Best (and Worst) High-Def Discs of 2007: Kenneth Brown

Posted Thu Dec 27, 2007 at 01:14 PM PST

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

By Kenneth Brown

2007 has definitely been an exciting year for both high-def disc formats. We've seen an increasing number of major releases from all of the major studios, and the results have been largely spectacular.  Even the worst releases have looked and sounded better than their standard DVD counterparts, and many studios have gone above and beyond by revitalizing forgotten classics, giving completists everything they could want, and coming closer than ever to recreating the theatrical experience in a home theater environment.  If the best of the best releases share anything in common, it's a palpable sense that their producers were as excited about their high definition debuts as we were.

The following list represents the titles that made an impact, changed what I expected from other releases, or otherwise managed to nab a spot in my personal collection.  Note that every title on this list was chosen for its overall value (or lack thereof) -- I considered each release's video/audio quality, supplemental features, exclusive HD content, and the replayability and resonance of the main feature.  So without further ado, here are my picks for the Best and worst high-def titles of 2007...



  THE BEST OVERALL (in alphabetical order)


No other release in 2007 so fiercely divided early adopters like  '300.'  Some declared it art, while others called it drivel.  Personally, I think it's a visceral wonder -- any frame of the film could be slapped on the cover and it would look amazing.  Whether you prefer Blu-ray or HD DVD, this dual-format release from Warner boasts a rich, faithful transfer, a strong Dolby TrueHD track, and a healthy collection of extras that go above and beyond the standard fare.  The HD DVD even includes a "Bluescreen Picture-in-Picture" feature that allows you to watch the entire film sans special effects or post production work.  

• Read the Reviews: HD DVD and Blu-ray


Advances in film restoration continue to produce miracles I never thought possible.  This year's benchmark was set by the highly anticipated release of 'Blade Runner.' a cult phenom that's suffered through countless subpar releases over the last 25 years.  Warner invested an unfathomable amount of effort into the restoration -- fans not only get to watch director Ridley Scott's final cut of the film, they get to experience a version that looks and sounds incredible.  To top it all off, the film's sprawling supplements package and multiple cuts are spread over five discs.  This was the first release that High-Def Digest awarded with an across-the-board five-star rating and it legitimately deserves every compliment we can hurl its way.       

• Read the Reviews: Blu-ray and HD DVD


In a year that saw an onslaught of mediocre trilogy cappers, 'The Bourne Ultimatum' was a breath of fresh air.  Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass have crafted one of the finest spy films of all time -- in my opinion, it even outclasses Daniel Craig's revitalization of the Bond franchise.  Despite the flick's gritty aesthetic and kinetic cinematography, this HD DVD soars.  Striking 1080p video, pulse-pounding TrueHD audio, and a generous offering of standard and exclusive supplemental content (the highlight of which is an elaborate PiP track) makes this release a showcase title for HD DVD.  

• Read the Review: HD DVD Only


I'm thrilled to add my favorite film of 2006 to my list of favorite high-def releases in 2007.  Some people had a hard time accepting Alfonso Cuaron's ambiguous vision, but I consider the all-too-familiar reality in 'Children of Men' to be one of the most unsettling future dystopias ever committed to celluloid.  Released to a firestorm of compatibility complaints, the HD DVD edition persevered through its technical difficulties to find a comfortable home with the film's eager fanbase.  Even after a year of increasingly impressive video/audio presentations on both formats, 'Children of Men' still manages to stand out in the crowd.  

• Read the Review: HD DVD Only


The film that finally scored Marty some Oscar gold is a weighty tour-de-force with one of the sharpest scripts in recent memory.  Better still, the VC-1 transfer shared by both high-def versions of 'The Departed' matches the film's intensity shot for shot.  Bold, crisp, and vibrant -- the picture doesn't simply replicate the theatrical experience, it surpasses it.  As far as the audio goes, I personally prefer the Blu-ray's PCM track over the HD DVD's TrueHD mix, but both audio packages pack a significant punch.  The only downside to either release is a slim batch of supplements, but this one still remains aces in my book. 

• Read the Reviews: Blu-ray and HD DVD


After revitalizing the zombie film and the horror/comedy genre with 'Shaun of the Dead,' writer/actor Simon Pegg and writer/director Edgar Wright set their sights on action flicks with a slick comedy called 'Hot Fuzz.'  The HD DVD edition snagged my first five-star rating, and for good reason -- it has a jaw-dropping transfer, a great audio mix, and eighteen hours of supplemental features.  It would nearly take an entire day to plow through the commentaries, documentaries, featurettes, and deleted bits on this release.  Luckily, the extras inject a dose of candid self-referential humor that will keep you laughing.

