Gift Guide 2018: Best of Blu-ray and 4K UHD movies

Gift Guide 2018: Best of Blu-ray and 4K UHD movies

Here’s a selection of top gift ideas for the Blu-ray and 4K UHD-loving, cinema connoisseurs in the family. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, rated G, 149 minutes, 2.20:1 aspect ratio, $41.99) — The evolution of man, the future of space travel and a disobedient computer named Hal set the stage for the


Here’s a selection of top gift ideas for the Blu-ray and 4K UHD-loving, cinema connoisseurs in the family.

2001: A Space Odyssey (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, rated G, 149 minutes, 2.20:1 aspect ratio, $41.99) — The evolution of man, the future of space travel and a disobedient computer named Hal set the stage for the late Stanley Kubrick’s 1969 meticulous science fiction masterpiece now restored in the ultra-high definition (UHD) format.

Expanded from Arthur C. Clarke’s short story “The Sentinel,” the movie mixed groundbreaking and mind-blowing special effects, some heady themes of artificial intelligence and extraterrestrial life, and a classical music soundtrack to keep viewers questioning their existence for more than two hours.

The painstaking restoration process offers the correct picture aspect ratio with footage scanned directly from the 65mm original negative and delivers incredibly crisp and saturated moments.

They include spaceships landing on the moon, a red-suited astronaut walking in space, crew members working under glowing red lighting (juxtaposed against the coolness of space) and a headache-inducing ending packed with a crescendo of colors.

Best extras: A vintage optional commentary track with actors Gary Lockwood (astronaut Frank Poole) and Keir Dullea (astronaut David Bowman) ports over to the 4K disc while the other extras reside on a standalone Blu-ray, culled from the 2007 release.

Best of the bunch is a 43-minute respective on the film hosted by James Cameron and featuring rare interviews with Mr. Clark and even some of the actors that played the early men.

Next, a 75-minute audio interview from 1966 with Kubrick by theoretical physicist Jeremy Bernstein delivers some deep insight into the director’s life and career and his beginning work on the epic film.

The slipcased packaging contains a 20-page, full-color booklet loaded with behind-the-scenes information, concept art and four images from the movie on postcard-sized cardstock.

Suffice it to report, it’s the best version of the film ever created and makes a mandatory gift for the sci-fi connoisseur in the family.

50 Years of Planet of the Apes: 9-movie Collection (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, rated G, PG and PG-13, 981 minutes, 1.85:1 to 2.40:1 aspect ratio, $99.99) — Humans wishing Earth was controlled by primates will appreciate a gift of this ultimate collection of sci-fi movies devoted to the beloved “Planet of the Apes” franchise loaded with extras and visual might.

Owners get the original “Planet of the Apes” (1968), “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” (1970), “Escape From the Planet of the Apes” (19971), “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” (1972), “Battle for the Planet of the Apes,” (1973) and “Planet of the Apes” (2001 remake) all in the Blu-ray format.

The set also includes “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011), “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (2014) and “War for the Planet of the Apes” (2017) in the 4K UHD and Blu-ray format.

Suffice it to report, that’s a whole bunch of monkey business. And while some of the films are not the best, especially the tiny budgeted “Battle for the Planet of the Apes” and the Tim Burton-directed 2001 effort, the 1968 original (starring the late Charlton Heston) as well as the films in the 2010s, featuring the motion-capture work of Andy Serkis, deliver outstanding entertainment.

Best extras: Bonus content abounds across every disc that will often consume viewers’ interest in the legendary franchise. By far, the first film overloads with extras starting with a nostalgic optional commentary track with actors the late Roddy McDowall (Cornelius), the late Kim Hunter (Dr. Zira), Natalie Trundy (Lisa) and makeup artist, the late John Chambers.

Next, watch an hourlong panel discussing the legacy of the “Planet of the Apes” franchise for its 50th anniversary, with original make-up artists Dan Striepeke and art director William Creber leading the way.

Also, check out the more than 2-hour-long interactive documentary about the original films hosted by McDowell and offering optional side panels on the screen with text as well as video information nuggets.

