Looking Back: The Top 10 DVDs of 2005
Benjamin Willcock takes a look at his top-ten DVD picks for 2005 and beyond
10. 24: Season 4 (R2)
The first DVD on the list, and perhaps an obvious choice, is the awesome fourth season of 24. I don’t think there is a person alive who hasn’t heard of this show, and its fourth outing was brilliant from end to end. Suspense was as edgy as ever, and Jack Bauer’s character went though so much emotional turmoil that he’ll be lucky to make it though another one of these traumatic days. The DVD presentation was also truly spectacular. From its vast array of special features to fantastic video and audio qualities, this box set was an easy choice for the top-ten list and a must-have for anyone who considers themselves a fan.
9. Lost: The Complete First Season (R1)
Ah, Lost – possibly the greatest new television show on the air right now, and a show that has almost single-handedly revived the genre in which it is based. My confession is that I never actually saw this show when it first aired, but it was though this DVD that I have become a huge fan. Now in its second season, and enjoying the kind of ratings that most would kill for, Lost looks certain to dominate for at least the next couple of years – if its concept can hold up that is. The DVD also blew me away, with its crystal clear video and surprisingly robust audio and plentiful special features. The show is cinematic, so too is the DVD – what more could you ask for?
8. Batman Begins: Special Edition (R2)
Chris Nolan’s name was propelled into the short list of truly great directors this summer, when his re-invention of the infamous Batman franchise became not just the best Batman flick, but one of the definitive summer blockbusters of all time. Batman Begins was the film that pushed all the right buttons, turned in all the right directions and finally ridded the horrid stench a certain Joel Schumacher left after his heinous efforts. But what makes Batman Begins so great is its starting back at square one. It was made as if all other Batman films had never been made, and it is this fresh approach that really gives way for a torrent of possibilities for the film and its certain sequels. Gone are the overly gothic set pieces of Tim Burton’s Batman, gone is the soap-opera-like tedium and neon-lit Gotham of Schumacher’s take, and in their place rests an unexpected realism that becomes the backbone of Nolan’s Batman. But despite the intense grounding of his film, Nolan has ensured that none of the on-screen magic and elegance has been lost in the translation. In short, Batman Begins was an action film done right. The DVD wasn’t too shabby either.
7. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (R2)
Will this be the last ever Star Wars release? Absolutely not! In fact it wouldn’t at all surprise me if Lucas goes back to re-treat the prequel trilogy in the same manner as his original films. The good news this time is that he couldn’t exactly make these prequels any worse could he? Still, whatever your feelings towards Mr. Lucas’s constant modifying and adjustments, Revenge of the Sith was a more or less solid and entertaining flick that acts as a nice bridge between the prequels and the much older, much better originals. This DVD was also one of the highlights of the year in terms of audio and video quality. The image was almost flawless, and the sound – while sadly missing Ben Burtt’s awesome Seismic Charge sound effect from Episode II – was equally as stunning. In fact, of all the DVDs released in 2005, this is easily the best all-around demo disc. You’re going to want to show off you’re A/V system’s capabilities to your rather envious friends with this one, but just remember that sound-proofing does not come cheap.
6. King Kong: Collector’s Edition (1933) (R1)
With Peter Jackson’s epic masterpiece of the same name currently lording it over the box office, this magnificent original has been given the treatment it deserves for the digital platform. Though I prefer Jackson’s retelling of the story more than even this classic monochrome original, you still can’t beat the nostalgia and age-old charm this film has. Who can forget those brilliant special effects – still excellent for their age – and the haunting moment Kong snatches Ms. Darrow from her bindings. King Kong is a true American cinema classic and one of the greatest films of its kind ever. This DVD preserves the film in all its glory, offering an amazing transfer (complete with enough grain to last you a lifetime) and hours of extra features, including Peter Jackson’s recreation of the Spider Pit – a very cool homage indeed.
5. The Incredibles (R2)
Pixar are now six for six in their filmic undertakings. They have scored six major blockbusters, all of which have become equally critically acclaimed and successful. The Incredibles is their latest, and perhaps greatest – no easy feat, but it might just be true. Some have even said that this film could be the greatest animated film of all time, or at the very least, one of the top three. I find myself having to agree with this statement. For me, The Incredibles is a true masterpiece and cinematic classic. It has a great, well-told and thoroughly witty story; it has a superb cast of characters, and is fit for both adults and kids. Oh, and this was the biggest selling DVD of the year according to recent analyst reports. The disc was partly responsible for this popularity, offering fans numerous features and an ultra-wide anamorphic transfer that looks great on any setup. If you don’t own a copy of this film, what are you waiting for? This is one of the must own DVDs of all time, not just of this year.
