The Best (and Worst) of Blu-ray 2009 By the Numbers

Time to look back at 2009 in terms of Blu-ray, and DoBlu.com’s reviews. Using the invaluable aggregate site CinemaSquid, we’ve collected all of DoBlu’s reviews for newly released discs from 2009. What follows is a list of the Blu-rays that scored perfectly in all four categories (movie, video audio, and extras), those that just missed the mark, and then the worst performing discs of the year.

Perfect Scores

Wizard of Oz Ultimate Collector’s Edition

What else can be said about this glorious effort on the part of Warner Bros? This is the rare release that absolutely no one should complain about. A masterpiece of film, a stunningly rich, bold transfer, crisp audio without a single fault, and a stack of extras so large, all previous DVD editions have been rendered obsolete. Where as some studios botch even modern classics, Warner treats their catalog with such incredible care, every classic release from the studio should be honored as long as they are treated with this level of respect. Oz is a perfect Blu-ray release, and the beautiful collector’s edition packaging makes it look impressive when sitting on a shelf.

A Bug’s Life

While everything Pixar does seems to inevitably lead to perfection, A Bug’s Life is a truly spectacular showcase. Despite its lack of deep textures, A Bug’s Life amazingly sharp visuals bring out the tiniest elements of the image. Bug City is filled with countless in-jokes and gags, each now not only visible, but clearly so. Every pebble on the ground is defined, and the wondrous color loads the screen with with every ounce of Pixar’s imagination, along with an aggressive audio mix that brings this tiny world into your home theater. Extras fill the viewer’s head with multiple commentaries and insightful making-of material.

Up

Out of all of Pixar’s films, Up is their masterpiece. It has right tone, the right look, and the right set of characters to drive this beautiful story to its conclusion. There is nothing wrong with Up, or the Blu-ray. Pixar’s decision to use vivid color brings the world of Carl Fredricksen to life, including vast, flawless mountainside vistas. The virtually crafted jungles of South America are a small miracle, a perfect showcase of the power high definition can bring to home video. What Up lacks in its non-3D home release, it makes up for it with astonishing image depth and brightness.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

David Fincher crafts this unique, unforgettable tale of a man who ages backwards, but is unremarkable in all other aspects. Button is a fantastic character because he is normal, even if the outside viewer would think otherwise. Fincher’s decision to shoot the film on a variety of formats has no ill-effects on a masterfully detailed Blu-ray effort from Criterion, filled with staggeringly bold images. Button’s life takes him through a variety of eras, each with a sound design that complements the on-screen environment. As always, Criterion pulls through with a deep set of bonus features, including one of the best documentaries of the year, The Curious Birth of Benjamin Button.

Near Perfect

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Another piece of Disney animation, although this hand-drawn beauty comes from an entirely different era than the previous Disney entries. The company’s first ever piece of feature length animation holds up remarkably well, this simple fairy tale told through iconic animated set pieces and characters. Disney’s decision to remove the film grain to preserve the animation cells is acceptable, if not always consistent. An impressive DTS-HD 7.1 track is a marvel considering the recording capabilities of 1937, and the additional surround channels are there for a minor, effective score bleed. There is no need for anything else.

Braveheart

Although Paramount botched their Platinum Series launch with a certain other Blu-ray, rest assured that Braveheart is spot-on. A now iconic Mel Gibson performance is aided by a fantastic hi-def presentation, one that preserves every crack from the face paint on William Wallace’s face. While some mild damage remains on the source, this is a pristine, sharp effort that requires scrutiny to complain about. Of course, the sound of thousands of Scottish soldiers running towards their opponents is captured in a brilliantly mixed TrueHD track. A second disc houses an interesting three-part documentary, arguably as engaging as the film itself.

