2003 on DVD
Well, another year has passed us by, and it's again time to look back at what has been released this past year. So what might...
Every year is a year for the action DVD, and thankfully 2003 was no exception. The main action packed DVD release of the year is of course The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Extended Edition). This four-disc package really expands on the poor theatrical cut, giving the film a new lease of life and making it all the more entertaining. This new, longer cut of the film really helped the character progression, and in several places, stuck closely to the original books (particularly noticeable in the Treebeard sequences). Equilibrium was generally overlooked this past year. Many people weren't even aware of it theatrically, but this Christian Bale science fiction movie is well worth a watch. In a future where emotion is outlawed, the Grammaton Clerics police the public with incredible skill with both pistol and sword. However, one of these Cleric's misses a dose of the medication prescribed to pacify everyone, and he quickly realises something is amiss. The film received a very nicely presented disc with great audio and video, however not much in the way of extra features. Worth a look though.
A couple of Chow Yun Fat films have been received special edition re-releases this year. Unfortunately though, both God of Gamblers and A Better Tomorrow have very poor video presentations, which is a shame seeing as both films make for a genuinely fun few hours. One centres on a great gambler who hits his head and loses his memory, and the other on a man on the wrong side of the law, with a brother in the police. God of Gamblers is a light hearted film with comedy scenes and great gun play where as A Better Tomorrow is a violent gangster film with a lot of death and a pretty sad story. Both enjoyable though, if you like that sort of thing.
Another big budget action film of this year was X-Men 2. This was actually better than the first film in my opinion, so if you weren't a fan of the first, then you should still consider seeing the second. It has a more intriguing story, better effects and arrives on a well produced DVD. While not wanting to dwell on the year’s big films too much, I should probably mention the mega-blockbusters and a one word review of the film and its DVD just in case you were wondering. So, Terminator 3 (average film, good DVD); Die Another Day (average film, good DVD); Hulk (poor film, good DVD); The Matrix Reloaded (below average film, above average DVD); Minority Report (above average film, good DVD). Of course, this is just a sample of the titles available, but I fear this list could go on forever, and so I will leave that there. It's interesting to note that all the major releases have pretty good DVD releases, no doubt to make the films look a little more appealing.
I'm not a great fan of scary films as I'm a bit of a wuss! However, I love monster movies in which some creature terrorises villagers/city folk/carnies, whatever. Again, these are Tinsel Town monsters – I will not be watching Anthropophagus, The Beast parts 1 or 2 nor any other banned films that would make me hide behind my sofa.
Alligator 1 and 2 were released on DVD as a double pack this year from Anchor Bay. A film which terrified my childhood, Alligator was about a genetic mutant reptile, that went around eating people in the water, much like the famous shark. It would also come onto land for a bit of (normal alligator in shrunken sized scenery) people chasing. The second film was dire but the first is still a decent monster flick, even if it is a few years old now. Along the same low budget theme was one of this year’s surprise hits, Dog Soldiers. This film tells the story of a group of soldiers on a training exercise who, instead of encountering the Special Forces as planned, end up meeting werewolves. This is a great film which I actually found quite scary when I got into it. Some people just laugh at the effects, but I was more than happy to let that slide and enjoy the film for what it is. A lot of references to other films (both intentional and non) were also included. Topping it off, the disc receives a decent audio and video presentation, making this a bloody (pun intended) good disc and certainly one of my favourite monster films of 2003.
Another surprise British hit of 2003 was 28 Days Later directed by Trainspotting’s Danny Boyle. This relatively low budget flick tells the story of a man who wakes up in a hospital in London to find that he is alone in the capital city. It turns out that a virus was released onto the British public, called Rage, which turns people into (for want of a better word) Zombies. Not your typical Zombie walking around with both arms up in front at right angles, but a fast moving, vicious being intent on causing damage. A fresh look at the genre with some interesting concepts and a fairly decent DVD presentation make this worth checking out.
Final Destination 2 is a monster movie with a difference – the monster isn’t seen, as Death has no presence. However the fate of these teenagers has already been decided which means they are all going to die, and I don’t mean pass away quietly in their sleep either. These deaths mostly involves somehow turning them inside out which means special effects and gallons of blood. It’s not big and it is not clever, but it is kinda fun to see the fretful ensemble run around narrowly avoiding fate as one by one, they get squished/crushed/exploded etc. The DVD is presented nicely and this is worth a rental at least.
Staying on the theme of invisible monsters, we have Ghost Ship, a fairly basic premise of ghosts on a once lost glamorous ocean liner, found by a salvage crew who realise that given the choice of the gold in its bowls or life, they would all rather chose to live and what started out as a “get rich quick" scheme ends in a frantic dash to escape the current occupants of the ship. Good production values and a well presented DVD make this an entertaining movie.
