The Shelf Space Awards: May 2012

Fred Topel is back to hand out awards to all the best (and worst) Blu-rays that this month had to offer, and preview some new releases in June.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


The Shelf Space Awards are back to reward all the best, prettiest and in some cases jacked up Blu-ray releases for the month of May. What made Fred Topel's cut this time? Read on…


The Sequels Done Right Award

Often in series collections the sequels get short shrift, but the Lethal Weapon Collection gives awesome transfers to even the maligned later entries. Lethal Weapon 4 has some crisp night scenes with a pure black sky. Faces go out of focus around the edges but that’s consistent with the transfer for Lethal Weapon 2, an effect of the anamorphic lenses. Lethal Weapon 3 actually looks the best, perhaps because it’s all bright colorful daylight. I could also include the Father of the Bride 2 pack, since Part II actually looks a little smoother than Part I. Those are light comedies and not visual extravaganzas but interestingly the four years between films actually improved the sequel’s cinematography.


The Budget Catalog Award

Mill Creek’s release of Terminal Velocity looks shockingly good. The important money shots (i.e. all the skydiving) are perfectly clear and crisp with bright shiny colors. Some of the other scenes get rough and grainy but they kept the good stuff looking good, and you’d never expect that attention paid to a forgotten Charlie Sheen movie. Their White Squall Blu-ray has a reasonable image too but it looks a little softer than Terminal Velocity’s best sequences.



The latest Studio Gibli film The Secret World of Arrietty looks as beautiful as you’d expect in a high definition transfer. The artwork is perfectly clear with bright colors and subtle detail in all the backgrounds. It really pops.


The “You’re So Pretty” Award

Gone may not be a memorable film, but this month its Blu-ray reminded me just how pretty Amanda Seyfried is. The perfectly clear and sharp transfer highlights Seyfried for the entire 90 minutes. The detail in the texture of her face just killed me, especially that lovely divot on her cheek. I also think the HD lets you see more than you’re supposed to behind a shower curtain. It makes the whole film look great. It’s a lot easier to look at overhanging forests and greasy diners when it’s this clear and sharp.


Surprise of the Month Award

Mill Creek’s Spaghetti Western Double Feature looks better than the 20th Century Fox release of the Sergio Leone westerns. I’d never heard of The Grand Duel or Keone but both share a disc and are perfectly clear, clean prints.


TV on Blu-ray Award

Season One of “Hell on Wheels” looks phenomenal on Blu-ray. The latest AMC series has a flawless transfer, with a totally clear picture. You don’t see anything like grain, it’s just bright and sharp with plenty of detail in the gritty train tracks. “True Blood” Season Four looks really good too. You can tell how much the HD footage has improved by comparing it to the old opening credits. It just has a few more digital grains pop up in dark scenes so it loses this month to “Hell on Wheels.” We’re not saying you can’t buy both!


The Gritty Detail Award

The first segment of New York Stories with Nick Nolte as an artist in his studio is full of gritty detail. The paint splattered, run down loft space is full of little details to notice. The film overall has some digital correction visible but it looks like a solid HD restoration. The Woody Allen segment clears up some.


The Digital Noise Warning

It’s particularly annoying when brand new releases flare up with digital noise. They should already be shot with a hi-def transfer in mind. Man on a Ledge looks mostly good with a gritty cityscape below and the craggy bricks on the ledge, but every time those white specks flare up it feels like a sloppy transfer.


The Good Thing It Includes the DVD Award

The Grey is a good movie but the gritty, grainy way Joe Carnahan shot it does not play well in HD. The grains flitting about through the picture are distracting. For this particular film I prefer the DVD. It’s a little softer but it’s actually more clear without the detail of the grain.


Shrim Award

Neither Bibbs nor I liked Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, but the Blu-ray is a beautifully sharp, totally clear picture. You can see every detail in the shrim rippling and splattering. If the grotesquery of the film appeals to you, you’ll thrill at the stark clarity with which you can view it now.  


June Preview:

Some June releases I got early enough to include here!


“Breaking Bad” Season Four

AMC is doing their Blu-rays right, even though different studios are putting them out. Sony’s “Breaking Bad” release is as flawless as eOne’s “Hell on Wheels.” You’ll see the gritty detail in Walt’s operation and the bright colors of his suburban cover. Out June 5.


Clint Eastwood Movies

The modern classic A Perfect World and the 2002 mystery Blood Work both come out on Blu-ray June 5. Both are first rate A-list transfers with sharp pictures and bright colors (before Eastwood started removing all color from his films.) World shows a little bit of the grain of the original film but Blood is even clearer than that.


U.S. Marshals

Remember when there was a sequel to The Fugitive? Well, it’s coming to Blu-ray June 5 and it looks great. Still a little bit of grain for that ‘90s film look but a sharp picture with beautiful shots of Chicago at night.


Erin Brockovich

This movie has a sandy desert look, and it holds up with sharp clarity because Steven Soderbergh knows how to light a movie. You’ll see gritty detail in everything from Erin Brockovich’s paper documents to her knick knacks around the house. Also out June 5.


Old Timey Classics

The Sting has a great Blu-ray that preserves not only the look of the original film, but the era in which it is set. The colors look like the 1930s and you still get some detail in the texture of the sets. You see some hints of the original film grain and maybe some digital correction but it works together to create the ‘30s look in HD. Smokey and the Bandit is full of bright colors on the road in HD. The clarity gets a little rough sometimes with grain and digital noise fuzzing into the picture but it mostly stays sharp. Both out June 5 too.


In June I’m also looking forward to reviewing Act of Valor, The Color of Money, Sixteen Candles, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Project X, Seeking Justice, Empire of the Sun, The FP, 21 Jump Street and The Artist.