Monday, November 15, 2010

Blu-ray Releases: The Week of Nov. 15th, 2010 - Avatar Redux and 3D Blasts Off

Two headlines dominate this week's Blu-ray releases. First, 2009's biggest movie takes a return trip to Blu-ray (who didn't see that coming?) and second, new 3D technology makes a splashly debut on the home video market. A pretty varied list of Blu-ray releases this week, featuring some exciting debuts and 3D upgrades plus a trio of silent movie classics and even a slew of Sony Blu-ray re-releases (with a lower price). In the coming weeks and months, you will be seeing more and more 3D versions of your favorite movies coming out in droves, in order to support all 5 of you who have actually bought a 3D high-definition TV. There are a lot of stuff to sort through this week, so without further ado, let's get on with it, shall we?

We'll first start with the non-3D releases:
Avatar (Three-Disc Extended Collector's Edition + BD-Live) [Blu-ray]The Last Airbender (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)Disney's A Christmas Carol (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)The Kids Are All Right [Blu-ray]Modern Times: The Criterion Collection [Blu-ray]Sherlock Jr. / Three Ages [Blu-ray]The Complete Metropolis [Blu-ray]Mutiny on the Bounty [Blu-ray Book]Peanuts Deluxe Holiday Collection (Ultimate Collector's Edition) [Blu-ray]

Although Avatar is the film most associated with bringing 3D technology to the masses, James Cameron won't be bringing a 3D Blu-ray version of the film to our homes until at least 2011 or beyond. At least not with this latest 3-disc Extended Collector's Edition set. (Side note: Panasonic had previously announced that a 3D version of Avatar would be bundled exclusively with the purchase of its Viera line of 3D high-def  plasma TVs but there have been no extra details since that announcement.) When Avatar was first released back on Earth Day in April, it was a 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo set with just the theatrical version of the film and no special features included. 20th Century Fox's spin to that glaring shortcoming was that they "needed all the available space in order to produce the best possible video and audio presentation." What Fox really saying was, "we'll sell you a better version of the movie in a few months and we know you'll buy it--again."

So, fast forward to the present and Fox has stayed true to form and voila! we have the Extended Collector's Edition, which comes in an impressive book-like package. So what's in this package? For starters, you get 3 versions (yes, 3) of the film: the theatrical, Special Edition re-release and finally, the Collector's Extended Cut. The Special Edition is the (pointless, I might add) theatrical re-release that contains an extra 8 minutes of footage while the CE has 16 extra minutes added that includes an alternate opening scene on Earth. The CE will clock in at 2 minutes shy of 3 hours. That's a heck of a lot of Avatar and I'm not sure if this film warrants any repeat viewings at all. With the zest that they've been marketing this release, I'm sure they'll be selling a ton of Blu-rays this holiday season. So the three versions of the movie is on Disc 1 while Disc 2, titled "Filmmaker's Journey" and Disc 3, titled "Pandora's Box" contain a massive amount of special features including 45 minutes of deleted scenes, in-depth making-of featurettes, image galleries, interactive scene deconstruction, screen tests, BD-Live, etc, etc. It features 1080p video and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio and if the first release was any indication, this one should be great as well. For $24.99, this is a heck of a better value than the barebones release earlier. But still no 3D. That will come when Cameron feels like buying himself a fleet of new Ferraris to replace his current one.

The next release represents the rapidly-deteriorating career of once promising director, M. Night Shyamalan. After making his brilliant debut with the psychological horror movie, The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan has essentially lost his mojo, making one silly inconsequential movie after the next (excluding Unbreakable). As an appropriate symbol of his lack of great ideas, Shyamalan has crafted his latest movie debacle, The Last Airbender, from a children's TV series. Despite its fantasy setting, the film lacks any sort of imagination and when coupled with horrible writing and acting, it was universally panned by critics. Even a dizzying array of special effects can't help it overcome the lack of depth or storyline. Anyway, if you did like it and want to own it on Blu-ray, there are 2 options: a Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy or the Single Disc versions. Both of them offer identical 1080p video and DTS-HD master Audio 5.1 audio options. Oh, and if you want to watch it in 3D, you'll have to go to Best Buy, as the retailer holds sole exclusivity to the 3D version. Here's the cover art:

Up next is Disney's update on the holiday classic A Christmas Carol that features the voice talents of Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and Bob Hoskins. This is a motion-capture CG animated feature that pleased audiences and critics alike when it opened last November. As I said, this is a classic story and with great execution and Disney has managed to update it to great effect. Disney's A Christmas Carol comes in a 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo set plus a 4-disc Blu-ray 3D/Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy set. With flawless digital video (1080p) and audio (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) presentations, this Blu-ray should be on everyone's Christmas list.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a big fan of the drama/comedy genre but The Kids Are All Right is a great reason to give the genre a new look. The Kids Are All Right stars Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo and the up and coming Mia Wasikowska. It wowed audiences during it s debut at the annual Sundance Film Festival and has since received more accolades than I can count. The movie combines comedic surprise with poignant emotion truth in a funny and vibrant portrait of the modern family. Highly recommended viewing. The Kids Are All Right on Blu-ray comes in a single disc with the usual 1080p video and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio.

