If you’re reading a web site like High-Def Digest, odds are that you don’t need to be sold on the benefits of the Blu-ray format. Nonetheless, we thought that we’d use this week’s Roundtable to highlight some of the best discs in our collections that either feature a substantial upgrade in picture quality or that include exclusive features you can’t get on DVD.
This week’s topic was suggested by our friend Adam from DVDTalk, so we’ll let him lead things off.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
The timing didn’t really work out for ‘The Night of the Hunter‘ when it was first issued on DVD in 2000, hitting store shelves shortly before a tremendous restoration by the UCLA Film and Television Archives. To add insult to injury, the DVD was mis-framed and devoid of any extras of note. It would be a full decade before the film would be done proper justice on home video, and the result proved to be well-worth the wait. Criterion’s release of ‘The Night of the Hunter’ easily ranks among the most exceptional presentations of any black & white film on Blu-ray. The two-disc set is also overflowing with extras, chief among them a two-and-a-half-hour documentary that draws deeply from the sorts of outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage rarely glimpsed on films of this vintage. ‘The Night of the Hunter’ would be a deeply rewarding discovery even if it had been saddled with a mediocre presentation and the bare-bones treatment, but in a package this extraordinary, Criterion’s release is essential viewing.
M. Enois Duarte
For this, I’ll have to go with the original ‘Evil Dead‘. As devoted followers already know, there have been more home video releases of this movie than we care to count. Last year, Anchor Bay was kind enough to finally give fans a worthy remastered version that we can be truly proud of. Struck from the original 16mm camera negative and supervised by Sam Raimi, this is a massive improvement over all other incarnations and by far the best presentation of the cult horror classic ever. While the packaging as a whole could have benefited a tad more in supplements, the night-and-day difference is enough to make any fan re-buy. And best of all, you have the choice between the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio or a blown-up 1.85:1 window. It’s a great presentation and one of the best upgrades I’ve seen in a couple years.
‘Renaissance‘. Unfortunately, there is no perfect, suitable Blu-ray release of this to date, and the fact that Echo Bridge has the rights through Miramax means that we’ll probably never get one in this country, but there have been few films that I had to turn off because I just couldn’t watch in standard def. The super fine lines and sharp diagonals make this one utterly unwatchable on DVD. Even if it’s not perfect, the Canadian Blu-ray is a hell of an upgrade.
I’m going to go with ‘300: The Complete Experience‘. Not only does this particular release totally skunk its DVD counterpart, it even heavily overshadows the HD DVD by adding in a whole slew of exclusive and highly immersive picture-in-picture tracks, including an upgraded blue-screen experience. The audio and video are absolutely flawless, and it all comes housed in one of the most attractive Digibooks available on the market right now. I know that ‘300’ isn’t for everyone, but when it comes to upgrades, this Blu-ray sure is a winner in my book.
Chris Boylan (Big Picture Big Sound)
A few titles stand out for me. Despite a misstep from Sony Pictures on the initial Blu-ray release of ‘The Fifth Element’, the re-issued Blu-ray disc was a clear improvement, even over the Superbit DVD, in both audio and video quality. I was also fairly blown away by the ‘Blade Runner‘ Final Cut Blu-ray set. With only the inferior so-called “Director’s Cut” of the film on DVD, and with horrible bootleg versions of the workprint circulating among fans, it was refreshing to see pretty much all of the various versions of the film make their appearance in the “Final Cut” boxed set, including a true “final cut” of the film, overseen and approved by Ridley Scott. Unlike George Lucas’ incessant tinkering, the new special effects shots, backgrounds, image restoration and storyline improvements made by Ridley Scott to ‘Blade Runner’ all improved this groundbreaking film without reeking of revisionism. And for those who prefer the theatrical cut, with its Harrison Ford voice-over and sort-of happy ending, well that version is in here too, better than it has ever looked or sounded before.
When thinking about the best DVD to Blu-ray comparisons, I’ll have to go with Image Entertainment’s treatment of the ‘Twilight Zone‘ series. Not only does the 1080p picture completely obliterate the standard-definition DVDs, honestly the high-def transfers of the show’s five seasons are some of the best Blu-rays I’ve ever watched. And the added special features really put each of these sets over the top. Image wasn’t just content with keeping all of the features from the DVD releases; the studio went above and beyond by recording brand new audio commentaries for most of the series’ episodes. The new commentaries offer a wealth of information about the series and Rod Serling that you wouldn’t get otherwise. Image Entertainment actually made it worth the effort to upgrade the DVDs by offering immaculately restored video and audio along with thoughtfully-produced, newly-minted special features.
While the ‘Back to the Future‘ trilogy may not be the best catalog release to date, it’s a vast improvement over the DVD edition – especially when you take into account the new special features. Seeing new retrospective interviews where grown-up Biff, Marty and Jennifer talk about how much the series influenced them (just like it influenced us) is one added bonus you get with this set, making it a must-own for anyone who ever loved the series.
Picture Quality Upgrade: David Fincher’s obsessive perfectionism has paid big dividends for ‘Se7en‘ on home video. The director first supervised a transfer of the film for the Criterion Collection Laserdisc that was a notable improvement over the copy issued by New Line at the time. Later, he remastered the film for New Line’s Platinum Edition DVD, which was even better and set a new standard for that format. Not content to let the studio rest on those laurels, he had the film freshly remastered once again for Blu-ray. As good as the DVD was, the Blu-ray is a revelation that unveils detail and color only hinted at before. Contrasts and shadow detail, so essential to the movie, are rendered with a precision that makes the DVD look like mud in comparison.
Bonus Features: I feel a little guilty pimping a review that I just recently wrote, but the newly-discovered hour of deleted footage on the ‘Blue Velvet‘ Blu-ray is pretty darn cool. Although you can tell why none of these scenes made the final cut, the presentation here feels like a series of vignettes that allow you to further explore what was happening in the world of the movie just off to the side of the main plot. DVD viewers are out of luck. That’s a Blu-ray exclusive.
Now it’s your turn to tell us which Blu-rays you’ve found to offer the biggest improvement over DVD.