4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete DVD Collection (R2)
Like it or loathe it, Buffy is one of those TV shows that will stick around for a long, long time. I became a fan only a few years ago (roughly around the fourth or fifth season), but since then I have lapped up just about everything Joss Whedon put into this phenomenally great show. It had it all; drama, comedy, horror, action – the works; and this seven season box set contains every episode ever aired in one very stylish collector’s set. Expensive, but worth every penny if you are even half the fan I am. You can buy each season individually, but having them all in one huge set just looks so much better.
3. Friends: The One with All 10 Seasons on DVD (R2)
The second greatest sitcom ever – after Frasier of course – Friends was one of the highlights of TV viewing in its day, and managed to capture the hearts of millions globally. It is quite fitting therefore to have every single episode ever produced in one complete box – something every fan ought to have. Just like the Buffy set above, this is an expensive buy, but once you see it amongst your DVD collection you won’t really care. It looks great as a box set, but it is naturally what is inside that makes it special. As DVDs they might not be brilliant, but the sheer quality of the episodic content will steal over you. I have based this top-ten list on quality of DVDs in their entirety, not just for A/V presentation. These DVDs are the weakest on the list for A/V, but possibly the best in terms of entertainment and quality of product. And one thing Friends can do in droves is entertain.
2. Frank Miller's Sin City: The Recut & Extended Edition (R1)
You knew it had to be on here somewhere, and I cannot express enough how close it came to filling the top spot, but one other release this year apparently ousted it – but only just. Sin City is one of my favourite films ever, and its first DVD release (which I reviewed a while back) was lacking only one thing to make it a truly perfect disc – extra features. And on this huge double disc release, Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez have delivered all the goods and then some. Having a huge bundle of great features (including a recut and extended edition of the film on the second disc) was all we really wanted, but to come with the full graphic novel The Hard Goodbye was even better. Put it this way, the film is pure genius, and I am pleased to say that the DVD is equally as poignant. If you don’t own this disc, you really need to – DVDs just don’t come any better than this.
1. Titanic: Deluxe Collector’s Edition (R2)
And so, James Cameron must accept yet another accolade for his monstrously successful romantic drama about a famous ship that sinks somewhere in the freezing Atlantic Ocean. This four-disc collector’s edition sails away with a brilliant image transfer and an epic, sweeping audio soundtrack available in both Dolby Digital and DTS. On top of this, torrents of extra features over all four discs (including one of the greatest ever commentaries by James Cameron) cements that this is indeed the best DVD of 2005 – at least in the opinion of this critic.
Rounding out just ten DVDs for inclusion in the above list was not an easy task. I felt that there was a great many DVDs that almost made the final cut, but alas, they had to be dropped in favour of the above. So, let us now take a look at some other discs that are also worthy of your time and money.
Fans of Matt Lucas and David Walliams’ Little Britain got something of a treat this November when the series one and two box set was released. Containing all fourteen episodes from those series, as well as a nice helping of special features and a great Union Jack themed cover, this is not only a must own, but a truly monumental release from the BBC.
Another BBC release also worthy of your hard earned is Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s award winning new series, Extras. For me, this new show was even better (and funnier) than Little Britain, managing to capture in droves the painfully sardonic humour of Gervais’ other comedy behemoth, The Office. Buy it, watch it, and never look back. Oh, and it has some very funny extras (the DVD variety) too. And if the wait for the second series is too much to bear, Ricky and Stephen have a brilliant weekly Podcast available over on iTunes for you to feast on until then.
Brit horror The Descent also deserves a shout-out. The DVD was an all around great package, but the film is the true highlight here; scary as hell, dark (all too literally) and a refreshingly original tale that isn’t entirely dependant on glamorous young Hollywood actors and actresses and cheap thrills to get it to the end credits. The Descent can be found in stores and online for a reasonable price, so what are you waiting for?
Tim Burton scored another major blockbuster earlier on this summer with his remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It is a film worth seeing, even if you are not a huge fan of the more musical 1971 version, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Sweet, affectionate and made with love, Burton’s take on the Roald Dahl classic acts as a nice compliment to the 1971 version, and is also truer to the source material for those purists out there.
War of the Worlds, while boasting a rather hideous image transfer that, in my opinion, ruins the original theatrical presentation, still had plentiful special features and a great-sounding audio score. This is a film I really enjoyed watching at the cinema this summer, and not at all akin to the usual garbage that occupies the summer slot. It might not be Spielberg’s finest hour, but it is still highly enjoyable, well made and offers plenty of entertainment.
The best comedy of the year, The 40 Year Old Virgin, has a respectable DVD, and is a must for your collection. This film, unlike so many adult comedies out there, was not only believable, but was incredibly open and honest about its subject matter. It wasn’t pure gross-out sex jokes from end to end like the later American Pie flicks, but heartfelt and often quite delicate. On top of that, it also punched out some of the most memorable comic scenes I have seen in a film in quite some time. One thing is for sure: The 40 Year Old Virgin will be around for a long time, thanks to its many scenes being endlessly quoted and referenced.
