Blu-ray Highlights for 5/24/11. What Are You Buying?

Well, folks, it appears that we have another week where catalog titles dominate the Blu-ray scene. In fact, the release slate as a whole is a lot smaller than usual. Fortunately, there’s some quality wheat hidden among the chaff, if you look for it.

These are the discs being released today:

The two major day-and-date titles are easily the least interesting things up for offer today, so let’s get them out of the way first. Does the sound of animated garden gnomes singing Elton John songs while desecrating Shakespeare get you excited? What if I told you that they did this in eye-gouging 3D? No? Then I guess you weren’t among the audiences that made ‘Gnomeo & Juliet‘ an inexplicable box office hit earlier this year. I certainly wasn’t, and won’t be contributing to its further fortunes on video either. Nor will I give a dollar to the ‘Twilight’-for-boys teen sci-fi claptrap ‘I Am Number Four‘. That one was a bomb, and from most accounts, deservedly so.

In better news, the Criterion Collection leads the way among the week’s catalog titles with high-def editions of Charlie Chaplin’s masterpiece ‘The Great Dictator‘ and Russian filmmaker Andrey Tarkovskiy’s original 1972 science fiction mind-bender ‘Solaris‘. (Although it wasn’t very popular, I kind of liked Steven Soderbergh’s remake too.) I consider both of these essential purchases.

I got my wires crossed last week when I thought that Oliver Stone’s Oscar-winner ‘Platoon‘ had been released. It turns out that the disc was delayed to this week. Here’s what I tried to say about it earlier: Despite star Charlie Sheen’s recent “Winning!” antics, I think most people will acknowledge that this is a phenomenal movie with a terrific cast (including a very young Johnny Depp). Unfortunately, advance word has it that MGM’s Blu-ray is sourced from a pretty dated master.

I admitted in a recent Roundtable that I’ve somehow never seen a single movie starring cinema icon Steve McQueen, despite having several of them sitting unwatched in my movie collection. Warner and Paramount have decided to shame me further with the new Blu-ray releases of ‘Papillon‘ and ‘Le Mans‘ this week.

Speaking of classic racing movies (like ‘Le Mans’), Warner has also finally ported John Frankenheimer’s ‘Grand Prix‘ (which was formerly only available on HD DVD) to the Blu disc format. At three-hours, this is a long movie, and the plot is a little soap opera-y, but it’s pretty damn entertaining and those racing sequences are nothing short of amazing. Remember the days when car racing movies had real cars actually racing, without any CGI bullshit? This is the real deal. The HD DVD looked stunning, and our reviewer Steven was really impressed with the Blu-ray too.

The civil war epic ‘Gettysburg‘ was a passion project for producer Ted Turner, who poured $25 million into it. That may not sound like a lot for a feature film, but keep in mind that this started life as a cable TV miniseries that got too big for its britches. The 1993 theatrical cut was already over four-hours long, and the Director’s Cut adds about another half hour to that. The movie has some issues and is a little stilted in places, but overall it’s a very well-made and fascinating history lesson. It also has excellent production values, save for one major failing – all those fake beards. Dear lord, they’re atrocious. I fear that high definition will just call even more attention to this problem. Warner is releasing the movie in a Digibook package alongside a reissue of the vastly inferior follow-up ‘Gods and Generals‘, which is getting its own Extended Director’s Cut.

Fox seems to be in a Western mood this week. The studio gives us William Wyler’s epic ‘The Big Country‘, and Simon Wincer’s considerably less epic but kind of fun ‘Quigley Down Under‘.

Finally, while it may be hard to believe, even an atrocious filmmaker like Joel Schumacher is capable of putting together a watchable movie every once in a blue moon. At least, I’ve heard that ‘Tigerland‘ is pretty decent. I’ve just been a little too skeptical to risk it myself. I’ll leave it to you to tell me whether I should give it a shot.


  1. lordbowler

    I’m buying the Gods And Generals/Gettysburg Two-Pack DigiBooks.

    Possibles are Quigley Down Under and maybe Big Country.

  2. I’m importing a film that got released today in the UK – Alice – It shipped Saturday, so I hope to have it for this holiday weekend.

    I will probably end up picking up Gettysburg – just trying to find a good price on it. I like it, just not crazy about it, and hoping to find it for under $20.

    Will probably end up picking up The Great Dictator before too long. Probably wait for a sale on it as well, as I have never seen it (although I may have it on Laserdisc in my Charlie Chaplin Collection – I should really watch that, its in my pile of shame).

    I actually have a handful of Criterion films I am wanting to pick up, but for some reason, they are never on the sales lists.

  3. vihdeeohfieuhl

    PLATOON! Finally! Mine arrived yesterday afternoon.

    Has anyone seen Gnomeo? If it’s at least decent, I might pick it up for the kids. If it’s certifiable garbage, I’ll pass.

    • How old are the kids? If they are under six, who cares, just throw in any Disney / Pixar / Fox Digital / Dreamworks / Big Ideas CG movie and they will be entertained, and will want to watch it again and again, no matter how bad it is.

      • vihdeeohfieuhl

        Haha! I know that William. But the problem is that I don’t want them maturing thinking that it is okay to watch crap! Also, I don’t want to have to put up with seeing it playing at all if it’s utter trash. I really try to avoid the animated children’s stinker’s like Alpha and Omega, Open Season 3, and other similar titles.

        • In that case, you may want to stick with a movie that was at the theaters a little more than 4 weeks. 🙂 Or stick with Tinkerbell / Veggietales / Shrek.

          • vihdeeohfieuhl

            😉 Well, inexplicably, Gnomeo actually played for much of the winter and brought in almost 100 million dollars in the U.S. alone. I don’t know. I can’t get any comments from parents that have actually seen it, the review on HDD makes it sound somewhat passable, if not terrible. They are just sick of Tangled, How To Train Your Dragon, Shrek, Toy Story 3, etc. Maybe it’s worth a blind buy.

          • Veggietales, man! There have got to be like 20 or 30 episodes of this, and even if you are not religious, the majority of them are about morals and principles anyways. Kids love them, and there is enough refrences to stuff like Monty Python and Lawrence of Arabia and other movies to get a few chuckles from the adults.

  4. Gettysburg and Gods & Generals for me. I think the sequel/prequel that is Gods & Generals is vastly underrated…plus they’ve restored the subplot about John Wilkes Booth into the movie, which I’m anxious to take a look at.

  5. EM

    I’ll get The Great Dictator, though not this week.

    I’ve owned Happiness Is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown for several weeks now. Apparently it was a limited/exclusive release; after spotting it at Wal-Mart, I checked out a DVD copy from my public library and found that I really liked it, well enough to return to Wal-Mart and purchase the Blu-ray. Not only does Happiness Is a Warm Blanket hark back to the classic earlier Peanuts TV specials, but it recaptures the tone of the original comic strips to a degree I don’t believe any Peanuts animation has ever managed before.

  6. August Lehe

    I’m awaiting The BIG Country and Quigley Down Under this week and could not be happier unless I was instead awaiting SHANE and a couple of Disney Classics like DUMBO!

  7. John B.

    I’ll be getting Le Mans, Papillon, Platoon, and Gettysburg. I think Gettysburg has many problems but I’m a sucker for the Civil War (the beard comment is right on).
    Josh, I wish I could be in your position so that I could watch these McQueen movies for the first time again! I’m a big McQueen fan. I think his best are The Sand Pebbles, Bullit, The Getaway, The Thomas Crown Affair, Le Mans, Papillon, Tom Horn, and The Hunter (in no particular order. That would require more agonizing than I care to do right now).