- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2017

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

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial 35th Anniversary Gift Set (Universal Studios Home Entertainment, rated PG, 114 minutes, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, $49.98) — Director Steven Speilberg’s first dive into the sci-fi cinematic realm back in 1982 delivered a classic film of hope and friendship for the entire family.

The story highlights the adventures of a young child named Elliott (Henry Thomas) who befriends an extraterrestrial stranded on earth. After intrusive government agents find out, he needs help from his friends (including a young Drew Barrymore) to avoid authorities and reunite E.T. back with his species and get him home.

Universal Studios’ ports over the 4K-restoration version of the film from the 2012 Blu-ray release and adds high-dynamic range to offer the best version of the movie available. Yes, I can grump about some of the grain, but the interior shots with E.T. and also the young gang out on Halloween night feature exceptional color and clarity.

Besides the 4K disc, owners also get in the slipcased package a Blu-ray disc with a high-definition version of the film and over three hours of previously released extras such as the vintage, behind-the-scenes, interview-loaded “E.T. Journals.”

Additionally, the case contains a 50-page, full-color booklet loaded with information about the production and legacy of the iconic character, with an introduction by Ms. Barrymore; and a separate CD with eight tracks from composer John Williams’ Academy Award-winning score.


SEE ALSO: Blu-ray and DVD gift ideas for animation fans


The Bridge on the River Kwai: 60th Anniversary Edition (Sony Pictures Entertainment, rated PG, 161 minutes, 2.55:1 aspect ratio, $18.76) — Director David Lean’s multiple Academy Award-winning war drama about a group of World War II, British POWs in a Japanese camp forced to build a railway bridge gets an ultra-high definition (UHD) upgrade sure to please cinemaphiles in the family.

Alec Guinness stars in one of his most memorable roles, besides Obi-Wan Kenobi, as Lt. Col. Nicholson. He’s the very civil British officer in charge of motivating his men to complete the project and not face the wrath of camp leader Col. Saito (Sessue Hayakawa).

Despite the crispness and color enhancements in the restored version, the film grain is often unbearable. However, when less obvious, the visuals do shine, especially when examining the actors sweaty, sunbaked skin, the bamboo and wood grain of structures, the jungle flora and fauna, and details on the wooden bridge.

Grain, aside, this is a top-notch presentation, careful to preserve the original Technicolor format and a welcomed gift to any digital film library.

Extras found on the included Blu-ray disc include a nearly hourlong, vintage documentary on the film and a short interview segment with Mr. Guinness and actor William Holden (American Cmdr. Shears) on the “The Steve Allen Show.”

Best of the bunch is a picture-in-picture fact track offering the film in a box on the left side of the screen, pop-up text underneath and imagery on the right side. Viewers can read facts about the production and learn about the men who actually worked on the “Death” railway as well as a bit about World War II and the original source material for the film, author Pierre Boulle’s 1952 novel.

The Pink Panther Collection (Shout Factory!, rated PG, 161 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $79.99) — American audiences can celebrate Peter Sellers’ iconic character, the bumbling French Inspector Jacques Clouseau, for the first time in high-definition with a collection of six of his films.

Viewers get the often hilarious, Blake Edwards’-directed adventures of the police detective in “The Pink Panther” (1963); “A Shot in the Dark” (1964); “The Return of the Pink Panther” (1975); “The Pink Panther Strikes Again” (1976); “Revenge of the Pink Panther” (1978); and “Trail of the Pink Panther (1982).

For those unaware, Mr. Sellers’ concocted a character with a word-butchering French accent and delivered a constant stream of physical comedy moments in each film, assisted by his butler and martial arts expert Cato Fong (Burt Kwouk) and some hilarious encounters with foil Charles Dreyfus (Herbert Lom).

Viewers will also appreciate composer Henry Mancini’s memorable score as well as the celebrity nostalgia trip with co-star power featuring David Niven, Dyan Cannon, Robert Wagner, Elke Sommer and Christopher Plummer.

Some of the films sport a new and impressive 4K scan (“A Shot in the Dark” and “The Pink Panther Strikes Again”), but all suffer from age with scratches, dirt and aberrations being still visible. The prints were just not as cleaned up as film lovers would have hoped.

A decent supply of extras sprinkled amongst the six Blu-ray discs includes commentary tracks with Edwards, Jason Simos from The Peter Sellers Appreciation Society and film historian William Patrick Maynard.

Also, fans will appreciate new interviews with producer Walter Mirisch; editor Alan Jones; production designer Peter Mullins; and actresses Claudia Cardinale, Catherine Schell and Lesley-Anne Down.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, rated R, 118 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $41.99) — The definitive version of director Ridley Scott’s 1982 dystopian sci-fi masterpiece gets released in the ultra-high-definition format to dazzle home entertainment lovers.

Fans will remember that the noirish thriller starred Harrison Ford as the 21st-century detective Rick Deckard who, amid a society embracing high-tech but mired by urban and social decay, must track down and retire (kill) four rogue androids, called Replicants who are hidden in Los Angeles.

