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Well it’s that time of year again, when the DVDAnswers reviewers get to chose their favourite discs of the year. 2003 has been another solid year for the format, largely due to the continuing proliferation of budget machines in supermarkets up and down the country. Indeed, it is now cheaper to buy yourself a DVD player than it is a VHS machine (as I learned this Christmas, when buying for a relative yet to move into our brave new world), with many players weighing in below the forty pounds mark.

However, one thing that has troubled me this year is the amount of re-releases and ‘Super Special Editions’. There are only so many copies of Army of Darkness that one person can need (Dave – take note), and what the hell was X-Men 1.5 all about? Studios, if you’re going to do it at least be honest and give the discs titles befitting the marketing decision that lead to the re-release. How about X-Men ‘re-released because the second film is in the cinemas and we didn’t do a particularly good job the first time out, plus we figured we could scam a few more bucks out of you’ 1.5? Cynical, moi?

As usual it’s been tough whittling all the discs I’ve seen this year down to a top five, but I’m fairly happy with my final selection. If I’m being honest I had to sit down and go through my collection with a fine-tooth comb (thank you DVDProfiler) to ensure that all of the titles were eligible for inclusion. I was most surprised by how many ‘retro’ discs I bought in comparison to new releases this year, with a number of my favourite discs falling outside of the accepted timeframe for a ‘Best of 2003’ award. Ah well, it’s been a long year and I can’t be expected to remember everything! Anyway, without further ado, it’s on with the list!
5: The Adventures of Indiana Jones Region One

Chris Gould's 'Best of 2003'

First off we have a very late addition into the top five, primarily due to my reluctance to buy the set. As a child I never had much time for the films, with Temple of Doom being the only one I watched at the cinema, and so I wasn’t exactly frothing at the mouth in anticipation of the boxed set. Then came Christmas. As a notoriously difficult person to buy for, I put the trilogy on my ‘wish list’, and I’m glad I did.

All three films are a lot better than memory served, with Raiders of the Lost Ark standing tall as the best of the bunch. The boys at Lucasfilm can also be proud of a restoration job that, while not up there with the very best, is most impressive. Both audio and video elements have been given a thorough going-over, resulting in the best looking and sounding representation of the trilogy ever. You can’t beat a bit of whip cracking in Dolby 5.1!

4: Punch-Drunk Love Region One

Chris Gould's 'Best of 2003'

“Puch-Drunk what?” I hear you cry. Paul Thomas Anderson’s fourth film got a limited outing in UK cinemas early this year, and it became a firm favourite of mine. More of a film to ‘feel’ than anything else, the movie features excellent performances from Anderson regulars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Luis Guzman, the lovely Emily Watson and, if you can believe it, Adam Sandler. I’ve heard some describe the film as a ‘romantic comedy’, but that title is far too bland for this fantastic bit of cinema.

The region one edition was marketed as a ‘Superbit’ title, which is largely inconsequential, and featured a DTS track in addition to the Dolby track found on other regions. Both tracks do an amazing job with Jon Brion’s score, and the superb video transfer showcases the startling use of colour throughout the movie. Punch-Drunk Love may be an oddity, but that’s not always necessarily a bad thing.

3: The Matrix Reloaded Region One

Chris Gould's 'Best of 2003'

All right, you got me. It’s me. I’m the one. I liked The Matrix Reloaded. It would seem that the sequels to 1999’s The Matrix went down like a lead balloon with the majority of you, and while I have to admit to being disappointed with the final instalment in the trilogy, I absolutely love the second film. It may be shameless eye-candy wrapped up in pseudo-intellectual babble, but you have to admit that the bit on the freeway was cool. The fight scenes in Reloaded are breathtaking, and seriously left me wanting more at the cinema. I also had high hopes that Revolutions would make sense of the nonsensical, but sadly, much to my frustration, that was not to be.

Anyway, enough of my ramblings on the shortcomings of the finale, let’s talk about the DVD. I defy anyone to show me a disc that looks and sounds significantly better than Reloaded, such is the high standard of the audio-visual presentation. With a virtually flawless video transfer, ably backed by perhaps the best Dolby Digital track of the year, why isn’t it disc of the year? I have one word for you – extras. The set featured perhaps the most unashamedly self –promotional collection of featurettes I’ve ever seen, with scarcely any insight on the filmmaking process. Ah, what could have been (I said something similar at the end of Revolutions).

