Here in 2013, Blu-ray is certain to gain steam. Major catalog titles are available, new releases are looking better than ever, and studios seem to soundly understand the format’s capabilities. So, why not celebrate the best and jeer at the worst of the year prior? As with previous years, the rules remain the same:
1. This is a list about home video releases, so while it may seem like the movie came out ages ago, the only date that matters for inclusion is the Blu-ray release.
2. DoBlu didn’t review or see everything that came out in 2012, so a few categories have “Missing Links,” where certain discs that received high marks elsewhere are tossed in as contenders. It offers something to consider in addition to our own picks. Feel free to add more to the comments.
3. The “worst of” categories could have been overloaded with Stone Cold Steve Austin movies (and the like), but the decision was made to limit it to the absolute worst of the worst. The “best of” for animation was similar in that almost any CG animated film could have made it, but that department was narrowed for space.
4. If you would like to buy any of these Blu-rays, every winner (and loser if you’re a masochist) has a link to DoBlu’s full review, which contains an opportunity to purchase said disc from Amazon. Doing so helps DoBlu grow, so thanks in advance!
Best Video (Live Action)
Textured robots. Textured people. Textured exteriors. Textured this. Textured that. Real Steel is a digital haven for texture, a testament to how far digital has come, whether the camera is up close or afar. Enormous depth is added via perfect black levels that defy a typical digital fault, and the astounding color leaps from the frame. This looks expensive, with a Hollywood gloss created by intense contrast. Real Steel was released to Blu-ray in January, and as the year went on, nothing compared in this category.
Dazzling creatures, superb contrast, and blistering color create the trifecta of success for this Sony release. Scenes are rife with generous saturation, the bright color housing the full spectrum of primaries and more. Don’t forget the perfect sharpness and well encoded grain structure that keeps MiB 3 intact for its entire running time. You won’t miss any squishy details of the aliens, or the skin textures of any human types either.
The first TV show to ever secure the top spot in a best of video (new release) on DoBlu, Boss carries dominating imagery. HBO’s political drama has weight and clarity above its TV standards. Another digital winner that carries none of the blemishes visible in other presentations, the resolution will prove striking. The “window” effect is complete and total. This is a consistent performer across all episodes, with no dips in quality. For the videophile, it’s a must.
Best Video (Animated)
Were the categories combined, this would be the disc to take the top spot. In fact, even doing an overall list of every review on the site, Madagascar 3 would still take the top spot. This is as perfect a disc as you’ll find, with startling color, perfect compression, and dazzling flourishes of contrast. High end animation renders fur like no other, and virtual cities look better than anything IMAX could film. It’s easy to boast about animation on Blu-ray, classic or otherwise, but that doesn’t make this Dreamworks effort any less of an accomplishment. Madagascar 3 will be talked about for years.
Stop Motion has pushed through the ages to make it this far. ParaNorman is special not necessarily because of its detail (although that is staggering), but because it creates a world that can be appreciated on such an intimate level. Every stitch, every leaf, every house, and every character holds to their hand made appeal, the evidence of that craftsmanship visible on every frame. While most animated films steer towards bright hues, ParaNorman is an appropriate outlier of darkness. That’s where the black levels can begin to render at their peak.
Steven Spielberg’s pseudo-realistic animated film is a stunner on all fronts, not the least of which is sharpness. The piece feels layered for success, with each element taking on a life of its own. Colors layer on contrast, black levels layer onto saturation, and detail layers onto the rest. Not a frame will pass by where Tintin dwindles even in the slightest. Every scene is a showcase of color and the power of Blu-ray. Tintin carries every type of color palette imaginable, from deserts, to seas, to the skies. All of them bring something new, and they’re never repetitive.
Missing Links: Batman – The Dark Knight Returns Part 1
Best Video (Catalog)
Even before he became obsessed with blue people and 3D, James Cameron shot for the stars. Despite the years of technological advance between the release of Titanic and modern effects cinema, this disaster drama remains a visual stunner. Despite the length, this up-to-date scan is processed onto a single disc without any alarming signs of compression. There is a lot to handle too, from the expansive seas, smoke, splashing water, and generous design work within the ship. Slight color timing tweaks are not enough to dampen this spectacle.
