For those of you who might own the "Alien Quadrilogy" DVD box set, we've got some bad news: this new HD version is really pretty spectacular. "Alien" and "Aliens" have all-new 4K resolution video transfers ("Alien 3" and "Alien Resurrection" also have updated video transfers but they're not brand new) and the sound has been upgraded to 5.1 lossless mixes (DTS-HD Master Audio format) across the board. Around the office, we're calling this the new black-level torture test for our TV reviews and while we won't get into all the extras, there are plenty.
'Apocalypse Now (Three-disc Full-disclosure Edition)'
As its title implies, in the box you'll find three discs that pull together "The 1979 Cut," the longer "Apocalypse Now Redux," and the "Hearts of Darkness" documentary. Both versions of the film are presented in high definition for the first time from a 1080p transfer "supervised" by Francis Ford Coppola. You also get a bunch of extras, which gives fans of "Apocalypse" a lot to chomp on.
While the first movie in the trilogy is certainly the best, "Back to the Future" fans will be happy to note this the best the films have looked. Yes, there's some film grain (it's supposed to be there), so the video doesn't look razor sharp, but all in all this is an impressive package with the most complete set of "Back to the Future" extras to date.
"Blade Runner" may not have the ultimate audio or video quality, but this newly remastered version is splendid compared with the poor original DVD. Better yet, this collection comes with every version of the movie ever released.
See pricing for "Blade Runner" from Amazon.com.
Though Paramount has received some criticism for the video quality of its "Gladiator" Blu-ray, "Braveheart" has fared much better, getting high marks for both picture and sound. We agree--and also like the replay value on this one.
See pricing for "Braveheart" from Amazon.com.
'The Bridge on the River Kwai'
'The Bridge on the River Kwai'
We're still waiting for "Lawrence of Arabia" on Blu-ray but at least another David Lean classic--and arguably, one of the best films of all time--has come to Blu-ray in a completely new remastered version. More specifically, this includes a new 4K "digital restoration," as well as 5.1 surround-sound audio.
Before "The Matrix," there was "Dark City," and though it didn't make our earlier lists, now that Amazon has it on sale for $9.99, we felt it should be added. The video quality isn't perfect (video sticklers will notice some edge-enhancement in spots), but it's a whole lot better than the DVD, and the audio's generally excellent.
Want some dark material to see how black the blacks are on your TV? Megahit "The Dark Knight" is just the ticket. The sound's pretty impressive, too. Just don't be freaked out by the fact that the aspect ratio switches from letterbox (2.35:1) to full wide screen (1.85:1) to maintain the full resolution of the IMAX action scenes.
See pricing for "The Dark Knight" from Amazon.com.
A number of readers were unhappy we hadn't included any David Lean films on our list, but the fact is, aside from a "Passage to India," his films weren't out on Blu-ray. Now comes "Doctor Zhivago," which gets high marks for its video quality (it's grainy in spots but that's the way the film looked). As far as the sound goes, some critics have said the new surround mix is far from perfect, but fans of this classic won't be disappointed.
See pricing for "Doctor Zhivago" from Amazon.com.
Initially, there was a slight bit of controversy over this release because Amazon currently has "Fight Club" for $13.99--a relative bargain in our book.
After initially putting out a "Gladiator" Blu-ray with less than optimal video quality (some have described it in much worse terms), Paramount has released a remastered version that's worthy of our list. (Note: If you bought the original "Gladiator" Blu-ray, Paramount has a by-mail trade-in program that gets you the new version).
See pricing for "Gladiator" from Amazon.com.
'The Godfather--The Coppola Restoration'
Originally, we didn't have the "Godfather" trilogy on the list. However, now that we've expanded the list to include more discs, there was no way to leave it off. We're not fans of the "The Godfather: Part III," but the discs currently aren't sold separately (and this package is down to $50).
See pricing for "The Godfather--The Coppola Restoration" from Amazon.com.
Arguably one of the top-three gangster movies ever made. It's priced right, too.
Yes, it's long, but it's also an epic crime movie with Pacino, DeNiro, Kilmer, Voight, and a little Ashley Judd and Natalie Portman mixed in. The gun battle two-thirds of the way through is legendary for showing off surround-sound systems.
For fans of "Inception," it's a no-brainer to pick up the movie on Blu-ray. But this visually arresting film that boggled a few minds has an outstanding VC-1-encoded 1080p video transfer that offers lush color and detail. Impressive as the video is, the audio is arguably even better with lots of nuanced sound and tight, rumbling bass that will put your surround system to the test (and make a great demo for guests).
See pricing for "Inception" from Amazon.com.
With arrival of "The Incredibles" on Blu-ray, we decided to push "Ratatouille" off the list. Both offer reference-quality video and audio but "The Incredibles" probably has more replay value and is one of our favorite Pixar movies.
See pricing for "The Incredibles" from Amazon.com.
