Matt Joseph's 'Best of 2005'
Matt counts down his selections for the best region one DVD releases of 2005
That doesn’t mean, however, that things didn’t look too great for the format as the year progressed, and it wasn’t until the fourth quarter of this year that studios started pumping out the best releases (sort of saving the best for last so to speak, finishing the year off as strong as ever). Right around October, I started thinking about what I might include in an article covering the best releases of the year, and trying to come up with five releases that I thought were worthy or recognition, let alone our customary ten titles, seemed like a lost cause at best. Then it seemed as if some magical forced opened the curtain that was hiding all of the good stuff and week after week found some new gem sitting on the shelf and discounted for quick sale. Yes, that juggernaut of capitalism known as the Christmas shopping season came in full force this year, and thankfully too, as I was about to write the year off as far as quality, theatrical film DVDs go.
So, as you read on and most assuredly armchair quarterback your way through this article, you can rest assured that DVD is not dead, nor is it entering into some dramatic death throws either. As it happens, I ended up having a far more difficult time picking ten titles out of all this year’s quality releases than this time last year, and looking towards the future you can bet that companies will continue to bring out quality DVDs of newly released movies along with all the special editions of this and collector’s sets of that. But I’m getting ahead of things, and looking back on 2005, every one of my choices for this year’s best region one releases contain video transfers and audio tracks that are well above average, include plenty of those special features that folks like, such as audio commentaries and behind-the-scenes featurettes, and above all, are movies that deserve the treatments they received. So, without any further ado or the requisite drum roll, here are my choices for the best region one titles of 2005…
10) Sin City: Recut, Extended, Unrated
The first release this year of Sin City from Buena Vista Home Entertainment featured an outstanding video transfer and audio to match making it one of the best releases to DVD this year presentation-wise, but the single-disc package featured little else besides. The new, two-disc set released in December did a lot to remedy the lack of supplemental features on the first release and is outstanding overall, but I still had a difficult time including it in my top ten as I abhor the tactic of releasing a stripped down DVD first, followed by a feature-packed set only months later. In the end though, I can’t deny the fact that the second release is one of this year’s standouts as it includes one of 2005’s best films with everything that made the August release so good and excellent features such as commentary tracks, an alternate cut, and a wealth of behind-the-scenes featurettes this time around, so grudgingly it makes it into my top ten, but it should have been the first and only edition of the film released to home video in 2005.
9) The War of the Worlds: Special Edition
Not every special edition has to carry a hefty price tag, and Paramount Home Video’s relatively low priced, all-new special edition of George Pal’s science fiction classic really lives up to the too often thrown around word special. Not only has The War of the Worlds been given a beautiful video transfer that brings the Technicolor process used in the picture’s filming to life, but in addition to the standard, mono soundtrack found on every home video release of the film, Paramount has also included the film’s original stereo soundtrack that, up until just recently, had been thought lost to the ages. Also included on the disc are a host of extras, including audio commentary from stars Gene Barry and Ann Robinson on one track and commentary from Joe Dante and film historians Bob Burns and Bill Warren on a second, more informative one, a couple of featurettes on the making of the movie and writer H.G. Wells, trailers, and the 1938 radio broadcast in its entirety. Whether or not you have the first, featureless release of the film on DVD from Paramount, you need to treat yourself to picking up this disc, which is a classic sci-fi lover’s dream come true.
8) Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge Of The Sith
Fox Home Entertainment once again rolled out the red carpet for Star Wars this year with a two-disc treatment for Revenge of the Sith that was nearly perfect. The video transfer is possibly the best I have ever seen for a live-action film, and the included Dolby Digital track is reference quality for the format. Leaving off right were the DVD of Attack of the Clones left off, the special features on the set are outstanding overall, with the highlight of the set being the featurette ‘Within A Minute’ that showcases everything that goes into creating one minute of Sith during the climactic battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan. Personally, I think the whole prequel trilogy was a missed opportunity that failed to capture what made the original movies so special, but whatever one may think about the new movies or this final instalment in particular, no one can deny that the treatment given to these films on DVD over the past few years has been nothing less than spectacular. Best of all though, is that with the release of this movie to DVD everyone can enjoy all six films in the comfort of their own homes.