Yes, Gojira has damage. Yes, Gojira has not been well cared for over time. And no, maybe it’s not quite as proficient visually as a Titanic. This was a release that showed respect, a respect even the studio which owns the rights would never show. The Japanese release of the original Godzilla is the type of disc fans could only dream about. Sharpness was unheard of. Black levels were perfect. Image density was shocking. Detail was a high point. Grain was resolved. Severe damage was fixed. Criterion walked a fine line here between making it too clean and keeping the image intact. It’s remarkable what they accomplished.
Despite the age, the only complaint that could be levied towards this transfer is an instance of judder. The film stock appears to have been locked away in a safe since its initial release. The complete mental breakdown of a fading Hollywood star is mesmerizing to watch with this much detail. Her home is adorned with visual cues related to her insanity, including a shoddy exterior that is rundown with overgrown plants. All of them are visible. Facial detail comes from the frame, and gray scale is perfectly balanced. A gem.
Missing link: Lawrence of Arabia
Best Audio (New Release)
Tom Cruise’s daring swing from the top of the world’s tallest building is made all the more harrowing thanks to the world class audio design. Whipping winds seem to be propelling him around precariously, and the scene isn’t the same without a proper sound environment. Neither is an enormous sand storm or car chases or shoot-outs. Paramount’s 7.1 mix is a showcase for the expanded format, utilizing every channel is a specific manner to sell the visuals through subtle (and no so subtle) cues. They rarely come any better.
A perfect example of why you do not produce “best of” lists until the absolute end of the year, this New Years Eve release is a dominating winner. Gunfire is rarely allowed to be this punchy and still be in perfect balance. A sequence where Bruce Willis is allowed to be Bruce Willis with two guns, running down a hallway firing frantically is as involved as sound design can be. Bullets ping off walls, impact villains, and fire with awesome pop. Death is signaled not by mere violence, but by a punishing blow of impact from a blunderbuss that shocks the viewer as much as it does the poor sap on the wrong end of it.
Immediate is an easy way to describe how awesome this disc sounds, kicking up with raw power via a waterfall and looming alien spaceship. The spectacle becomes all the more grandiose when it explodes from the subwoofer with this much ferocity. Prometheus has a world to create as much as it does a story, and bringing alien beings to life on their home turf is done through sound. Eerie winds, dripping water, sand storms, creature roars, and more are marvelous examples of how much sound can do to aid visuals.
Best Audio (Catalog)
Yes, we’re cheating by including the whole series, but the reality is that these audio mixes have created films that sound modern. Jones’ adventure were always larger than life, but they now they sound like it to. These efforts do not impact the source material at all, and are perfectly in sync with how these films have always come through the speakers. It says something when Last Crusade can hold its own sonically against the modern Crystal Skull in terms of fidelity, spacing, and precision.
A Pixar release was bound to take home something, and no surprise it’s Finding Nemo. Water environments are pure spectacle as they flow around the fish during movement and then settle down to immerse when dialogue is needed. Travel through each channel is passed without fault, splitting the stereos via awesome spacing. Awesome LFE action will boost the action, including a boomy shark attack that ends with even a bigger boom. Mesmerizing work.
A rare double winner on DoBlu for video and audio, Titanic deserves its dual crowns. Disaster strikes and this mix goes to work. The rush of water is astonishing, and the crackle of dying electrical lines could not be placed any better. The ship groans as it nears its fate, and you’re placed in the middle of panicked residents as the boat sinks lower. Superb scoring fills the soundfield, and the two extra channels being pumped into this 7.1 mix only means more to evaluate, appreciate, and savor.
This is a second go ’round for the seminal classic, and Warner includes it all. Want the old time movie experience, complete with a short and newsreels? You’ll get it. How about information on Humphrey Bogart’s style and life? Yep, it’s here. Historical significance? It’s loaded. Not only is this as complete a round-up of bonuses possible for this icon, it comes packaged in a beautiful box set that exudes class. Inside, you’ll find a hard bound book, poster, coasters, and a nice container. This is superbly well-rounded.
The Shark is Still Working. That is all. It’s a documentary that has been floating around for years, even going so far as being sent to media in hopes Universal took notice. It worked, because Universal included it on the Blu-ray. It’s an exhaustive piece of research that focuses on everything Jaws related, and truly loves what the film accomplished. Features elsewhere are rich, going so far as to pull features from Laserdisc to ensure it’s all here. Universal’s (proper) restoration gets a nod too in a short piece on how it was done.
