Thursday, January 19, 2012

One More 2011 Post for Kicks: My Favorite Fancy Schmancy Discs of Last Year

 When I started the Blogorium over on another social media site several years ago, I eventually became an early adopter of Blu-Ray. At the time, I worked at a used book store that sold video games and systems and I was able to purchase an 80gb PS3, partially for the games but mostly for the shiny new discs that beat HD-DVD in the "successor to DVD" format war. I wanted to upgrade TVs from the old standby 17" (?) set I had (and its twin, a loaner from a friend who moved) and eventually did pick up that HDTV monstrosity (it's in storage now for various reasons).

 At the time, I was gently mocked by friends for taking such an interest in a "niche" market for home entertainment, to the point that I jokingly referred to all Blu-Ray and HDTV posts as being "fancy schmancy." Now that most of the world seems to be catching up (because Blu-Ray discs are often cheaper than their DVD counterparts and you don't have to get rid of your DVDs with a BD player), I haven't used the term in a while.

 People seem to be moving more and more into the "all digital" direction, to the point that a younger co-worker derisively said to me "Blu-Ray is for noobs!" I laughed out loud, because that doesn't make any sense, especially coming from someone who never knew an analog world. I'm not articulating this well, but I think anybody who has been following the development of home media for the last... let's just say thirty years is far from being a "noob" on the subject. Maybe I'm the opposite - the fuddy duddy who still likes to have a tangible copy of something, an actual library of film, music, and books. I have plenty of digital copies and songs on iTunes (no e-reader to speak of), but there's something to be said for having friends over and giving them time to look through your shelves in the down time.

 We've also established that I'm a "supplement junkie," and you don't get those kinds of extras with a digital copy. I get most people could care less about commentary tracks or making of documentaries or retrospectives, but it's not a coincidence that I buy Criterion discs that have lots of contextualizing extras about the films. To me, that's as interesting as the film itself - watch the second disc of The Battle of Algiers (if it's the DVD, the second and third discs) and then watch the film again. The all digital, just the movie world of cloud technology isn't totally for me just yet. It has its purpose, but it doesn't replace a shelf full of quality releases.

 Speaking of quality releases, I think that was the point of this whole post... I must have gotten lost back there somewhere. Oh well, let's skip to the chase. The following are some of the most interesting discs I picked up in 2011. Not all of them were released in 2011 (I'm guessing with the imports anyway) but it's my list so you'll live. When possible, I'm going to put up links where you can buy them, because several are titles you probably didn't know you could buy and are already available.

 For starters, let's look at this:

 A Nightmare on Elm Street Collection - In the US, we got the first Nightmare on Elm Street on Blu-Ray released in time for the shitty remake in 2010. Last October, we got a double feature of 2 and 3 on one disc... and that's it. Not the worst deal, necessarily - two of the best entries in the series and... well, Freddy's Revenge. Still, it's not like we can replace our boxed set yet, right?

 Not true, gang - had an October 2011 release of the entire series on Blu-Ray. The five disc set replicates the individual release of the first film and then doubles up 2/3, 4/5, and 6/7, with a bonus disc of new extras, including episodes of Freddy's Nightmares, the anthology-ish series that you can only see if you're patient enough to watch Chiller for a week.

 (Oh, Freddy vs. Jason fanatics are admittedly SOL, but that's not really a Nightmare film anyway. Wait... are there Freddy vs. Jason fanatics?)

 Additionally, each of the BD discs has all of the interview clips from the seventh disc of the Nightmare on Elm Street DVD set, but without having to navigate the "labyrinth" to find them. Even though we're dealing with two films per disc, I have to say that all of the sequels look very good in high definition. This set will probably come out in the US (let's hope by next October) but if you've got a Freddy fix, the whole thing is available now. Most importantly, it's REGION FREE, meaning that all of the movies are going to play on any BD player you have here in the states.

  Payback - also region free and available on Amazon's UK site, the release of Payback overseas improves the existing BD release here by including both versions of the film (the US release only has the director's cut) plus all of the extras from both original discs. Whether you like one version or the other, it's got something for all Payback fans, so you can watch it whenever you like, however you like. Let's hope Point Blank makes the leap to high definition in 2012...

 Taxi Driver - Everything included from all the various versions of the DVD, plus the Criterion laserdisc commentary with Scorsese, at a very reasonable price. What's not to like?