Next, we have a couple of silent film legends making a push into Blu-ray, starting with Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times (1936), courtesy of the Criterion Collection and a Buster Keaton double bill of Sherlock Jr./Three Ages (1923/24) from Kino Video. Both releases are silent film classics and should please any film connoisseurs out there. In addition, the video presentation has been cleaned up for both as well. Of course, in the case of the Buster Keaton films, you can't run away from the fact that they are 80+ years-old and there is obviously wear and tear to the source print. However, both studios have done a great job of restoring and upgrading them to high-definition. Modern Times is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 in 1080p with LPCM Mono audio while Sherlock Jr./Three Ages also gets to our screen in 1080p (1.33:1) video and a selection of DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, LPCM 2.0, Dolby Digital 2.0 or Dolby Digital Mono. Both releases shouldn't be passed up.

The Fritz Lang sci-fi masterpiece, Metropolis, has been through some horrific re-editing since its premiere back in 1927 and many feared that the original cut of the film was lost forever. However, in 2008, a complete and uncut 16mm negative of Metropolis was found in a film archive in Buenos Aires and just like that an important part of film history was finally restored to its former glory. Kino has previously released this on DVD and now it is finally available on Blu-ray as The Complete Metropolis, with 1080p (1.33:1 aspect ratio) black and white video and upgraded DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 orchestral music audio. Another classic that should be in everyone's film library. 

This next release is the 1935 Clark Gable and Charles Laughton version of Mutiny on the Bounty (as opposed to the 1962 Marlon Brando version). Laughton stars as the evil and tyrannical Captain Bligh with Gable as First Mate Fletcher Christian, who leads a mutiny on board the ship HMS Bounty. Critics overwhelmingly prefer this version of Mutiny on the Bounty and it comes from Warner Bros. with 1080p video (1.37:1 aspect ratio) and DTS-HD Master Audio Mono.

Finally, we have an old favorite, Charles Schultz's Peanuts Deluxe Holiday Collection, featuring three of the best Charlie Brown/peanuts TV specials, A Charlie Brown ChristmasIt's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, all of which have been released separately on Blu-ray. Now you can get all 3 specials in one package and for a combined lower price. The video presentations have been upgraded to 1080p and except for A Charlie Brown Christmas (lossy Dolby Digital 5.1), the other two specials received the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 treatment. Definitely a great pick-up for fans of Charlie Brown and the "Peanuts" comic strip.

But wait, we're not done yet. here's a list of the 3D releases for this week, some new and some catalog titles, all upgraded to three-dimensional goodness.
Disney's A Christmas Carol (Four-Disc Combo: Blu-ray 3D / Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy)The Polar Express (Single Disc Blu-ray 3D/Blu-ray Combo)Clash of the Titans (Three Disc: Blu-ray 3D / Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy)Open Season [Blu-ray 3D]Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (Three Disc: Blu-ray 3D / Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy)IMAX: Deep Sea (Single Disc Blu-ray 3D / Blu-ray Combo)IMAX: Space Station (Single Disc Blu-ray 3D / Blu-ray Combo)IMAX: Under the Sea (Single Disc Blu-ray 3D / Blu-ray Combo)The Official 2010 FIFA World Cup Film [Blu-ray 3D]

Warner Bros. is also re-issuing three catalog titles that were previously released in Digibook form, which I like but apparently some people despise. Here's an example of what one looks like:
So, the studio is now re-releasing the following 3 titles in a regular case (at a lower price, of course):
Falling Down [Blu-ray]The Shawshank Redemption [Blu-ray]Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory [Blu-ray]

Finally, Sony is launching what they call Blu-ray Essentials Collection, a set of 12 action-adventure films from the studio, chosen "for their superior picture and sound quality, critical acclaim and genre appeal to create a collection designed to maximize the home theater collection." Well, these titles are re-released in exactly the same form as before without adding anything new to them. The only difference is the altered cover art and of course a lower MSRP, sort of a Greatest Hits collection. So, here they are (in alphabetical order):
Air Force One [Blu-ray]Bad Boys [Blu-ray]Black Hawk Down [Blu-ray]Casino Royale [Blu-ray]Da Vinci Code [Blu-ray]The Fifth Element [Blu-ray]Ghost Rider [Blu-ray]Hancock [Blu-ray]Snatch [Blu-ray]Spider-Man [Blu-ray]Spider-Man 2 [Blu-ray]Spider-Man 3 [Blu-ray]

Phew! That's it for this week. See you again next week! Happy Blu-ray-ing!

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