Getting To the Very Bottom Of Xtro (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Xtro is a delight.  It's a completely bonkers sci-fi horror outing that just delivers one unexpected wild scene after another.  You never know what will come around the next corner: a shape-shifting monster, a pet snake on the loose, children's toys come to life, a panther in a London apartment, a killer clown and the inspiration for Warlock 2's greatest moment?  You'll find them all here and more.  And what's more impressive: it's all done well.  The production values are high, the acting is good and the human drama is genuinely engaging.  But at the same time, the effects are cool, the set pieces are ambitious.  We're constantly changing locations; this obviously isn't a blockbuster budgeted movie, but nothing was done on the cheap.  We're told in the extras that New Line executive Bob Shay pushed the filmmakers in the direction of Phantasm, and I really think that's what we have to thank for turning what probably would've been an okay but generic little horror film into something special.
For ages, this film has only been available on DVD; though thankfully Image did a better than average job presenting this film, with an anamorphic widescreen picture, and a brief but important selection of special features.  But now there's finally a special edition blu-ray, thanks to Second Sight, and they've really done it up, giving us no less than four versions of the film.  First, we get the original version of the film with the original ending, which is my preferred ending, in case anyone was curious.  It's the ending that takes the story seriously and gives a smarter resolution to our main character, as opposed to just going for one last "gotcha!"  Interestingly, though, it's not the ending that actually played with the film.  It was only included in the DVD special features as a bonus alternate ending.
Anyway, the next version on the blu is the same cut but with the alternate ending.  And perhaps you're thinking, "wait a minute, didn't the DVD have three endings?"  Well remembered; you're not wrong.  The DVD had one ending that played with the film and two alternative endings as extras.  But one of those alternative endings, the one labeled the Alternate Ending on the blu, is the same as the one attached to DVD's main feature, just with a different soundtrack.  Shot-for-shot, it's exactly the same, only the music is different.  So, to clarify, the blu-ray's Alternate Ending is the one with the piano that was one of the DVD extras, not the synthesizer one that was a part of the main DVD feature.
DVD deleted scene.
By the way, since we're talking about the alternate endings from the DVD, you might also remember one more deleted scene from that release, a little over 30 seconds of the kid and his mom in the kitchen, included without sound.  Well happily, that deleted scene has been reinstated into the film on the blu, all versions, and yes, with the sound.  It's not exactly the most thrilling or elucidating scene in the world, but it's still nice to have a more complete version of the film.  And it's also not the only added footage.  The DVD is missing a chunk of dialogue during the dinner scene at the roughly 40 minute mark, jumping right into Analise asking how long Sam plans on staying, but the blu-ray has a bunch of additional conversation about how he looks even younger than his old photo, etc.  And then around the 50 minute mark, there's some missing (just a couple seconds) of the woman opening the door for the soldier before he breaks it in.  Then around the 54 minute mark, there's a whole, short scene with Joe in his apartment that's missing from the DVD but restored on the blu.  I like that one because we see he has a parrot, and after so many nutty things happening in this movie, you don't trust the parrot and feel like it's gonna shoot laser beams at him or something.

Finally, just after the hour mark, when Sam and Rachel return to the cottage, on the DVD there's an awkward jump cut when Rachel calls out for Sam, and than is just seen opening a window.  On the blu, there's more to the scene, where she's calling for Sam because she sees that someone's broken into the cottage, and she looks around suspiciously.  We see that she's opening windows because the gas has been left on, another point dropped from the DVD.  So I don't see anybody really talking about this, but we're not just getting a nice, new HD transfer of Xtro, but a longer, uncut version.
Footage missing from the "Original UK Video Version Edit."
