Read part two for the second half of the top ten titles.
Ahh, remember the old days when no one wanted to switch to DVD from the trusty VHS format? People were dead set against it and it looked grim for a little while — players were expensive, the movies more so. Then a little console that could, the PlayStation 2, burst onto the scene and became an affordable DVD player for the masses on top of being a very capable video game console.
The PlayStation 2 was a factor in the rise of DVD as a valid successor to VHS for movies in our households; by March, 2002 there were nearly 30 million PS2s in peoples' homes and many of them were used as DVD players. Fast forward to a couple of years ago and the announcement that two competing high definition formats where vying to replace DVD, Blu-ray and HD DVD. Both camps had their major supporters, but the big trump card was to be the PlayStation 3 and its integrated Blu-ray player. Sony had done it before and they were banking on doing it again. Sony was so serious about introducing Blu-ray to the world they were taking a nearly 400 dollar per console loss just to integrate the player and all the features they wanted the PS3 to deliver.
Things did not go as planned by Sony in the end. They had a launch that left much to be desired; Microsoft and their Xbox 360 had a year's head start and the runaway hit console, the Nintendo Wii, outsold everyone. The end result was that after a year only about 8 million PS3s were sold compared to 19+ million PS2s in its first full year and that means a lot less penetration into the home for its high definition video format.
During the past year there were many announcements that swayed people one way or another from porn studios siding with HD DVD to Blockbuster only renting out DVDs and Blu-rays, but midway through the year an announcement seemed to spell doom for the Blu-ray format. Paramount/Universal studios declared a limited term (18 months) HD DVD-only deal with one caveat: any Steven Spielberg movies could be distributed however Spielberg chose to distribute them. All of a sudden the tide was turned and HD DVD started regaining momentum and the format war was once again in full swing.
Months later at this year's CES, a huge format-related announcement was made. Warner Brothers and its companies (HBO, New Line, and BBC) were going Blu-ray exclusively. This was a tide-turning blow to the HD DVD camp, causing them to cancel their press conference and the world to start announcing that the war was over and Blu-ray had won. We have seen since then many publications (both mainstream and casual) announcing that Blu-ray is the winner of the format war. Toshiba is standing firm with their single exclusive studio and seems content to drag out the final months, but it is looking all but certain that Blu-ray is the format that will be the successor to DVD.
Now that many people will start to buy players and movies in the format as confidence in Blu-ray rises daily, it is fitting to have a list of the top ten Blu-ray discs to have for your shiny player or PS3. The list is presented as the BEST Blu-rays to own whether it be for value, quality, innovation or a mix of many reasons. Not all of these movies are Academy Award worthy, but they are all great films and demonstration quality Blu-rays for your collection. Often I will refer to a proper setup in the movie notes. A proper setup, in my mind, consists of the following:
- A 1080p display
- A 5.1 or 7.1 receiver
- A 5.1 (or better) speaker setup with a powered sub-woofer
The first and best of the Pirates movies is an early Blu-ray that set the bar for transfer quality and amazing sound. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl is a showcase title due to the clarity and sharpness of the image and the theater quality uncompressed PCM audio that dares you to turn on your 5.1 system. In a proper setup this movie is stunning to watch, with vistas and visuals that are as clear as they are breathtaking. The audio representation is also top notch — cannons roar, the pirates yell and curse as if they are all around you and the haunting score envelopes you while you watch.
The icing on the cake is the fact that this movie is fun to watch and is the best of the series, introducing us to Jack Sparrow/Will Turner/Elizabeth Swann, and making us all wish we were seafaring pirates (anti-hero versions like Jack Sparrow and not mean, dirty ones like Barbossa). There is a second Blu-ray filled with extras (most displayed in 480i unfortunately) such as games and activities, a movie showcase, a backstage special, a "making of" feature and a blooper reel.