• Read the Review: HD DVD Only


Clint Eastwood is arguably the most sure-handed director working in Hollywood today.  His 'Letters from Iwo Jima' was supposed to be a side project, focusingd on a battalion of World War II Japanese soldiers faced with the inevitability of their coming deaths.  The film may be heartbreaking, but the high definition presentation is stirring.  The Blu-ray and HD DVD versions benefit from a near-perfect filmic transfer and a thunderous TrueHD audio track that make the battle scenes feel too real.  The level of visual and audible detail in each scene is truly a feast for the senses that will leave you breathless.       

• Read the Reviews: Blu-ray and HD DVD


Let's get this out of the way first -- 'The Lives of Others' is a slow foreign film about a moment in German history most Americans know little about.  It's not a bombastic 'splosion-fest, nor is a brightly colored revamp of a cartoon.  But this astounding Sony release is far more impressive because it prioritizes naturalism over visual and sonic fireworks.  The AVC-encoded video is sharp, three dimensional, and thoroughly convincing.  The PCM audio relies on deft acoustics and ambiance to sell the film's tension.  To sweeten the pot, the extras throw in enough compelling information to fill a semester-long college course. 

• Read the Review: Blu-ray Only


Haunting, disturbing, and relentlessly dark, this startling Spanish language fairy tale from director Guillermo del Toro is nothing short of a masterpiece.  The film delivers an experience I wasn't prepared for this dual-format release delightfully packs the technical prowess to match the experience.  Even a controversial application of minor DNR (I stress minor) barely hinders the dazzling high-def image -- pause any shot and marvel at the on screen detail, texture, and color vibrancy.  Teamed with a flawless 7.1 DTS HD Master Audio track and a thorough collection of supplements, this is the high-def fantasy film of the year.

• Read the Reviews: HD DVD and Blu-ray


I love Pixar flicks as much as the next guy, but.. a movie about a rat who wants to be a French chef?  I was convinced 'Ratatouille' would be the one to unravel the animation studio's streak.   But Pixar's bait-n-switch turned out to be a film that had both me and my three-year old son glued to the screen.  The Blu-ray edition is nothing short of a high definition wake up call from Disney.  A gorgeous picture direct from the digital source, a glorious 24-bit PCM audio track, and a host of interactive features for kids and adults make this one a thrilling five-star release that should have a home on everyone's shelf.      

• Read the Review: Blu-ray Only


Honorable Mention: '2001: A Space Odyssey' (Blu-ray and HD DVD), 'Casino Royale' (Blu-ray), 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' (Blu-ray), 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' (HD DVD and Blu-ray), 'Live Free or Die Hard' (Blu-ray), and 'Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl' (Blu-ray)

  THE WORST OVERALL (listed alphabetically)


It absolutely kills me to trash this one, but 'Battlestar Galactica: Season One' was easily the most disappointing release I witnessed all year.  Flimsy cardboard construction, an awful outer casing that bends if you sneeze, and scratched discs jammed on rubber nubs combine to make this the most fragile digipak I've ever encountered.  Even worse, it features a poor video transfer that suffers from artifacting and other fundamental problems.  Fans like myself have been left in a deflated daze -- the Christmas present I was most looking forward to turned out to be a piece of cheaply constructed high-def junk.

• Read the Review: HD DVD Only


This one was another stab in the heart.  I love 'The Game' and its Fincher-helmed twists, turns, and psychological ambiguity, but the HD DVD edition includes a poor excuse for a high-def transfer that looks depressingly similar to the standard DVD.  There is a slight improvement, but it's minimal at best.  To make matters worse, there isn't a substantial extra to be found on the entire disc.  For years, fans have begged for a feature-packed Special Edition of 'The Game' with a remastered video transfer.  Sadly, this HD DVD release is nothing more than a disappointing port of the problematic DVD.

• Read the Review: HD DVD Only


Looking at the box art, it's hard to tell if the title of this release is 'Norbit' or 'Hysterically Funny.'  But watch this poor excuse of an Eddie Murphy revival and you'll know exactly what to call this movie.  I didn't crack a smile once during this crap-fest and the quality of the disc didn't help.  A middle-of-the-road transfer, a boring audio track, and a trite collection of yawn-inducing special features left me staring at the clock instead of the screen.  The one saving grace was that I was able to press stop -- my colleague Peter Bracke had to sit through the whole thing and stay awake long enough to write about it.

