Mark Davis's Top 5 DVDs of 2001

This is my first year of DVD and what a year it’s been. As you can imagine I had a lot of discs to catch up on, as I am a relative latecomer to the format. As a result I find it difficult to restrict myself to discs from 2001 as, to me, they are all discs of 2001.

This year has seen a huge growth in the DVD arena in this country. Twelve months ago I may have seen 1 rack of DVDs on display with maybe two or three customers browsing them. Now I have to fight to get to the front of the DVD section and there are dozens of people perusing racks and racks of discs. During the sales in the last few days this difference has become even more obvious with the racks of reduced VHS tapes being deserted whilst the DVD section threatens to break out into open conflict.

This growing popularity is obviously a good thing. However, don’t run away with the idea that it’s all good news. In the U.S. there has been growing demand for pan&scan or fullframe discs. Average consumers in the States don’t like “black bars” on their films. This is less of a problem in this country as we have widescreen TV’s whereas these are prohibitively expensive in the U.S. Nevertheless it is important that we continue to educate people as to the difference between pan & scan and OAR otherwise we could head down the slippery slope. I have already heard people complaining about 2.35:1 pictures on widescreen sets. The only people who haven’t switched to DVD are the same people who are most likely to complain about “black bars”, so from now on things are likely to get harder rather than easier.

As for releases this year there has been a great increase in box sets and TV series releases. Studios are beginning to realise that we are willing to pay more for season boxsets and film series boxsets. This is one of the best developments this year culminating in the release of the fabulous Twin Peaks season 1 boxset in R1.

Also I have seen an increase in quality in R2 releases over the year. Certainly in the case of blockbusters we are no longer the poor cousin to R1. Main releases tend to have the same extras on both sides of the pond, which is a vast improvement. Sadly when it comes to lower key releases and special editions we tend to get a raw deal. Witness the Wicker Man box, the Heathers box, The Nightmare on Elm Street boxset. These are all great releases, which haven’t been equalled here. I am sure that things will continue to improve in R2 over the next 12 months as more and more people come on board. The future of DVD is very bright indeed.

As for my top five releases for this year? Well they are all from the U.S. without a R2 in sight….

This is a fantastic 2-disc package from Criterion. The picture and sound are superlative and the extras package is very well thought out and comprehensive. It lacks Kubrick content but he was never that keen on sharing his opinion on his films when he was alive so that is no great surprise. This is easily the release of the year for me. As an ardent Kubrick fan, did any of you expect anything else?

Anchor Bay may have stumbled a few times this year but they didn’t falter with this release. They sourced the best version they could and restored it as well as they could. The result is a fantastic disc showing the film as near to it’s director’s intended version as possible. Not only this, the package also includes a whole host of extras as well as the theatrical version of the film. This is easily the jewel in Anchor Bay’s crown this year.

This box contains everything from Lolita through to Eyes Wide Shut. Compared to the first Warner’s box set this is a great improvement. The Shining, Barry Lyndon and Full Metal have never looked better as all of the films were digitally remastered. The extras are a little thin on the ground on the individual film discs. The Shining has the fantastic documentary with a new commentary by Vivian Kubrick. Dr Strangelove has some great documentary extras and that’s about it. The main extra addition is the new documentary, A Life in Pictures. This is a great documentary about Kubrick (easily the best there’s been) it is 142 minutes in length and stands as a great tribute to Kubrick. My only negative points about the boxset are that we only get the U.S. cut of The Shining (the longer one) and we only get the butchered version of Eyes Wide Shut. Both of these are due to external factors. Kubrick for some reason only wanted the European version of the Shining available to us and Eyes Wide Shut is butchered due to the MPAA. There is always the eternal complaint of not enough extras, but Kubrick discs are always going to be sparse. Despite the negatives it easily the best boxset I have on my shelf.

The disc may have had teething troubles but it is still a triumph. This is a hilarious film given loving attention that it deserves in this special edition. The commentary and new documentaries are all great and the picture and sound are both upto scratch. Now we have decent version of this and The Life of Brian maybe someone will tackle the Meaning of Life.

This film was my introduction to anime and it still has a special place in my heart. This two disc set really does Akira justice. The main film disc has oodles of extra info displayed as text on the film (optional of course) and the transfer and 5.1 sound is out of this world. The extras on the second disc are comprehensive and more than enough for any Akira obsessive.

And that is my top five for this year. Hopefully next year will bring even more great special editions and better discs for R2.

A Happy New Year to you all and I’ll see you all in the New Year.

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