To be honest, it was a weak year for bonus features on new releases. Then, in steps Spider-Man with its loaded disc (two of ’em actually) of bonuses. Commentary leads but it’s the massive Rite of Passage that acts as a selling point. It’s a seven part bonanza of information with superb production values and details. Fans of pre-visualization techniques can spend a whopping 40-minutes cruising various visual pieces. Still, the best thing here are stunt rehearsals that showcase how much is done digitally these days. Green screens are now movie gods.
Runner-ups: Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures
Missing links: Lawrence of Arabia, The Ten Commandments Limited Edition Gift Set
Godzilla vs Megalon
What’s that? This didn’t come out on Blu-ray? Well, that’s the problem in a nutshell. While Media Blasters would get around to issuing the film to DVD, they teased potential buyers for most of the year with a Blu-ray edition. The company cited issues pertaining to the extra features and unwillingness to issue anything on Blu-ray sans extras. Boo to you Media Blasters. The DVD print looks great, and no doubt this schlock fest would have been outstanding on Blu-ray whether bonuses were involved or not.
Christopher slogged through these abysmal transfers for the Prophecy series, which oddly only featured four of the five films from the franchise. A month after release, Echo Bridge decided it was time for a complete set, re-issuing the series in a new edition with the first sequel intact. Talk about being obsolete. While the disc isn’t expensive, someone needs to hold off before pulling the trigger. It doesn’t look good to consumers.
For all of the bloody fun the 3D re-imagining of 2010’s Piranha brought with it, this sequel took it all away. In fact, it sent the fun factor down the garbage disposal at high speed. Piranha 3DD is impossibly dumb, but nowhere near the enjoyable level of stupid shown in the previous film. This dud is an excuse to show off some boobs, stock footage, and blood. It doesn’t even do that well.
Dream House (Movie)
Before Daniel Craig blew us away with a new Bond thriller, he starred in Dream House. Not only was this a botched release in terms of marketing (the trailer gives away the most key plot point), it’s a terrible film. You cant blame marketing though. There is so little excitement and logic within this supposed thriller, they didn’t have a choice but to reveal the twist. Narrative threads are loose and frail as the film begins to crumble in on itself, stumbling over ideas or basic concepts. The film had literally no hope.
Happy Feet Two! (Movie)
CUTE BABY PENGUINS!
Hostel 1/2 (Extras)
Sony’s Blu-rays for these horror fests are long out of print, so Mill Creek’s reissue seemed like a bright spot. That is until the anemic single disc crammed together both flicks and without a single bonus feature from the Sony issues. It could have been anything including a multitude of available commentaries, behind-the-scenes peeks, and more. But no, none of it came through.
Underworld Awakening (Audio)
Arguably set to be the most controversial inclusion here, the latest Underworld sequel was so bombastic, it was impossible to appreciate. Sure, the disc might have great separation but you’ll never hear it as the air is sucked out of the room from all of the LFE activity. This wasn’t fun, it was painful. Bass hounds will probably love it, but there’s a limit to what should be acceptable (or even logical), and Underworld Awakening doesn’t understand that.
What a mesmerizing trip through time this is, with a creative script that focuses more on character than technology. This is a time travel film, so sure, it has gaps and flubs. That is unavoidable. But, with the focus so tight on relationships, growth, and action, there is little time to consider the intangibles of the world. This future tale is filled with a little of everything for almost all tastes, but in the end, it comes down to the narrative structure that binds those elements together. A wonderful story.
While it can be debated if it’s meant for kids, this stop motion spectacle is pure joy. Not unlike Looper, this is a creative endeavor. Ideas soar to success during a zombie invasion, and Norman’s growth as a character feels genuine within the fantasy. Artistry is draped over every frame, and the mastery of the animation craft is impossible not to notice. It carries a distinct style that carries throughout the entire film without breaking form.
A fiery, energetic thrill ride that blasts off from the outset and never slows down. Marvel’s work is a product of sheer will, wherein actors were contracted, money was spent, and years were wasted to create this monolith of summer entertainment. The comic book movie may have reached a pinnacle here, and if this truly is it, that’s okay. Avengers is filled with personality, and Joss Whedon’s script is a joy to watch come to life. It’s funny, it’s goofy, and totally memorable.
Missing Link: The Artist
Header image: Seattlemag,com