Viewers get the high-dynamic range enhanced version of the 2007 restoration of the movie that featured a meticulous process including scanning 35mm elements in 4K, 65mm effects shots at 8K and some new special effects, and scenes cleaned up for the digital realm.

The result is an eye-popping experience, clearer than ever, with saturated colors schemes to afford a new appreciation of the futuristic urban landscapes created by Mr. Scott and his team that were one of the many memorable parts of the film.

The 4K disc also offers three commentary tracks with one solo by Mr. Scott; one with writers Hampton Fincher and David People and producers Michael Deeley and Katherine Haber; and one with production crew members Syd Mead, Lawrence G. Paull, David L. Snyder, Douglas Trumbull, Richard Yuricich and David Dryer.

Three included Blu-ray discs contain the 3.5 hour long documentary “Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner” as well as most of the featurettes from the 2007 release.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, not rated, 159 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $41.99) — Fans of J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard can now appreciate all of his cinematic adventures within the ultra-high definition format.

The earliest four films — “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” and “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” — are now available alone or as part of the complete eight-film set ($178.99). Each film boasts 2160p resolution, high-dynamic range enhancements and DTS:X sound mixes.

Each of the four movie’s camera negatives were scanned in 4K with color correction, and the visual upgrade, with deeper, saturated hues, are the best the films have ever looked in any home entertainment format.

Viewers can now watch pals Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) grow up over hours instead of years as they encounter infamous warlocks and wizards and learn of the return of Voldemort.

The movies further offer an inside look at a colorful fantasy world, specifically plenty of great scenes in Hogwart’s Castle, coverage of quidditch matches, and encounters with classic characters such as Professor Dumbledore (Richard Harris), Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs), Nearly Headless Nick (John Cleese), Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith) and a really cool mountain troll.

For “Sorcerer’s Stone,” the set also includes a pair of Blu-ray discs originally offered in the Ultimate Edition package from 2009 containing an extended version of the film and extras that feature the first part of the documentary “Creating the World of Harry Potter,” clocking in at around an hour.

The other three film set releases also include the Ultimate Edition Blu-rays, equally as rich in extras that continue the multipart documentary, as well as content such as a picture-in-picture video commentary. The actors and crew from the film offer viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the action.

Suffice it to report, for gift givers looking to make Potter movie lovers happy this holiday, ‘tis the season to purchase some movie magic.

The Amazing Spider-Man Limited Edition Collection Digibook (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, 278 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $24.99) — Fans of actor Andrew Garfield’s portrayal of Marvel Comics’ famed web slinger will not be disappointed by the release of both of his films to ultra-high definition format in a collectible package.

Although director Marc Webb and the writers may have twisted co-creator Stan Lee’s original 1960s origin story with a mishmash of original ideas and borrowing from later comic book series, viewers still get a very rewarding look at an awkward, skateboarding teenager getting bit by a radioactive spider and turning into a superhero.

The movies skew to the dramatic side with more loss than laughs and fueled by excellent performances from Emma Stone as the ill-fated Spidey gal pal Gwen Stacy (her chemistry with Mr. Garfield is palpable); Sally Fields as Aunt May; Rhys Ifans as the Lizard; Denis Leary as Capt. Stacy; and Jamie Foxx as Electro.

Both films simply pop from the screen thanks to delivering the 4K master format source to the 2160p format and a Dolby Atmos soundtrack that brings to life every web shot, electrical blast and reptilian roar.

As far as the over 4 hours of extras, viewers get an optional commentary track for the first film on the 4K disc. An added Blu-ray disc contains a selection of content culled from previous releases including a pair of over 100-minute-long documentaries for each movie.

Additionally, the disc has a batch of more recent extras, including a coveted 12-minute interview with Stan Lee discussing the creation and evolution of Spider-Man and a 20-minute look at the villain cabal called the Sinister Six’s place in Spider-Man comics and films.

The thick, book-like packaging features pages of full-color images and a pair of essays — “‘The Amazing Spider-Man:’ A Hero for a New Era” and “‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2:’ The Good, the Bad, and the Sinister” — mixed in with the sturdy cardboard placeholders for the 4K and Blu-ray versions of the films.

Men in Black Trilogy (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, PG-13, 291 minutes, 1:85:1 aspect ratio, $65.99) — Sci-fi comedy aficionados with the latest home entertainment tech can watch the best-looking and -sounding versions of director Barry Sonnenfeld’s alien-infested blockbusters now available in the ultra-high definition format.

Based on the Dark Horse Comics book series, the films starred Will Smith as Agent J and Tommy Lee Jones as Agent K working for a super-secret government organization that monitors as well as polices any problems associated with extraterrestrials visiting or living on Earth.

Thanks to a screen-filling presentation, 2160p resolution, high-dynamic range enhancements and a Dolby Atmos soundtrack, viewers can really appreciate such cool aliens as Edgar the Bug, the coffee-making Worms, shape-shifting Kylothian Serleena, Frank the Pug, Boris the Boglodite and weapons dealer Jack Jeebs and the twins Idikiukup and Bob.