Finally, on that original film, play the “Beyond the Forbidden Zone Adventure Game.” The board game challenge has a players navigate a character through the ape planet locations by answering various questions while the film plays.

Other extras worth a look or listen in the set include a 27-minute HBO promotional special on the making of the 2001 Planet hosted by the late Michael Clarke Duncan and optional commentary tracks by director Matt Reeves on “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and “War for the Planet of the Apes.”

Additionally, the slip-cased packaging contains nine double-sided theater poster cards (roughly 7 inches by 5 inches) with ape images on the back and printed on glossy cardstock.

The Big Lebowski: 20th Anniversary Limited Edition (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, rated R, 117 minutes, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, $70.99) — The quirky Coen brothers’ cult crime comedy celebrates its anniversary with a 4K release offering the most realistic look at a bowling alley ever presented in the history of cinema.

The chaotic story of the mooching, drama-free-living Jeffrey “the Dude” Lebowski and his buddies first explores their seeking compensation for the Dude’s soiled Persian rug but end up in the middle of a kidnapping, cheating spouses, ransom, stolen money and more bowling.

The stellar cast included Jeff Bridges as the Dude, John Goodman as the slightly off Vietnam vet Walter Sobchak, Steve Buscemi as the annoying Donny Kerabatsos, John Turturro as bowler Jesus Quintana and Julianne Moore as Maude Lebowski.

The screen-filling presentation really shines in UHD with lifelike skin tones and details down to shaded dents in the bowling balls and every fiber of that marvelous, pee-stained rug.

Compared to the last Blu-ray release, this is by far the best version of the films ever available to home theater owners.

Best extras: All bonus content contained on the included Blu-ray disc is culled from the 2011 release and features an in-movie experience (pop-up boxes), a shout at the screen, “what’s my line?”-style game and about an hour’s worth of vintage and retrospective featurettes.

However, the package is the true highlight to this limited-edition release. It contains a small, red-striped bowling bag (perfect for a camera or as an odd purse), a mini bowling ball, a tiny “Dude”-like sweater disc slip cover and a polishing cloth based on the missing rug.

By the way, the mini bowling ball (about the size of a bocce ball) is actually a pencil holder. Of course, the only folks still using writing implements will definitely appreciate this strange film.

X-Men Trilogy (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, 149 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $59.99) —The original three films devoted to Marvel Comics’ popular mutant superhero team debut in the UHD format and offer the perfect gift for cinemaphiles smitten with the Homo Superior species.

The collection includes “X-Men” (2000, 104 minutes), “X2: X-Men United” (2003, 133 minutes), both directed by Bryan Singer, and “X-Men: The Last Stand” (2006, 104 minutes) directed by Brett Ratner.

All three films present a fairly serious world where a genetic mutation has turned certain humans into an empowered species. A war is brewing throughout the series that will cause mutants and humans to make life-and-death choices in the grandest of comic book sagas.

Memorable performances include a young and ripped Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Anna Paquin as Rogue, Alan Cummings as Nightcrawler and the perfect casting of Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier and Ian McKellen as his intellectual foe, Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto).

The first two movies got a new 4K scan of the original film footage while the third gets a 4K upscale from 2K source material. By far, all three now offer the best version of the sagas ever released on home theater screens.

Previous viewers will be impressed by the stunningly rich visual acuity, such as seeing Wolverine’s ever-healing battle damage and the abundance of color depth referenced by Nightcrawler’s tattooed blue skin.

Best extras: Each 4K disc offers the following optional commentary tracks: “X-Men” (Mr. Singer and his buddy Brian Peck), “X2: X-Men United” (Mr. Singer and cinematographer Tom Sigel) and “X-Men: The Last Stand” (Mr. Ratner and writers Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn, and a second track with producers Avi Arad, Lauren Shuller Donner and Ralph Winter).

The included Blu-ray versions of the films also offer the commentary tracks as well as some deleted scenes and a multipart interview with Mr. Singer.

