DoBlu’s Best (and Worst) of Blu-ray: 2010

It’s that time of the year, and after countless discs were reviewed, it’s time to select those stand-outs, good or bad. There are a few things you should know before diving in:

1. This is a list about home video, so while the movie may have come out ages ago, the only release date that matters for inclusion is the Blu-ray release. Major thanks go out to Cinema Squid for keeping all of that in order for us.

2. DoBlu didn’t review or see everything that came out in 2010, so a few categories have “Missing Links,” where certain discs that received high marks elsewhere are tossed in as contenders, something to consider in addition to our own picks.

3. The “worst of” categories could have been overloaded with Stone Cold Steve Austin movies (and the like), but the decision was made to limit it to major studio releases. The “best of” for animation was similar in that almost any CG animated film could have made it in, but it was narrowed for space.

4. If you would like to buy any of these Blu-rays, every winner has a link to our review which contains an opportunity to purchase said disc from Amazon. Doing so helps DoBlu grow, so thanks in advance!

With that, on with the awards:

Best Video (Live Action)

Leap Year

Yes, the movie was awful, but this Amy Adams romantic comedy had one thing going for it: Ireland. The location shoot was a marvel, and Universal’s VC-1 encode is flawless. All of those rocks dotting the countryside, all of those plants in those fields, and all of those staggering mountainside views rank as some of the most startling images the format can offer. It looks great in close, with a slight haze that attempts to add charm to the film (it fails), but keeps the facial detail firm and the looks incredible.

Avatar

No surprise here. This little darling does it all, and almost qualifies for the animated category. It might have been better off too, since the very digital live action is a bit of eyesore, but everything else is amazing. If Leap Year had Ireland, Avatar had Pandora, and the latter is far more colorful. Brimming with lifeforms that seem to be born to showcase their vibrant hues, Pandora is stunningly rendered, and the disc is razor sharp. Despite the length, there are no compression issues to report either. Impressive.

Karate Kid

Not only did this remake surprise with its well-told tale of discipline, it stuns with its awesome photography. Not to be redundant, but Leap Year had Ireland, Karate Kid had China. There are simply awe-inspiring views looking down on thick forests where every single tree is defined, brought additional life with the elevated, rich color. In close, this might be some of the better facial detail this year, beads of sweat and pores wholly rendered and defined.

Runners Up: Marmaduke, Alvin and the Chipmunks – The Squeakquel, Gamer | Missing Links: Life

Best Video (Animated)

Toy Story 3

Were the categories combined, no doubt this would have been the winner. Pixar never disappoints, and this richly textured, brightly saturated experience surely ranks amongst the best the format can offer. Once into Sunnyside Daycare, the film really comes alive with a variety of multi-colored toys that showcase every ounce of color saturation this one can muster. More impressive, when the disc takes that dark turn, the black levels are flawless, and the detail remains precise. Outstanding as always from Disney/Pixar.

Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition

Those who say Blu-ray cannot benefit traditional animation have been proven wrong, as if they were ever right to begin with. Every pencil stroke from the original drawings are clearly visible, the disc so sharp and defined, there are even some flaws that stick out. As usual, it’s those rich colors that do the trick, the opening stained glass windows that intro this story remarkable. The briefly CG animated ballroom holds up too, wonderful for both the disc and the original work.

Astro Boy

Out of all the animated features this year, why Astro Boy? Once scene tells its story, that of Astro falling to the Earth’s surface, ending up in a grassy field where thousands of blades flow with the wind. No aliasing, no flicker, no compression problems. The rest of the film is much the same, holding firm amongst some very action-oriented scenes loaded with rapid motion. Maybe the animation isn’t as detailed as a Toy Story 3, but that doesn’t mean it can’t look amazing.

Runner Up: Despicable Me

Best Video (Catalog)

Bridge on the River Kwai

What an amazing transformation David Lean’s classic has underwent for Blu-ray, the Technicolor glory given a new lease on life in HD. Not only is the jungle environment a masterpiece of definition, the detail of those soldiers toiling away on the bridge is nothing short of remarkable. Close-ups are rife with high-fidelity detail, and if you ever want to see how well Sony’s AVC encodes can resolve a grain structure, here you go. The source material is flawless too.

African Queen

Considering this is the first time this Humphrey Bogart classic has made its way onto a digital format, you begin to understand why the wait was worth it. Paramount’s amazing restoration work has given this film life it probably never had before, from the grizzled face of Bogey to the warm, intentionally filtered face of Katherine Hepburn. The jungle thrives on deep, rich greenery, the encode losing none of the fight to the grain or smoke-filled shots.

White Christmas

If ever a movie musical lived and breathed on its costumes, it’s probably this one. Paramount’s jaw slapper is just mesmerizing in motion, every stitch, every sequin, and every feather perfectly defined on screen. So sharp is this effort that it easily challenges many a modern release, especially those opening moments amidst the war backdrop. When the finale rolls around and everyone dons those iconic red suits, the beauty of Technicolor comes alive like it does in few other classics.

