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The AVForums Blu-rays of 2013

More demo 10/10 video and audio presentations than ever before

by Casimir Harlow Dec 25, 2013


  • Movies Article

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    The AVForums Blu-rays of 2013
    Not quite a Top 10 list of discs that you should pick as presents, this is more of a compilation of all the releases over the year that you should have already accumulated by now, because they are, frankly, fantastic packages. There are a few that slipped by the wayside, and it was a tough call leaving them off, although – just like with my Top 10 movies of the year – I’ve also cited the 5 best titles that almost made the cut but, for one reason or another, didn’t.
    Near misses...

    THE WOLVERINE - UNLEASHED EXTENDED EDITION

    The better of the two Wolverine movies, and arguably one of the better entries in the X-Men film 'universe' as a whole, The Wolverine distinguishes itself from the other chapters with its more personal tale – in the same vein as Iron Man 3 and parts of X-Men: First Class – and further stands out here with an Unleashed Extended Edition that certainly does not disappoint. It's harder and more violent and easily the definitive version to watch.

    Unfortunately, in order to watch it, you'll have to fork out for this expensive 3-disc set, and pay for the privilege of owning the 3D version of the movie too, even if you don't have a 3D set-up. Still, in return, you get a fairly impressive package which definitely comes recommended, irrespective of the sneaky marketing tactics. Certainly don't miss out on seeing the movie the way it should have been released in the first place.


    DREDD 3D

    A strong contender for the absolute best film of the 2012, Dredd was something of a sleeper surprise amidst all the other comic-book adaptations, proving to be not only a defining interpretation of the classic neo-fascist law enforcer; not only a genuinely good use of the previously-largely-gimmicky 3D filming style; but also a damn good sci-fi action-thriller in its own right. It’s just a shocker that the film didn’t prove definitively successful in terms of Box Office receipts (perhaps because of its 3D-only screenings), leaving a sequel – which fans are universally crying out for – still uncertain.

    There are several reasons why this title didn’t make the list, but the biggest one is probably the fact that it was technically released in 2012 on Blu-ray, and it’s only the US release that snuck into 2013 with a very early January slot. Still, despite the film being one of the best of the year, and the 3D being one of the best uses of the format since its inception, the 2D counterpart was shockingly bad, and probably a big enough reason alone to keep this off anybody’s Top 10 disc releases.


    CLOUD ATLAS

    Wildly ambitious, this epic multi-stranded adaptation of David Mitchell’s equally sprawling 2004 bestseller marks a distinct return to form for the Wachowski writer/director siblings, who haven’t made anything this impressive since their first Matrix outing. Teaming up with Run Lola Run’s Tom Tykwer, the resulting effort is a grand sci-fi fable which interlinks six different stories taking place across half a millennium, with interweaving plots, common themes and characters made familiar through the utilisation of the same core set of a dozen actors across each of the tales. Daring and somewhat unprecedented in its approach to such an ambitious subject-matter, the film is certainly not without its flaws, but hopefully you’ll be able to get past them and see the merits behind this unusual sci-fi feature. Recommended.

    On Region Free UK Blu-ray, we get the same stunning video and audio that adorned the earlier US release, as well as a decent if marginally underwhelming set of extras. Fans should still consider this a must-have purchase, and I would also recommend it as a blind-buy; it’s the kind of movie which everybody should see, and which may well grow on many. The biggest reservation was really in terms of extras, and this package is distinctly lacking in anything memorable.


    THE LONG GOODBYE

    Robert Altman's cult classic 70s adaptation of arguably author Raymond Chandler's best novel, The Long Goodbye, is an underrated and oftentimes underappreciated work of art from the late, great auteur. With world renowned cinematography from legendary director of photography Vilmos Zsigmond, a perpetually-moving style of filming which made you feel very much a part of the proceedings, a superb, blended diagetic and non-diegetic score which was entirely based on variations of John Williams's tremendous title track, powerful supporting contributions from the likes of heavyweight Sterling Hayden (playing an alchoholic, disillusioned and self-destructive writer who was a not-so-thinly-veiled autobiographical version of Chandler himself), and, of course, an inimitable central performance by Gould, who simply drove the whole piece with his mumbling, dishevelled, and simply unique take on Marlowe, this is nothing short of an undiscovered masterpiece.

    Thankfully Arrow have pulled out all the stops for their Blu-ray release, with top-scoring video, audio and extras. The video has been personally supervised and approved by the original cinematographer, the audio may well be just the original mono but it sounds superb, whilst the extras are plentiful and comprehensive, with the cast and the late director front and centre recounting intriguing and informative anecdotes regarding the production. So, why’s it not on the Top 10, you ask? Well, for the simple reason that it doesn’t visually or aurally hold a candle to any of the modern releases in the Top 10. If we were to take the time to do a Top 10 restored classics, Arrow’s remastered The Long Goodbye would easily hit the top three, and may even compete for the top spot.


