Over the past few months I’ve received a large amount of older films on Blu-ray to review. Some of them, such as Taxi Driver and All About Eve, are classics that deserve to be preserved and presented in high-definition, while others are downright puzzling choices to see the studios get behind and push in HD (I’m looking at you Barb Wire). Either way, there seems to be a huge surge in catalogue titles coming out, and I’m here to tell you what’s worth adding to your collection and what you should avoid.
Worth owning even if you haven’t seen it
One of my favourite movies of all time, All the President’s Men (1976) is a riveting dramatic real-life thriller about newspaper reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (portrayed onscreen by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, respectively) as they uncover the Watergate scandal, which eventually led to the resignation of U.S. President Richard Nixon. The Blu-ray release is absolutely a must-have as the image transfer and sound mix are outstanding, and the special features are all worthy of sitting through. Besides many featurettes that dig deeper into the real investigation, there is a great audio commentary with Redford, and a very interesting 36-page booklet is included as well.
If you’re a Robert De Niro fan you must, must, must get the recent release of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976). From the packaging (which comes with some very cool collectible mini poster cards) to the slew of special features and amazing high-def transfer, this is just a stunning addition to any Blu-ray collection. Raging Bull (1980) and Once Upon a Time in America (1984) also have nice Blu-ray upgrades that are worthy of ownership too.
Disney has done a wonderful job cleaning up their classic animated film line, such as titles Alice in Wonderland (1951) and Bambi (1942), which are both must-have titles on Blu-ray. They also just released the original TRON (1982), and considering it was one the first movies to use computer graphics, it looks and sounds surprisingly good in HD.
I know Steven Spielberg’s A.I. (2001) wasn’t well received when it came out, however, I’m a huge fan of the film and seeing it in HD, and hearing it with a 6.1 DTS-HD sound mix, gave me chills and made me fall in love with it all over again. The special features are also worthy of sitting through and might make you appreciate it a bit more (another crapped on Spielberg film, the 2002 sci-fi thriller Minority Report, should also be in your Blu-ray collection). While on the subject of sci-fi, Warner Home Video just released special steelbook collector sets of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Batman Begins (2005), and The Matrix (1999). All of these look gorgeous on Blu-ray and the tin casings look nice on the bookshelf too.
A couple of titles that actually surprised me greatly on Blu-ray include An Affair to Remember (1957) and All About Eve (1950). Both come in slick sets and both have stood the test of time and are preserved wonderfully in high-def. Thelma & Louise (1991) and Fiddler on the Roof (1971) also shocked me, mainly because of how well they sound and not because of how they look (Fiddler on the Roof comes with a 7.1 DTS-HD sound mix). Both movies are also much better than I remember and are definitely great additions to any collection.
Buy only if you love the movie
The Criterion release of Albert Brooks’ Broadcast News (1987) on Blu-ray is unfortunately nothing special. I found the image and sound to be the same as DVD quality (this probably has to do with the original print of the film not being preserved better over the years), and the special features are not all that special. The movie, a look behind the scenes at a news station, is still quite relevant and good, but laying down your money for a mediocre product (especially from Criterion) is a shame.
I expected more out of The Color Purple’s (1985) Blu-ray release. This is a Spielberg classic, why wasn’t extra care taken with the image and audio transfer? It’s muddled and flat and looks worse in HD than it did on DVD. The film was actually tarnished for me while watching the Blu-ray because I was upset over the quality of the disc. If you’re a big fan and can’t wait to have it in your collection, go ahead and pick it up. Otherwise, wait until they put more care into a better release.
Ray (2002), True Grit (1969), Blow (2001), and Stand By Me (1986) are all excellent movies that for some reason got the shaft with their transfers to Blu-ray. I wanted to be blown away by them all and instead found myself nitpicking at the crummy picture and sound the studios let pass. If you already own them on DVD don’t bother upgrading just yet.
The Riddick Collection, which includes Pitch Black (2000), The Chronicles of Riddick (2004), and the animated feature Dark Fury (2004), is actually only a partial Blu-ray release. While Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick look decent in HD, Dark Fury is only a regular DVD. I actually only wanted the set in order to see Dark Fury in HD so this was a huge letdown. The lesson here is to always read the package before buying I guess.
Admittedly, the Blu-ray release of the original I Spit on Your Grave (1978) looks and sounds better than any other prior release of the film. If you have never seen it though you might be shocked at the vileness of it and might not want to own it on Blu-ray (or any other format). If you are a fan, however, it is worth picking up.
Excalibur (1981) and Soylent Green (1973) are solid, worthwhile movies, that both feel like the studio rushed to get them out on Blu-ray for the hell of it. Not the worse Blu-ray releases to come along but not worthy of replacing those DVDs with either.
Absolutely no reason to own on Blu-ray
When I got Barb Wire (1996) on Blu-ray I laughed. This is a terrible movie, why waste technology by upgrading it to HD? Even if I found it in the $5 bin at Wal-Mart I still wouldn’t think it was worth buying. Sure enough, the picture and sound are mediocre on the Blu-ray release and the movie still stinks.
Flipper (1996) and My Dog Skip (2000) are cute enough movies, but neither need to be seen in high-def and neither need to be in your collection. Same with Uncle Buck (1989), Rain Man (1988), and Moonstruck (1987). It feels that all these titles are thrown out on Blu-ray just so the studios can make some quick cash. Don’t give in to their evil ways until they deliver quality product.
Two Blu-ray releases that really disappointed me were Last Tango in Paris (1972), starring Marlon Brando, and 48 Hrs. (1982), starring Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte. While these are totally different movies, they are both good in there own way and I was excited to see them in glorious high-definition. Both looked and sounded weak, and neither of them come with any special features. Very sad to see.
Universal Studios Home Entertainment is going one step further with their money printing machine and are releasing themed double features of many older films. Elizabeth (1998) and Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007), Friday Night Lights (2004) and The Express (2008), and Mercury Rising (1998) and The Jackal (1997) are a few of the ones I’ve received lately. Although the movies are on separate discs, they still look and feel cheap and the actual transfer could be straight from the DVD master.
That sums up the recent pile of discs I’ve had land at my door. There’s a lot more catalogue titles coming out on Blu-ray over the next few months too. I’ve received notices for everything from Mortal Kombat (1995) to The Lion King (1994) to the Star Wars collection. Hopefully most are done with care and not sloppiness, even if the movie is not the best.
What older movies are you enjoying (or not enjoying) on Blu-ray? Drop us a note in the comments below and let us know.