Movies are awesome. They may not be as interactive as games, but few things are as satisfying as being totally immersed in a film, either due o the plot, the acting, or in some cases, the cinematography.
And without a doubt, the best way to view movies in your own home is on Blu-ray, hopefully on a nice LCD 1080p screen. Surround Sound is also a great investment. But Blu-rays are expensive, almost twice the price of a DVD, so choosing which ones to buy can be difficult. I'm here to try and help you.
This list is based on three things:
Number 10-Kingdom of Heaven (Director's Cut)
Okay, I'm going to start this off in the wrong direction by saying that the DVD version is actually better in terms of value, as this Blu-ray has no extras, whereas the DVD Box set has 4 discs of them. That said, let's talk about the BR.
Ridley Scott (who will be seen again on this list) released KoH in 2005 to VERY lukewarm reception. Uninspired fight scenes, shoehorned plot, and wishy-washy performances were too much for even Scott to overcome. But with the Director's Cut, it is honestly like night and day. An extra 45 minutes go a long way in character and story development. Battle scenes and several intense moments are now more gory, and more realistic to fit the orinial 'R' rating. The picture is stunning, beautifully transfered from what was the original's only good quality.
Overall, while lacking in value (DVD!), KoH Dir-Cut is still a fantastic film once Ridley Scott is able to show you his version.
I know what half of you are thinking, and let me tell you right now: this is a great movie. Few films manage to combine good storytelling, and amazing special effects. In Inception, the Special Effects actually help tell the story. And while it may not be the cinematic masterpieces Black Swan or the King's Speech were, Inception is a film that is MADE for Blu-ray.
The story, while full of more holes that swiss cheese, is engaging and fresh. The action is intense, and the aforementioned effects are beautiful. And on the topic of beauty, this one would look great in SD. So it obviously looks outstanding in HD. The sound mixing is top-notch, exceept for some of the middle scenes, where I had to turn up the volume to hear what they were saying, only to turn it back down later.
Aside from the fact that this film is worth repeat viewing (I've seen it 4 times and have always loved it), it includes to great featurretes. One by Gordon-Levitt about the world of dreams, and a making-of.
Number 8-Deadwood: The Complete Series
Few shows manage to redefine an entire genre the way Deadwood did. Even Battlestar Galactica, another amazing Blu-ray set, seems unable to escape some of the preconcieved notions of science fiction. Deadwood turned the Western completely on it's head. There is no single knight in shining armor, as every character has their vices, some more than others. Ian McShane gives the performance of a lifetime as Saloon owner Al Swearengin. Olyphant is amazing as the town sheriff, though fails to outshane McShane (which seems nearly impossible anyways). The story of Deadwood, a small gold-mining town in the American west, is a captivating one to be sure.
Deadwood is a great-looking show, and has a perfect transfer to Blu-ray. The sound mixing is a little off at times, though generally very crisp. As far as extras, a bunch of commentaries and featurettes wrap up the package, which is beautiful by the way. Seriously, this is one well-designed box set.
Number 7-The Dark Knight
Some call this the greatest comic-book film ever. I find it hard to disagree. Sure it's not so much a super hero film as it is a crime drama, but that's what makes Nolan's interpretation so great. The idea that none of these characters have super powers, or even gadgets (aside from Batman-who needs them), these are real people with real mental issues.
I don't know what it is with Nolan and good looking films but holy shit, the Dark Knight may be THE BEST LOOKING film out there. Blacks (which are very common in the movie) look black, colors are vivid and clear. Goddamn mister Nolan. On top of that, TDK is one of the best sounding films I've ever heard.
A couple of featurettes add legs to an already marathon-capable film.
Number 6-Avatar: Extended Collector's Edition
If TDK is the best looking film ever made, this is the most beautiful. Allow me to clarify, TDK was as close as you get to being at the scene of Joker's mischief, Avatar draws you in using breathtaking vistas, imaginative locales and creatures, and amazing color.
The only reason Avatar isn't higher on this list is that when I watch it, I can't shake the sense that this movie is just 'Dances with Wolves' in space. It's heartwarming, awesome, and a little cheesy (all good sci-fi films are), but it's a story we know all too well.
Visually, my only complaint is there is no option to watch in 3D, which requires an actual 3DTV to achieve. C'mon, I don't need a fucking $5,000 television to watch this in 3D, just give me the glasses. The sound immerses you in the film, mixed and scored perfectly. Two hours of featurettes make this package definitely worth the $60 tag.
Number 5-Gladiator (Sapphire Series)
Told you he'd be back. Ridley Scott's epic about a Roman general turned slave turned gladiator is about as good as historical movies get. I mean seriously, this movie is unbelievable. The political intrigue and story of Rome's decline gives perspective, but the personal tale of Maximus is good enough to stand on it's own. Beautiful action scenes, including an opening to rival Helm's Deep, will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Part of the film's genius is the use of color to represent the Act of the film. This is seen even more clearly on Blu ray, from the dreary grays of war-raved Germania, to the sterile ivory of Rome, this film is stunning. Beautiful mixing and effects make this film a true spectacle. After you're done watching, there are the extras. I can't even list them all there are so many. Rest assured, you will get your money's worth.
And don't worry, Ridley Scott isn't done yet.