• Read the Reviews: HD DVD and Blu-ray


The original Sony-distributed Blu-ray edition of 'Robocop' was cancelled at the eleventh hour in 2006 after early reviews trounced the disc for its unacceptable video quality.  After over a year in hiding, the film was finally released by Fox (MGM's new distribution partner) in October of 2007, but the film's re-minted high-def transfer still suffered from quite a few glaring technical problems.  To finish off the nauseating groin-kick to fans everywhere, Fox also removed every special feature that had appeared on the cancelled version in 2006.  It may be a cult favorite, but save your money and avoid this one.

• Read the Review: Blu-ray Only


Easily one of the most disheartening and brainless flicks released in high-def this year, 'The Sentinel' features a great cast but little more.  I rolled my eyes through the entire film itself, but actually found myself increasingly dissatisfied with the technical impact of the release.  This Blu-ray bomb has a murky, contrast-challenged transfer and an only average DTS HD Master Audio mix that join forces to produce a genuinely underwhelming experience.  Even a nice collection of features are spoiled by the cast and crew's delusions of grandeur.  

• Read the Review: Blu-ray Only


Dishonorable Mention: 'Are We Done Yet?' (Blu-ray), 'Bram Stoker's Dracula' (Blu-ray)'The Getaway' - 1994 (HD DVD), 'Out for Justice' (Blu-ray and HD DVD), 'Sea of Love' (HD DVD), and 'The Wedding Date' (HD DVD)





There were a quite a few standout video transfers this year that solidified the reasons early adopters and film fans are willing to invest as much as they do in high-def.  After nearly awarding a tie several times, I hunkered down and chose Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on Blu-ray and HD DVD as this category's winner.  It exemplifies how spectacular special effects shots and natural scenes can look in a proper high definition release.

Honorable Mention: 'Black Book' (Blu-ray), 'Black Snake Moan' (Blu-ray and HD DVD), 'The Bourne Ultimatum' (HD DVD), 'Eastern Promises' (HD DVD), 'Hot Fuzz' (HD DVD), 'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest' (Blu-ray), and 'The Prestige' (Blu-ray).

BEST TRANSFER -- RECENT RELEASE (Three years or older)

This was easily the most contentious category simply because so many recent classics have received new life in high definition.  However, very few of these releases looked better than each of the three entries in The Ultimate Matrix Collection on HD DVD. The trilogy may not provide the most consistent experience, but the video transfers in this set were exceptionally impressive.

Honorable Mention: 'Alexander Revisited' (Blu-ray and HD DVD), 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' (HD DVD), 'Hellboy' (Blu-ray), 'Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl' (Blu-ray), 'Remember the Titans' (Blu-ray), and 'Troy: The Director's Cut' (HD DVD and Blu-ray).

BEST TRANSFER -- CATALOG (Ten years or older)

As much as I adored the miraculous treatment select catalog titles received in 2007, none of them blew me away like Warner's treatment of Blade Runner: The Final Cut.  Both the Blu-ray and HD DVD versions of this sci-fi masterpiece are stunning, vibrant, and as close to reference quality as a catalog title can be.   Best of all, the fine detail is impeccable and I feel as if I've been completely reintroduced to a film I've seen a hundred times before.

Honorable Mention: '2001: A Space Odyssey' (Blu-ray and HD DVD), 'A Few Good Men' (Blu-ray), 'Donnie Brasco' (Blu-ray), and 'The Shining' (Blu-ray and HD DVD).


This was another tough category, but one that was easier to judge once I revisited each of the year's showcase audio tracks. Pound for pound and sound for sound, the 24-bit DTS HD Master Audio track featured on  Live Free or Die Hard provides the most thrilling, earth shaking audible experience on either high-def format.  It combines the impact of gunfire and explosions with a rich soundscape that simply without equal. 

Honorable Mention: '300' (HD DVD and Blu-ray), 'Cars' (Blu-ray), 'Immortal Beloved' (Blu-ray), 'Pan's Labyrinth' (HD DVD and Blu-ray), 'Transformers' (HD DVD), and 'The Ultimate Matrix Collection' (HD DVD).


What more can I say about the only rodent that's come close to evicting Mickey from his Disney throne?  The Blu-ray release of Ratatouille set the bar for every animated release scheduled to appear in 2008. Like the film itself, this disc respectfully caters to its young and older audience with a technical trifecta.  I think Peter said it best in his official review: "it's adventurous, witty, visually captivating, and utterly charming."   

Honorable Mention: 'Cars' (Blu-ray), 'Happy Feet' (HD DVD and Blu-ray), 'Meet the Robinsons' (Blu-ray), 'The Simpsons' (Blu-ray), and 'TMNT' (HD DVD and Blu-ray).


