The Top 8 Blu-Rays of 2014!
I hope you’ve all enjoyed by Best of 2014 lists! I’ve listed my Top 20 Movies of 2014 (click here for part one, part two, part three, and part four), my Top 15 Episodes of TV of 2014 (click here for part one, part two, and part three), and my Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2014 (click here for part one, part two, and part three). Now we arrive at my final list, the Top 8 Blu-Rays of 2014.
Top eight? Yeah, top eight. While this year I have expanded most of my lists (my Top 15 Movies list became a Top 20, and my Top 10 Episodes of TV list became a Top 15), I found I had a hard time coming up with 10 truly great DVDs or Blu-rays. I think there are two reasons for this. The first is personal: though I suspect I still buy far more DVDs & blu-rays than the average person, I found that I bought far fewer discs this year than I had in years. Partly this was to save some money. But also because of reason number two: that after a golden age of awesome DVD sets with extraordinary special features, great special editions of movies or TV shows are much scarcer these days. I find myself unimpressed with the behind the scenes features on most blu-rays these days, even the movies that were the biggest hits. Most studios are trying to save money by cutting back on providing special features for their home video releases, which is a big shame in my opinion.
But still, there were eight blu-rays that I wanted to praise, and here they are:
8. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes — This film was number 5 on my Top 20 Movies of 2014 list, and it looked absolutely spectacular on blu-ray. And while I wouldn’t say that the special features are phenomenal, they are pretty good, certainly head-and-shoulders above the special features found on almost any other big 2014 release. There’s about an hour of fun behind-the-scenes featurettes (it’s particularly cool to see Andy Serkis, Terry Notary, and several other familiar faces from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit behind-the-scenes documentaries, appear in these featurettes) and a great commentary track from director Matt Reaves. (Click here for my original review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.)
7. The Seven-Per-Cent Solution — For decades I have been reading or hearing about this film that was written by Star Trek II and VI writer & director Nicholas Meyer (adapting his novel of the same name), but I’d never seen it. Thank heaven for Shout! Factory for releasing a lovely version of this 1976 film on blu-ray. The film has a deliciously great hook: it’s Sherlock Holmes meets Sigmund Freud! I knew that premise but I had no idea of the story that the extraordinarily talented Mr. Meyer had in mind to tell here: a fascinating look inside the psyche of Sherlock Holmes. It’s a terrific story, and the film has a dynamite cast: Nicol Williamson as Holmes, Alan Arkin as Freud, and Robert Duvall as Watson. I hope to take the time to write more about this film here on the site soon. Suffice to say it’s a wonderful presentation of an obscure but great film.
6. Gravity — I adored Gravity when I saw it — in Imax 3-D — though I wondered whether the film would still be entertaining on a smaller screen. It’s certainly not the same, but I still enjoyed Gravity tremendously when watching it on blu-ray disc. The film looks jaw-droppingly gorgeous on blu-ray. And the film is accompanied, on blu-ray, by a fantastically robust array of special features. This technical marvel of a film is one that cried out for a detailed behind-the-scenes exploration, and I am delighted that this disc delivers. (As I have been repeatedly mentioning in this post, that is an increasing rarity these days.) The behind-the-scenes documentaries (which, in total, have a far longer run-time than the movie itself!) are wonderfully detailed, incisive, and entertaining. Huge fun for a movie geek like me to watch. (Click here for my original review of Gravity.)
5. Robot Chicken DC Comics Special 2: Villains in Paradise — Twenty-two minutes of pure comic gold. Seth Green and his Robot Chicken crew (a stop-motion animated comedy show that pokes fun at lots of geeky and pop-culture things) return to the DC Comics universe for this manic special that focuses on all the great DC villains. From the bickering staff-meetings in the villains’ secret lair to the flashbacks of a young, long-haired Lex Luthor (and his heavy-metal band, Sex Luthor), to the Grease parody song of star-crossed lovers Superboy and Lana Luthor, and lots more, I loved every second of this. My only criticism? Why was this only released on DVD, and not blu-ray? Weird. (This is the only DVD on this list.)
4. Star Trek: Enterprise Season 3 & Season 4 — The two good seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise were released on blu-ray this year. Enterprise never really worked the way I’d hoped it would, but it’s not the worst Trek series (that would be Voyager), and its final two seasons were pretty solid. The show looks incredible in High Definition. But it’s on the list for the absolutely phenomenal behind-the-scenes documentaries created by blu-ray producers Roger Meyer Burnett and Roger Lay. The documentaries these two have created for Enterprise and Next Gen (coming up in a minute on this list) are the types of special features I have always wanted to see on the home video releases of the Trek shows. Not only are the documentaries incredibly exhaustive, featuring interviews with everyone you could possibly want to hear from whether they were in front of or behind the cameras, but they are also pull-no-punches honest. There is an incredibly refreshing honesty in the interviews, as the men and women involved in the show discuss what worked and what didn’t. (Of particular note: actor John Billingsley’s wonderful analysis of why he objected to the actions of Captain Archer in a particular season three episode.) I love these documentaries so much. It’s nice to see this not-that-successful Trek show given this much love and attention.
