From the NYTimes - A DVD Face-Off Between the Official and the Homemade — something we won’t get to see once the broadcast flag hits our hardware……
In the nostalgic memories of the Internet fan base, “Firefly” quickly became that sentimental fetish object: the brilliant series cut down before its time. A Web site called Fireflyfans.net continued to thrive; episodes were passed around via file-sharing programs. And this posthumous fan base waited expectantly for the show’s vindication: what has become television’s afterlife, the collectible DVD. Just in time for Christmas, that package finally arrives, a complete “Firefly” boxed set with all the goodies: three episodes never shown on network television, plenty of juicy extras, a melancholic mini-documentary on the show’s production, and commentary tracks by the show’s creators, its cast, even its costume designer — a permanent record of a series that once would have dissolved into network history.
But for the true completist, there’s another option out there: a handmade DVD created by Philip B. Gaines, a graduate student in digital media at the University of Washington. On this small, white two-disc set, Mr. Gaines puts forth his own idiosyncratic take on “Firefly,” scrolled over montages of stills and short excerpted scenes. His production includes episode summaries and visual mini-essays on subjects like “irony” and “violence.” He timed his project to piggyback on the official “Firefly” DVD (released by 20th Century Fox Home Video), touting his production on the geek-news site Slashdot.com. His discs are a charmingly ungainly valentine to the show — more experiment than true collectible. But they do offer a glimpse of a new possibility, the fan’s-eye approach to the television DVD.
[...] Movie geeks have already begun producing such tracks, ever since the film critic Roger Ebert’s rabble-rousing column on the subject for the online magazine YahooLife.com in February 2002. “I’d love to hear a commentary track by someone who hates a movie, ripping it to shreds,” Mr. Ebert wrote. “Or a track by an expert who disagrees with the facts in a film. Or a track by someone with a moral or philosophical argument to make. Or even a Wayne’s World-style track from dudes down in the basement who think `The Mummy Returns’ is way cool.” Mr. Ebert suggested that interested fans simply record their own tracks on MP3’s and post them on the Internet — legally providing alternate soundtracks for existing DVD’s.
[...] As for Mr. Gaines, he imagines his small “Firefly” set as a kind of first entry in an enormous future library — a future, he speculates, in which fans will act more like scholars. True enthusiasts will collect a whole library of DVD’s, he suggests: the official version, one or two commentary tracks by critics, and a selection by a particularly entertaining set of fans. How would such projects support themselves? Here, Mr. Gaines begins to verge into science fiction territory: someday, he suggests, interested patrons might offer to finance particularly excellent DVD commentators. “I worship art, almost literally,” he explained cheerfully. “You know, I want to sit there and talk about it. A great show like `Firefly’ just seemed like a perfect match to me: it deserves this kind of treatment.”
Update: (12/23) see Mary’s writeup - Homemade DVD vs. Official Release