Coraline

Stop motion proves it still has life with this wondrous, imaginative, and constantly innovative film from the mind of Henry Selick. Ingenious sequences include a jaw dropping mouse circus act, and truly beautiful garden musical number. Universal’s VC-1 encode for the Blu-ray is truly a triumph, assisting in a viewer’s ability to appreciate the level of detail included on every puppet, down to each stitch on their miniature clothes. A booming, powerful audio mix captures the action and Bruno Coulais spectacular score without fault. Only the extras are a letdown, utilizing the aberration that is Universal’s U-Control, and not showing enough of those intricate miniature sets.

Watchmen: The Director’s Cut

It is probably important to note that Warner double-dipped Watchmen in 2009, so the Ultimate Cut could very well be a better choice. Unfortunately with so many other discs to choose from, the Ultimate Edition simply wasn’t part of 2009’s DoBlu review slate. That said, the Director’s Cut is a suitable choice, a wonderfully designed adaptation of the classic graphic novel. Warner’s video encode is easily one of the best of the year, capturing the staggering amount of detail put into the grim world of Watchmen, while the deep, forceful punches rock the subwoofer from a DTS-HD effort. Warner’s Maximum Movie Mode made its debut with this disc, a fine picture-in-picture affair, but it is obvious Warner held back for that Ultimate Edition.

Pinocchio

It is little surprise to see yet another piece of classic Disney animation on this list, but 2009 was the year for the company to show their dominance. Pinocchio remains one of the best from the studio’s vast vault, including marvelous, challenging animation and a story that any child can relate to, despite the giant whale. The debate about the color saturation of the Blu-ray transfer not withstanding, Disney performs up to par. Thankfully for Disney animation fans, their idea of “par” is perfection. Despite a lack of fidelity, Pinocchio’s audio remains a winner, and an informative PiP commentary is ideal accompaniment to the hour-long documentary on the second disc.

Sleeping Beauty

Since this is the final entrant of 2009’s best offerings, we can assure you this is also the final piece from Disney. Sleeping Beauty may seem familiar after similar Princess-relate stories, but this 1959 piece showcases everything learned from previous efforts for an all-out animation assault. Sleeping Beauty is aptly named for its breathtaking beauty. Disney’s Blu-ray transfer (and restoration) contains some of the brightest, boldest colors available on the format, and the results make this a perfect demo disc. While dialogue does not maintain a clear fidelity, the enveloping score does in all seven channels.

Lowest Scores

Ghost Month

First thing to note about Ghost Month is that DoBlu.com is the only site to have a review for this disc. That does not make us special or better, it simply means we were the only ones willing to waste our time with it. Amazon doesn’t even stock this disc, but rest assured, it exists. As a film, a no-budget indie effort, it subscribes to the time honored tradition of Roger Ebert’s “The Idiot Plot,” which states that if any of the characters state the obvious, everything could have been solved. The transfer, with an outdated MPEG-2 codec, is obviously digital in nature, soft and flat. Dated dialogue recording means a 2.0 PCM mix is entirely useless, and not a single extra resides on the disc.

Miss March

As far as utterly failed comedies go, Zach Cregger must be proud. He starred in this abysmal, immature effort where his entire character is based around losing control of his bowels. Mom must be proud. Shot on film but looking nothing like it, a high bitrate transfer doesn’t come through to provide any notable detail, and artifical sharpening wreaks havoc on some textures. A rather uninspired DTS-HD effort is given little to do, and extras only mean spending additional time with this truly horrific movie.

Death Warrior

No one likes teasing or making fun of a professional fighter. Likely, they carry short fuses and strong arms, something a wimpy Blu-ray critic would struggle to stand up against. However, in the interest of getting things right, no one should be subjected to the idiocy of Death Warrior. Why any respected MMA fighter, including “Rampage” Jackson or Rashad Evans, would do this to themselves is anyone’s guess. Another movie shot for next to nothing, the digital photography causes inconsistencies, but also irritating noise and flicker. Music sits in the fronts for this DTS-HD effort, and some dialogue is rendered mute by the on-set recording method. if anything, the extras are at least funny, cast and crew honestly believing they are making a great movie.

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