2018 recently came to a close, so it’s time to pump out an obligatory ‘best of’ list. I won’t bore you with a lengthy introduction, so here it is! My favorite home video releases of last year!
IT (4K): I have a lot of love for the Tim Curry starring mini-series, but it is, objectively speaking, an extremely mixed bag. The first half is well done, but the entire second half with the adults plays out like a bad soap opera. It also wasn’t a very faithful adaptation. Fortunately, 2017’s IT, which focuses purely on the kids side of things, is much closer to the book and surprisingly good. The young cast have a ‘Stand By Me’ vibe when together on screen, and Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise is exactly the kind of creepy the story needed.
Blade Runner 2049 (4K): Blade Runner is one of my favorite films of all time, but while I was excited to see what a sequel would offer, I wasn’t expecting it to be anything special. I don’t hate Ryan Gosling, but having him follow in Harrison Ford’s footsteps felt like a serious mistake. But he was alright, and more than that, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this sequel didn’t just hold its own against the original, but in many respects is actually superior. Ridley Scott thought Denis Villeneauve’s effort was, while solid, a bit long, and I couldn’t disagree more. The director allows this film to breathe so we can feel the impact of every sound and even the silence. The visuals are out of this world and the story is compelling. Blade Runner 2049 is honestly one of my favorite films in recent memory, if not all time.
Night of the Living Dead (Criterion Blu-ray): I’ve already written a review for this , but George A. Romero’s original is truly one of a kind. There’s so much to appreciate about this film, especially after multiple screenings. The camera angles The camera angles often convey that we’re witnessing a real life nightmare. The score dances up your spine like the fingertips of death. The lighting and shadows lend themselves to haunting imagery. For an independent film, it sure did come together like it belonged in the big leagues. The acting, while at times over the top, was also exemplary for its time, especially considering the genre.
The Criterion Blu-ray release is sourced from a 4K master, making this the best Night of the Living Dead has ever looked or sounded!
2001: A Space Odyssey (4K): Stanley Kubrick is debatably one of the best filmmakers that’s ever lived, and if there’s one film I’d pluck out of his catalog to underscore why, it’d be this one. The story is a deliberate slow-burn, but its runtime feels short due to its mesmerizing imagery and edge-of-your seat story beats. Powerfully thought-provoking, 2001 will leave you questioning the human race’s relationship with technology, and where – if we haven’t already hit our peak – we could go from here. I cannot stress enough that if you haven’t seen this, you absolutely need to. If you get bored easily though, then you should probably skip this. But for my money, it’s one of the best films of all time.
Jurassic Park Collection (4K): There were actually two Jurassic Park collections released this past year. The initial one in the spring had the first four films, whereas the one in the fall included Fallen Kingdom.
Look, I’ll be the first to tell you that the franchise overall is spotty. Jurassic Park is, in my opinion, one of the best summer popcorn flicks ever made. The Lost World is decent in many respects but also a slog, and it doesn’t help that its finale was an awful Godzilla-esque take on a dinosaur roaming through an American city. Jurassic Park III wasn’t a very good film, but it didn’t try to be. it’s more akin to an entertaining amusement park ride. Jurassic World (and I know many will disagree with me here) is a solid return to form, but I consider Fallen Kingdom to be the franchise’s low point (more on that in a bit). Still, all in all, you can get all the films at a great price in a single collection, and they look and sound great. for the most part.
Annihilation (4K): Undoubtedly my favorite film of 2018, I’m glad I waited to see this for the first time on 4K Blu-ray. This is another one of those sci-fi movies that wants you to think about what’s going on more than spelling things out, and in that respect it’s very much like 2001: A Space Odyssey. That’s not to say they’re actually similar, but they’re thematically close in an indirect sort of way. Great direction, wonderful acting from Natalie Portman and all her costars, and visually arresting. Annihilation is the kind of film that most aren’t making anymore, and I’m definitely excited to see what this director does next.