 Citizen Kane (Ultimate SomethingorOther Edition) - Best Buy has a two-disc version with Kane and The Battle for Citizen Kane, which is nice, but the super fancy schmancy edition (for a few dollars more) also includes RKO 281 and The Magnificent Ambersons. If you want to quibble, only Citizen Kane is a BD disc, but it's a nice set that encompasses all things Kane with the added bonus of the only version of The Magnificent Ambersons we're ever going to get included as a bonus. The film looks fantastic, by the way.

 Battle Royale - I know Anchor Bay is releasing BR next week on Blu-Ray, but Arrow Films beat them to the punch in the UK with a region free set of the theatrical cut, the director's cut, and an additional disc of extras for what amounted to $35 at the end of 2010. As I didn't get it until 2011, I'm counting it - it also doesn't include Battle Royale II, which is a very nice thing for Arrow to do. That would only sully the experience. I opted for the super fancy, now out-of-print Limited Edition, which came with some other fun stuff, but you can still get the three disc version for a reasonable price.

 The Lord of the Rings Extended Editions  - Is it maybe a pain to switch out the discs? I guess. Are the "appendices" just DVDs? Well, yes. Will I take this over the "theatrical" Blu-Ray set? Any day. The movies look better, all of the extras are intact, and the extra documentaries from the "Limited Editions" are included for good measure. It's an impressive package, all things considered.

 The Twilight Zone - I finally have all five seasons on Blu-Ray, and it's more than worth your while to pick the sets up. Yes, you can watch the episodes on Netflix, and they look pretty spiffy. The sets are packed to the gills with everything a TZ fanatic like the Cap'n could possibly want to see, hear, or know. I didn't think a series would catapult past Battlestar Galactica's complete set, but The Twilight Zone on Blu-Ray did it in spades.

 Blue Velvet - on Blu-Ray, with an hour of long thought lost footage, restored and fancy schmancy-ed by David Lynch.

 I couldn't narrow down the Criterion selections, so here's just a sampling of what they kicked our collective asses with this year: Kiss Me Deadly, Three Colors, The Great Dictator, The Killing / Killer's Kiss, Island of Lost Souls, The Music Room, 12 Angry Men, Cul-De-Sac, Blow Out, Carlos, The Phantom Carriage, and Sweet Smell of Success. That's not counting the HD upgrades to Beauty and the Beast, Orpheus, The Naked Kiss, Shock Corridor, Rushmore, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Dazed and Confused, The Double Life of Veronique, Army of Shadows, Le Cercle Rouge, The Battle of Algiers, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, Solaris, Diabolique, Smiles of a Summer Night, or Fanny and Alexander. To name a few.

 Special kudos also go to Lionsgate for slowly but surely releasing Miramax films in a way that doesn't suck (*coughEchoBridgecough*), including Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Cop Land, Trainspotting, The Others, Mimic (in a Director's Cut!), Heavenly Creatures, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and Amelie. It's too bad Echo Bridge got From Dusk Till Dawn with all the Children of the Corn and Hellraiser sequels, because unless you want to see what happens when FDtD looks like when crammed onto a disc with both of its sequels and the documentary Full Tilt Boogie, you won't be seeing it on Blu-Ray (unless Criterion gets it... knocks on wood*). Oh sure, it's ten bucks, and that's three dollars more than just From Dusk Till Dawn on Blu-Ray (no, seriously), but it looks like crap. Trust me; someone bought it for me and I looked at all four movies on the disc. From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter probably looks the best of the three of them. Technically they're all watchable quality, but it's a missed opportunity to be damned sure when you see that Lionsgate is releasing HD versions with all of the extras from the DVD versions. Echo Bridge? Not so much.

Finally, I must admit that while nobody else seems to care for them, I was quite impressed in having everything together in the Stanley Kubrick Limited Edition Collection and I also bought the nine disc Star Wars Saga. I watched most of the extras and some of the movies. Guess which ones (okay, one) I haven't put in... Hint: It's EPISODE ONE THE PHANTOM MENACE. I won't be buying the 3D Blu-Ray Set, even if I have a 3D TV at that point. I'm also not going to see The Phantom Menace in 3D. You don't need to believe me because I know that's true.

 And I'm out of steam... there were more, but I'll get to them another time.

* This is not as crazy as it sounds - I still have the Miramax DVD set of the Three Colors Trilogy, and Criterion picked up the rights to that...

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