Every month, dozens of Blu-rays hit shelves, littering stores with High-Def temptation. New releases, catalog titles, complete TV seasons, and elaborate box-sets all vie for attention, and with so many worthy releases targeting our wallets, choosing which discs to spend our hard earned cash on can be rather tricky. To make things a little easier, we here at High-Def Digest thought it might be helpful to bring you our top three must own recommendations for the month.
From important classics to contemporary blockbusters, these are the discs that we consider to be the absolute cream of the crop. High quality releases with great video, audio, and supplements, these are the Blu-rays that are truly worth every penny.
Last month we spotlighted an epic storm of swords, a life-affirming documentary, and a dark crime thriller. Be sure to check out the Essential Picks for November 2012, December 2012, January 2013, February 2013, March 2013, April 2013, May 2013, June 2013, July 2013, August 2013, September 2013, October 2013, November 2013, December 2013, January 2014, February 2014, March 2014, April 2014, May 2014, June 2014, July 2014, August 2014, September 2014, October 2014, November 2014, December 2014, January 2015, and February 2015.
For March, we're covering an epic journey through the stars, the latest entry in a blockbuster franchise, and a taut historical thriller. Please be aware, that if you haven't already seen them, there are some SPOILERS for the discs listed.
If you can only buy three titles that hit Blu-ray in March, here's what we suggest you pick up, starting with the most essential...
'Interstellar' - Despite their massive success at the box office, Christopher Nolan's films have often been criticized for being emotionally cold and distant. Though they frequently focus on big ideas, intricate plots, creative visuals, and unique cinematic structures, his movies can be comparatively sterile when it comes to drama, leaving some viewers detached from the story. With 'Interstellar,' however, the infamously clinical filmmaker finally gets in touch with his sensitive side, tackling almost Spielbergian levels of silver screen sentiment. Using the vast expanse of space and time as his backdrop, the director weaves a mind-bending, visually stunning epic about love, pitting a massive light-devouring black hole against the universe-spanning power of the human heart.
Throughout the film's 169 minute runtime we are treated to big budget thrills, stirring music cues, intergalactic space travel, theoretical physics, hostile alien worlds, event horizons, massive tidal waves, worm holes, time dilation, smartass robots, paradoxes, and even Matt Damon -- making this, as reviewer Aaron Peck's wife so astutely proclaimed, "a whole lotta movie." But beneath all of these grand science fiction concepts and edge-of-your seat set-pieces, is a surprisingly straightforward story about a father trying to keep a promise he made to his daughter. A promise so powerful that even light-years of distance prove to be but a minor obstacle.
I'm not sure if it's due to the gravitational pull of a cosmic singularity or Matthew McConaughey's effortless charm rubbing off on set, but Christopher Nolan's heart appears to grow three sizes by the time 'Interstellar' comes to its tear-jerking ending. In fact, the movie is downright sentimental at times, successfully grounding heady physics with a deep emotional core (even if things can get a little too schmaltzy here and there). Sure, the runtime is a bit overblown, but the pacing is surprisingly solid and the film's "wibbly wobbly, timey wimey" narrative features some fascinating concepts. Breathtakingly shot and legitimately affecting, this is one of Nolan's most fully realized films yet, and this Blu-ray release is an absolute stunner across the board. So, is owning this disc a good idea? Well, as Cooper himself might say… "No, it's necessary."
'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' - It's not uncommon for big Hollywood franchises to stumble every now and then. I mean, for every 'Days of Future Past' there's also bound to be an 'X3' to even things out, right? Well, when it comes to 'The Hunger Games' series, it appears like the odds continue to be in favor for Katniss and company. With 'Mockingjay Part I,' the filmmakers once again turn in a well-crafted, entertaining, and relatively thoughtful tent pole spectacle, layering in some solid social commentary about the cost of freedom between a healthy assortment of flying arrows. We may have left the games behind, but the real conflict is just getting started.
Though some criticized 'Catching Fire' for being too similar to its predecessor, here we make a clear narrative break from what came before. Instead of returning to the ring, the story has evolved into an all-out rebellion, chronicling a society in the midst of revolt. And this revolution won't only be fought on the battlefield… it will be fought on the airwaves as well. To this end, the script tackles some genuinely thought-provoking concepts related to propaganda and media manipulation -- both from the villains and the heroes. More than just an ordinary girl or even a Hunger Games champion, Katniss has now become a symbol. A symbol that needs to be branded to the masses. And though her intentions are noble, this call to action inevitably leads to violence and death, making our protagonists start to question the price of liberty.
Unfortunately, by the time the screen fades to black, one can't help feel but like they've only seen half a movie -- and though the film's attempt at an 'Empire Strikes Back' type cliffhanger is admirable, the results are a little unsatisfying on their own. Still, the experience as a whole remains just as riveting as what's come before, perfectly setting the stage for the franchise's upcoming final installment. And though this disc isn't the month's top victor, this Blu-ray is still easily one of March's essential titles.
'The Imitation Game' - Can crossword puzzles fight a war? Yes. Yes they can. In fact, thanks to Alan Turing they can actually help win one. A gripping historical thriller focused on a fascinating story and an equally fascinating character, 'The Imitation Game' delves deep into the complicated intricacies of man and machine. Tragic and inspiring, the film's true life story of genius, sacrifice, and injustice helps shed a light on a truly enigmatic figure. But please remember, you'll have to listen closely or you might miss something…
With Benedict Cumberbatch in the role, Alan Turing becomes a multifaceted on-screen character. A contentious genius, the man is brilliant but far from a "people person." Particular and distant, he only ever really shows emotion when his machines are threatened, but there are layers to the character buried beneath his cold outward seams -- and Cumberbatch does a nice job of subtly peeling back these details as the runtime goes on. His evolving friendship with Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) is paramount to this growth, and through their relationship the movie expands upon the story's celebration of outcasts and underdogs. Key flashbacks to Turing's youth also help to flesh out heartbreaking details about his traumatic past, leading to a well-rounded character study that perfectly complements the movie's puzzle-fueled thrills. Handsome cinematography marked by a keen attention to visual detail, and an impeccably crafted script also help to keep things taut and engaging, building the movie's slowly ticking momentum and perpetually turning dials to a well-earned climax that pays off in one of cinema's most satisfying "clicks."
Practically oozing prestige in every frame, 'The Imitation Game' might be a little too mannered and formulaic in its dramatic structure at times, but the movie manages to remain delicately absorbing, finding genuine tension and excitement within the potential monotony of code-cracking. As our protagonists slowly unravel the Enigma machine's secrets, we simultaneously unravel the machinations that make Alan Turing tick. With a great technical presentation and solid supplements, the movie hits Blu-ray in style, resulting in a recommendation that needs no further decrypting. Just go buy it!
So, there you have it. While there were many titles worth picking up this March, those are our top three must own recommendations. We'll be back next month with three more essential picks, but for now, what do you think of our selection? What are your choices for March's must own titles?