Runner Up: Gladiator (Remastered) | Missing Links: Sound of Music, Thin Red Line

Best Audio (New release)

Expendables

Terry Crews. Hallway. Shotgun. Sold. Stallone remarks, “Damn that thing is loud,” and he’s right. That massive small arsenal blows away about 30 guys, and every shot is greeted by a level of bass so awesomely powerful, it sealed this disc’s placement right then and there. It still has more though, including more explosions than should be necessary, and stunningly precise gunfire hitting those rears. It’s that rare 7.1 mix that actually uses those two extra channels for a reason, not as a box sticking point.

Inception

Easily some of the best bass since Transformers 2 destroyed housing foundations, Christopher Nolan’s dream seeking affair was as powerful sonically as it was visually. You’ll never forget the second that van begins the plunge off the bridge, mostly because you’re likely still shaking. Moment of the year? Maybe. It’s also a treat for surround use too, slapping shattering debris around the soundfield, precision gunfire in each channel, and all with a perfect balance between these loud, boisterous elements.

Princess and the Frog

While it doesn’t have guns blasting away in some hideous frog-on-frog violence, if anything shows how powerful music can be when uncompressed, it’s this one. The songs, already fantastic enough to fit in with the Disney tradition, light up each channel. Instruments, so crucial in the case of this generally upbeat jazz affair, are precise and clear. Each one is an individual, and the lyrics are so beautifully rendered, it’s enough to make you believe you’re at a concert in your own home (cliche as that may sound). The disc still gives more though, the swirling magic produced by the villain and bass that is in tune with everything else.

Runners Up: Gamer, Kick-Ass, Hurt Locker, Last Airbender

Best Audio (Catalog)

War of the Worlds (2005)

This Spielberg remake is actually dangerous, channeling bass that could probably equal the birth of our solar system in sheer weight and volume. Maybe that’s how the Martian warships intended to kill us: with sound. This carries the descriptor of “audio extravaganza,” so lively and intense, it could be one of the best mixes Hollywood has ever produced. People scream, turn to dust, and get blown up, all in the proper channel. It’s a ride just in terms of audio alone, and a once great reference DVD has officially been eclipsed.

Saving Private Ryan

Short of that slight audio hiccup that led to a recall, there’s not much to say for this WWII affair other than pulling out another cliche: “Being there.” It’s not a place you would want to be, and this aggressive, bombastic affair lets you do so safely thanks to the job done by the Greatest Generation. It doesn’t even need an action scene to get going, just some powerful waves crashing onto the shore as a precursor to the Omaha Beach conflict. The final battle, with awe-inspiring tank fire and precision ambiance as a soldier meets a gruesome, graphic death complete what is a perfect aural experience.

Fantasia

Recorded in the ’40s and later remixed a few times, the original Fantasia may be more impressive than the sequel purely because it loses almost nothing to age. This is a 7.1 mix based on raw orchestral power, the instruments weighted to a specific location, and then bleeding into the surrounds like they were always meant to. There’s so much life to this mix and to the fidelity that it becomes a testament to the power of restoration and Blu-ray itself.

Runners Up: Seven, Minority Report, Seven Samurai

Best Extras

Alien Anthology

With two extra discs chock full of stuff, it’s hard to think of anything that missing… and that’s just the two bonus discs. That’s not even taking into account the commentaries for each film. Each of the four movies is given their own section on disc 5, ranging from killer documentaries to throes of featurettes that cover every aspect of filming. The sixth disc is the kitchen sink of bonus features, from trailers to features on the surviving props. It’s perfection.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World

Edgar Wright always gives us what we want in the extras department, so it’s hardly a surprise his latest is overflowing with four commentaries, enough for any gaming geek to take in… but it’s not even close to being over. Deleted scenes, blooper reel, 90-minutes of content on pre-production alone, improv, and cartoon shorts continue building the repertoire of this single disc release. Universal even tossed in a choice of a free movie via BD-Live, further sweetening the deal.

Exorcist

In case you’re in the mood for more commentaries after Scott Pilgrim, you can choose between three of them here. A simply awesome making-of is titled The Fear of God, and the second disc containing an extended cut has Raising Hell, another fantastic, insightful piece. Enormously useful is Faces of Evil, which details the various changes between the versions and why they were made. There’s even a look at the filming locations as they are today. It’s not an overwhelming amount of content, but it’s quality over quantity.

