Little Lumps of Coal: The Worst Blu-rays of 2008

Posted Thu Dec 18, 2008 at 12:00 PM PST by

Shopping for high-def titles can hazardous for even the most expert home theater aficionados. Bargain bin bores and box-setted box office bombs rest like bear traps on Best Buy shelves. Fortunately, Ken Brown has put together a watch list for some of the most hazardous Blu-ray releases of 2008. Make sure you bring it with you as you head out to finish your holiday shopping!

Not sure what to give that special someone? With so many high-def choices nestled snuggly on store shelves this year, it can be tough to figure out what releases will bring joy to a loved one's face, and which titles will leave them shaking their head in disbelief. Well, have no fear, dear readers! We here at High-Def Digest have banded together to steer cautious consumers away from 2008's truly troubling titles... the discs that suffer from the most mind-numbing films, the most painful transfers, the most underwhelming audio tracks, and the lamest special features.

So read on (and dig out return receipts if necessary) as we present the Worst Blu-ray Releases of 2008...



Oh Al, what are we going to do with you? After lining your canon with gut-wrenchers and intense dramas for years, you've recently been turning in junk like 'Righteous Kill,' 'Simone,' and, worst of all, a horrid, non-sensical thriller like '88 Minutes.' Not only did your latest cinematic atrocity eek into my personal list of the Ten Worst Films of All Time, but its Blu-ray release was a total mess. An ugly transfer, bland and underwhelming lossless audio, and an anemic supplemental package. People should avoid this one at all costs.


Whether or not it's actually based on a true story or not, age hasn't given 'The Amityville Horror' any extra bite, instead depleting it of the few chills it actually had. Stocky acting, piss-poor effects work, laughable frights, and even more ridiculous imagery combine to drop one of the most overrated horror "classics" on Blu-ray. Its high-def debut wasn't much better. Lumbering onto the scene with a stilted transfer and an embarassing DTS HD Master Audio track, this one didn't even earn a single special feature from MGM. An awful... simply awful release.


This is the point in the article where I shed my first tear. I have strong feelings for 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' and when I learned it was being released on Blu-ray, I was overwhelmed and excited. But when I discovered Fox had mucked the whole thing up, my shock and outrage was undeniably fierce. DVD-esque visuals revealed source problems, technical issues, and mastering shortcuts, and the disc's lossless audio was a complete waste of space. Needless to say, this pitiful release was one of the biggest disappointments of 2008.


I may not be a huge 'Commando' fan, but apparently quite a few of our readers are. When Fox dumped yet another cult favorite on Blu-ray with all the love and care afforded to a wet cardboard box on trash night, Schwarzenegger stalwarts were furious. The disc's weak video transfer and mediocre DTS HD MA track were terrible, but they were a mere sucker punch compared to the reality of a barebones release. While a recent DVD edition contained a Director's Cut and a slew of supplemental material, the BD boasted a trailer. Ouch.


When I think of 'Dragon Wars,' I just start laughing. Remember when the main characters outran a giant, lightning-fast serpent? When a godlike superbeing was felled by a speeding car? When 'The Office's Daryl would try to look concerned for his safety? When... sigh... I could go on and on. Some people enjoyed it as a spoof, but the film took itself far too seriously to nab any camp cred from me. You'd think the effects-heavy film would at least look and sound good on Blu-ray, but you'd be wrong. Weak video, weak audio, and weak supplements. Bah humbug.   


It's not that I thought an 18-year belated horror sequel would be anything more than a cash-in project, it's just that I expected 'Lost Boys: The Tribe' to retain the tone and feel of the first film. Ah well, one of the worst straight-to-video follow-ups deserves one of the worst Blu-ray discs of the year. Despite modern production values, the disc arrived with a surprisingly dull transfer, a boring standard Dolby Digital audio track, and less than twenty minutes of aimless bonus content. Revisit 'The Lost Boys' this holiday season, but avoid this drab rehash at all cost.


How terrible is 'One Missed Call' and its Blu-ray release? Horrible enough that I'd rather use this space to promote a few overlooked and misunderstood gems of the last two years. Stop me when I run out of room. 'Baraka,' 'Before the Devil Knows You're Dead,' 'The Counterfieters,' 'Eastern Promises,' 'The Fall,' 'The Fountain,' 'The Lives of Others,' 'Oldboy,' 'The Proposition,' 'Red Belt,' 'The Sand Pebbles,' 'SOS! Tokyo Metro Explorers,' 'Sunshine'... what? Out of space? Ah well, spend your money on those titles instead of 'One Missed Call.'


