It’s the beginning of the year and I’m a believer in looking forward and not looking back, so I generally loathe doing year end lists. With that said, I felt the year 2011 was an interesting year for Blu-ray releases. Here are your top 10.
10. Lord of the Rings Extended Edition Blu-ray Set
I’m on record as not liking The Lord of the Rings and I’m torn as to whether this set should be on my list – primarily because Warner Home Video screwed fans by using awful transfers for the first Blu-ray release (which I bought) and not including the Extended versions in the first place. This set included some controversial recoloring techniques which saw some noticeable “tinting” in some of the scenes (especially the snow topped mountains) but overall the good outweigh the bad. The other thing that bugs me is while it includes every extra from the various DVD spread over multiple additional discs, they are all in Standard Def. So I can’t help but feel WB half-assed this set. With that said, this is the definitive edition of Lord of the Rings.
9. The Magnificent Seven 50th Anniversary Blu-ray/Fistful of Dollars
This is why HD Technology was invented. It’s to breathe new life into classic films. MGM brought several of their classic westerns – Yule Brenner’s The Magnificent Seven (and the sequel The Return of the Magnificent Seven) and Clint Eastwood’s A Fist Full of Dollars (along with the sequel For a Few Dollars More) to Blu-ray this year in loving restorations. These single disc Blu-rays are thin on features but each one does include an full length documentary on the history and importance of these two classic western franchises.
8. Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader 3D
Hey, I love the Narnia series. I know, I’m the only one. But this is a gorgeous set, the 3D transfer is beautiful and this 2 disc set is packed to the gills with featurettes It’s not an innovative set, but it’s a nice showcase set.
7. Scarface Limited Edition
The movie can’t help but look dated, but Pacino still commands the screen. While there is a lot of grain in this transfer, fans of Scarface – one of the bloodiest mob movies of all time, should be very happy with this. The tin can packaging makes it feel solid in your hand and it’s full of extras including a digital copy of the film, collectible cards, and they even give you the original 1939 Scarface movie. The deluxe version includes a Humidor! This transfer may not be reference quality due to the grain but hey it’s still Scarface in the best format possible.
6. Stargate Atlantis The Complete Series
I loved Stargate: SG1 but bailed somewhere in the middle of Season Six, so I didn’t know anything about Atlantis before watching this set. This set is an example of how to do Blu-ray on TV. Almost every episode includes a commentary track and a featurette. There’s a separate disc for additional bonus material. The transfer in the later seasons look better than the earlier ones, but the overall quality is top notch.
5. The Big Lebowski Limited Edition
Jeff Bridges comic masterpiece gets the loving Blu-ray treatment it deserves. It comes in a beautiful Blu-ray Book package that includes 28 pages of pictures and production notes. It also includes Universal’s U-Control technology that let’s you use Picture In Picture technology, there’s an onscreen counter that counts every time the words “Dude,” “F-bombs,” are mentioned (good for drinking games), and you can create a custom playlist out of the movie’s soundtrack. If that is not enough it’s compatible with Universal’s Pocket Blu App – which let’s you control your Blu-ray with your iPad and view additional material.
4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 3D
I really don’t want to select this Blu-ray because Warner Home Video royally screwed me on Part 1. I bought part one earlier in the year and it’s one of the worst Blu-rays I ever purchased – transfer so dark and grainy it’s completely unwatchable! Not only that but I paid extra for a Digital Copy that freaking Expired!
With that said, I own all the other HP Blu-ray discs (almost all of which have crappy transfers – sad thing is, I’ll still be a sucker and purchase the super duper ultimate set next summer – just to get better transfers) so against every fiber in my being I went to Best Buy and bought the 3D Version. Wow! This is a strong Blu-ray set! Finally an HP Blu-ray that has a gorgeous transfer, the quality of the 3D looks fantastic and it’s feature packed with Picture In Picture Commentary, tons of featurettes and deleted scenes. WHV almost messed this up because the 3D version could only be purchased at Best Buy. Just shakes head….
3. Disney/Pixar 3D Collection (Toy Story 1, 2, 3)
Disney is hands down the best and most reliable studio when it comes to Blu-ray Home Video. They get the technology and are not afraid to put a lot of time, care and effort into almost every Blu-ray the put out. This holiday season they put out 22 new Blu-rays which included a bunch of 3Dfied versions of some of their older titles and while 3D is a gimmick, you are a fool if you own a 3D TV Setup and don’t own at least 2 or 3 or 5 of Disney’s recently released 3D Blu-rays for your new 3D collection.