So, that's the first two versions on the blu... still with me?  Next up is a slightly shorter cut that had previously been released on UK home video.  I've seen reviews saying it features dialogue trims or tiny cuts to multiple scenes, but this just tells me most people have no idea what the difference is.  I don't blame them - I was confused, too!  For the majority of the film, all the way up to the 1.13.40 mark in fact, this version is 100% identical to the other versions.  But at that point, the UK cuts from the Range Rover to the sex scene.  In the other versions, it cuts from the Range Rover to Sam walking into the bedroom.  He finds Rachel asleep, walks around the bed, disrobes, gets into bed and kisses her awake.  She says, "darling," and we cut to Tony and Joe in the jeep.  There's an external shot of them driving and then it cuts to the sex scene.  So that's a chunk of one minute and twenty seconds chopped out of the UK version right there.
A shot that's simply been reshuffled in the "Original UK Video Version Edit."
But it gets a little more complicated.  Because then, while both versions are the same for the bulk of that scene, when the end comes, the UK version cuts to the jeep when Sam ejaculates, while the other versions continue on with Rachel recoiling and Sam falling off the bed.  He runs around the room and eventually hits Rachel.  The UK version takes the footage of Tony and Joe in the jeep that it had cut out earlier, putting it here (1.14.11) and then returns to Sam hitting Rachel.  So, some of the shots haven't been totally dropped, just re-ordered, and we only wind up losing a little under a minute of footage total.  Everything else is the same.  Curiously, that means the UK video version cuts stuff from the rape scene, which you'd expect, but winds up dropping mostly just the innocuous footage of Sam walking around the bed while leaving in the racy stuff.  Oh, and it features the same alternate ending with the piano that the Alternate Ending version did.
Original Version top; 2018 Director's Version bottom.
So, that's three versions down!  Ha ha  Finally, Second Sight presents a "new 2018 director's version," where the director makes takes the original edit with the alternate ending, and makes a whole bunch of changes to the colors, effects and even the framing.  See how there's a matte at the bottom of the second shot, above, changing the film from 1.78:1 to, briefly, 1.82:1?  Yeah, the tinkering gets really weird and downright destructive, as broad changes to the colors and heavy use of DNR and other effects wind up corrupting bits of the footage.  Look at this next set of shots:
Original Version top; 2018 Director's Version bottom.
See how there's little black chunks being taken out of the wall where I circled in the second shot?  Yeah, that's happening through the whole scene in the director's version, and it's constantly moving.  Admittedly, casual viewers could probably watch the scene and not even notice anything, but once you see it, it's like there's a cloaked Predator lurking behind that actress.  Still, I'd consider this a minimally altered scene.  Let's take a look at some of the more obvious changes they made for the 2018 version.  Particularly look for the tearing in the director's version's shot of the clown, on his sleeve, the toy and the rays shooting out of it.
Original Version top; 2018 Director's Version bottom.
Crazy, right?  It's not quite the disaster that the Rabid Grannies producer's "remastered edition" was, but it's kind of a mess.  I definitely wouldn't suggest starting with this version if you've never seen it before, but since this 2018 version is meant to be an additional creative exercise, I'm not mad at it as a bonus novelty.  Sure, throw it in the pot!  As long as the original version's included as well.  The bummer isn't that Lucas altered Star Wars, it's that he scrapped the original and withholds it from us.  And as you can see, the original Xtro has been offered up to us in spades.  Oh, and for the record, the 2018 director's version also utilizes the alternate ending with the piano.  So I'm not sure it's any great loss, but strictly speaking, one thing that this new special edition blu does not carry over from the DVD is the synth-scored version of the alternate ending.  Every time they use that ending on any cut, it's the piano version.
1) 2005 US Image DVD 2) 2018 UK Second Sight blu Original Ending
3) SS Alternate Ending 4) SS UK Video 5) SS Director's Version
So, the Original Ending, Alternate Ending and UK Video Version on the Second Sight blu are all utilizing the same encode, only with alternate endings via seamless branching.  Still, I screenshotted all five in the first set of shots just to be thorough.  But that second set of shots is from the ending, so you can see the differences there (most obviously the choices in color timing).  I won't say much about the Director's Version because it's not supposed to be an accurate representation of the film; I'll just point out that it's been DNR'd to a crazily waxy degree, and that final panther shot is just ridiculous.