Runners Up: Back to the Future Trilogy, Kick Ass | Missing Link: Avatar Extended

Most Disappointing

Back to the Future 25th Anniversary Trilogy

No, Universal has learned nothing about the hi-def community, choosing to butcher one of the greatest of all movie trilogies with a layer of DNR and edge enhancement that barely subsides as the movies progress in their filming age. Back to the Future III is easily the worst of the lot, with digital faces and barely any film grain. They’re a mess and it’s inexcusable, made worse by the outstanding extras that are probably worth buying on their own.

Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Never fear as it wasn’t only Universal tearing apart beloved trilogies, but New Line/Warner too. Not only did they fail to include the extended editions to hit consumers with a double dip later on, the first movie is hampered by extensive digital manipulation, and Two Towers isn’t much better. It takes until Return of the King that things finally kick into the hi-def glory they all should have been a part of. There’s a total lack of extras here too, just trailers and BD-Live access, if further designed to wet people’s appetites for the eventual re-release.

Elf

Ah, Warner. Your classics are great, but your recent catalog? Not so much. Elf was a mess when it was originally released to hi-def, but someone in marketing had the idea to re-release the same disc in some barebones tin with hardly anything in it, and fail to correct the hideous DNR issues within. Edge enhancement is atrocious, and artifacting severe. Maybe having some high hopes for a proper master were misguided, but they had two chances.

Worst Of

Tremors (Video Quality)

Tremors is sort of infamous for being one of the worst HD DVDs ever released to market, so what does Universal do? Release the same damn thing to Blu-ray. Tremors carries some really fine photography, but it’s sadly a shell of its former self here because of thick DNR and hilarious edge enhancement. Faces are pale, smearing is evident, and the forcefields are out in full. There is simply no excuse for something like this in 2010, let alone 2007.

Sex and the City 2 (Movie)

As written in the review, “a disgusting film filled with disgusting people.” That sums it up. This sequel is as mind-blowingly dumb as the stuff currently airing on the SyFy Channel, and they can’t even spell their network name right. Carrie and the crew take a vacation to Abu Dhabi and whine most of the time, all the while riding camels, but only in designer clothes. The movie reaches new lows of cinematic ineptitude, mostly because these women can barely be considered shells of characters trapped inside gaudy clothing that costs too much… all while in the desert… on camels. Really.

Legion (Movie)

It’s utterly amazing how scripts like this get a greenlight, the story so baffling it could never make sense. There are so many logic holes, plot holes, and common sense holes that no matter how you think about it, you come out the other side more confused than when you went in. God’s grand plan to wipe out humanity involves sending angels to wipe out an unborn savior, but why wouldn’t he, you know, flick his wrist and blow us up instead? If you think that’s the only plot hole though, you’ve got a lot of learnin’ left to do about this one.

Runners Up: Unleashed (Video), Twilight Saga: Eclipse (Movie), Damned by Dawn (Audio), Trailer Park Boys – Countdown to Liquor Day (Movie)

Best Movies

The American

A film about someone, somewhere, and something to do, but nothing the audience is in on. This is a tense, beautifully directed, and perfectly acted thriller about a man who appears to be some sort of assassin on a final mission. It’s about the toll his job has taken on him, the mindset it has created, and his daily torment. In a way, it’s a mystery without an answer. Not for everyone, but for those who do fall into The American’s grip will find themselves unable to look away from the powerful direction and terrifying sound design.

Zombieland

Probably the furthest thing from The American, but also one of the most entertaining zombie flicks ever made. Not only is this one witty, it’s smartly cast. This isn’t just about the main cast either, although the slightly off-kilter Woody Harrelson is priceless. This is about the cameo to end all cameos, a surprise in the theaters, and the perfect excuse to re-watch this one at home… a lot.

The Road

A superlative adaptation from the novel of the same name, The Road is a story of a father and son trying to survive in a post apocalyptic world. The disaster is not important, but their relationship is. The film is loaded with powerful depressing moments, from the unnamed father showing his own son how to commit suicide in dangerous situations, and slowly disintegrating mental status that causes increased tension. Through it all, there’s a glimmer of hope, that the child still has the basics of feeling and humanity despite never knowing of it since the day he was born.

Runners Up: Frozen, Inception, Up in the Air, Toy Story 3

  • Se7en should be on this list.

  • Anonymous

    It’s an honorable mention in audio. That was one I debated because Fantasia deserved so much credit, but Seven’s sound design is so spectacular. I went with Fantasia because I think the restoration made it all the more impressive.

  • Se7en would fit excellently in the video category. Of all the BDs I saw last year, it takes the cake.

  • Ian

    Have you had a chance to see the catalog title “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”? It’s stunning!
    Ian
    (UK Blu-ray Review Podcast)
    http://ukblurayreview.blogspot.com/

  • Anonymous

    I can’t disagree at all. It’s a fantastic disc in every category really. About the only reason I dropped it out of video was the restoration work done for the classics, and Gladiator deserved a nod purely for the re-release.

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t. I had heard good things, but not on the level of a Sound of Music or Thin Red Line.