Best (and Worst) High-Def Discs of 2007: Peter Bracke

Posted Mon Dec 31, 2007 at 01:18 PM PST

Closing out our three-day look back at the year that was, High-Def Digest senior reviewer Peter Bracke lists his picks for the best and worst high-def discs of 2007. (For a second opinion, don't miss Kenneth Brown's own Best/Worst list.)

By Peter Bracke

It seems like just yesterday that I was listing my favorite discs of 2006, but nearly 600 reviews later, it's time to look back at yet another year's worth of high-def disc releases.

With the next-gen formats maturing by leaps and bounds this past year, judging the best of the lot is a particularly tricky challenge. The studios have moved past many of the growing pains that marred the earliest releases on both Blu-ray and HD DVD, resulting in a staggering number of utterly jaw-dropping video and audio presentations. On top of that, the number of titles boasting cutting-edge interactivity has jumped exponentially this year, and the gloves have certainly come off when it comes to the studios trying to one-up each other in the extras department. For high-def enthusiasts, 2007 has truly been an embarrassment of riches.

As always, both the winners and losers on this list were chosen for their all-around value for money -- video/audio quality, breadth of supplemental content, cutting-edge HD features and replay-ability of the main feature.

  THE BEST (listed alphabetically)


This sales record-breaker justifies the hype: '300' is a true high-def barnstormer, one that instantly became a must-have home theater demo disc. The video and audio excel, and the HD DVD version in particular triumphs with its one-of-a-kind "blue screen" picture-in-picture exclusive that allows viewers a side-by-side comparison of the film's groundbreaking special effects. If high-def had a new king in 2007, it may well have been '300.'

• Read the Review: HD DVD and Blu-ray


The most glorious catalog remaster of the year, '2001: A Space Odyssey' is a revelation on high-def. Warner easily outdid itself with a revitalized transfer and soundtrack that are simply breathtaking. The surprisingly robust package of extras are just icing on the cake, easily making '2001' the crown jewel of Warner's already-impressive Kubrick Collection.

• Read the Review: Blu-ray and HD DVD


My pick for the top disc of 2007. Earning five stars across the board, 'Blade Runner' has never looked or sounded better, and the multiple discs of supplements are simply encyclopedic. Add to that five different versions of the film (including both the newly-restored "Final Cut" and even the fabled "Workprint" version) and there is not a single thing here missing for 'Blade Runner' enthusiasts. Perfection.

• Read the Review: Blu-ray and HD DVD


The first-ever Steven Spielberg title to hit high-def, 'Close Encounters' had to overcome the hurdle of massively unreal expectations, yet it managed to exceed them. A sharp transfer of difficult source material is complimented by earth-shaking audio that makes it sound as if a UFO has actually landed in your living room. Although much of the supplements pull from previous disc releases, Sony has also produced a brand-new retrospective interview with Spielberg, plus a top-notch still gallery with hundreds of never-before-seen images. 'Close Encounters' only whets our appetites for more Spielberg -- bring it on!

• Read the Review: Blu-ray only


The new standard-bearer by which all other music titles will be judged on high-def. The video is fantastic, and the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround mix (at a whopping 96kHz/24-bit) is a stunner -- I've simply never heard music reproduced at such quality ever before in my home theater. It is not hyperbole to say that I went into 'Live at Radio City' apathetic about Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, and was so blown away that I came out a huge fan. This disc is that good.

• Read the Review: Blu-ray only


As a fan of John Waters' original film, I wanted to hate this big-budget, musical reimagining of 'Hairspray' on principal alone. But the pure exuberance of the movie and this glorious disc won me over completely. The video is fantastic, and the DTS-MA 7.1 surround track is pure joy on a disc. Top it off with one of the best supplement packages I've seen produced for a new release all year, and this is easily the best presentation of a musical yet seen on high-def.

• Read the Review: Blu-ray only (the HD DVD is due next year, and has a lot to live up to)


The most famous wizard in history has finally come to high-def, and it was worth the wait. Warner has created a truly magical, wholly three-dimensional visual experience, and the high-res audio is just as much of a knockout. Although the HD DVD gets the edge in terms of supplements (with a great picture-in-picture video commentary featuring the kids of Hogwarts), the Blu-ray is certainly no slouch. Harry, welcome to high-def.