So, the US DVD is anamorphic widescreen with slight matting all around the overscan area, leaving an AR of 1.82:1.  All of the blu-ray transfers (except when the Director's Version randomly occasionally shifts) are 1.78:1, revealing more picture all around.  Generally, grain is pretty clear and nicely resolved, if maybe just a teensy bit light.  Deep shadows look a little crushy, but that could just be how the movie was filmed.  Overall, it's a very filmic, attractive transfer.  The colors are warmer on the DVD and cooler on the blu, with the blu looking overall truer.  The DVD's palette feels a bit flat, with a bit of a hue cast over everything that the blu clears away.  And detail is definitely clearer on the blu, although the DVD was already looking pretty decent.  And of course, all the subtle compression noise of the standard definition DVD has been cleaned away.
DVD Davenport interview, and that same interview ported over onto the blu.
Now, the DVD just featured a Dolby Digital 2.0 treatment of the original mono track, with no subtitles.  The blu-ray bumps it up to DTS-HD of the mono on the Original and Alternate Ending cuts, and a DTS-HD stereo mix for the UK Video and Director's Versions.  And they all also include optional English subs.

As if this post hasn't been long enough, now let's delve into the special features.  The DVD wasn't exactly packed, but like I said, it had some great, important stuff.  I've already covered the alternate endings and deleted scene to death, so I'll just add here that unlike the feature itself, they were interlaced (as you could clearly see in the screenshot earlier).  Besides that, the main feature the DVD had was an interview with the director, Harry Bromley Davenport.  It's pretty good, rather self-critical, and for a long time, all we had.  Though as you can see, it's non-anamorphic and problematically interlaced.  Besides that, the DVD had the trailer and a stills gallery.
Second Sight brought a lot more to the table, starting with an impressive, hour-long documentary, which is a lot of fun.  It talks to so many key personnel, from Davenport and his producer Mark Forstater to star Bernice Stegers, and even lots of the supporting cast, including yes, Tik and Tok.  That's followed up by a talk with Xtro's "number one fan," which sounds like it would be silly; but he actually gives a rather smart and informed analysis, and he's occasionally intercut with Davenport or Forstater to collaborate or contrast a few of his points.  It's less like one of those looks at a quirky fan and his merchandise and more of a legit critical evaluation.

Then Davenport and Forstater introduce a bunch of footage from a new sequel they're developing, Xtro: The Big One.  It looks pretty rough, but there's an on-screen warning that the effects are still in progress.  Than there's a brief tribute to star Philip Sayer, with the people from the documentary each saying a bit about him, followed by a song.  The DVD interview with Davenport is also carried over here, and cleaned up, but it's disappointingly shorter.  Basically, on the DVD, for the last seven or eight minutes, he talked about his sequels, Xtro 2 & 3.  That section's been cut, and we only get the part where he talks about the first Xtro.  That's a bummer, because he had some funny stuff to say about Xtro 2.  Oh well.  Second Sight's release also includes the trailer, a TV spot, and a video introduction to the 2018 version by Davenport.
Now this version is a limited edition (though nowhere do they seem to specify just how limited), with a basic single disc edition presumably to follow.  Everything I just described is on the one blu-ray.  But this version also includes a soundtrack CD.  The music was all composed and performed by Davenport himself.  I wouldn't exactly put him on par with John Carpenter, but it's effective within the film.  Anyway, the limited edition also includes a stylish, 40-page full-color booklet by Kevin Lyons and comes in an attractive and sturdy slip box.

Second Sight's release is an essential release of a terrific cult film.  If you already have it, it's worth holding onto the US DVD (and/ or the German blu-ray that came out last year, which has even more exclusive special features) for the few tidbits missing from the new blu.  But they're minor and redundant enough that they're not worth tracking down now.  Second Sight really gives you all need... in fact, with the four cuts, it's already more than you need.  And it's region free, so top recommendations for all. 

