"The Accountant" is a surprisingly good drama/action flick (I was surprised that it was this good, anyway) that gives you a smooth, clear video transfer with minimal noise. The film's action sequences are sprinkled throughout the film, which culminates in the fierce gun battle you'd expect. It will certainly rock your home theater.
For those of you who might already own the "Alien Quadrilogy" DVD box set, we've got some bad news: this HD version is really pretty spectacular. "Alien" and "Aliens" have all-new 4K-resolution video transfers ("Alien 3" and "Alien Resurrection" also have updated video transfers but they're not brand-new) and the sound has been upgraded to 5.1 lossless mixes (DTS-HD Master Audio format) across the board. In addition to a boatload of extras, all four films include their respective theatrical and "special-edition" versions, too. In the past, we've used these discs for black-level torture tests for our TV reviews and they definitely look better and offer more shadow detail on better displays. While I won't get into all the extras, there are plenty.
'Apocalypse Now (Three-disc Full-disclosure Edition)'
As its title implies, in the box you'll find three discs that pull together "The 1979 Cut," the longer "Apocalypse Now Redux" and the "Hearts of Darkness" documentary. Both versions of the film are presented in high definition for the first time from a 1080p transfer "supervised" by Francis Ford Coppola. You also get a bunch of extras, which gives fans of "Apocalypse" a lot to chomp on.
While hard-core "Avatar" fans will prefer the Three-Disc Extended Collector's Edition, others might make do with the cheaper 3D theatrical release, which includes the 2D Blu-ray as well. With no letterbox bars above and below the image on wide-screen TVs (Director James Cameron wanted the Blu-ray to preserve the true 16:9, or 1.78:1 aspect ratio) and stellar audio and video quality, "Avatar" is great way to show off your home theater. It's also been praised for offering one of the better 3D experiences, though 3D experiences at home will vary widely based on your 3D display.
For fans of "The Big Lebowski," this one's a no-brainer: If you're going to watch this movie over and over, you might as well see it in HD. And we would argue it's one of the greatest movies of all time, so it makes our list.
This "limited" edition comes with a 28-page companion book along with the bonus extra, "The Lebowski Fest: An Achiever's Story," which takes an "in-depth look at the popular Lebowski Festival," which cosponsored a cast reunion for the launch of the Blu-ray.
"Blade Runner" may not have the ultimate audio or video quality, but this newly remastered version is splendid compared with the poor original DVD. Better yet, this collection comes with every version of the movie ever released.
Though Paramount received some criticism for the video quality of its original "Gladiator" Blu-ray (the second version rectified the video problem), "Braveheart" fared much better, getting high marks for both picture and sound. We agree -- and also like the replay value on this one.
"Captain America: Civil War" has another top-notch 1080p video transfer from Disney that's finely detailed and also has nice depth to it. It has a relatively natural look to for a film that obviously has a ton of CGI. You can quibble that the audio mix isn't quite on par with the video, but it's close, and this is arguably the best of the three Cap movies to date.
CNET's Home Audio editor Ty Pendlebury is a big fan of the Merc with a Mouth, and while he says it's "way too sweary and violent for your usual comic-book movie audience, 'Deadpool' is perhaps the best of the more adult adaptations so far." He ranks it alongside other mature comic movies such as "Watchmen," "Blade" and "Hellboy," but it features more black humor and pure glee than all three.
It features an excellent video transfer with lots of fine detail, which can certainly be seen in its antihero's well-worn suit. And the surround mix really packs a visceral punch -- it's truly room-rattling at points.
The top animated movie of 2013 wasn't from Disney or Pixar -- it was Universal's megasequel "Despicable Me 2." For $20, you get the movie in three formats -- Blu-ray, DVD and digital HD (your choice of iTunes or Ultraviolet). Also on board: three new Minion minimovies, to boot.
If you're squeamish about gory movies, "Hacksaw Ridge" probably isn't for you. Its sharp, detailed video transfer is a little too good at showing off the numerous -- and gruesome -- injuries in this war movie. On the audio side, the surround mix is pretty awesome and if you happen to own a Dolby Atmos-compatible audio system, this will become a go-to disc for showing off that system.
Perhaps because it featured Tom Cruise -- or a bad title -- "Edge of Tomorrow" was one of those movies that didn't quite get the attention it probably deserved. As it moved to home video, it got a pseudo name change ("Live Die Repeat") and a bit of a cult following as a sci-fi "Groundhog Day." It's certainly one of those action flicks that holds your attention and brings out the best in your home theater.
We've had several Pixar movies on the list over the years, including "The Incredibles," "Ratatouille" and "Up," all of which offer reference-quality video and audio. Those titles are now gone from the list but "Finding Nemo" remains (there's also a 3D version available).
Of course, with Pixar titles everybody has their favorites, and since they all offer great audio and video quality, it's just a question of which ones you think will have the most replay value for you.