Use the Movies Anywhere digital code to get the films online and unlock way more extras, such as a 15-minute overview of the “X-Men” featuring co-creator Stan Lee; an 8-minute look at Nightcrawler with comics writer Chuck Austen; and an 11 minutes of Mr. Jackman reading for the part of Wolverine.

Jack Ryan: 5 Film Collection (Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment, rated PG, PG-13 and R, 620 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $69.99) — The cinematic opus presenting, literally, the many faces of Tom Clancy’ nearly unstoppable CIA analyst gets a welcomed conversion to UHD in this 10-disc set.

Offering all five of the popular films (4K and Blu-ray versions of each), the set lets owners decide which actor was the best Jack Ryan when watching “The Hunt For Red October” (1990, starring Alec Baldwin); “Patriot Games” (1992, starring Harrison Ford); “Clear and Present Danger” (1994, starring Harrison Ford); “The Sum of All Fears” (2002, starring Ben Affleck); and the origin story “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” (2014, starring Chris Pine).

Original viewers of the films in previous formats will notice a significant uptick in visual quality especially in the early movies that, although they do not benefit from any digital restoration, impress with rich colors and contrast especially during many interior scenes as well as any explosions.

The cream of the visual crop is the 2014 film that takes a leap from the 2K-source material into the 4K realms and really looks sharp.

Best extras: Not only do fans get hours of extras contained on the original, included Blu-ray releases, but also the most coveted optional commentary tracks are ported over to the 4K discs.

This translates into a lively discussion between director Kenneth Branagh and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura on “Shadow Recruit”; famed “Die Hard” director John McTiernan talking about “The Hunt For Red October”; and a pair of tracks with director Phil Alden Robinson and cinematographer John Lindley as well as Mr. Alden Robinson and the legendary Mr. Clancy on “The Sum of All Fears.”

The Matrix Trilogy (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, rated R, 403 minutes, 2.31:1 aspect ratio, $70.99) — The Wachowski brothers’ science fiction opus about technology ruling mankind finally gets released in the UHD format and just in time for the holiday gift-giving season.

This nine-disc collection contains both 4K and Blu-ray versions of “The Matrix” (1999) “The Matrix Reloaded” (2003) and “The Matrix Revolutions” (2003).

For those unfamiliar, the story of a savior named Neo (Keanu Reeves) getting help from Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) to ultimately take down a false human world constructed by mechanical masters eventually took viewers down a rabbit hole of muddled plot disappointment, but it shined through innovative special effects and incredibly intense action scenes.

All three films sport a new 4K scan from the original camera negative with color correction and HDR grading executed by Warner’s Motion Picture Imaging’s senior colorist, Jan Yarbrough, and all overseen by the cinematographer of the trilogy, Bill Pope.

Mr. Yarbrough’s work allows viewers to further appreciate the many slow-motion action scenes as well as bullet time and smaller details in the often dark terrain of the human refuge of Zion.

More importantly, the color saturated dynamics between the slightly greenish tint of the false data world versus the much bluer pallet assigned to the real world scenes are much more refined and apparent.

It’s also worth noting, to appreciate the enveloping aural assault of the heavy-duty action scenes such as the final stand of the humans against the machines, viewers will need to turn on the new Dolby Atmos mix, not set as the default on the discs.

Best extras: The 4K discs each contain optional commentary tracks, with the first film boasting a quartet track led by cast and crew (Miss Moss, Zach Staenberg and John Gaeta); critics (Todd McCarthy, John Powers and David Thomson); philosophers (Dr. Cornel West and Ken Wilber); and even one with the musical composer, Don Davis. The critics’ and philosophers’ commentary tracks also carry over to the other two films with the same participants.

All three Blu-ray versions of the films offer the commentary tracks as well as an optional In Movie Experience mixing interviews and pop-up boxes that appear over the main event.

Additionally, among the hours of bonus content placed in separate Blu-ray disc for each film, viewers will most appreciate a 2-hour-long documentary on the original film; an almost 90-minute look at the car chase in “Reloaded”; and a 90-minute overview of the franchise called “Behind the Matrix.”