Cue second, less-manly, more-geeky tear. 'Predator' is one of my favorite guilty pleasures of all time and, as far as I'm concerned, has weathered the years extremely well. Unfortunately, the film's source has not. Anyone who didn't shake their head while digging through its highly anticipated Blu-ray debut must be blind and deaf. Muddy visuals, lingering technical issues, flat surround presence, and weak dynamics left this release floundering on the floor. More troubling is the lack of a single special feature. Personally, I was dumbfounded and speechless.


Universal's straight-to-video prequel… to a prequel… to a sequel of a campy adventure flick (that didn't need a sequel in the first place) arrived on Blu-ray to little fanfare. Its shockingly bad video transfer left me wondering how low the film's budget actually was. Its uninspiring audio was stagey, flat, and could hardly save the release. Worst of all, the relatively extensive supplemental package that appeared on the standard DVD is nowhere to be found on the disc. Universal doesn't make grave high-def mistakes too often, but this release is definitely one of them.


I'll give you a minute to stop nodding your heads before I lament the faults of a culture that willingly handed over $4 million box office bucks to see Larry the Cable Guy's moronic appearance in this dead-on-arrival comedy. But even those who enjoy the comedian's long-drawled schtick will cringe at this Blu-ray release. An average video and audio presentation, an EPK-laden supplemental package, and a whopping nine minutes of painful exclusives make this one to avoid. Run away... run far, far away.




Thick edge enhancement halos, heavy digital artifacts, texture-swabbing DNR, smeared pans, inconsistent grain levels, blooming, banding, noise, unnatural colors... what did Disney do to 'Gangs of New York?' For a studio that prides itself on top tier releases, it's especially troubling. Easily producing the ugliest, most problematic, most disappointing, and most unforgivable abomination released on Blu-ray this year, Disney needs to release a proper transfer of 'Gangs of New York' as soon as possible.

Other Eye-Gougers: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Black Christmas (1974), Chuck: The Complete First Season, The Last Sentinel, Lost Boys: The Tribe, The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior, Short Circuit, and Six Degrees Could Change the World


While Warner Brothers wasn't responsible for the worst technical audio of the year (that dishonor belongs to Sony's 'Zombie Strippers'), it released far too many standard Dolby Digital tracks in place of lossless mixes. Much to my dismay, the most disappointing standard track accompanied 'Speed Racer.' What could have been a rip-roaring, immersive, and dynamic sonic experience, turned out to be a thin, uninvolving blight that didn't live up to the disc's amazing visuals. Warner needs to embrace lossless audio like every other studio before their loyalists revolt.

Audiophiles Should Also Avoid: Bonnie and Clyde, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Carrie, Commando, Dirty Harry, Live and Let Die, Predator, and Zombie Strippers


Considering the strides Disney made in producing Blu-ray exclusives this year (the bonus content on 'Sleeping Beauty' and 'Wall•E' was exceptional), I was particularly underwhelmed by the lone exclusive included with 'The Nightmare Before Christmas.' Do we get a Picture-in-Picture track? New documentaries? Previously unreleased behind-the-scenes footage? Nope, instead we're treated to an 18-second introduction from director Tim Burton that only serves to remind consumers that there aren't any other exclusives on the disc.

Other Aimless Freebies: The faux "Picture-in-Picture" track on The Contract, the "Searchable Keyword Index" on I, Robot, the "Interactive City Map" on Sex and the City, the "Crucible Challenge Bonus Disc" bundled with Speed Racer, and the "Kush Kush and Away" game included with Weeds: Season Three


A memo to the studios: if you're going to release older catalog films in high-def, at least give each title a thorough remastering, engaging audio, and some hefty special features. Oh yeah, and it wouldn't hurt to release real classics instead of tossing whatever leftovers you have on hand to a ravenous public. 'Battle of Britain' wasn't a very good film to begin with, but a fugly transfer, a middling lossless audio track, and a non-existent supplemental package make this one of the worst war releases of the year. The 'Bond' films proved MGM could do so much better...

Other Misfires: A Bridge Too Far, Commando, The Longest Day, Patriot Games, the DNR applied to Patton, War Inc, and Zombie Strippers


Is anything more cursed than a Stephen King horror film? Even a beloved, critically-acclaimed flick like 'Carrie' arrives in high definition with plenty of problems. Washed out, dull, and soft, MGM's video transfer was awful. Flat, uninvolving, and muddled, the studio's DTS HD Master Audio lossless remix was a mess as well. Adding insult to injury, there aren't even any special features on hand to redeem the release in the slightest. Here's hoping horror classics like 'Carrie' receive better treatment in 2009 than they did in 2008.