Going Fully Gray: Assembling the Complete Works of Spalding Gray

Okay, so pictured above is what you need to put together a definitive Spalding Gray collection.  We're going to be looking at even more discs in this article, but that line-up above nets you the best of absolutely everything.  At least to date, because as you can probably gather by the fact that one of the releases above is a VHS tape, there are still some deficits in terms of what's available.  Oh, and I should also point out that I'm talking about his famous monologue pieces, which he writes and performs.  Gray, of course, is also an actor, who's been in tons of TV shows and films from Spenser For Hire to the Redman and Method Man vehicle How High.  That would be a much more unwieldy and presumably less desirable collection.
We start out with Swimming To Cambodia, his first widely released theatrical monologue: the one that introduced him to the world and which is still probably his best.  Strictly speaking, it's not actually his first filmed monologue, but we'll come back to that.  In this one, Gray recounts the large tale of his small role in the exceptional film, The Killing Fields.  The making of largely takes a backseat, however, to his very personal voyage of discovery in the foreign land.  And if you're not completely familiar, yes, these movies consist of Spalding Gray sitting in a chair and talking directly to the audience for the entirety of the running time.  These monologues are performances he honed on stage and then eventually captured on film for theatrical release, typically directed by some rather notable directors, I might add.
Swimming To Cambodia was directed by Jonathan Demme in 1987.  It's fun to track what each director brings to the film, because they definitely didn't all take the same approach.  Demme makes a lot of dramatic cuts, editing together multiple performances if not even takes specifically for the film... this looks more like a recreated performance rather than a strictly documented one.  The camera never leaves Spalding except for a handful of very short clips of The Killing Fields.  But he certainly adds a dramatic score, as well as sound effects and a complex lighting scheme (we hear the sound of helicopters as he talks about them, and see the effect of their blades chopping the light on his face).  He even starts the film with Spalding walking through the streets on his way to the theater, reminiscent of My Dinner With Andre.
For a long time, this was only available on DVD in Canada from Seville Pictures.  Unfortunately, I sold it off long before I started this site, so I can't provide proper screenshot comparisons.  But I used to own it, so I can tell you it was a decent anamorphic widescreen, but completely barebones disc.  That came out in 2002, and we never got anything else until Shout Factory put it out in the US in 2015.
2015 US Shout Factory DVD.
Again, I can't compare screenshots to say for certain, but I'm pretty sure Shout's still using the same master as Seville.  That would explain why Shout would release the film on DVD only this far into the age of blu-ray, and why else would a 2015 release still be interlaced?  It's a little disappointing.  I've left the matting on the first screenshot because, further down the page, variant matting becomes relevant.  But for Swimming, I'm just showing it in the name of consistency.  The film's been slightly matted to 1.82:1.  This film really kinda needed a new master, but I have the feeling Shout didn't want to spring for it.  But if you can ignore the interlacing, it's not too bad for SD.

We get a strong and clear Dolby Stereo mix and no subtitles.  Again, it just feels like the budget was kept low here because they figured it would never be a big seller, which is a shame.
But Shout did add something besides a direct port of the Seville disc - a brand new interview with Demme.  It's about 17 minutes long and quite good.  It's well edited and he addresses most of the things you've probably always wondered about the filming of this movie and how it came together.  Unfortunately, that's it, though.  Not even a trailer.  The interview puts the Shout disc clearly over the top as the one to own, since everything else is pretty much perfectly equal, but if you have the Canadian DVD already, it's hard to recommend double-dipping for a single interview.  But then again, I did, because it's this film was in desperate need of supporting features.
Of course, if we're going to talk "desperate need," we have to move on to Gray's next film, Terrors Of Pleasure, his only film not even available on DVD anywhere in the world.  It was an HBO television exclusive when it debuted, so it's not that surprising; but this is still the second Spalding monologue film and we really shouldn't allow it to be lost in the sands of time.  Terrors was shot right on the heels of Swimming To Cambodia, and aired the very same year, in December of 1987 (online sources all tend to date the film as 1988, but that's just not correct), when the iron was quite hot.  It's the story of Spalding struggling to live the idealic American dream by buying a house and land in the Catskills with his girlfriend.  This is probably the most comedic of Gray's pieces, as he essentially lived through his own, rural Money Pit.