Extras from the included Blu-ray versions of the film offer optional commentary tracks with the director, an MIB trivia game, a spot-the-alien game, character-animation development breakdowns and about 90 minutes of production featurettes.

Transformers (Paramount Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, 144 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $25.79) — Just in time for the holidays, all five of director Michael Bays’ noisy homages to Hasbro’s popular robotic toy line are now available in the ultra-high definition format.

Gift givers can purchase individually — “Transformers” (2007); “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” (2009); “‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon” (2011); “‘Transformers: Age of Extinction” (2014); and “Transformers: The Last Knight’ (2017) — or all of the films as an entire set ($179.99).

While the plots throughout are fairly dunderheaded, with performances by Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Mark Wahlberg and even Anthony Hopkins not helping, the special effects that allow multistory-tall Autobots and Decepticons to transform into vehicles are stunning.

Stars such as Optimus Prime, Megatron, Bumblebee, Hound, Drift and Grimlock brought under the 2160p microscope shine brightly throughout the films with jaw-dropping detail highlighting their various mechanical forms.

Extras found in the included Blu-ray and 4K disks will overwhelm fans of the toys and movies. For example, the first film features an immersive commentary track with Mr. Bay (on both discs); a pop-up trivia track that plays during the movie; and another Blu-ray disc packed with over two hours of additional featurettes.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles: 30th Anniversary Edition (Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment, rated R, 92 minutes, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, $12.96) — Those looking for a hearty laugh and a few heartwarming holiday moments will not be disappointed with the Blu-ray re-release of this classic road trip comedy directed by the late John Hughes.

When a marketing executive (Steve Martin) and a shower-curtain-ring salesman (John Candy) get stuck at a New York City airport due to winter weather, they must work together amid a near endless comedy of errors to get home to Chicago for Thanksgiving.

Parents should note that the film’s “R” rating is mainly from a string of F-bombs dropped during one hilarious scene.

Bountiful extras include the director and stars chatting up the film in a vintage featurette; and a two-part, nearly hourlong documentary about Hughes’ legacy and career.

George A. Romero Between Night and Dawn: Limited Edition (Arrow Video, not rated, 1.67:1 aspect ratio, $99.95) — This trio of films in the Blu-ray format offers a bit of diversity to fans of the director who is always considered to be the father of the zombie movie.

Owners get some B-grade 1970s cinema through a 2K restoration of the 1971 counterculture romantic comedy “There’s Always Vanilla”; a 4K restoration of the 1972 seedy, occult drama “Season of the Witch”; and a 4K restoration of the 1973 apocalyptic thriller “The Crazies.”

Extras are abundant and include optional commentary tracks from cinema historian Travis Crawford; a new 30-minute retrospective on “There’s Always Vanilla”; an extended version of “Season of the Witch”; and a 16-minute interview with “The Crazies” actress Lynn Lowry.

The boxed set also contains DVD copies of the film as well as a 60-page, full-color booklet offering essays from occult and horror film authorities Kat Ellinger, Kier-La Janisse and Heather Drain.

The collection stands as important snapshot for the director’s early career but may only be a gift for the Romero completist and maybe “Bad Playhouse” host Leonard Pinth-Garnell. (Who remembers that guy? Hands up.)

The Three Stooges: Big Box of Nyuks (Mill Creek Entertainment, not rated, $44.98) — Arguably one of America’s most beloved comedy teams gets a not-so-definitive tribute to its uber physical comedy hijinks in this 10 DVD collection.

I report not-so-definitive as the legendary Curly Howard is not seen enough in the over 40 hours of action. Instead, discerning Stooges fan are first pacified with the group’s six cinematic adventures — “Time Out for Rhythm” (1941); “Rockin’ in the Rockies” (1945); “Have Rocket, Will Travel” (1959); “Three Stooges Go Around The World In A Daze” (1963); “The Three Stooges Meet Hercules” (1962); and “The Outlaws Is Coming” (1965).

Basically, the most well-known Stooges, Moe Howard and Larry Fine, are the constant in the set while secondary Stooges Shemp Howard, Joe Besser and Joe DeRita try and cover the loss of the mighty Curly.

Get through the films, pay careful attention for appearances by Adam West and Rudy Valee, and move onto 156 episodes of the cartoon series from the 1960s that also includes the introductory live-action skits.

Mill Creek also throws in 14 shorts starring Shemp Howard, 10 with Joe Besser and four with Joe DeRita (not accompanied by Moe and Larry) along with, wait for it, four coveted shorts with Moe and Larry but with only one starring Curly.

Extras include the nine-part, 9-hour-long documentary, “Hey Moe! Hey Dad” narrated by Moe’s son Paul Howard, a made-for-TV drama from 2000 about the Stooges life (with Michael Chiklis as Curly); the last appearance by the Three Stooges (a travelogue TV show called “Kook’s Tour”); and an 12-page color booklet offering a biography of each Stooge and a timeline.


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