It wouldn’t be right to talk about this year’s monster movies without mentioning the absurdly named Alien Quadrilogy, which features all four films based around Giger’s Alien with a host of extra features, and even a longer cut of Alien 3 that most agree is needed. Lots of great extras and good DVD presentation make this a great purchase if you want to see how it all started.
The final (two) monster movie(s) I am going to mention is The Hills Have Eyes which by now is a clichéd story, however in 1977 this was a pretty original concept which scared many people. By today’s standards however it is not as violent as it once was so if you do not want to go back so many years, check out Wrong Turn which is a very similar story and premise that centres around a group of travellers that get marooned in the middle of no-where, and who come across a family of inbred hill billys who like nothing more than to find lost travellers, and hack them into little pieces, and then maybe eat the remains. Wrong Turn was originally billed as going back to horrors roots but it doesn’t quite make it. However it is a scary film and certainly one of the most intense films I have seen for a while. Often it is hard to care about the characters on screen when they start dying but in this I found it easy to feel terrible for the group when they started losing friends. So if The Hills Have Eyes is too “old" a film for you to consider, take a look at Wrong Turn.
I might be an adult but I still like animated films after all, just because it is animated, it does not mean that it cannot be a fantastic film. First up is the most recent film from Pixar/Disney - Finding Nemo. A lot of people have said this was not as good as the company’s previous efforts; however it is still a good film in itself. The animation is incredible and DVD is presented excellently. The video is a little compressed with haloing around some of the on screen objects including the “cast"; however the colours are vibrant and the sound is rich, with a decent selection of extra features making this a kids and adults favourite wherever it goes. People with any DVD knowledge at all will have picked this up on Region 1 DVD whilst it was still playing on the cinema screens in the UK and their kids will have loved them for it.
Along the same Disney themes, The Lion King was released as a two disc edition this year. The story is that of a lion cub who is tricked into taking responsibility for his father’s death and who leaves his home in shame, only to find new friends. The DVD is presented excellently, with great menus, video and audio presentation as well as a plethora of extra features. It is worth mentioning the audio again as the special 5.1 mix Disney have created here is outstanding and is well worth using to demo your home cinema to friends.
It has been a good year for big kids too, with releases of He-Man, Dogtanian, Battle of the Planets and The Adventures of Willy Fog all on DVD. None are beautiful DVDs but they are as good as childhood memories get and what with all the current sales on, perhaps it is time you relived part of your childhood? I did, and it was great.
My final animated DVD recommendation is called Spirited Away. This has been available from the Far East for a while now, albeit with subtitles, however Disney got their hooks into it and made a new version with a proper English dub of the audio. So those of you that can’t read and watch TV at the same time, the Region 1 edition is the one to go for. The film is beautiful and of course being Japanese, a little strange at the same time, telling the story of a young girl whose family enter a spirit world. As she loses her parents the film portrays her struggle to get them back amongst other things. You really should see this - it even won an Oscar this year.
Others to Look at
There have been many good DVDs released this year and I am not listing them all by any means, however a few worth checking out are: Dances with Wolves: Special Edition, Day of the Dead, 8 Mile, Evil Dead Trilogy, The Hitcher, May, Red Dwarf, Fargo Special Edition, Ichi the Killer, Jason X, NARC, The Office, Phone Booth and finally the Indiana Jones Trilogy.
Ones to Miss
As with everything, with pleasure must come pain. To maintain balance, for every good film made, there must be twenty poor ones to balance out the universe. 2003 was no exception. My first choice is an odd one. Not based on the film itself, but the presentation of the DVD. Gangs of New York caused a fair amount of controversy when released for its poor picture quality and large use of Edge Enhancement (especially on the Region 1 DVD). Ok it wasn’t that bad, but it is not what we would expect from a big budget epic production such as this. The film itself was quite good if a little bland but worth a rental if you can face sitting through its 160 minute running time. However especially if you have a large screen TV or projector, be prepared for a fairly average video presentation of an attempt at an epic film.
From here we go onto more films that whilst the DVDs could be good, the films themselves are so bad it pains me to even type their titles: 2 Fast 2 Furious, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, Daredevil, Hulk, xXx. Of course there have been many other appaling films on DVD this year but I expected a lot more from those listed above. It just shows that a big budget can’t always buy a decent script.
One final disappointment of 2003 was the SE release of The Fifth Element on Region 2 DVD. Unfortunately the video quality is as it always was on standard Region 2 – rubbish. I took a look at this in a comparison article here if you are interested.
I hope some of that has given you an idea of an extra DVD to pick at your local store for a perusal, and if not, why not post your recommendations from 2003 below in our comments section. I’m always interested to hear what you lot consider to be a good DVD, especially over the last year.
Editorial by David Beamish
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