My family got our first VHS player when I was about 8 or 9 years old, and the first film I ever rented was Watership Down. Being able to watch this film, and many others in my own home again and again, began a love affair with home media. It started with me trying to see all the films I could in the booklet our video shop gave to each of their members on sign up (which they added to weekly with new inserts) and many of these films became ones I wanted to own, and subsequently did, on VHS, LaserDisc & DVD.
With LaserDisc, I was introduced to the world of special features, which continued on to DVD. These were like film schools in a small box, and taught me all I needed to know about filmmaking, and more.
Jump forward 20-odd years and many formats later, I now scour the world for the best special editions of all my favourite films, but now I am onto Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray and 4K UHD. I remain a collector through and through.
However. Sadness looms.
The physical media market is shrinking. With very few physical shops around to sell them, and the growing presence of online streaming, people have decided they no longer need to have discs, that they can stream the films they want. Companies are releasing new films with less content, some with nothing but the film itself, and many are turning their back on the world of physical media. This is a shame and it’s also a mistake. If you want to watch a 3D release on a streaming platform, good luck. While at one point Netflix offered 3D content, that is long gone. If you want to watch an old movie, meaning pre ’80s, good luck, the likelihood is that the main providers for streaming content won’t have it.
Yes, Netflix and Amazon Prime are lovely, until they either take the film down (due to the licensing running out) or as is more often the case, your internet goes down and you can’t actually watch it, or the quality is sub-VHS quality due to the speed of your connection. The trouble with streaming is that for a lot of these films there is zero extra content, something which makes, for me, physical media desirable (along with that constant quality).
The release nowadays of DVDs, Blu-rays, 4K have turned the business into a collectors market. There are many fine boutique labels that are still catering to the likes of myself. 88 Films, 101 Films, Eureka – Masters Of Cinema, Criterion, Arrow, Indicator, Shout! Factory in the US, Scream Factory – the list goes on, and collectors like myself need to support these. When I found out recently that Shazam! was being given a physical release in the US, without a director’s commentary, but that the commentary was available for ‘streaming only’, this made my blood boil. We collectors were visibly being overlooked by the bigger studio releases, and basically told that we don’t matter any more, that streaming, or downloadable content, is the future.
Streaming? Downloadable content? Pah! The future is definitely physical media. Here is a rundown on why physical media is still alive and kicking and what you are still able to get for your money. In my opinion, streaming will only be the future if there becomes a way to have films exist online forever, and not removed after a certain period. Downloadable content will only work if the providers housing these films online provide apps that function so you can watch on a decent sized screen that does not require you to buy another gadget to play them through (I’m looking at you Apple TV). Also, streaming and internet providers need to get together and sort out their act, especially for those in rural areas where internet speeds are slow and buggy.
Until then…here are some physical discs you’d be silly not to buy, and this list goes up to 11 (and not one of them is This is Spinal Tap, even though again it’s a fantastic must-own).
(Note: I could’ve gone international with my choices, but chose to stick to UK releases. To get the most out of the physical media world you need a multi region Blu-ray and DVD player, which are readily available and again a must own).
Howard The Duck (101 Films)
The much derided Howard The Duck comes to Blu-ray in a fantastic package which includes 2 new commentaries, one by fans Dan Whitehead and Charlie Brigden, and one by Wil Jones and Robert J E Simpson. It also comes with various ‘making of’ documentaries and a booklet (more like a book) with new writings on Howard The Duck. I wish it had the elusive Tim Robbins BTS Video on there too, but I guess you can’t have everything.
Spider-Man Into the Spider-verse (Sony)
It’s a shame that physical media is not as buoyant as it once was because despite Spider-verse in 4K looking and sounding great (with its Dolby Atmos soundtrack) Sony really misses a trick not releasing the 3D version in the US and the UK, as I had to track that down separately (it was available in every other territory). This was a film made for 3D. It’s maddening why The Meg or something similar gets that treatment over here, yet Spider-Verse doesn’t. Anyway. The 4K and Blu come with an extended version of the film (using unfinished storyboards etc. to show the bits that were cut), commentary, various makings of. It’s still a joy to behold.
Detour (Criterion Collection)
This classic film noir from Edgar G Ulmer comes in a 4K restoration, a feature length 2004 documentary about Ulmer, with Joe Dante, Roger Corman and Wim Wenders, new interviews, new restoration documentary and a trailer. This is a must own film noir, with great insight into its restoration, and because black and white looks glorious in high definition, it’s another reason to add it to your collection.