Bottom line on "Nemo": it looks and sounds great (it has 7.1 soundtrack). Is it my favorite Pixar movie? Hard to say, but I am an Albert Brooks fan, so there's something to be said for that.
After initially putting out a "Gladiator" Blu-ray with less than optimal video quality (some have described it in much worse terms), Paramount has released a remastered version that's worthy of our list.
You've probably heard someone say that "Gravity" is great for black-level torture test for your TV or projector. And it is (after all, the movie takes place in space).
"Gravity" is also one of the finest 3D movies, but not everybody has a 3D TV, especially with home 3D on the wane. That's part of the reason we're highlighting the Diamond Luxe edition, which features a Dolby Atmos mix for those who have the AV receiver and speaker system to support it.
While "Guardians of the Galaxy" may have a few small plot holes, it's arguably one of the most enjoyable Marvel movies of the last few years. It's altogether a visually impressive movie (though dark in spots) with an excellent video transfer, but it gets even high marks for its audio.
For fans of "Inception," it's a no-brainer to pick up the movie on Blu-ray. But this visually arresting film that boggled a few minds has an outstanding VC-1-encoded 1080p video transfer that offers lush color and detail. Impressive as the video is, the audio is arguably even better with lots of nuanced sound and tight, rumbling bass that will put your surround system to the test (and make a great demo for guests).
A lot of people have noted that best thing about Blu-ray is seeing "new" versions of old films in the format.
"Jaws" doesn't qualify as a really old film, but it did first hit theaters in 1975, so it's certainly an older film, and it looks truly impressive on Blu-ray. This is one of the films that Universal has chosen to restore for its 100th anniversary (Universal's, not the film's), and some of its earlier restoration efforts have been lauded while others have been criticized for introducing too much digital noise reduction and smoothing things out too much, so the films look less like film and more like video. (Alas, today's audiences are averse to an abundance of film grain.) That's not the case for "Jaws." I projected the film on a 100-inch screen using a $3,000 JVC DLA-X30 front projector and was immediately struck by how detailed and vibrant the image looked, with an ample amount of light film grain and only a few blemishes along the way. The water and backgrounds feel like they have more depth to them, and the color feels just right (OK, the bright-red blood in water looks a little fake, but that's because it was fake).
The sound has been remastered as well, with a new 7.1 surround remix of the original mono track (that original mono version is included in the DTS 2.0 track if you want to hear the movie that way). While purists tend to greet such remixes coolly, this one comes off very well, especially during the frantic beach scenes where panicked swimmers exit the water en masse.
As far as extras go, there really isn't anything here that wasn't on the DVD (and some goes back to the laserdisc) except an 8-minute video, presented in HD, about the restoration process for "Jaws" that includes comments from director Steven Spielberg, who says the movie looks better on Blu-ray than it did when it played in theaters back in 1975. You also get a digital copy and an UltraViolet copy, which is nice.
Universal gets knocked by videophiles for allegedly going overboard with the digital noise reduction, creating an overly smooth image that looks too much like video rather than film. But to our eyes, anyway, the video transfer for "Jurassic Park Ultimate Trilogy" looks great with no glaring issues and is clearly a significant upgrade over the DVD version, which also looked good (for DVD).
All three discs have lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track and they all sound awesome (if you own a home theater, the audio is arguably what makes this worth owning).
Alas, the only drawback here is that you have to buy all three movies (we're less partial to the sequels). That said, you do get digital copies of all three, and a few hours of "all-new" bonus features are thrown in to sweeten the deal.
"Lawrence of Arabia" seemed to take forever to get to Blu-ray. As you'd expect from a movie that took its sweet time to come to the format, it looks and sounds incredibly impressive, thanks to Sony's stellar 4K restoration and a new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack. You'll still see plenty of film grain in all those shots of the sky and sand, but the overall detail and vibrancy of the colors will have fans of the film constantly muttering "wow."
Editor Ty Pendlebury jokes that he's watched "Life of Pi" a hundred times too many, because we used it as a reference disc when testing TVs and Blu-ray players. But he agrees that it's a great-looking movie that's well worth owning.
'The Lord of the Rings: Motion Picture Trilogy (Extended Edition)'
Legions of devoted "LOTR" fans doled out one-star reviews on Amazon for the Blu-ray theatrical release of the three movies because they all wanted the Extended Edition, which has finally arrived in a package that includes a whopping 15 discs. Alas, most of the bonus features are on DVD, not Blu-ray, which is too bad. But for the $70 or so that it costs for this edition, you will get 682 minutes of spectacular audio and video that's sure to test the mettle of your home theater. Truth be told, we did not rewatch the three films in their entirety before posting this blurb, but true fans shouldn't hesitate to block out the over 11 hours to view them all in one sitting -- and that's without bathroom breaks.
