Wednesday, 22 February 2017 14:52

MOS DEF: A Look at the Best Blu-ray Releases of 2016

by Mark A. Altman
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While physical media may be dying the death of a thousand cuts in some people’s minds (and on studio bean counters spreadsheets) and there aren’t as many truly special editions as there once was with movies getting dropped on disc with a few chintzy self-aggrandizing EPKs, that doesn’t mean there still aren’t a few treats to still be discovered on Blu-ray.

2016 boasted an ever dwindling but no less exceptional myriad of fantastic new releases that I would deem must-owns. Here are some, but by no means all of the releases that will leave you anything but blue. [Read on here…]

1. THE MARX BROTHERS: SILVER SCREEN COLLECTION (Universal Home Video). Nothing upsets me more than idiots who say, “Oh, that movie’s old.” Usually, they’re referring to something from the 70s or 80s, by the way, not even the 60’s, 50s or – gasp – 40s and 30s. Apparently, Risky Business is their Maginot Line dividing the ancient from the awesome. Then add, “it’s also in black and white” and watch as they go completely pale. So if you want to savor something really special that’s old and in black and white and hysterically funny and, in the case of Duck Soup sadly as topical now as it was back when it was made, run, don’t walk to your keyboard and “buy it now” and start to spin this masterful re-issue of the Marx Brothers back catalog. Because sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

2. THE MARTIAN: EXTENDED EDITION (Fox Home Entertainment). The 4K UHD release is probably my favorite of the lamentably few 4K discs currently available, but what’s really great about the extended edition on the Blu-ray also included is the great Charlie de Lauzirika’s exceptional documentaries about the making of the film. Now, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Charlie delivers another exceptional round of VAM about a Ridley Scott movie (after all, his Prometheus docs are arguably better than the movie and his Blade Runner bonus features along with Michael Pellerin and Rob Burnett’s Lord of the Rings docs are some of the best the medium has ever seen), but it really elevates this disc to a must-own part of your collection and reminds fans of physical media why we still love this format so damn much.

3. THE RODDENBERRY VAULT (CBS Home Entertainment). Yes, the 50th anniversary of Star Trek was admittedly a bit of a bust, especially for home video fans who used the Bond 50th as a benchmark, but this surprising and spectacular new release from CBS almost ameliorates that issue and is a fitting coda to Trek’s 50th anniversary year (with the caveat that I was featured in some of the documentaries which in no one way should detract from your viewing pleasure, I hope). The umpteenth release of some of these vintage TOS episodes aren’t what make this a must-own, it’s the remarkable documentaries from producer Roger Lay, Jr. which features the holy grail for Trek fans; deleted scenes, alternate takes and bloopers from the original series unearthed in the Roddenberry Vaults. There’s also a few great commentary tracks new to this edition including one from Access Hollywood’s Scott Mantz and myself about City on the Edge of Forever which I think does what the best commentary tracks should do; educate, inform and entertain. If you’re wondering what the large gaps are, well, it’s where CBS excised my excoriation of Donald Trump as being antithetical to every value Star Trek represents. But other than that I think this set is the bee’s knees. See if you agree.

4. FREAKS AND GEEKS: THE COMPLETE SERIES (Shout Factory). Judd Apatow is a comedic genius and if you don’t agree, check out his series with Paul Feig, Freaks & Geeks which is just a complete gem. A re-port of Shout Factory’s wonderful yearbook edition from a few years back, this set is the template for how television series should be done on the format particularly so when so many shows can’t even get a Blu-ray release or end up as manufactured on demand. This set is laden with commentaries, special features and is just a hoot making it another must own for fans of the series. Undeclared, of course, makes the perfect companion piece. While not quite as good as Freaks, it has its own remarkable charms as well that make it worth geeking out on.

5. GILDA (The Criterion Collection). To say I love Gilda is a tremendous understatement. If you wonder what was truly magical about Rita Hayworth other than her voluptuous form on the nosecones of B-17 bombers, look no further than this spectacularly twisted and royally fucked up noir for which I definitely put the blame on Mame. Criterion does its usual fine job with a transfer that’s a huge improvement over the ancient Sony DVD release and is jam-packed with goodies befitting a goddess of cinema and the late, great Glen Ford. As TCM used to say, an essential.