Wheels on Meals (Eureka)
I could quite as easily have gone for the Eureka Police Story box set which is equally packed, but I’m really hankering after the Criterion Collection Police Story Box set for the Grady Hendrix and Edgar Wright extras. Anyway, I haven’t gone with them as I’ve chosen Wheels on Meals, my favourite JC film from the ’80s, which has a 2K restoration, and various audio tacks including an original soundtrack and a dubbed version. There are also over 2 hours of interviews with stars of the film, bloopers, trailers, a booklet with new writing and trailers. This thing is stacked.
Lone Wolf and Cub (Criterion)
With the recent passing of Lone Wolf creator Kazuo Koike, there is no better time to revisit the Lone Wolf films and this is where Criterion comes in with their 6 film box set (7 if you count Shogun Assassin). Not only do we have 2K restorations of the original films, we have interviews and documentaries with Koike, an overview of the series, interviews with the directors, a silent documentary about the making of samurai swords, trailers and a booklet. A bloody good time with this bloody series.
Fright Night (Eureka)
This classic 1985 horror is a stacked edition from the ever reliable Eureka. Not only is there a 4K restoration, but a 146 minute documentary ‘You’re So Cool Brewster’ (which is available in its entirety in a separate Blu-ray – yes it’s even longer!) There are 3 new videos pieces about aspects of the film, a reunion panel, a 3 part video interview with Tom Holland and Ryan Turek, plus a full Electronic Press Kit. This is a must own package.
The Thing (Arrow)
John Carpenter’s The Thing has enjoyed many releases over the years, but this is probably one of the best. It features a 4K restoration, commentaries by fans, as well as JC and Kurt Russell, an all new documentary and a retrospective about films released the same summer as The Thing. Archive Documentaries, a 35th anniversary panel, a short film tribute, fan featurettes, outtakes, trailers and a reversible art sleeve are also included. This ‘Thing’ is huge.
Owning physical media versions – especially Blu-rays – of silent films is a MUST. Harold Lloyd has various films available on Criterion and this is one of my favourites. A 4K restoration makes it look less than the 90-year-old film it is. A fabulous Carl Davis score and a commentary are all included. A short doc on the New York shoot shows you what New York looked like back in the ’20s, archival footage of famous baseball player Babe Ruth and a video essay which shows deleted footage. You can also enjoy a selection of home movies, a short Lloyd two-reeler and an essay booklet.
Vamp is a favourite of mine and seemingly of Arrow Films too, as they’ve released numerous special editions that are totally different, so you have to multi-buy. The two Blu-rays include a Making of Vamp, BTS rehearsals, a blooper reel and Richard Wenk’s short ‘Dracula Bites the Big Apple’. The other version includes a commentary, an interview with Deedee Pfeiffer, an interview with Richard Wenk, various featurettes and a booklet with an essay about the film. Both are great.
A quick bit of trivia – Richard Wenk is probably better known these days as a writer, having written the Equalizer films and the Magnificent Seven remake.
The Funhouse (Arrow)
Tobe Hooper has more well known films among his catalogue but this is my favourite and a fabulous disc to boot. There are three audio commentaries, including one by Craig Reardon and Jeffery Reddick, who created the Final Destination series. There are also a number of documentaries with Tobe Hooper, a documentary with Craig Reardon on his SFX collaborations with Hooper, a reflection by Mick Garris, a live Q&A with Hooper, behind the scenes photography and a collectors booklet.
The Frighteners (Universal)
Now Universal really shot themselves in the foot with this release because it amazing, yet they don’t shout about it from the rooftops. Back in my LaserDisc days this was a highly sought after release as it included a 4-hour documentary, along with many other extras. This has all been ported across to the Blu-ray version yet if Universal had their way they would have you believe that it is only minimal extras you are getting. In the smallest of writing it tells you the extras actually include not only the theatrical cut, but the directors cut that runs 13 minutes longer, plus a 4-and-a-half hour documentary, a feature commentary from Peter Jackson, bloopers and trailers. An awesome release.
I could go on, as there are loads of films that are must owns simply for the extras alone, but I’d like others to weigh in. What are some of your favourite physical media releases?
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