Terrors was directed Thomas Schlamme, whose name may not be quite as recognizable as Gray's other directors; but he's certainly not a nobody.  He's directed, and continues to direct, a ton of television stuff, including plenty of comedy specials and performances, which make him an obvious choice for a Spalding endeavor.  Plus, he has directed a few features, including So I Married an Axe Murderer and Miss Firecracker.  He takes a bit of an unexpected approach, though, not only filming Gray performing his monologue to a very large audience, but also filming dramatic (or comedic) scenes with Gray and other actors on location.  We never hear any audio from those scenes, which only act as visuals for Gray's monologue, which becomes narration whenever they play.  They only make up about 10-15% of the film, though; with almost all of the movie still being just Gray sitting at his desk with his glass of water.  And unlike Demme, he doesn't add music (except for the opening and closing credits), add sound effects or play with the lighting.  The camera moves, but it's more more like a naturalistic recording of a single performance than Swimming, which really dramatizes it.
1988 US HBO Video VHS.
So HBO Video put out this VHS tape back in 1988, and that's basically been it.  An audio-only version of it was issued on tape and CD a few years later, in 1993, though it's actually a different performance of the same material, as that was recorded in 1991.  So as far as Schlamme's film, this VHS release is all there is.  It's fullscreen, measuring in at the standard 1.33:1, which is presumably the correct OAR, as this was filmed to air on 80s television.  I would guess, however, especially since they went out and shot scenes on location and so on, that this was shot on film rather than video.  And if that's true, it would benefit a lot from a format upgrade.  I remember when Criterion was gathering up a lot of his older material (more on that further below), I was really hoping Terrors of Pleasure would be included then.  But alas, it was not.
Now we advance a few years to 1992 and his next film, Monster In a Box.  Ostensibly, it's about his struggles to write his first and only novel, Impossible Vacation.  I read Impossible Vacation, by the way - it was pretty good, but not as compelling as his monologues.  Anyway, Monster is naturally about a lot more than writing a novel... the book is a very personal account of his religious upbringing and mother's suicide, and struggling to complete what turned out into a massive tome nearly threatened to turn into a massive midlife crisis.  In some ways, it feels like his best and most "puke your guts out on stage" work, but on the other hand, it's also less focused, reaching out in a lot of directions at once, going into his experiences in Hollywood, traveling to Russia to screen Swimming To Cambodia etc.  There's a sense of The Big One here, where Gray is like Michael Moore in between Roger & Me and Bowling for Columbine, throwing what he's got on screen before he zeroes in on his next honed project.  There's some great material to be found in there; but it's a bit of a mess.
Monster In a Box is directed by the highly successful British documentary director Nick Broomfield.  Even if you don't recognize the name, you've probably seen a couple of his celebrity docs on people like Heidi Fleiss, Kurt Cobain, Michael Jackson, Biggie & Tupac, Sarah Palin or Whitney Houston, as well as some of his "sexier" docs that always air on cable TV, like Chicken Ranch, Sex and Fetishes.  He's that guy.  I can't say I'm a huge fan, but he's definitely had a massive influence on the genre, advancing tabloid-style documentaries, and he did bring some undeniably compelling qualities to the table, including doing a lot of Roger & Me-style shooting, making his own efforts to document the subject a part of the film.  Incorporating the frame into the picture, as they say.
But this, of course, is one of his more restrained projects.  In fact, he explains in the DVD liner notes, "I basically borrowed the approach used by Jonathan Demme."  So again, the camera pushes in dramatically and cuts to close-ups and profiles.  The background scrim changes color, there are sound effects and he even brings back Swimming's composer, Laurie Anderson.  Apart from a very dramatic opening shot, however, this film is a little less dramatized than Swimming.  The scrim changes color, but not really the whole lighting scheme.  There's no dramatic effects like the helicopter blades, let alone film clips from The Killing Fields to cut to.  Broomfield has basically imitated Demme, but also toned him down.