2: Donnie Darko Region Two

Chris Gould's 'Best of 2003'

I couldn’t believe my luck when I realised that this disc was eligible for the list. My little face lit up with glee! As a relative newcomer to the film (I originally saw it around six months ago), I still don’t profess to know exactly what it’s all about, but every time I watch Donnie Darko it does something that far too few films do nowadays – it makes me think. While the basic premise of the film is relatively easy to understand, there are so many levels that I never tire of watching it.

Thankfully the UK region two disc is also a bit of a corker, featuring solid audio-visual elements and a host of bonus material that’s actually worth watching. The commentaries - from director Richard Kelley, actor Jake Gyllenhaal, and a group effort from the rest of the principal cast - are the stars of the show, but there’s plenty more besides. The fact that it gave us a decent Christmas number one for a change didn’t hurt either!

One last thing: if anyone can explain why the disc has two identical English 5.1 soundtracks, I’d love to hear from you!

1: Alien Quadrilogy Region One

Chris Gould's 'Best of 2003'

The second late entry is also a rather predictable winner. Once I got my hands on it there really was no chance for anything else, as the first two films are long time favourites, and this set actually delivers more palatable versions of the third and fourth movies. The original Alien is a classic of both the sci-fi and horror genres, and is still capable of sending a shiver down the spine of even the most desensitised viewer. James Cameron’s Aliens is one of those rare sequel beasts that actually manages to keep pace with the original, while Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection are interesting, if ultimately flawed pieces of work.

The Alien Quadrilogy may win the prize for the most ludicrously named title of the year, but it also takes the top honours in virtually every other area. You have to see the video restoration work on the original to believe it, but that’s not to say that the other films look poor. Sound is also excellent, with both the Dolby and DTS tracks offering all the subtlety and bombast you could ask for. However, it’s the phenomenal collection of extras that really seal the deal. With forty-five hours of bonus content to wade through this is a reviewer’s nightmare, but it’s certainly the most comprehensive set I’ve ever seen. If you’d like to know more about this fantastic set then you can check out the reviews on the site, but take my word for it when I say that nothing this year has come close to touching the Alien Quadrilogy. It's the undisputed champion of 2003!

Honourable Mentions

Just time to mention a couple of discs that didn’t quite make in into the top five, but are well worth checking out all the same. Firstly we have the swashbuckling adventure Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, which stars Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, a sort of Keith Richards of the sea. Depp’s performance is inspired, and really makes the film, but appearances from Keira Knightly and Orlando Bloom don’t harm things. The DVD release features both Dolby and DTS tacks, some entertaining commentaries (I’d like to know what drugs Keira Knightly is taking) and a veritable booty of bonus material.

X-Men 2 was in and out of the top five for a while, but don’t let its eventual exclusion put you off. This is a first rate set, with stunning audio-visual presentation and a cracking set of extras. Ang Lee’s Hulk was widely criticised (although I liked it), but the DVD release certainly didn’t disappoint. Great visuals, an amazing soundtrack and a nice collection of extras went a long way towards earning the big green guy my respect.

Chris Gould's 'Best of 2003'
And now we come to what will be, in most people’s minds I’m sure, the most glaring omission from the list - The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Let me just say that I did consider this for the top five, but then had to disqualify it on the grounds that I only received it very recently and haven’t had a chance to watch it. Now I like the LOTR films, but I’m not a fanatical fan. In fact, I was decidedly under whelmed by the theatrical version of The Two Towers. However, I received the region three release of the extended edition as a Christmas gift, and I’m told it’s a much better film. Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to watch the extended edition, and so I’m unable to comment on audio-visual quality, or indeed on whether the extended cut is an improvement over a film that would not have made my top five. Sorry all you Tolkien and Jackson fans – please don’t lynch me!

Well that’s it from me for this year. I’ll be back, along with the rest of the team, in 2004, bringing you the very latest in news and reviews from the world of DVD.

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