Thursday, April 2, 2009

So maybe, like me, you’re a new convert to Blu-Ray and the true HD experience.  Or maybe you’re thinking of switching to Blu-Ray but you’re not quite sure if it’s worth it, or what’s out there to buy.  That’s where this column comes in.  Hopefully every couple of weeks I’ll be putting together a “New to Blu-Ray” feature that will let you know the best of the movies that are new to Blu-Ray during those weeks.  Some of the movies may be new releases that also came out in Blu-Ray (strangely there are still those that don’t come out in the new format) and some of the movies may be older films that are coming out in High Def for the first time. 

This first column will be a three-parter as I’ll be covering the new Blu-Ray releases of the last month and a half or so.  (Originally this was supposed to start a couple of weeks ago but I was sick for quite some time and have just got caught up at work and at home.)  So sit back and relax while I let you know about some of the best new releases on Blu-Ray.  In Part 1 we will take a look at some older movies that are being released on Blu-Ray for the first time.  Part 2 will look at new releases and Part 3 will focus on the recent Bond movies which have hit Blu-Ray recently.

The Passion of the Christ: Definitive Edition

Passion is perhaps one of the most controversial movies of the last decade.  First no one wanted to make it, leading director Mel Gibson to financing most of the picture himself.  Then the Jewish community got up in arms over its depiction of the role of the Jewish people in the death of Jesus Christ.  Yet it is one of the highest grossing R rated films of all time and tells a heart wrenching story that is almost impossible to watch.  Yet it’s a film that I think everyone, no matter your religious affiliation, should see at least once.

It doesn’t matter what you believe about the story of Christ, but seeing it on film it is a beautiful, terrible story.  And it’s all told in the original language, which is quite a feat since the language it long dead.

In HD the movie looks amazing, I’ll be honest I couldn’t bring myself to watch it all again, as it’s too painful, but what I did watch looked amazing.  And if you want to see the film, but can’t handle the violence, there’s a new cut of the film just for you that’s been edited for violence!  That version runs an entire 5 minutes shorter than the theatrical version!  So I really don’t know how much they cut out.

The Special features are spread over the BluRay Disc and a standard DVD and include the 2 versions of the film, and enhanced mode with Biblical Footnotes, and Commentaries from Gibson and other Filmmakers and Theologians and a Music Commentary in HD.  On the standard side we get a Making Of, Deleted Scenes, a Historical look at the Crucifixion, and more.

Overall not a movie I’ll watch over and over again, but one I feel I should have in my collection in case someone wants to borrow it, or one day to show my kids (although that will be quite some time in the future). 

Donnie Darko

There’s not a lot more I can say about this amazing movie I didn’t say here.  The special features mostly come from the previous releases of the film, either the original theatrical cut release or the director’s cut, (Both of which I owned on DVD).  Probably the best reason to upgrade, besides the fact that it’s in beautiful HD, is that you get both cuts of the film in one package.  If you’re a Darko fan it’s definitely worth picking up, especially if you only own one cut of the film on DVD.  

The French Connection

The French Connection is one of those classic thrillers that time can’t seem to ruin.  I’d never seen the movie before receiving the Blu-Ray and I was blown away by how well the film holds up.  Gene Hackman is wonderful as NYC detective Popeye Doyle as he teams up with Roy Scheider’s Buddy Russo to break up a drug ring and ends up going farther than he ever dreamed after an attempt on his life.  Based on an incredible true story the movie won a slue of Academy Awards including Best Picture.

Special Features include a New HD intro from William Friedkin along with a commentary from him, commentary from Hackman and Scheider, a new Trivia track, 8 deleted scenes all in HD, 7 new HD featurette’s a BBC Documentary, and more. 

Silence of the Lambs

Has there ever been a film villain as good as Hannibal Lector?  That’s a question I find myself asking every time I see Silence of the Lambs, one of the best movies of the 90s.  Anthony Hopkins is brilliant in the role and quite frightening, even when he’s behind bars, and the tongue slurp thing he does is just a classic.  Sadly the quality of the villain was ruined a bit by the subsequent sequel (Hannibal) and prequel (Red Dragon) films.  But if we take just this brilliant film into account I think it’s safe to say Lector is definitely in the top 3 great film villains (on the street…depending on the street.) Sorry Flight of the Conchords joke I couldn’t resist.

As for the transfer, the film looks wonderful in HD and the great scene near the end between Foster’s Agent Starling and the completely whacked out Buffalo Bill (played by Monk’s Ted “Capt. Stottlemeyer” Levine, which weirds me out every time I think about it) is even more suspenseful in HD.   Special Features include 4 featurettes, a Making of, a look at adapting the movie, 22 deleted scenes, a gag real, and a whole bunch of promos. 

The Princess Bride

This is simply one of my favorite movies of all time, and it’s also one of the best books I’ve ever read (it’s just like the movie including the grandpa reading the story to his grandson.)  And it’s one I can’t wait to share with my own son (and any other kids I have in the future).  I plan on reading the book to him either over several nights as I put him to bed, or one day when he’s at home sick, then sharing the movie with him.

But back to the movie, it’s amazing, the perfect blend of fantasy, romance, action, and comedy.  The characters are rich and have great backstories and the cast is one of the finest casts of B actors ever assembled.  With Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Mandy Patinkin and Andre the Giant, the entire cast shines, and with cameos from Billy Crystal and Carol Kane and of course Peter Falk and Fred Savage as the Narrator and his sick grandson, respectively you can’t beat this movie.

And on Blu-Ray it looks better than it ever has.  And it comes with a feature I wish more Blu-Rays would include, (at least those directed at kids) a separate copy on DVD.  Now this may seem redundant, but some of us have portable DVD players and computers with DVD drives we use, especially in the car, for our kids, and having a DVD version you can use is a great thing.  In fact I believe Disney is now including a DVD copy in all of its Blu-Ray releases and I think it’s wonderful.  For this alone I would recommend this Blu-Ray release.  You can see it and all it’s glorious special features in HD and still be able to take it on the road with you and your portable DVD player.  Special Features include commentary from William Goldman, Cary Elwes’ Video Diary, As You Wish: The Story of The Princess Bride, a Dread Pirate Roberts featurette, 4 other featurettes, the original trailer, and some Easter Eggs. 

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