Monster In a Box took its time finding its way onto DVD.  In fact, it came out first in the UK, only because Nick Broomfield was releasing massive, definitive collections of his work.  So in 2006, Monster first appeared exclusively in the Metrodome's Nick Broomfield: The Early Years boxed set, packaged along with his first seven other films.  Shortly after, however, Image finally released it on DVD in the states, a disc was has long since gone out of print and now sells for crazy amounts of money used online.  Image reissued it briefly in 2007 as a 3-picture collection, along with the completely unrelated films Waterland and Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, which is also out of print and rather pricey.  But it's usually cheaper than the stand-alone disc, and a smart option if you're trying to find a copy of Monster In a Box without taking out a second mortage.
2006 UK Metrodome DVD top; 2006 US Image DVD bottom.
So, as you can see, despite coming out in the same year, these two discs are very different.  Starting with the most obvious, the UK disc is fullframe and the US disc is widescreen.  Specifically, the UK disc is 1.33:1, while the US disc is 1.67:1, and we're not talking about open/ closed mattes here.  The UK disc just chops off the sides.  Next, the color timing is remarkably different.  The background scrims in the first set of shots almost look like they're taken from two different sections of the film, but no, those are actually matching frames.  I had to go back and double-check myself, though.  There's also one more issue with the UK disc.  You might not notice in the shots above (though it's there if you look closely), but let's advance a frame or two and you'll really see the issue:
2006 UK Metrodome DVD.
...It's interlaced!  And badly interlaced.  Usually, interlacing occurs when the framerate is off (common in PAL/ NTSC conversions), so two frames are merged together with an ugly combing effect, which if you're lucky, your player may smoosh together into a smoother, ghostly look.  But if you look at his left elbow (his left, our right), you'll notice he has three elbows, meaning the interlacing is extra off.  At least, with Gray sitting relatively still in a chair for 98% of the film, you don't notice it so much, but that's some really screwy interlacing.

Both discs feature Dolby Digital stereo mixes, and neither include subtitles.
So, if the UK disc is so clearly inferior, why is it included on the photo at the top of the definitive collection?  Well, if you'll notice both Monster In a Boxes are there, and the Image disc is definitely there because it's by far the best presentation of the film.  And honestly, that's all most Spalding fans should probably bother with.  But if you're a real die-hard, there's a reason to get the UK box, too: extras.  Or an extra, at least.  The US disc is completely barebones, not even a crappy bonus trailer, though it does include a nice 4-page insert with notes by Robert Foster.  But yeah, the disc itself is barren.  But let's talk about the Broomfield box.  Well, first of all, obviously, it contains a bunch of other Broomfield films.  And even if you're not such a fan, some of his earlier works, before he settled into the filmmaker he is today, are actually quite good.  Like, I'd recommend his Juvenile Liason films to anybody at all who appreciates documentaries (really the first one is great and the second is more like a follow-up that doesn't stand on its own, but is quite interesting for anyone who's seen the original), and Driving Me Crazy is a fun, curiosity piece where you can see him taking his first steps into his contemporary style.

For Monster In a Box, though?  Well, every film in this set includes a new video introduction by the director himself, and yes that includes Monster.  It's short - just a couple minutes - but it's the only special feature Monster In a Box has ever had, and he does talk about how he came to the project and his approach.  I wish it was longer, but I'm glad to have it over nothing.  There's also a retrospective documentary on his early films, called a "History Reel" on the box; but it skips right over Monster In a Box, presumably because (based on the aforementioned interview), he seemed to take Monster as a "for hire" job rather than a passion project he developed on his own.  Still, lame either way.  And, similarly, there's a "Trailer Reel" for Broomfield's docs, but they don't even include the Monster trailer.  So, in a way, it's just a question of would you get the Broomfield box just for a super short interview.  But again, I do have to seriously recommend some of the other films in that set, outside of Gray interest.