Brainscan (Blu-ray): Most of you probably won’t care about this one, and I’ll concede it isn’t a great film or even a very good one. but I like Brainscan. The brief overview is that it’s about a teenage horror fan (played by Edward Furlong) that plays a new video game which puts him in the role of a serial killer. Next thing he knows, he’s seeing his exploits on the local news and a detective is on his tail. A malevolent character known as Trickster loves every minute of this charade, and tells the boy that the only way he can get out of this nightmare is to play the rest of the game. It’s a simple but effective story, and as a gamer and genre fan myself, it hit all the right notes. It almost seemed like it would never see a quality release on home video – the old DVD from the mid 2000’s is pretty much garbage – but Scream Factory swooped in to save the day. I’m very thankful for this Blu-ray, especially since it looks as good as it probably ever will.
Predator – 3 Movie Collection (4K): While I cut my teeth as a wee lad on the same stuff as other boys my age – meaning Godzilla, Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters and Star Wars – during my formative years I also became infatuated with the Alien and Predator films. As an adult, I’ve been disappointed in how the latter franchise has been treated on home video. The first Blu-ray of Predator had a lot of compression issues, while its subsequent release was slathered with some of the most offensive DNR (digital noise reduction), contrast and color boosting I’ve ever seen. Fox had effectively transformed this classic into an Xbox game, and I doubted we’d ever see it done justice. Well, not only does the new 4K Blu-ray collection gift us with Predator in all its grainy and grungy glory, but Predator2, which is also a fun B movie romp on steroids, also looks great. Now all we need are the Alien films on 4K, and I’ll be set!
Die Hard (4K): Is it a Christmas movie or not? I don’t really care, because I don’t think it’s all that important. What matters is that this is one of the greatest action films of all time, but it’s never looked particularly good on home video. This film was never a looker in the first place though, and its high-def Blu-ray debut came early in the format’s life cycle. But thanks to Fox, 2018’s 4K presentation is a substantial upgrade, ensuring generations to come will be able to enjoy a definitive version of the film that made Bruce Willis a household name and “yippee-kay-yay motherfucker” one of the most quoted lines in the history of cinema.
The Lion King (4K): I bought this on Blu-ray in 2011, 2017, and now I’m buying it again. Why? Well, the first Blu-ray from around 2011 had a substantial error: the clouds rolling back in the sky as Mufasa’s spirit retreated were missing. The Blu-ray from last year corrected the flub, so of course I bought it. Now that they’ve dangled a 4K HDR release of The Lion King in front of my face. well, call me Smeagol and consider this disc my precious. You would think traditional animation wouldn’t be worth the upgrade to 4K, but better compression and smoother animation lines clearly proves that wrong. HDR also helps to provide a bit more vibrancy, and the wider color gamut allows for better color reproduction. For example, Mufasa’s mane now has that dark reddish look to it as it did theatrically, as opposed to the orange-ish look we’ve had on DVD and Blu-ray. Disney will be releasing The Little Mermaid on 4K disc in February, and thanks to this disc, I can’t wait to see how it looks!
The Outer Limits Seasons 1 and 2 (Blu-ray): One of my favorite television shows of all time is The Twilight Zone, and when you’ve had your fill of that program, The Outer Limits is the next best thing. With hour long episodes, each story is given the breadth it needs to tantalize, draw you in and terrify. The series is best known for its ‘monster of the week’ episodes, but everything it presents is interesting. in a weird sort of way of course. The audio and video presentation is excellent, by the way. It’s yet another example of black and white content that very much benefits from the upgrade to 1080p. Next time someone says, “Well that wasn’t ever filmed in high definition, so how it can look better?” You tell them stuff like this had been shot on film, which is higher resolution than Blu-ray, and show them the goods. If they don’t walk away impressed. well, you don’t need friends like that!