7) Titanic: Special Collector’s Edition
I think I may be one of a handful of people that never got around to seeing James Cameron’s Titanic on the big screen back in 1997, so maybe my opinion of the movie is diminished by not having seen it the way it was meant to be seen, but I’ve always thought it was a good movie but not the great one that people all over the world regard it as. One thing’s for certain though, it deserved much better than the disc released six years ago from Paramount, and this year the movie received the treatment fans all over have been clamouring for with a multi-disc set chockfull of extras and improved video and sound. Out of all the upgrades from the previous edition, the two best are the new anamorphic widescreen transfer that is leaps and bounds better than what came before and the commentary track from James Cameron himself that is a real treat.
6) The Wizard of Oz: Collector’s Edition
Warner Home Video once again proved that they know how to treat classic films the right way with the release of a three-disc set for one of the most magical and endearing motion pictures of all-time, The Wizard of Oz, back in October. The new video transfer and 5.1 audio track are both excellent, and the set manages to include everything that came with the 1999 release of the movie to DVD over its three shiny platters along with enough additional material such as deleted scenes, featurettes, and vintage films to put a lot of newly released films coming out on DVD to shame. The real treats on the set, however, are two of the disc’s alternate audio tracks—feature commentary with film critic and historian John Fricke that comes supplemented with interview excerpts from various cast members and second, an isolated music track that you won’t be able to resist singing along to as Dorothy and her companions skip down the yellow brick road towards the Emerald City.
5) Gladiator: Extended Edition
Now here’s the kind of double-dipping I don’t mind—the original release of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator on DVD was one of the format’s first blockbuster titles, featuring an excellent presentation as far as the video transfer and audio tracks are concerned and a plethora of extras packed into the two-disc set. Now, five years later, DreamWorks has revisited the film in the form of a fantastic, three-disc set that any fan of the Academy Award winning film shouldn’t go without. The region one edition of the set includes both the theatrical cut of the film and a new, extended cut that actually makes the movie a richer and fuller experience, an excellent video transfer and audio tracks (even though the DTS track from the first release is mysteriously missing), and enough extras to keep anyone’s fingers and thumbs dancing about their remote controls. The standout feature included in the package is Ridley Scott’s second stab at recording an audio commentary for the film, only this time for the extended version and accompanied by the film’s Oscar winner for Best Actor and first time commentator, Russell Crowe.
4) The Fly: Special Edition (1986)
David Cronenberg’s best horror film got its much deserved due on DVD back in October with this exceptional, two-disc set from Fox Home Entertainment. Easily outdoing the featureless first release of the film on DVD, the new package includes not only a new video transfer of the film, but also gets an upgrade in the audio department with a great DTS 5.1 track as well to go along with its long list of extra features. Among the generous offering of supplements, Cronenberg once again provides an informative and entertaining commentary track for the film, and the second disc’s documentary, ‘Fear the Flesh: The Making of The Fly, is bested only by the documentary included with my pick for this year’s second best title. Better still, the special edition release was brought out simultaneously with an excellent treatment for its unfortunately, inferior sequel, The Fly II, which too contains an improved presentation over its previous release and close to the same amount of quality extras that the first film received.
