplement than a separate experience that will help you better indulge in Guy Ritchie and company's take on Holmes, the history and original creation of the character, and lots of context for the story and setting of A Game of Shadows. If nothing else, it provides an enriching context.
But this isn't the second screen experience I was waiting for, it's something else entirely, and considerably less innovative than I had hoped.
Incidentally, there's something called Maximum Movie Mode on the Blu-ray too. It's a visual commentary that runs for not all but a good part of the film. There's a lot of picture-in-picture stuff, but the best bits are filmed comments from Robert Downey Jr., cracking wise and, oftentimes, taking credit for the film's better ideas.
Not only did Downey come up with some of the film's best plot points and twists, as he'll tell you here, he also says that he's already working on the script for part 3. He's a confident chap, to say the least, and his appearances on the Blu-ray supplements were easily my favourite, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.
Here are a series of screen captures from the iPad to give you some idea of how polished the Holmes app looks, and what kind of material it contains. There are timelines, video clips – all of which can be played full screen , storyboards, pages of script and a lot more.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is available on DVD and Blu-ray now, and the app can be downloaded from the app store. They don't need each other, and they don't really link together well, but both offer a good deal of amusing, engaging extra material for fans of the series, or fans of Holmes and Downey, like myself.
Now then… who's going to make a second screen app that really works?