So if Swimming To Cambodia was Roger & Me and Monster In a Box was The Big One, what's our Bowling for Columbine in this tortured Michael Moore analogy?  Gray's Anatomy!  Admittedly, Monster wasn't quite as lost in the woods as The Big One, but still, when you come to 1996's Anatomy, you really do feel the return to singular direction and purpose.  Gray talks about how his medical issues lead him on a spiritual journey through alternative medicine and a reconciliation with his Christian Science past.  There are certainly some crazy anecdotes and funny moments, but the material takes a darker, less comedic tone.  Gray is more clearly troubled by his own mortality, so it's all a bit heavier, and it's incredibly unfortunate that this turned out to be his last film, because it's so good.
A lot of people take issue with this film, though, and I can see why... I'm not even sure I don't wholly agree with them.  See, this one was directed by Steven Soderbergh, and expertly so.  The drama is really enhanced here, taking it further even than Demme, putting Gray in various elaborate sets with a colorful score.  The audience is completely removed, doing away with the conceit that this is a live performance being captured rather than a proper movie.  It's terrifically done, and that's not the part anybody has a problem with.  The thing is, Soderbergh takes it further, filming new material outside of Gray's monologue.  And he goes a lot further than Schlamme.  These aren't just new images to illustrate Gray's words, they're entirely distinct man-on-the-street style interviews.  So, essentially, when Gray talks about going to a spirit healer, Soderbergh cuts away and asks ordinary people if they would ever go see a spirit healer.  I guess to balance out Gray, who after all, is pretty eccentric in his adventures.  Their ordinary takes ground Gray's extraordinary tales.  Gray's shot in glorious, extreme color and they're all in black and white.  But fans argue, and again I kind of agree, Gray's expert, artistic monologue doesn't really need enhancing, especially by interviews with people who don't have very much interesting to add and mostly just continually express the same, one-note sentiment ("a spiritual sweat-lodge? No, that sounds too weird for me!").
They might be there for a more practical purpose, though.  In fact, there's no "might be" about it, because Soderbergh's interviews confirm it.  Gray's monologue is a tight hour, and they're trying to make something that can play in mainstream theaters nationwide.  So the film simply had to be padded out with something.  And they're not really a problem.  They're all kind of charmingly affable, and their bits are short.  And he did manage to find one woman with a disturbing and wild anecdote about accidentally putting superglue in her eye because she thought it was eye drops.  So yes, they still do distract from the thrust of the film and Gray in particular.  But they're attractively shot and the film might genuinely be better of without them, I think people are being a bit melodramatic when they express being heavily bothered by those sections.
Gray's Anatomy was actually Gray's first film on DVD, coming out from Fox Lorber in 1999.  As you can imagine with a disc that hold, though, it doesn't really hold up.  It's non-anamorphic, misframed, and barebones.  It's all we had, though, until 2012, when Criterion came and decked it out with sweet DVD and blu-ray editions.  They were sold separately, but I've got my hands on both for this article.
1999 US Fox Lorber DVD top; 2012 US Criterion DVD mid;
2012 US Criterion DVD blu bottom.
So, being non-anamorphic, the 1999 DVD is floating in a sea of black on a widescreen television.  On top of that, despite being presented in an almost correct ratio of 1.82:1, it's clearly mis-framed, missing a little bit of picture on the right and a lot along the bottom.  The Criterion discs fix this, and matte to the film to an exactly correct 1.85:1.  The old DVD is also very smeary and lacking in detail compared to Criterion's restored HD digital transfer taken from the 35mm interpositive.  Grain is very distinct and natural on the blu.  It's a very big jump in quality and a welcome opportunity to toss out our old discs.

Criterion also remastered the audio in 5.1, in DTS-HD on the blu.  They also added English subtitles, which the DVD had neglected.
And the special features!  Even if you're a person who doesn't care about extras, the features here are essential.  I mean, not on the Fox Lorber DVD.  That only had the trailer.  But Criterion, well, let's ramp up.  First of all, it has about 17 minutes of graphic footage of Gray's eye surgery, which is... weird.  Gray talks about getting the surgery in his monologue, sure; but it's really going several extra miles to include the footage of it on the DVD.  I mean, who would want to watch that?  Anyway, what you'll be more likely to want to watch are the excellent on-camera interviews with Soderbergh and Gray's collaborator Renee Shafransky (yes, she's that Renee).  Plus, the trailer's on here, and there's an attractive booklet with an essay by Amy Taubin.