3) Kagemusha/Ran: The Criterion Collection
Yeah I know, I’m cheating a little bit here by combing two DVDs released months apart as the third best release of 2005, but there is little coincidence that The Criterion Collection chose to release both films to DVD this year as rarely have two different films been so inseparable. In the 1970s, legendary director Akira Kurosawa’s career had hit rock bottom and he couldn’t pull together the financing to finish his 1980 samurai epic Kagemusha. Seeing it as an opportunity to help a director who had influenced their own careers so much, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola used some of their new found clout in Hollywood to get Twentieth Century Fox to give Kurosawa the money he needed to complete the picture. The result was a film of sweeping and epic proportions, and more importantly a resurgence in the career of Kurosawa that would see him direct four more films until his death in 1998, including my own personal favourite of all his films, the King Lear inspired Ran. The Criterion Collection first released Kagemusha to DVD back in late March of this year in the form of a two-disc set featuring an outstanding, re-mastered video transfer of the film and an equally great audio track with improved English subtitles that also included a host of supplements and printed material to round out the package for its very first region one release. Ran had previously seen two releases in region one prior to this year, both from Fox Lorber Home Video, but neither release comes close to The Criterion Collection’s November release that mirrors the previous package with its restored video and audio and host of extras. If you’ve yet to discover Kurosawa’s films for yourself, there is no better place to start than with these two DVD releases.
2) King Kong: Collector’s Edition (1933)
In addition to Fox Home Entertainment’s special edition release of David Cronenberg’s The Fly, the other title I was hoping and praying would get a release in last year’s ‘Best of’ article was the original King Kong, and Warner Home Video pulled out all the stops in making sure that the great ape received a proper debut on DVD. The video and audio have been completely restored, looking and sounding marvellous in comparison to years of watching highly edited and dirty prints of the film on home video and television all of my life, and the special features are nearly an eighth wonder themselves. Visual effects legend Ray Harryhausen and Star Wars veteran Ken Ralston provide a great commentary track that also includes excerpts from interviews with producer Merian C. Cooper and star Fay Wray, and the Kong-sized documentary, ‘RKO Production 601: The Making of Kong, Eighth Wonder of the World’, is worth the price of the set all on it’s own as producer Peter Jackson and various colleagues reconstruct the making of the classic film and actually recreate a missing scene from the movie using the same equipment and techniques as effects wizard Willis H. O’Brien did to create Kong nearly eighty years ago. As great as the movie and Warner Home Video’s package is overall though, it still comes in at number two on my list to…
1) The Incredibles
Oh come on now, don’t act so surprised, Frozone. Disney and Pixar’s The Incredibles was one of last year’s best films, let alone the best Pixar has created to date, and Buena Vista Home Entertainment’s DVD is an absolute blast in and of itself. The video and audio on the disc are as perfect as anything you’ll ever put into your DVD player, and the included special features are from top to bottom as informative about the making of this wonderful movie as they are just plain fun—heck, I’ll even go as far as to say that The Incredibles is the best first issue DVD set that any company has ever produced. I could reap all of the praise in the world on the set, but ultimately the best thing that can be said about it is that I don’t mind the six year-old repeatedly putting it into the player to watch over and over again, nor can I blame him…I’ve caught myself doing the exact same thing on more than one occasion.
So there you have it, my list of this year’s top region one releases. As I previously stated, there were plenty of great releases this year, and while titles such as Batman Begins: Deluxe Edition, War of the Worlds, and The Fifth Element: Ultimate Edition were all very fine releases, the exclusion of a commentary track made them ineligible for my list. You may or may not agree with that, but the first extra I search out when scanning the back cover on every DVD I look to purchase is some sort of commentary track, and I feel cheated every time an otherwise good package doesn’t have one. Before I head off, I’d like to single out a few other titles besides those just mentioned in my top ten that made firing up my entertainment centre and writing for this site so worthwhile this year— The Val Lewton Collection, Donnie Darko: Director’s Cut, the Toy Story 1 & 2 Collector’s Sets, The Big Red One: The Reconstruction, The Frighteners: Director’s Cut, Team America: World Police, Land of the Dead: Unrated Director’s Cut, Heat: Special Edition, Ben-Hur: Collector's Edition, and last but not least, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Have a great New Year everyone, and may only the best lay ahead for one and all.
Editorial by Matt Joseph
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