Underworld is a good movie, certainly not a great one, but it's good fun and is very watchable multiple times as the action and storyline lend it to a fun night of entertainment. Underworld on the surface is a story of the war between vampires and werewolves, but the true story is one of forbidden love, honor, and revenge. Kate Beckinsale is a surprising action hero in this film and really makes you believe she is an almost unstoppable immortal vampire. The real star of the show in this package though is the video representation of this film on Blu-ray, presented in a stunning AVC encoding format (it was filmed in Super-35 and scanned in 2K resolution to digital format, then cleaned up). The surreal blue-tinged lighting effects and incredibly crisp visuals are a treat to the eyes and the audio is full, rich, and well balanced. It is presented in uncompressed PCM 5.1 format. Underworld Unrated is an amazing Blu-ray that is still a demonstration quality title for the format.
When it was released, The Fifth Element was a groundbreaking film with an original take on a futuristic society that is on the brink of destruction from a malevolent entity. The movie was a visual treat with over-the-top action and acting, and it's still a great ride and very enjoyable to watch. This remastered version is a high quality encoding from the masters and it shows in nearly every scene. Fine details in faces, clothes, and backgrounds are very sharp and evident, black and white levels are superb, and the film grain is reproduced exactly. I would go so far to say that this home version in many ways looks better than it did in the theaters years ago due to advanced displays in the home. The audio is presented in two formats, Dolby TrueHD and uncompressed PCM 5.1 formats, both versions offer immersive and dynamic sound that will blow you away. If you want to demo your Blu-ray setup to someone, load this in the tray and skip to the opera scene to see and hear what high definition is truly like.
Sunshine is a relatively unknown movie revolving around an implausible premise that the Sun is decaying and a group of scientists/astronauts need to reignite it with a bomb the size of Manhattan. While this could have been another Day after Tomorrow the movie is very dialogue and character driven, which completely overshadows and overtakes the premise. Sunshine is a movie that needed to be on Blu-ray — the transfer quality of this film is nothing short of striking. Both interior and exterior (space) shots are dead on with white and black levels that are perfectly balanced.
The audio on this disc is perhaps even stronger than the visuals, presented in both core DTS 5.1 and DTS HD MA formats (for the handful of people with receivers that can process the format). The sound submerges you as you watch and experience what is happening. The audio is both subtle and heavy but always discernible, surround effects/audio are present almost throughout the movie and are incredibly effective. Sunshine is one of the first 1.1 format Blu-rays to market and utilizes the PiP feature for the extra features as well as some advanced sound mixing. This is a great movie in presentation and content with tons of extras to keep fans busy.
Troy was a movie that should have been a monstrous hit theatrically and critically but it failed to deliver due to the studio mandated cuts that changed this amazing R-rated film to a PG-13 release that, instead of drawing a larger audience, lost the audience it needed. Wolfgang Peterson delivers to us the proper version in this amazing Blu-ray release that has the cut he wanted featuring more blood, battles, and back-story to actually make you understand and love this film. Troy, of course, is the story of Helen, the beauty who launched a thousand ships and the battle for the walls of Troy by the conqueror Agamemnon. Achilles is the action star of the film and is the central focus in this version of the tale.
Troy is a reference quality transfer, meaning it is a stunning example of what high definition movies should look like on the format. Color levels, fine detail, film grain, every aspect is crisp and almost three-dimensional. It helps that the cinematography, locales, and costume designs are top notch; the movie simply looks fantastic. The audio is presented in uncompressed PCM 5.1 format and a Dolby Digital track; hopefully your receiver can handle the lossless format because the surround experience and general sound experience here is phenomenal and needs to be experienced as cleanly as possible. There are a number of short featurettes that go behind the scenes and are appreciated in the fact that they are all presented in 1080p. While Troy is definitely not true to the literature it borrows from it is a great movie and is a top notch Blu-ray to own.
Part two of this article will focus on what the top Blu-ray players are on the market currently as well as looking at the Blu-ray formats available. Of course the remainder of the top ten Blu-ray list will also be concluded. Stay tuned.