    ELYSIUM

    Relentlessly tense, palpably gritty and innovatively action-packed, Neil Blomkamp's sophomore sci-fi actioner - after his highly-acclaimed debut, the equally dirty District 9 - confirms his position as a filmmaker to keep your eye on. Indeed, considering his now-evident trend for dystopian sci-fi action infused with Cronenbergian body-horror, riding atop a thinly-veiled socio-political commentary, it's a surprise nobody pipped him to helm the upcoming Robocop remake (which now looks woefully impotent under the restrictions of its recently-revealed PG-13 classification). Blomkamp, whilst never even coming close to Verhoevian levels of ultra-violence, still makes features which are unequivocally adult, both in content and, perhaps more importantly, in tone. His desperately reluctant heroes live in - and go through - absolute hell on their journey, and it's nice to find that this isn't the usual tween-demographic purgatory many features are neutered to, but instead a place where you could easily get your face blasted off by a grenade.

    With a release date but four days shy of the end of the year, Elysium was almost impossible to include in a reflective Top 10, but certainly comes as a strong contender for the first purchase you make after Christmas. Stunning video and audio, as well as a strong selection of extras leaves this a great, must-have purchase, irrespective of your reservations about the what is undeniably a flawed but engagingly tense sci-fi action-thriller.

    The Top Ten...

    FAST & FURIOUS 6

    Blending just the right amount of thrilling action and practical stuntwork with competent – though admittedly fairly predictable – interweaving story arcs; featuring a huge ensemble action cast of returning characters and colourful additions who each get their moment to shine; and injecting the perfect dose of pure over-the-top frivolity into the mix, Furious 6 is by far the best entry in a franchise which, unfathomably, just keeps getting better. Whilst newcomers, or those who jumped off well over a decade ago after the first film spawned an inexcusably poor first sequel, will struggle to catch-up – or fully enjoy – the full-circle story-arcs which work so well to deliver this satisfying sixth chapter, those who have enjoyed the last few entries will be rewarded for their faith and loyalty to the franchise. As pure escapist fun goes, it doesn’t get much better than this.

    With excellent video, audio and extras, and released – inexplicably – months ahead of its US counterpart, fans would have lapped up this package. Of course the whole franchise is steeped in tragedy now, but that will likely only encourage more to pick up the five-disc set of the first few movies and then add this excellent sixth entry to their set. This may not be the best film on the list, but it edges into the 10 thanks to an excellent package.


    THE IMPOSSIBLE

    Taking real-life disaster movies to the next level, The Impossible masterfully blends a stunning, often epic recreation of this true tragedy with a powerful, emotional and incredible tale of suffering, sacrifice and survival against all odds. With compelling central performances and strong direction – complete with clever use of practical effects rather than dominating CG – the film manages to paint an honest portrait of one of the most devastating natural disasters that mankind has seen in recorded history, as viewed from an extremely personal level.

    Or Region B-locked UK Blu-ray we get absolutely stunning picture-perfect video and reference quality audio, both of which are utterly demo-worthy, together with all of the extras that the US counterpart held, as well as a bunch of hefty exclusive interviews too. Fans should consider this a must-have package; those interested will likely be rewarded by investing the time on this impressive drama. Highly recommended.


    FLIGHT

    Delivering us a true moral quandary, Flight is a masterful character study, exposing the corrupt core of a high-functioning alcoholic who, whilst regarded as a hero, is still a tragically lost soul searching for some kind of redemption - but always looking for it in the wrong place: the bottom of a bottle. Providing Denzel Washington with one of his most complex roles - portraying an almost unforgivably flawed character in an undeniably sympathetic way - we, in turn, get one of his finest performances. It's reason alone to see this impressive drama.

    On Region Free UK Blu-ray we get the same absolutely stunning video and audio presentations – and same collection of extras – that the US release earned a few months earlier, leaving this a highly recommended package for fans of both a great movie and a demo disc.


    THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES

    Reuniting with his lead from the brutally honest anti-romance Blue Valentine, Ryan Gosling, as well as teaming up with the likes of Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes and Dane DeHaan - all on top form - director Derek Cianfrance has produced what is essentially something of an epic anti-crime drama here. Notwithstanding a little-known indie debut, The Place Beyond the Pines represents his sophomore writer/director vehicle, an intersecting-lives drama in the vein of Crash and Traffic. And in true Cianfrance style it'll likely leave you equal parts moved and broken. Don't expect a warm, pleasant experience - his films are always tragedies with the briefest glimpses of hope around the edges - but do expect one of the best dramas you’ve ever seen. Highly recommended.

    On Region B-locked UK Blu-ray we get excellent video and audio, as well as a nice, if far from bountiful, selection of extras. No sign of a Director’s Cut but, until that unlikely day, this a must-have package; a blind buy that I can’t recommend enough.