Note: We're still waiting for the extended and theatrical-release versions to be bundled in one Blu-ray package. As of this writing, the theatrical-release version of the trilogy (in Blu-ray) retails for about $15 less than the extended version.
There are plenty of Marvel movies to choose from, several of which are on the list. We like the "Iron Man" series but swapped out "Iron Man 3" for "The Avengers," which has Iron Man in it and most people think is a better movie anyway. (We also prefer the first "Avengers" to its sequel, "Age of Ultron.")
The first half is pretty dark, which makes the video seem a little subdued and lacking in detail, but the second half of the film really pops. The surround mix is stellar.
One of the more darkly imagined and brutally violent action movies of the last 10 years, "Mad Max: Fury Road" may not be everybody's cup of tea, but if you're a fan of the series (and apocalyptic movies in general), Fury Road is a visual and audio feast.
The detail in the vehicles and costumes along with inky blacks and impressive color make this video presentation is as good as the come.
The disc also features a great surround mix (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 surround), with lots of directional audio effects and plenty of explosions to rattle your home theater. This is also one of the few discs that offers a Dolby Atmos mix for home-theater systems that support it.
The Martian is fairly predictable and is essentially "Gravity" on Mars, but it's still a riveting movie that offers an excellent video transfer with exceptional fine detail. The surround track is equally impressive, alternating between the visceral impact of a rocket launch and Martian wind storm to Matt Damon's crisply spoken dialogue in the form of journal entries.
It's always hard to pick which of the latest animation movies we should add to the list, because they all tend to look and sound impressive. That said, "Moana" stands out for being fantastic looking, with incredibly sharp images and eye-popping colors. The combination of its strong musical elements and excellent surround effects make this an audio standout as well.
We had "Band of Brothers" on this list for a while and still think it's a good pick. But we thought it was time to move on to HBO's follow-up World War II miniseries, "The Pacific," which was also produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks and has been reported to cost at least $150 million to make.
The 1080p AVC-encoded transfer is excellent with lots of great detail, but like "Brothers," it's the audio that's really superb and hits reference quality.
We sang the praises of the BBC's "Planet Earth II" as an outstanding 4K Blu-ray (it was shot mostly in 4K, complete with HDR effects), but for those who don't have a 4K player, it's still gorgeous as a 1080p Blu-ray, featuring all of the stunning footage you'd expect from the award-winning team behind the original and "Life." And of course it's narrated by Richard Attenborough.
From the opening scene of a sloth swimming among mangroves to the later macro shots of ants eating tadpoles, the cinematography can be simply breathtaking at times. If you want to show off your TV's ability to deliver color and detail, this is the disc.
"The Revenant" certainly is an intense and realistic film and not everybody's cup of tea. But it's spectacularly shot, with impressive naturalistic settings and great fine detail -- both in people's faces, as well as shadow details.
Some people loved "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" and some people didn't, but you can't argue with Disney's superb audio-visual presentation on Blu-ray. Mastered in 4K, overall the film is pretty dark -- and by that I mean the color palette -- but the inky blacks, depth to the images and impressive level of detail even in dark scenes are as good as it gets. It will be interesting to see this one as a 4K Blu-ray, but that isn't out yet, though a 3D version is.
It's interesting to watch "Saving Private Ryan" again after all these years because you realize how much influence it's had on today's video games. Like Spielberg's other recent Blu-ray release, "Minority Report," the video has some grain and color hues that make it seem less than pristine -- but that's how the movie's supposed to look (and it does look good). Not surprisingly, the first 25 minutes are that much more intense in HD.
The long wait for the original "Star Wars" trilogy to arrive on Blu-ray is finally over and not without a bit of controversy, as purists aren't happy that the movies are full of even more digital "fixes" than we've seen before.
No matter. This is still a must-have, and early word is that the movies look and sound fantastic on Blu-ray, blasphemous tweaks aside. (We'll update this caption with more impressions when we get our hands on the discs.)
I didn't love this movie as much as some people (I thought the first half was better than the second), but it looks and sounds great on a home theater, with a crisp transfer and lots of fine detail and a surround track that gives your surround system a workout.
When "Titanic" was first released, I wasn't among those who saw it multiple times in the theater. And I didn't run out and see it when it came back to theaters in a 3D version not too long ago. But even if you're not a huge fan, it's hard to deny its epic quality, and not surprisingly, the Blu-ray release is as good as they come in terms of picture and sound quality. While I was most struck by the sharpness of objects and actors' faces in close-ups, as well as the excellent shadow details in darker scenes, you can find plenty of other aspects to praise (I tend to shortchange audio, for instance, in these snap reviews).
Note: The link below goes to the four-disc 3D version of the movie, which also includes the 2D Blu-ray and costs slightly less than the 2D-only Blu-ray package.
We should probably have more Kubrick films on the list, but "2001" is currently the only one that's here. The Blu-ray offers an excellent video transfer of the film and is a torture test for your TV's black levels.