6. BUCKAROO BANAZAI: ACROSS THE 8th DIMENSION (Shout Factory). A bizarre oddity that fans like me adore all out of proportion to its actual quality. W.D. Richter, who wrote the brilliant Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake, steps behind the camera here for a film that doesn’t quite delivers the goods, but is so genially oddball that it’s not hard to love. I remember seeing it in a theater in 1984 as one of the few people in the theater and was immediately smitten and a proud member of Team Banzai despite recognizing its many flaws. The Blu-ray takes the loaded MGM DVD from a decade ago and cranks it to 11 with a series of fabulous interviews, BTS interviews and insight about this crazy and good-natured cult sci-fi film. Shout VAM is rarely as polished as a lot of other special features you find on studio discs, but they always deliver the goods with great interviews and insight you’ll rarely find anywhere else these days.  Banzai, baby!

7. THE THING (Scream Factory). Let’s face it, we all love John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing and deservedly so. I remember the amazing Signature Edition on laserdisc which was worth every penny of its hundred dollar cover price so it was a thrill to get a new edition of The Thing on home video from Scream Factory loaded up with even more goodies and a Dean Cudney approved transfer of the film which has often been underserved on the home video format. But can someone please tell me where the hell Christian Nyby’s The Thing From Another World is on Blu. It would have made a helluva bonus feature, wouldn’t it? Like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which was a great 50s film that inspired and equally superior remake, it’s a shame to see the original not get the love it so richly deserves from those who remember it’s incessant repeats on local television movie nights in the 70s and 80s.

8. THE BIG SLEEP (Warner Archives). This was always one of my favorite DVD releases of all-time which not only featured the theatrical release of The Big Sleep, but an earlier unearthed version of the film which was re-worked after sparks flew between Bogie and Bacall in To Have & Have Not making it a better but far more incomprehensible film. It may have jettisoned large swaths of the novel it’s based on and make virtually no sense, but none of that matters because its so replete with sparkling dialogue that it’s a screenwriter’s master class. This new Blu-ray release is identical to that DVD, but it the black and white Howard Hawks’ visuals sparkle as much as the banter which is whip-smart and non-stop. And for the newbies, it’s written by The Empire Strikes Back's Leigh Brackett so that should get you to watch it if nothing else, Millennials.

9. STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – DIRECTOR’S CUT (Paramount Home Video). I would love to say the Star Trek 50th Anniversary Collection was worthy of a place in your Star Trek collection (and on this list). After all, it includes some terrific new doc’s from Roger Lay, Jr. on all the movies which are all par excellence, but unfortunately Trek II is the only one of the film’s to get a new transfer making it a major upgrade. As for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, it should come as little surprise the Director’s Edition as a branching option is nowhere to be found given it was never finished in hi-def, but there’s not even the ABC Sunday Night Movie version which was a staple of the VHS and laserdisc releases or the director’s cut of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. That set should have been definitive and it’s not even close. Despite the inclusion of the animated series with no new features and no new transfers of any of the movies, this was truly a missed opportunity. Think back to those magnificent Lowry restorations of the Bond films that not only looked gorgeous on Blu, but also future-proofed the series for their eventual 4K release as the benchmark. That said, Trek II shows the studio doing it right. A rich, vibrant new transfer and Lay’s excellent new doc on the film make this a must-own “octopuple” dip (if I did my math right) and an example of what they should be doing with Star Trek before it’s too late and it really does grow old.

10. GAME OF THRONES: SEASON SIX (HBO Home Video). It’s rare these days that a contemporary TV shows gets this kind of loving treatment on home video. But this isn’t TV, it’s HBO. Much of the special features have already been exploited on streaming platforms like HBO, but there are a few new spectacular docs about the behind-the-scenes (and below-the-line) making of television’s most logistically challenging and deeply satisfying experiences. Cinematic in scope and immensely enthralling, this is the series us Excalibur fans were dreaming of as kids. The only thing it’s missing is Nicol Williamson.  With its ubiquitous availability on steaming and cable, it’s one of the few television series that still warrants a purchase on home video and it’s potent visuals and punchy audio will reward you in ways you can’t begin to imagine. Would you like to play a game? Hell yes.


HONORORY MENTIONS: Deadpool UHD 4K, Spotlight, Bridge of Spies, Steve Jobs.

- Mark A. Altman


Mark A. Altman (@markaaltman) is Co-Executive Producer of The Librarians and the co-author of the bestselling two volume series, The Fifty-Year Mission, a critically acclaimed oral history of the Star Trek franchise. He is also an occasional columnist and curmudgeon for The Digital Bits.


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