    IRON MAN 3

    Phase 2 of Marvel's unstoppable Avengers juggernaut kick-starts in much the same way as Phase 1 did: with a spectacular Iron Man movie. If you wondered where they'd go after the grandstanding ensemble epic fun of Avengers then worry no more; they went straight to Shane "Lethal Weapon" Black's doorstep. It's the only way you could have possibly topped Whedon, and Black delivers exactly what you'd expect from him; a popcorn superhero (pre-)summer blockbuster action movie, only with heart and soul; characters you care about; snappy, memorable dialogue; and action driven by a story rather than the other way around. It's not just the best Iron Man movie, it's the best Marvel superhero vehicle we've seen so far.

    The 3D release comes with perfect, reference-quality 2D presentation and workable, good but not great 3D, as well as outstanding audio that'll blow you away. It feels like something is missing from the Extras - perhaps a decent Documentary - but the Commentary and Short Film more than make up for it and will keep a smile on your face long after the film closes. Well worth picking up and adding to your MCU collection, I doubt many will be able to wait for the MCU Phase 2 Box Set for this particular bit of excellence. Highly Recommended.


    PACIFIC RIM

    This is the best giant robots vs. giant monsters summer blockbuster feature that anybody could have ever had any right to hope for. Whatever its faults, it more than makes up for them with punch, presence and sheer impact.

    Although post-converted, it also stands out as one of the best 3D movies ever released, and hits Blu-ray with the same impressive effect, boasting stunning visuals and spectacular audio, as well as a hefty plethora of extra features. Don't be too bothered about the loss of the US equivalent's additional 7.1 track, the UK counterpart will likely satisfy all but the most pernickety audiophiles out there. Whatever decision you make, make sure it involves putting his beast in your shopping basket.


    ZERO DARK THIRTY

    Kathryn Bigelow at the absolute top of her game; three decades of experience working in such a male-dominated industry culminating in an astounding piece of expert filmmaking; one of the best films of 2012 (or 2013 if you accept its UK release date). Whilst The Hurt Locker may have earned her Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director, Zero Dark Thirty is arguably an even more accomplished feature. With its intense, seminal storytelling, it is one of the greatest detective stories ever told – the greatest police procedural ever crafted – and, although it happily blurs the line between fact and fiction, it may well be the most exciting pseudo-documentary-drama we’ve ever seen. Indeed it delivers this gripping true story in a surprisingly un-jingoistic, no-frills manner. Compelling viewing.

    On Region Free UK Blu-ray we get exceptional video and audio, and it’s really only the distinct lack of substantial extras that disappoints on this fantastic package, but even that doesn’t prevent it from being a must-have purchase. Get it. Watch it. Now.


    OBLIVION

    Oblivion is a visually stunning experience, with strong performances driven by another dedicated offering from Tom Cruise; interesting, atypical characters; a suitably twisty old-school sci-fi story that pays loving tribute to all the great sci-fi classics; gorgeous cinematography and impressive, well-integrated visual effects; a fabulously evocative score from French electronic band M83 and epic blockbuster action helmed by the same guy who delivered the tremendous audiovisual experience that was Tron: Legacy and who also wrote the story. Whilst it probably plays things that little bit too safe to forge its own path as a modern classic, oftentimes erring on the side of style over substance, even if the one is far from drowned out by the other, it’s still one of the best sci-fi blockbusters we’ve seen in years.

    On Region Free UK Blu-ray, you get the choice between the Standard Release and the lavish Limited Edition Steelbook, both of which offer up some of the best video and audio that I have ever seen on the format – demo, reference and 11/10 quality all the way. The extras are also thoroughly comprehensive and, even if we only get the lossy alternative to the US disc’s lossless presentation of the Isolated Music Score, this comes easily recommended as a blind buy. It sets a new standard for video and audio that will truly be almost impossible to beat and, were the movie itself to earn a slightly higher rating, it might have hit the top spot.

    Number One...

    SKYFALL

    A contender for the best Bond film in over three decades, Skyfall is a magnificent conclusion to what could easily be described as Daniel Craig's Bond reboot trilogy. If you expected a classic Bond movie, then you may find yourself slightly disappointed - we aren't quite there yet - Skyfall is the final chapter required to fully establish the Bond of old. But what a glorious chapter it is, boasting excellent performances, standout stunts and action sequences, and a great story which allows for some wonderful character development. Through Craig's three movies, we have at last been given some true depth and insight into the legendary icon that was created some 60 years ago and immortalised on screen half a century ago. By providing us with this depth, Craig has arguably also catapulted himself into pole position to be classed as the definitive Bond. Outstanding.

    On Region Free UK Blu-ray MGM really have gone the extra mile, giving us an inarguable demo disc in terms of video and maybe even audio presentation; easily matching up to the US counterpart. Certainly this looks reference quality through and through; the title that was probably most played in showrooms (and living rooms) across the country just to show off TV sets. The accompanying extras are also pretty satisfying, with a couple of Commentaries and a weighty multi-part Production Documentary. Honestly, if you enjoyed the film, this is an absolute must-have purchase, and, between the great film and great package, the top choice for disc of the year.

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