Superman: The Movie (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, rated PG, 143 minutes, 2.40:1 aspect ratio, $33.60) — Arguably, as in I’ll scream at anyone who disagrees, the best cinematic adaptation of DC Comic’s legendary Man of Steel mythos arrives in the UHD format to celebrate its 40th anniversary.

The late Christopher Reeves nailed the role back in 1978 as both the bumbling and meek Clark Kent as well as confidently superpowered being. His onscreen chemistry with the late Margot Kidder as Lois Lane was also delightfully palatable.

The story offers both an origin of Kal-El/Superman and Clark Kent taking roots in Metropolis. His first major mission requires that he stop his new arch nemesis Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) from making a literal killing in the real estate market by causing California to sink into the Pacific Ocean.

This 2160p, 4K remaster from the original 35 mm camera negatives, cleaned up and color-corrected, offers the best home theater version of director Richard Donner’s film ever released.

Yes, much of the haze and image softness, choices by cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth, still exist, but most of the interior scenes are crisp. Any onscreen moment with Superman delivers a welcomed consistency and color sharpness to his famed blue, yellow  and red costume.

And, the Dolby Atmos soundtrack allows owners to be enveloped by John William’s infectious musical score.

Best extras: The 4K disc contains the 2011 optional commentary track from producer Pierre Spengler and executive producer Ilya Salkind. It offers the pair gushing and kvetching about the film with their egos often driving the discussion.

The included Blu-ray, duplicated from the 2011 Anthology collection, also offers the track and the previously released extras that include a vintage documentary from 1980 on the making of the movie; the 1951 film “Superman and the Mole-Man” (introducing George Reeves as the Man of Steel); and a trio of classic Looney Tunes cartoons.

Predator: 3 Movie Collection (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, rated R, 322 minutes, 1.85:1 and 2.35:1 aspect ratio, $29.96) — The original cinematic adventures of one of the fiercest races of warriors to roam the galaxy arrives on UHD to please purists of the sci-fi legends.

The six-disc set offers 4K and Blu-ray versions of “Predator” (1987), “Predator 2” (1990) and “Predators” (2010).

By far, the original shines the brightest through a story about a military specialist team, led by Arnold Schwarzenegger, on a rescue mission in Central America and becoming the hunted by an extraterrestrial creature.

The first two films were reportedly given new 4K scans from the original camera negatives, and the final movie was upscaled from 2K source material.

Across the board, the results are stunning, especially when watching the full-screen presentation of the first film referenced with the complex-looking Predator healing a wound or watching Arnold and his pals exploring the jungle terrain in the daylight hours.

Best extras: The 4K discs get all of the previously released optional commentary tracks including one with director John McTiernan and a text track with production personnel on “Predator”; a track from director Stephen Hopkins as well as another track with writers Jim Thomas and John Thomas on “Predators 2”; and a track with producer Robert Rodriguez and director Nimrod Antal on “Predators.”

All the other goodies, amounting to around three hours of featurettes, reside on the Blu-ray discs spotlighted by some motion comics as well as a 40-minute production overview of for “Predators.”

City Slickers: Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory, rated PG-13, 114 minutes, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, $24.99) — Director Ron Underwood’s classic Western comedy that delivered actor the late Jack Palance an Oscar for best supporting actor returns to Blu-ray with a fresh 4K scan.

Three pals facing midlife crises (Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern and Bruno Kirby) decide to temporarily abandon city life and become cattle-driving cowboys in New Mexico.

They find a renewed love of life after some humiliating moments, especially with horses, and after dealing with a tough but wise trail boss named Curly Washburn (Palance).

Considering that it’s a 27-year-old film, Shout! Factory’s new scan looks pretty sharp with consistent color and plenty of pretty landscape moments when admiring the American Southwest.

Best extras: Viewers get all of the extras culled from the “2008 DVD Collector’s Edition” starting with a very nostalgic optional commentary track with Mr. Underwood, Mr. Crystal and Mr. Stern.

Additional hours worth of vintage extras do not benefit from a new 4K scan but offer plenty of production deconstruction on this very funny, coming-of-old-age film.

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