October was dominated by catalog releases, and prized ones at that. See our in-depth coverage of the Bond 50 set, and there will be more on Hitchcock after my little recap. But not only those megasets, but some favorite titles that are personal gifts to the obscure cinephile. Also yet another double dip, and a few new releases for good measure. I also got ahead on a few November releases on this month's Shelf Space Awards!
The Hitchcock Award
Obviously the Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection is stunning. Bibbs will go into more detail in his full review [Editor's Note: I'm working it; this set is massive], but the classics of his oeuvre are restored in glorious detail. The black and white films like Saboteur are just beautifully crisp with standout shades of gray. Technicolor films like Rear Window andMan Who Knew Too Much are saturated with beautiful authentic grain, and a perfectly crafted tint and hue that pushes HD color to the extreme. Also Grace Kelly in HD. Just saying. Vertigo is totally Hi-Def clear. Trouble with Harry looks ridiculously lush with all those autumn leaves in Technicolor. Unfortunately, some films like Rope and Marnie seem rushed, with frequent digital noise flare-ups. They still look good in between speckles but you’d hope the Hitchcock collection would be perfect. Family Plot looks particularly sloppy, with a blocky picture that makes people look like their faces are falling off. But then Frenzy is the clearest one of all. Interestingly the popular ones like Rear Window and The Birds have more ads. Funny how that works. But that’s not all! Warner Brothers also released their titles Dial M for Murder and Strangers on a Train on Blu-ray. I actually saw Dial M in 3D in college but I don’t have a 3D set currently. The 2D Blu-ray has some odd moments. Sometimes it’s fuzzy, perhaps a residual effect of losing one of the 3D images. Even when it’s clear, it’s pretty grainy, but a solid transfer of an old movie without a full restoration. Strangers on a Train is magnificent, surreally clear black and white with pure detail, like WB’s classics Casablanca and Citizen Kane Blu-rays.
The Weyland Yutani Award
Prometheus comes to Blu-ray with an absolutely perfect picture even in the 2D version. Shooting in 3D usually makes the 2D transfer look flawless. I’m guessing either the two images compensate for any error, or they just choose the better image for each scene. The picture is perfectly clear even in the darkest alien caverns, and man that surgery scene in full HD detail takes the cake!
The Eric Thal Award
Mill Creek Entertainment has released another batch of double feature Blu-rays. By choosing the two that include The Puppet Masters and A Stranger Among Us, I got the Eric Thal collection. Deep Rising and The Puppet Masters are two of my favorite solid ‘90s B movies with just enough budget to look like real movies, but certainly not the pretensions. The movies look like ‘90s movies, like a unearthed treasure with sharp detail, but no contrast. They all look flat, but the pictures hold up, even better than the last batch of doubles I saw. The cop dramas One Good Cop and A Stranger Among Us are pretty sharp too, but with a few more rough spots. It’s gritty, man, it’s gritty. I also like how the menus change preview clips if you switch movies.
The Power of Greyskull Award
I for one am super thrilled that the live-action Masters of the Universe starring Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella and Courtney Cox is finally on Blu-ray, and it looks about like you’d expect a Cannon Films Blu-ray to look. It’s a little soft and has frequent digital noise, but never totally falls out of HD territory. Warner Brothers gave the maligned catalog film respectable treatment so you can see sharp detail in the costumes and sets, and you can practically watch the technicians try to hold together the composite effects shots.
The Secret Princess Award
Well, I’ve never personally kept this a secret, but you may not know this about me. I love Ella Enchanted. It’s Anne Hathaway’s best princess movie, more of a Princess Bride style fantasy than girlie movie. So I’m happy it’s on Blu-ray, and it’s not an A-list transfer but at least it looks good. The picture is sharp and the colors of the fantasy world of Frell are lovely lush greens and reds. It sometimes looks fuzzy, like the picture is being digitally held together, but it’s a reasonable Blu-ray for a movie that only I like.
The Black & White Award
I’ve given awards to a few black and white movies in the Hitchcock collections, but as an individual release, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is a great black and white Blu-ray. It’s not quite as crisp as Strangers on a Train or Saboteur, but it’s a perfectly clean print of the classic film, and some stark detail in Bette Davis’s Baby Jane face and their elaborate mansion.
The Arthouse Award
The indie movie Ruby Sparks came out on Blu-ray this month, and it’s got a little arthouse grit to it. The picture is sharp but you see some grain. There’s a lot of stark white space in the apartment where Calvin and Ruby live, and it holds up well. The colors of all of Ruby’s bohemian clothes shine nicely against the otherwise stark and gritty settings.
The Anti-Shelf Space Award
Well, there’s another Blade Runner Blu-ray out. It must be Tuesday. The 30th Anniversary edition includes all five versions (Final Cut, Director’s Cut, International Cut, Theatrical Cut and Work Print) and yes, it still looks great. Now it’s in a thicker packaging than the Final Cut release, so it actually takes up more shelf space but comes with a cool collectible future car and a hardbound book of more concept art. Although if you had the briefcase edition, then this might consolidate your shelf space.
The TV on Blu-ray Award
Mad Men Season Five comes to Blu-ray and looks even better than it does on AMC HD. The picture is sharper and you see even more detail in the sets and costumes, like down to the stitching in the fabric. The colors are brighter on Blu-ray and if anything, it looks a tad grittier than the polished broadcast look. The ‘60s were rough, man.
Early November Awards:
The Film Forever Award
Since Oliver Stone is one of the last remaining directors shooting on film, and still doing his Natural Born Killers thing of combining stocks, Savages (out November 13) really stands out from the other new release Blu-rays. You get to see some ultra-saturated beach color burst off the screen, some grittier dingy footage in the cell where the drug dealers are holding O, some washed out video and webcam cutaways. Most of it is perfectly clear, so don’t let anyone tell you film has too many artifacts.
The Steve Award
I never knew there was a demand for the two Steves, Seagal and Austin, to team up for an action movie. Maybe if it were directed by Spielberg, but Maximum Conviction (out November 6) is a movie I would watch anyway as a lifelong Seagal fan. The Anchor Bay Blu-ray looks stunningly clear, even in the dark prison setting. Ah, those RED cameras…
The Turtle Award
HBO put together the complete series of Entourage on Blu-ray November 6, making it the first time seasons 1-5 are available in the format. Even back in season one it looks great with bright colors, a clear picture and sharp details. It actually gets a little rougher towards season five, the more exotic the settings, the grittier the digital picture gets. Beautiful package too with all eight seasons unfolding from the bound binders. Great for your shelf.
Straight to Bruce Award
With the 50 Cent vehicle Set-Up, Bruce Willis set a precedent for appearing in straight to video movies. Let’s call them DVD premieres. Personally I welcome Bruce into my home. It looks great with its shot on Red Epic cameras clarity, except for the occasional establishing shot where digital noise flare up badly. But hey, we’re getting quality pictures with A-list talent right in our homes now. Out Nov. 6.
The Third Chance Award
I really didn’t mean to follow The Amazing Spider-Man all summer long, from the early review through a second viewing on Kevin Smith’s “Spoilers.” Now here’s the Blu-ray. At least I can say nice things about the picture. Shot in digital 3D, the picture is 100% clear. You can see dust particles, and I do like when Blu-rays look so good you can see the air. The superhero and villain colors do create some beautiful images in HD. Out Nov. 9.