But what's so essential?  A Personal History of the American Theater - a previously unreleased Gray monologue from 1982!  Yes, an entire other feature-length monologue.  In fact, it's longer than Gray's Anatomy.  Now, it's not as dramatically directed as his feature films... this time it really does feel like just a single, filmed performance.  The camera does move, though, reframing for closer shots, etc, throughout.  And as fun as some of Demme and Soderbergh's theatrics are; at their core, all of Gray's films are really just about his delivery of his material.  And that's exactly what we get.  A lost film.  And interestingly, by the way, Criterion puts it on a separate, second disc for the DVD release, but fits it all on a single disc for the blu.  Anyway, now you see why this new edition is so essential, even besides the massive upgrade it already gives over the 1999 disc.
And that's the last of his films, so you might think we're done here, but not quite.  Because I've also got to include And Everything Is Going Fine, the 2010 documentary.  Now, this isn't a film by Gray, but a documentary about him, directed after his passing by Steven Soderbergh.  But it's a very unusual documentary, created specifically in the style of Gray's monologues... essentially it is just one long monologue by Gray.  Soderbergh lovingly edited all of Gray's filmed monologue films as well as various interviews into one, coherent piece where Gray tells the story of his own life. We see some of his childhood home movies during the closing credits, but otherwise that's it.  There's no narration, no other interviews, just Gray edited into one last monologue, from his earliest films (yes, including A Personal History) to rare, new interviews after he moved to Ireland.
It's pretty great, though with a pretty big concession.  If you own all his films, so much is taken from them that it gets pretty redundant.  Like, if you watch And Everything right after viewing his other movies, it can feel like a real grind watching all the same footage twice in a row.  You'll feel a little starved waiting for some footage from a television interview or anything new.  And there's a good chance you will have watched at least some of his films right beforehand, because Criterion released this documentary (again in separate DVD and blu-ray editions) in conjunction with their Gray's Anatomy/ Personal History set in 2012.
2012 US Criterion DVD top; 2012 US Criterion DVD blu bottom.
So this film is compiled entirely of old footage, and like the shots above show, it's almost all low quality video footage massaged to look as good as they could make it.  Rather than shifting the aspect ratios, they make the unusual choice to box it all into a standard 1.33:1 full frame.  And it carries over all the flaws of the materials Soderbergh had to work with, so sections are interlaced or over compressed.  I mean, that's typical for docs, but there's really basically nothing here that benefits from HD.  So what I'm sorta saying is, if you want to take an opportunity to save a couple bucks, Criterion's blu rarely if ever looks better than their DVD edition, so you might just want to cop that.

Both versions just feature a simple mono audio track, though in LPCM on the blu, with optional English subtitles.
So maybe you're thinking you don't need this release.  You might be less interested in a doc about Gray than one of his actual films, especially if so much of the footage from the doc is lifted from the films you already have.  But let's talk extras.  First of all, there's a 21-minute making of doc with Soderbergh, producer Kathleen Russo and editor Susan Littenberg.  It's not bad, and we get the trailer and a nice booklet with an essay by Nell Casey, who edited The Journals of Spalding Gray

But nope, it's another essential release, because Criterion has uncovered and included another lost Spalding Gray monologue!  This time it's Sex and Death To the Age 14 (I used to have a copy of this one in paperback... in fact, I probably still do), recorded in the same year (1982) and location as A Personal History.  And like that one, it's a more simply recorded performance; but for Gray fans, even if you could take or leave And Everything Is Going Fine, you've got to get this release.  All together, it gives us a total of seven Gray films - the complete collection.  Of course, if you no longer have a VCR, you may need to start a letter writing campaign to HBO to not be stuck at six.  You'll have my support.