• Read the Reviews: HD DVD and Blu-ray


Universal threw down the gauntlet with 'Heroes: Season One,' showing all challengers how to do TV on high-def right. This packed box set overflows with extras, including not one but over a half-dozen exclusive picture-in-picture commentary tracks and a host of web-enabled exclusives. Top it off with sparkling video and audio that would do a major new theatrical release proud, and you have 2007's best TV release.

• Read the Review: HD DVD only


Pixar's joyous gem is a true feast for kids and adults alike, and is even more tasty on high-def. The video and audio are a delight, and the menus a smorgasbord of exclusives that simply trounces the barren standard-def DVD release. With 'Ratatouille,' Pixar has proven it knows how to produce a high-def disc as grand as yet released. Bon appetit!

• Read the Review: Blu-ray only


'Transformers' puts up a good fight against '300' for the most gangbusters high-def release of the year. The video is fantastic, and a host of cutting-edge exclusives contextualize the universe of the Michael Bay blockbuster in a way that few other discs have matched in terms of ingenuity and creativity. The only minor bummer is Paramount's curious decision to not offer a high-res audio option, but it still can't stop this true high-def juggernaut.

• Read the Reviews: HD DVD only


Honorable Mention: 'Bourne Ultimatum' (HD DVD),' 'Cars' (Blu-ray), 'Dreamgirls' (Blu-ray and HD DVD), 'Happy Feet' (Blu-ray and HD DVD), 'Hot Fuzz' (HD DVD), 'Nine Inch Nails: Beside You in Time' (Blu-ray and HD DVD), 'Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl' (Blu-ray), 'Planet Earth' (Blu-ray and HD DVD), 'The Shining' (Blu-ray and HD DVD), 'Spider-Man 3' (Blu-ray)



Previously released as a "DiviMax" DVD with a transfer that made mincemeat of director John Carpenter's original stylistic intentions, Anchor Bay had pledged to right previous wrongs with the high-def release. But while this first-ever Blu-ray version is certainly better, there are still scenes that are out of whack, and such butchery leaves 'Halloween' as my choice for the most disappointing high-def release of 2007.

• Read the Review: Blu-ray only


Even with expectations lowered ('Citizen Kane,' this ain't), 'The Jerk' is one of the weakest catalog re-issues put out this year by a major studio. The video is laced with edge enhancement while the word "undistinguished" does not do the audio justice. Even the "extras" are incredibly lame, making 'The Jerk' indeed a jerk of a HD DVD release.

• Read the Review: HD DVD only


A new low for Eddie Murphy, this offensive comedy is more cringe-inducing than 'License to Wed' (which is saying a lot). Don't expect this disc to change your mind, with mediocre video and audio, and a batch of utterly lame and forgettable extras. Sorry, Eddie -- maybe 'Norbit' really was the reason you lost that Oscar for 'Dreamgirls...'

• Read the Review: Blu-ray and HD DVD


Proving that the major studios don't have a corner on the market for crappy high-def titles, this weak effort from indie BCI is a mess. The 1080i/MPEG-2 video and the Dolby 2.0 audio alternate between the merely bad to the truly horrendous, and don't expect anything better out of the extras, either. Did I mention that the movie sucks, too?

• Read the Review: Blu-ray and HD DVD


A perfectly serviceable if wholly unmemorable comedy, 'The Wedding Date' still deserved better than this cut-rate transfer. The video is shockingly poor, and the dull audio and wafer-thin extras don't help matters, either. Tsk, tsk, Universal... you can do better than this.

• Read the Review: HD DVD only


Dishonorable Mention: 'The Getaway' (1994) (HD DVD), 'License to Wed' (Blu-ray and HD DVD), 'The Marine' (Blu-ray), Out for Justice' (Blu-ray and HD DVD), 'Spartacus' (HD DVD), 'The Watcher' (HD DVD), 'Young Guns' (Blu-ray)

Well, there you have it. My best (and worst) in high-def for 2007. Until next time, here's wishing you the happiest of new years.

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Tags: 2007 Year in Review (all tags)