Another December release finds its way onto my list.  Bandai Visual has alienated some fans with their high-def price point, but they consistently turn out quality releases like SOS! Tokyo Metro Explorers: The Next.  The film is lovingly reproduced on Blu-ray with a beautiful transfer, a pitch-perfect Japanese TrueHD mix, and a satisfying collection of features.  The only downside is its price.  While it just nudged out some of the fierce competition from Sony, this one is a great release that shouldn't go overlooked.  

Honorable Mention: 'Freedom' Volumes One, Two, & Three (HD DVD), 'Paprika' (Blu-ray), and 'Tekkon Kinkreet' (Blu-ray).


I thoroughly dig a snazzy documentary -- one that educates, intrigues, and entertains.   More than any other high-def documentary this year, the BBC version of Planet Earth on HD DVD and Blu-ray accomplished all three.  It may not be a groundbreaking genre-changer, but the filmmakers managed to capture hours of heart-stopping imagery that few have ever seen before.

Honorable Mention: 'Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room' (Blu-ray and HD DVD), 'Galapagos' (Blu-ray and HD DVD), 'IMAX: Blue Planet' (Blu-ray and HD DVD), 'National Geographic: Relentless Enemies' (Blu-ray and HD DVD), and 'One Six Right: The Romance of Flying' (HD DVD).


Eagle Vision saved their best high-def release for last.  Queen Rock Montreal & Live Aid (available on HD DVD and Blu-ray) features a classic Queen concert from 1981, a full-length bonus performance from 1985, an impressive transfer, and a pair of excellent audio tracks. Queen fans should scoop this one up post haste.

Honorable Mention: 'Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds: Live at Radio City' (Blu-ray), 'Incubus: Alive at Red Rocks' (Blu-ray), 'John Legend: Live at the House of Blues' (Blu-ray), and 'Nine Inch Nails: Beside You in Time' (Blu-ray and HD DVD).


What fate will befall Jack, Kate, and Sawyer?  Who are the Others?  What does Ben hope to accomplish?  What's the deal with all of the mysteries on the island?  More than any other series, Lost: The Complete Third Season continues to pose and answer questions that make the series one of the best around.  This faithful Blu-ray release looks and sounds great, and even includes a wealth of supplemental content and exclusive features.  

Honorable Mention: 'Heroes Season One' (HD DVD), 'The Sopranos Season 6, Part 1' (HD DVD and Blu-ray), 'Star Trek: The Original Series - Season 1' (HD DVD), and 'Weeds: Season 2' (Blu-ray).


Be sure and check out the films I've listed below -- they might not be everyone's cup of tea, but each offers something truly special that may just surprise you.   I  especially suggest giving The Host a shot.  Lovingly rendered on both HD DVD and Blu-ray, this Korean creature-feature is unpredictable to the very end.  Both editions offer a striking transfer and strong audio packages.    

Honorable Mention: 'Curse of the Golden Flower' (Blu-ray), 'The Fountain' (Blu-ray and HD DVD), 'The Lives of Others' (Blu-ray), 'Oldboy' (Blu-ray), 'The Pixar Short Films Collection' (Blu-ray), and 'The World's Fastest Indian' (Blu-ray and HD DVD).


Universal packed the HD DVD version of  Heroes: Season One with a seemingly endless collection of exclusive content.  Episode specific picture-in-picture commentaries, interactive features that take full advantage of U-Control technology, and other unique features that must be experienced to be believed.  Plus, all of the major bonus content is presented in full high definition.  Whether you enjoy the show or not, there's no denying how impressive the features on this release are.

Honorable Mention: 'Cars' (Blu-ray), 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (HD DVD version), and 'Transformers' (HD DVD)


The best new trend this year was Studio Humility.  Recalls, replacements, and full admissions have been refreshing -- particularly in the midst of a format war (when no one wants to admit mistakes).  Paramount recalled 'The Jack Ryan Collection.' Warner  offered a quick solution for packaging snafus that affected 'The Harry Potter Giftset.' Disney gave relief to fans experiencing framing issues with 'Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.'  Sony even issued a new edition of 'The Fifth Element' and created a free disc-exchange program for those already stuck with the original release.  My genuine thanks to any studio who focuses on what matters: a film's integrity and a fan's satisfaction.


My hat's off to Walt Disney Studios / Buena Vista for really understanding the high-def consumer.  We want releases that look phenomenal, sound fantastic, and come packed with bonus content that takes advantage of new technologies.  They may not have released the largest number of titles, but they released the most consistent, highly-rated discs.  Kudos.  

Honorable Mention: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and Warner Home Video


And those, my friends, are my picks for the best (and worst) in high definition for 2007. Spend that Christmas money wisely, have a fantastic New Year, and be sure to continue following the most exciting releases and developments of 2008 with High-Def Digest!

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Tags: 2007 Year in Review (all tags)