If you are looking for more comedy, you might try some of the Frasier box sets that got released at various points around 2005. I love Frasier, I cannot explain to you how much, because I am not quite sure there is a word fitting enough to capture my feelings in this instance. Though the extra features are still not up to par on these Paramount releases, the episodic content is damn near flawless.
The Simpsons has had another great year on DVD too, with a few releases – most notably season six – taking the crowds by storm. Yimou Zhang’s colourful masterpiece House of Flying Daggers also gets a shout-out as one of the DVDs to own. So too does his other more popular flick, the Jet Li staring Hero. If you are into a bit of the old foreign cinema, these two films are not just brilliant examples of Eastern filmmaking, but two exceptionally breathtaking action films that demand to be seen. You owe it to yourselves to see these, and both can be bought for almost next to nothing at most stores.
Plenty of other discs also caught my eye this year, including a surprisingly good re-release of Toy Story to celebrate its tenth anniversary. So too did another classic, The Wizard of Oz. Both of these DVDs can be obtained from the USA and are worthy of your time and money – even if you bought earlier releases of them. Also of recommendation is the first season of Desperate Housewives, and the complete collection of Sex and the City, available in a modestly-sized box. I must also mention that the King Kong Production Diaries is a great buy, especially if you’ve already seen Peter Jackson’s amazing remake.
One DVD that you can not buy traditionally, but is still hands-down one of the best released in 2005, comes bundled as a mere extra with the Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith soundtrack. I reviewed this disc a few months back, and noted then that this mere bonus disc was utterly mind-blowing. I am of course talking about the Star Wars: A Musical Journey DVD. Acting like an hour-long trailer to the entire Star Wars saga, this bonus DVD narrated by Ian McDiarmid manages to capture the spirit of the universe that George Lucas created, and shows it in a way that hasn’t been seen since Return of the Jedi. And, dare I say it, it even makes Episode I look good.
Another DVD I feel I must shed some light on, but not exclusively video-based, is the complete recordings of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring from composer Howard Shore. In this huge four-disc (three CDs, one DVD) package, you have the option of listening to the entire works for the first in the trilogy on either CD, or on the included DVD complete with a powerful Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack option. It is a must for fans, and yet another example of how the DVD platform can be used to further an already great product.
There are quite a few DVDs I can’t wait to get my grubby little hands on in the new year. One in particular that I am itching to get hold of is the most recent Harry Potter flick, The Goblet of Fire. Here Mike Newell created a genuinely great Potter film for both fans and casual viewers alike, and a film that truly does stand head and shoulders above most other blockbusters. The DVD should be one of the biggest selling of 2006, but a director’s commentary is still doubtful.
Another fantasy film I must obtain is The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Having never read the C.S. Lewis books (shame on me) I was pleasantly surprised to see that those great trailers did not disappoint. I found the film to be a great fantasy adventure, with plenty of heart and wonderful special effects to keep you watching until the very end. One of the top grossing films of 2005, Narnia should go on to sell millions of DVDs and will hopefully be one of the year’s highlights.
There are plenty of other films I want besides that of the bigger budgeted fantasies. I am specifically hoping to see more cinematic classics making their way to DVD during the course of the year, as well as some special edition re-releases of current barebones discs – Kill Bill anybody? I am also a recent convert to South Park, so I am eager to get my hands on all seasons of that, too. And as for the one DVD I am most anticipating in 2006? Let’s just say it is yet another Peter Jackson epic, this time starring a particularly hairy and oversized ape that goes by the name of Kong…
You’ll notice an abundance of TV shows on my top-ten list this year, and for a very good reason – this year I have seen more TV shows on DVD than ever before. What with Friends, Buffy, Lost and 24 making their timely appearance, it has been a very busy (and time-consuming) couple of months getting through them all. I think this is an increasing trend we are seeing just recently; TV shows are, in some cases, out-selling regular film releases, but when those shows are offering superior entertainment and even value for money (the 24 features in particular are brilliant) who can blame the consumer?
Pixar’s The Incredibles was an easy choice from the beginning; it was never a question of if it would make the top-ten, but in which position would it wind up. Also making the list is the original 1933 King Kong in what is easily one of the best special edition releases ever, and George Lucas’s final Star Wars episode fits comfortably into the fold. I don’t like the film quite as much as I did at the cinema, but the DVD is a nearly flawless example of digital perfection. You’ll also notice Chris Nolan’s triumphant Batman Begins up there, as well as Frank Miller’s out-and-out classic, Sin City.
But the top DVD for me this year is James Cameron’s blockbuster champion times one-hundred, Titanic. Call me sloppy, call me mushy, this DVD is worthy of the top spot, if not for the film then certainly for the audio/video presentation and extra features spread across all four discs. It might not be up to the same standards of Peter Jackson’s little-known fantasy extended editions of the last few years, but then again, which other DVDs ever will be?
Editorial by Benjamin Willcock
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