Number 4-Raging Bull 30th Aniversery Edition
Raging Bull got the BR treatment a few years ago, and I didn't pick it up because I didn't have a PS3 yet. Thank God because this is the way to watch this movie. One of my top 5 films of all time, Raging Bull is the best sports film ever made, and arguably the best film by acclaimed director martin Scorsese. The semi-biographical story of how obsession and machismo ruined the life of Jake LaMotta, former heavyweight champion, is engaging, and heartbreaking.
Shooting the film in black and White was a stroke of genius by cinematographer Michael Chapman, who wanted the viewer to feel like they were in the 1940s and 50s. Because of this, Blu-ray really seems like the ONLY way to watch this movie, the contrast and lighting coming through better than any other version of the film.
The sound is great, except for the fact that in the last Act of the film, you need to raise the volume way up to hear anything. It's both jarring and annoying. Several featurettes including a guide to filmaking by Scorsese round out this superb package.
Number 3-Alien Anthology
Ridley Scott, you devious bastard. They say that in space, no one can hear you scream. Well my neighbors certainly heard me scream when that monster took out Dallas in the vents. Easily one of the best horror movies of all time. James Cameron, you too? The sequel to Alien, cleveraly titles, Aliens, builds wonderfully upon the terror Scott established, while crafting it into his own, and made it into one of the best action films of all time. The third film failed only because Fincher tried to hard to return to the roots of the series, instead now inside a maximum security prison, and it never comes together. The fourth film, Resurrection, just sucks.
All four films receive a wonderful treatment and transfer to BR, and are a true sight to behold. Nothing is scarier than seeing the slightest bit of movement out of the corner of the screen, before a character is ripped apart, a moment made even more intense in HD. And as good as these movies look, they sound just as good.
Rounding it all out are TWO FULL BluRAYS! of featurettes and commentaries. Yeah, it's alot. Oh, and Ridley Scott...not done yet.
Number 2-Apocalypse Now: Full Disclosure
I can't decide which line is better: "Napalm in the morning" or "charlie don't surf". Back on topic, this is the best war movie ever made. Francis Ford Cuppola (Godfather series) created a film which combined the savagery of humanity, the horror of the Vietnam war, and the beauty of nature in his epic adaption of Conrad's "Heart of Darkness". Marlon Brando and Charlie Sheen stand out of course, but I must mention the smaller characters, including Lawrence Fisburne in his first film, who all make this journey into hell memorable. Less about brutal war scenes (only one really) and more about the human psyche, Apocalypse Now is easily one of the greatest films of all time. And in this set, you get both the original (which audiences tend to prefer) and the Redux edition (which critics tend to prefer).
One complaint I had when I originally saw ApocNow was that, even for a 1979 movie, it wasn't very good looking at times (meaning like 3 scenes). The picture was unnecesarily grainy, and during some major scenes the colors appear muted. Now, it's almost like they just reshot the entire film. Seriously, this film looks GREAT. The jungle, weather effects, battle scene all are cleaned up and wonderfully presented. This is the best looking pre-HD film you can find. The sound quality, already fantastic in the original, has been fixed so now that a few areas of imbalance have been removed.
For extras, there are a bunch of commentaries and featurettes, which by now is becoming annoying to write because they appear IN EVERY ONE OF THESE BRs (except KoH). What makes this set special is that it includes Hearts of Darkness, a full feature-length documentary originally released as a standalone product, which documents the making of this film. And honestly, it is one of the best documentaries you can find.
THE NUMBER ONE BLU-RAY:
Blade Runner: The Final Cut (Five-Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition)
Let me say this right out. Yes, Ridley Scott is one of my favorite directors, but that is not why he appears 4 times on this list, including 3 of the top 5. The fact is, he makes exceptional films, which then get exceptional blu-ray releases. So please don't belittle me as a simple Ridley Scott fanboy, because while I most certainly am, I left that part of me outside while I wrote this blog for you.
Blade Runner, often considered the greatest science fiction film of all time, is amazing for what it has to say about identity, control, corporativism, and redemption. Those four seem like they don't fit well together, but leave it to Scott to make it work. The film is ultimately tragic or upifting, depending on the viewers preference. Similar to Inception in fact, but for a different, more cerebral reason.
The overall presentation is breathtaking. It's not as vibrant and beautiful as ApocNow, but the dark streets and slums of dystopian LA have never looked better. Much like the Alien set, the switch to Blu-ray takes an already visually superb film and sends it into the stratosphere, making good use of the films almost perpetual darkness. The mixing, a sore spot in the original DVD release, has been cleaned up significantly, and can now hold it's head high.
There are 5 versions of the film over two discs, but if you watch anything but the Director's or Final Cut (the difference being the tone of the ending and a few scenes), you're wasting your time. I prefer the Final Cut, though most tend to prefer the other. No one likes the other three. On the OTHER THREE DISCS, are more extras than you could watch in an entire weekend, which is a plus in my book.
Simply said, if you want to wow your neighbors or friends with your new home setup, Blade Runner is your best bet.
I had a hard time choosing between this and KoH, which eventually won out simply due to it's scale (or maybe because I am a Ridley Scott fanboy). It's not Pixar's best film, but it looks the best in BR.
Saving Private Ryan/Band of Borthers/The Pacific
The definitive WWII film gets it's due justice on Blu-ray. BoB is like SPR over 10 intense hours. The Pacific is BoB fighting the Japanese.
Already mentioned above, an amazing scifi series looks great on BR.
Thank you for reading and I hope this helps you make a sound purchase!