Gladiator 4K: Objectively, Gladiator isn’t the best film. Not from a historical fiction standpoint, nor in regards to Ridley Scott’s filmography overall. That said, I still love this movie to pieces. Its basic revenge plot is heightened by great acting, terrific bits of action, and beautiful cinematography. The 4K Blu-ray is an interesting case, as there are a select few shots which actually look a tad better on the Blu-ray, but overall there’s a wonderful uptick in detail, but like many other discs on the format, it’s the HDR and wider color range that make this ultimately worth the upgrade.
I could go on, but I figure a dozen on the list is a good place to stop. Other titles I’ve been super happy with this year include, Saving Private Ryan 4K, Braveheart 4K, Schindler’s List 4K, American Psycho 4K, Evil Dead 4K, Evil Dead 2 4K, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, Rick and Morty Season 3, and Black Sails: The Complete Collection.
Biggest Disappointments of the Year:
Creature From the Black Lagoon Collection: I have no idea what Universal’s quality control was doing, but they missed a pretty massive error: The one film in this collection that had the option to be viewed in 3D, would play for many on their 2D screens with each side-by-side ‘eye’ visible, and many had no way to bypass it. The studio announced a replacement disc program and cited a four-to-six week time frame for boned customers to receive them. Well, replacement discs made it out in the wild in six weeks alright. straight to retailer shelves. That’s right, the studio began to sell corrected copies before getting them in the hands of the people who had already purchased the messed up copies at the start. Last but certainly not least, they chose the wrong 2D ‘eye’ to be presented. the one they’ve selected is blurrier and not up to Blu-ray standards. The rest of the monster movie collections that Universal have released over the last couple of years are immaculate, but this was a sad way to end the series.
The Predator: The Predator isn’t a bad movie. but it’s also not very good. I’m a huge fan of the franchise, warts and all, but I was hoping this would have fared better than Predators. Unfortunately, I think this movie spun the lore in a way that didn’t make much sense. Said ideas are clever, in their own ‘hey, this is how we can finally explain the Predators motivation’ sort of way, but they also water down just how badass the Predator is in general. The action is good, bloody fun, but the ‘glue’ that holds it all together is pretty weak.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom: I’m a huge fan of the Jurassic Park/World franchise, but I’m not blind to its missteps along the way. Jurassic World was a fantastic return to form. but this? Fallen Kingdom is a bit of a train wreck. It has a strong opening and solid finale, but everything in-between is cringe inducing. I’m hoping the follow-up film is better, but at this point, I’m not expecting much. As far as I’m concerned, this is where the franchise died.
Return of the Living Dead Part II: This was finally given a Blu-ray release by Scream Factory, and considering Return of the Living Dead is one of my favorite movies to watch around Halloween, I was excited to finally experience the sequel. I expected that it wouldn’t hold a candle to the original, but even though my expectations were already in-check, I was horrified by how bad the follow-up was. It’s a shame, because Return of the Living Dead Part 3, while different, was actually a blast. If the only ‘Return’ flick you’ve ever seen is the original, you should probably keep it that way.
Victor Crowley: If you’re a fan of horror but have never seen any of the Hatchet films, you need to drop what you’re doing and rectify that. like, immediately. The original trilogy is full of that old-school ‘strangers lost in the woods’ massacre-type fun that you’ve grown up with. but with even more gore and over-the-top practical effects. Couple that with the return of Kane Hodder, one of the best Jason Voorhees actors of all time, and you’ve got yourself a winning formula.
The Hatchet films took a break after the original trio had released, but was ultimately revived with Victor Crowley. This film was a disappointment in virtually every respect. The cast aren’t as memorable, the budget was lower in a pretty obvious way, and even the practical effects had toned down a bit. I still want to see if they can bounce back with the next film, but as of right now, the only thing Victor Crowley made me feel was that the franchise should have remained dormant.
Feel free to write me on Twitter @bytesizeimp if you’re ever curious about the quality of any given home video release. I’m on the ball and will always be able to help you make an informed decision!