3. Monty Python Live (Mostly) — This past summer, the five surviving members of Monty Python reunited for a series of ten live shows at the 02 in London. The final show, from July 20th, was recorded and recently released on blu-ray. I am thrilled beyond words that this incredible record of this amazing show exists!! The show itself exceeded all of my expectations. All of the Monty Python gang are in top shape, and it is so much fun watching them perform their greatest hits (including some deeper cuts into their repertoire, which was nice to see). I was incredibly impressed by the elaborate nature of the show, with its incredible sets, wonderfully elaborate costumes, some fun guest appearances, and all the great singing-and-dancing. The recording is terrific, with views from multiple cameras seamlessly cut together to give us a fantastic representation of this great show. (Click here for my original review!)
2. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Extended Edition — I treasure the Extended Edition releases of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films. For all of the films so far, the Extended Editions have become my preferred version to watch any time I revisit the films, and Smaug is no different. There is some great extra stuff added in. (I particularly loved the surprise appearance of Thorin’s father Thrain at Dol Goldur!!) And the Appendices. Sigh. Pure love. Contained on two additional discs, we get approximately TEN HOURS of staggeringly in-dept documentaries, exploring every aspect of the making of this film. It’s extraordinary. As I have written about many times before when discussing these Extended Editions, while such a huge amount of material could so easily be boring, I thoroughly enjoyed every single minute of these documentaries. I could have gladly watched many hours more. These documentaries are stuffed-to-overflowing with personal stories, all sorts of recollections that are funny and insightful, incredible “fly on the wall” behind-the-scenes footage, and detailed looks into all aspects of the making of the films, from the casting to the set design to the costumes to the makeup to the music to the CGI effects and on and on and on. To repeat the theme of this post, these sorts of fully-loaded DVD/blu-ray sets are almost non-existent these days, and no other DVD or blu-ray release from the past decade can come close to what Peter Jackson and his team have accomplished with these Extended Edition sets. Phenomenal. (Click here for my original review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and click here for my rapturous review of the Extended Edition.)
1. Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 6 & Season 7 — For the third year in a row, this project to release Star Trek: The Next Generation in High-Def on blu-ray tops my list. As I have written about before, this effort to release Next Gen in High-Def has been an extraordinarily expensive and work-intensive project on the part of Paramount and CBS. By all rights, this should never have happened. Though the series was originally recorded on film, all of the editing was done on tape, which means the show did not exist in any format that could be upgraded to High-Definition. That could have been the end of it, with TNG relegated to existing only in fuzzy standard-def. But, instead, every single episode of the series has been re-edited from scratch, with the team at CBS-Digital going back to the original film negatives and special effects elements and rebuilding every episode, scene by scene and shot by shot. Original animated effects (phasers, photon torpedoes, transporter effects, etc.) have been re-created in CGI, being extraordinarily faithful to the look of the original shots. With the exception of fixing a few blatant mistakes here and there, CGI has not been used to enhance these episodes, but rather to recreate the exact look of the original episodes, just in High-Definition. The show has never looked better. The work done by the CBS-Digital team is nothing short of extraordinary. That alone would make these blu-rays a must-purchase for a Trek fan like myself. But the disc’s producers — Robert Meyer Burnett and Roger Lay, Jr. — have also assembled, for every single season, the very best special features that any previous Star Trek product (movie or TV show) has ever seen on home video. Each season contains a lengthy documentary (or series of documentaries), delving deeply into the details of the production of that season. Add to that commentary tracks on some episodes, deleted scenes (deleted scenes have never before been included on any previous Star Trek TV show release), and other amazing special features, and we have what is pretty much the ideal presentation of this great show that I grew up with. (I can only hope and pray that this team will be allowed to continue and bring us Deep Space Nine on blu-ray in 2015!! It’s not looking likely, but hope springs eternal.) For now, I am forever thankful that Star Trek: The Next Generation now exists in glorious high definition, to be enjoyed for many more years to come.
Well, that wraps up my look back at 2014. Let’s now move onward to 2015, shall we? Thank you for visiting MotionPicturesComics.com!!