After having "Baraka," which offers true reference-quality video, on the list for a while, we felt it was time to swap in the newer "Life" series from the BBC. We prefer the original version narrated by David Attenborough to the Oprah-narrated version that appeared on the Discovery Channel (it, too, is available on Blu-ray).
See pricing for "Life" from Amazon.com.
'Live Free or Die Hard'
Bruce is getting old--and high-definition doesn't help him--but luckily "Live Free or Die Hard" is more about the audio (it's reference quality).
'The Lord of the Rings: Motion Picture Trilogy (Extended Edition)'
Legions of devoted "LOTR" fans doled out one-star reviews on Amazon for the Blu-ray theatrical release of the three movies because they all wanted the Extended Edition, which has finally arrived in a package that includes a whopping 15 discs. Alas, most of the bonus features are on DVD, not Blu-ray, which is too bad. But for the $70 or so that it costs for this edition, you will get 682 minutes of spectacular audio and video that's sure to test the mettle of your home theater. Truth be told, we did not re-watch the three films in their entirety before posting this blurb, but true fans shouldn't hesitate to block out the over 11 hours to view them all in one sitting--without bathroom breaks.
Note: We're still waiting for the extended and theatrical-release versions to be bundled in one Blu-ray package. As of this writing, the theatrical-release version of the trilogy (in Blu-ray) retails for about $15 less than the extended version.
Because of its frenetic pace, "Minority Report" is one of those movies that benefits from multiple viewings so you can pick up on stuff you might have missed. Some viewers may think the video looks a little off (read: grainy with a slightly muted bluish hue), but that's how Spielberg wanted the picture to look. Another good one for showing off your home theater.
See pricing for "Minority Report" from Amazon.com.
Previously, we had "Bolt" on the list, but with the arrival of "Monsters, Inc." and "Up," it gets the boot. With it's eye-popping color, ultrasharp detail, and terrific audio, "Monsters" is a great way to show off your home theater.
When it came out on DVD in 2000, the video transfer of Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" drew raves from videophiles. Well, it's even more impressive on Blu-ray. Like a lot of older films that have gotten new treatment on Blu-ray, this one's never looked or sounded better, particularly since "North by Northwest" was shot in VistaVision, a higher resolution wide-screen process developed by Paramount that was only around for a short while during the '50s.
We had "Band of Brothers" on the list for a while and still think it's a good pick. But we thought it was time to move on to HBO's follow-up World War II miniseries, "The Pacific," which was also produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks and has been reported to cost at least $150 million to make.
The 1080p AVC-encoded transfer is excellent with lots of great detail, but like "Brothers," it's the audio that's really superb and hits reference quality.
See pricing for "The Pacific" from Amazon.com.
We've got a little soft spot in our hearts for WWII films and "Patton"--and George C. Scott's performance--stand up with the best of them.
We didn't have "Planet Earth" on our original list, but that was probably a mistake. Sadly, our copy (there are four discs) was stolen from our AV lab. Senior Editor David Katzmaier remains upset.
See pricing for "Planet Earth" from Amazon.com.
'Saving Private Ryan'
It's interesting to watch "Saving Private Ryan" again after all these years because you realize how much influence it's had on today's video games. Like Spielberg's other recent Blu-ray release, "Minority Report," the video has some grain and color hues that make it seem less than pristine--but that's how the movie's supposed to look (and it does look good). Not surprisingly, the first 25 minutes are that much more intense in HD.
See pricing for "Saving Private Ryan" from Amazon.com.
New isn't always better but in this case, the new "Star Trek" movie lived up to--and beat--most people's expectations. The Blu-ray looks and sounds great.
Our audio reviewer, Steve Guttenberg, loves to use this disc in his surround-sound tests of speakers and AV receivers. The film also has a lot of dark material to test the blacks on your HDTV. We just wish the second half of the movie was as gripping as the superior first half.
We've been waiting a while for "Taxi Driver" to come out and now that it has, we're not disappointed. This is a great video transfer that makes the movie look better than you've ever seen it and even grittier than you probably remember it. Yes, there's plenty of grain, but the image still seems sharp, and this one looks a lot better than many other '70s flicks that have made it to Blu-ray.
See pricing for "Taxi Driver" from Amazon.com.
The Tron Legacy Blu-ray comes in a few different packages, with the top-end 5-disc version offering the 3D and 2D versions (as well as the DVD and digital copy) along with the original Tron Blu-ray.
The movie itself may not be great, but the video is incredibly sharp, the sound is reference quality, and--as you might expect--the visual effects are stunning. This is also a great test disc for black levels if you're into that sort of thing.
See pricing for "Tron Legacy" from Amazon.com.
For the Blu-ray release of "The Wizard of Oz," Warner Brothers remastered the film, scanning the negatives using 8K resolution. The final "capture" master was created in 4K resolution, which is twice the resolution of the master used for the DVD release. Though we're not keen on most 4:3 (non-wide-screen) Blu-rays, "The Wizard of Oz" has simply never looked better than it does here. After first offering only an Ultimate Collector's Edition of the film, you can now get an inexpensive standard special-edition version.