Other Empty Scares: The Amityville Horror, Damien: The Omen II, The Happening, Lost Boys: The Tribe, One Missed Call, and Shutter


After squandering momentum, characters, and tension in many of its seventh season episodes, 'Smallville' was nearly derailed by the very problems it worked so hard to overcome in the past. Worse still, Warner Brothers crammed twenty episodes onto three Blu-ray discs (one of which was a single-layer BD-25), coughed up a problematic transfer, standard Dolby Digital audio, and features that will leave fans wanting. Hopefully, Warner Brothers will pony up enough cash to give the series' much improved eighth season a more impressive BD release.

Other Stumbling Sidekicks: Dragon Ball Z: Tree of Might and Lord Slug, The Invincible Iron Man, Meet the Spartans, Superman: Doomsday, and the edge enhancement, contrast tweaking, and forced aspect ratio shifts on The Dark Knight's video transfer


A moment of silence for writer/director/egomaniac Uwe Boll. Without a doubt, this modern-day Ed Wood has helmed and defended some of the worst films imaginable. However, nothing can possibly prepare you for the hemroidal cyst that is 'In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale.' Correction, nothing can possibly prepare you for the Blu-ray edition's 162-minute director's cut, Uwe Boll audio commentary, or wretched deleted scenes. I just hope Pete doesn't send me this one to review... it might spoil my Christmas cheer altogether.

More Digital Drivel: 10,000 BC, Dragon Wars, The Last Sentinel, Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior, and Sukiyaki Western: Django


I know what you were thinking: if only Echo Bridge Entertainment would take twenty of their bargain-bin releases and toss them into an unsightly collector's box (with a convenient handle) for the low, low price of $149.99... that would be a dream worth dreaming! Well, your wish has come true since Echo Bridge has released a laughably worthless Blu-Cube Collection.

Other Costly Collections: The Echo Bridge Blu-Cube 10-Pack, Prison Break: The Complete Third Season, Robin Hood: Season One, Smallville: The Complete Seventh Season, and Yukikaze


Considering all of the mishaps and travesties that befell some true classics this year, it was Image Entertainment's high definition release of 'Short Circuit' that left me shaking my head more than any other. I still have very fond memories of watching the film when I was a child, but the Blu-ray edition's unimpressive 1080i transfer, ordinary audio track, and dated special features left me cold and disillusioned. I wanted to feel like a kid again... instead, I just feel like a grumpy old man whose nostalgia has been trampled. Johnny Five is definitely not alive and well on Blu-ray.

Other Gross Violations: The Amityville Horror, A Bridge Too Far, Battle of Britain, Black Christmas, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Carrie, Commando, Gangs of New York, Outbreak, Predator, and Wall Street


The worst high-def trend of 2008? Digital Noise Reduction. More commonly referred to as DNR (or DFNR for those particularly aggrevated by its side-effects), this meddlesome filter is used to reduce grain, but also inadvertantly robs the image of fine detail clarity, leaving skin waxy and clothing plasticized. Some swear they don't see it, but once you notice its effects, DNR becomes an absolute deal breaker. Ultimately, HD presentations are supposed to reveal more detail, not obscure it. DNR is a lazy, distracting, and counterproductive process that needs to die.

More Pesky Pet Peeves: Releases without lossless audio, Universal's cumbersome U-Control functionality, discs missing DVD special features, and mediocre BD-Live content, availability, and accessibility


Before MGM finally earned some accolades for releasing impressive versions of six catalog 'Bond' films on Blu-ray in October, their 2008 release slate consisted of 'The Amityville Horror,' 'Battle of Britain,' 'A Bridge Too Far,' 'Carrie,' and 'Stargate: Continuum.' Not exactly a roll call to be proud of. More distressingly, the studio's technical presentations, supplemental packages, and price points caused headaches for fans of all stripes. Hopefully, MGM's 2009 releases will share more in common with 007 than anything else they gave us this year.

Other Troubling Performances: Bandai Visual, BCI Home Entertainment, Echo Bridge Entertainment, FUNimation!, Magnolia Pictures, and Starz Home Entertainment


And those, my friends, are our picks for the worst of the worst this year. Stay tuned for our final Holiday article that lists 2008's individual category award winners!

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Tags: 2008 Year In Review, Worst Blu-rays of 2008, Kenneth Brown (all tags)