This entire top 10 list could be filled with nothing but Disney’s amazing work this year – The Toy Story Series, Cars 2 3D, Chicken Little 3D, Tangled 3D, Beauty and the Beast 3D, Tron 3D (an amazing set), The Incredibles, Monsters, Inc., Dumbo. etc. Almost every release has been amazing this year – The Rocketeer 25th Anniversary is the only lazy effort they put in.
Their transfers have been consistently brilliant, sharp and vibrant, but from a technology standpoint Disney does an amazing job of showcasing the latest Blu-ray tech – beautiful 3D transfers, Descriptive Speech Tracks, brilliant audio quality, making their sets available in every current delivery format (DVD, 3D, Blu-ray, Digital Copy) and their amazing new Disney’s Second Screen Technology which lets you view “picture in picture” on your iPad. If I had one complaint, I would like to see Disney save our landfills and cut back on the number of discs – I mean really five separate discs for a movie that’s only 88-95 minutes?
2. The Lion King 3D
Continuing my love affair with Disney Blu-rays, The Lion King 3D Blu-ray release is STUNNING in its beauty and is a true technology showcase for Blu-ray. This is my first time seeing this movie and it is as brilliant as everyone says it is.
1. Star Wars The Complete Saga
Come on, how can Star Wars The Complete Saga NOT be the top Blu-ray release of 2011. Yeah, Han shot first, but George shoots last. Purist have howled and complained to anyone who would listen that this set is a slap in the face to true Star Wars fans because these are George’s “remastered” versions. Yes there are certain moments that are just terrible, groan inducing – like Vader screaming “Nooooooo!” and the Sand People making weird noises, these moments are few and far between and I can forgive them. These moments wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t sound like they were mixed in by some kid with iMovie. Don’t worry SW fans, this IS Fox and Lucas, I fully expect another set next year that will include the original versions.
Fox Home Video did an amazing job putting this set together. This nine disc set is packed in gorgeous, easy to use Blu-ray book format and includes the six movies with a brand new HD transfer and three bonus discs. There are over 10 hours of bonus materials that include documentaries on every aspect of the Star Wars Universe and a nice handy booklet that guides you through navigating this huge amount of material. Not only that but there’s a nice iPad app that includes additional material. The navigation on this set and the iPad app are beautiful.
Star Wars The Complete Saga is the best Blu-ray Set of 2011.
BEST BLU-RAY STUDIO FOR 2011
- Disney Home Video
- Fox Home Video – It used to be that I would joke that Fox Home Video had great Movies, but their DVD and Blu-ray releases were always terrible. They were bare bones, featured awful transfers (Die Hard, ID4) and the worst menu navigation possible (like navy blue text against a black screen with tiny fonts). In 2011 their menu navigation now looks gorgeous and is actually usable and they did some quality work this year with X-Men: First Class, West Side Story 50th Anniversary Edition and Star Wars.
WORST HOME VIDEO STUDIO
- Warner Home Video – I have a love/hate relationship with Warner and feel like an abused housewife. I love their movies but they disappoint me almost every time with their blu-ray releases. They almost always use the worst possible transfer – then re-release a better one later – It’s like they do this crap on purpose – I know I ended up buying LOTR TWICE because I wanted a decent transfer. They do everything in their power to make getting your digital copy a lousy experience by placing draconian time limits on it. Then to add insult Digital Copy Blu-rays cost a PREMIUM price but half the time you can’t even get your Digital Copy. Now they are forcing people to use a lousy new streaming technology called Ultraviolet that requires two new sign in procedures, and requires it’s own Apps to view anything. Don’t get me started on how much I LOATHE this. WB if you don’t like digital copy tech then damn it, don’t use it! Don’t screw your fans by making it so difficult to use that it’s not even worth dealing with . It’s BS! To be fair, WHV isn’t the only one using Ultraviolet – Columbia Pictures has started using it on their titles as well.
- Notable unwatchable garbage (not commenting on the quality of the movies) they put out this year include the Blu-rays for Lord of the Rings (the first set), Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows Pt 1, and Green Lantern. These aren’t SMALL little movies, WHV needs to treat their fans better than they do currently, they aren’t going to be able to get away with this constant screw job on their big releases.
- One nice thing about WHV being so sloppy with their releases – I can’t phone in my Blu-ray reviews on the assumption that at least the quality of the picture will be the best version possible.
BEST NEW BLU-RAY TECH
- Disney Second Screen
- Universal’s U-Control
- 3D Generally, I don’t like 3D but I’ll admit there is something really cool about watching 3D Blu-rays at home.
WORST NEW BLU-RAY TECH
- Ultraviolet Digital Copy