Colin Polonowski's Top DVDs of 2002
Well, it had to happen, but 2002 confirmed that every man and his dog had bought into the DVD format. Prices have dropped to the point where almost all of the major player manufacturers have high-quality players available to buy for prices less than £200. Of course, this has it's problems, and I think we'll be seeing a 'dumbing down' of the format over the next twelve to eighteen months.
There have been some worrying industry rumours over the last few months with some major studios beginning to realise they can put together 'special edition' releases that omit a lot of extra material and some major studios have plans to drop the two-disc format that has become almost the norm in recent months. For example, Buena Vista's previously untarnished Vista Series releases have been quietly dropped in all but name - the recent Region 1 Vista Series release of Signs only comes on one disc, with a very small smattering of extras and no DTS soundtrack. Word has it that we can't expect this to improve.
As other contributors have picked up, it appears that some of the studios have decided that their classic and important titles are not worthy of special edition releases and we have seen some very shoddy treatment for films that deserved a lot better on their DVD release. The big-name modern blockbusters, which of late have been particularly mediocre in some cases, are getting the treatment that the classics deserve - the four disc release of Pearl Harbor being a case in point...
I have no doubt that the next twelve months will bring about a lot of disappointments, but at the same time I'm sure we'll still have plenty of nice surprises to balance things out.
So, what did I think were the best DVD releases of the last year? The choices below aren't in any particular order.
Battle Royale: Directors Cut - Region 2 - Tartan
The controversial Battle Royale has had numerous DVD releases around the world; the best of the bunch so far has to be Tartan's release of the extended version of the film. The DVD is very well presented, and given Tartan's continued poor reputation, this comes as a big surprise. Battle Royale is full of gore and shocks, but at the same time is very watchable. The stunning soundtrack doesn't quite sound as good on this release when compared to the non-anamorphic Region 3 DTS release, but the anamorphic picture and extra scenes make this the choice for those that want the most complete release of the film. This two-disc release comes with a comprehensive selection of extras and to top it all features the first and only (as far as I know) progressive scan PAL picture...
Spirited Away - Region 2 - Buena Vista Japan
Hayao Miyazaki's latest film gets a reasonably good DVD release from Buena Vista Japan. There has been much talk of the red tint the picture features, and this does mean that the disc certainly has its faults. However, the film is pure Miyazaki genius with superbly detailed animation and a wonderful story. Much more 'Mononoke' than 'Totoro', we get a great selection of weird and wonderful characters and a tale that would never be put onto the big screen by an American studio. Despite my reservations regarding the colouring of the picture, the transfer is stunning - sharp, detailed and colourful. The DTS soundtrack also draws you in and the range of extras, albeit limited for a non-Japanese speaking audience, is impressive. It's worth checking out the recent French release of the film, as this apparently doesn't feature the picture colouring issues of the Japanese and Chinese releases of the film.
My Sassy Girl - Region 3 - Starmax
The term 'romantic comedy' is usually enough to convince me to steer well clear of a film. Thankfully, thanks to the positive buzz and the reviews I've read on the forums and this site, I decided to check out the excellent My Sassy Girl. The film once again proves that South Korea is one of the most exciting film-producing countries at the current time what with this, Il Mare and Shiri all making good impressions over the last few months. The Starmax two-disc DVD is an excellent release which unfortunately, loses some of it's value to non-Korean speakers. However, the film and it's presentation are what you're buying this for and the film delivers this perfectly with a great transfer, great sound and a wonderful feel-good story that swerves between being touching, slapstick and gross-out in equal amounts far more successfully than American Pie could ever hope.
Coupling - Region 2 - VCI
If there's one DVD that has been watched more times over the last few months than anything else, this is it. Coupling is being touted as the UK's ruder answer to Friends and for that reason alone I'd avoided what is probably one of the funniest TV series of recent times. The first episode of Series Two, 'The Man With Two Legs', must surely go down in history as one of the all-time UK comedy greats alongside Del falling through the bar in Only Fools and Horses or Basil beating his car with a branch in Fawlty Towers. It was a very difficult choice between this and The Office for my comedy DVD choice of the year - the reason I chose Coupling was because the DVD didn't fail to deliver what was promised. Early reports suggested that Gervais had already recorded commentary tracks for The Office, and these failed to appear on the DVD. The DVD releases for both series of Coupling feature anamorphic transfers and a reasonable Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. Extras are very limited, but the fact that series two has been given such a work out in my player means it would be wrong for me not to include it here as one of my favourite releases of the year.
Futurama - Series Two - Region 1 - Twentieth Century Fox
Without a doubt, if there was a choice between Futurama and The Simpsons, I'd have to go for the former. There's little doubt that The Simpsons is a good example of how a series can suffer if it's dragged on for too long with the quality of stories and humour really beginning to drop. However, Futurama continues to be one of the best animated series on television at the current time (although given that Fox have cancelled it in the US already, it won't be for that much longer). The DVD release of series two is packed with more laughs than the last three series of Matt Groenings surviving series. The DVDs are fantastic with a nice sharp transfer that easily beats that offered by digital TV in the UK. The soundtrack is disappointingly only Dolby Digital 2.0, but that's made up for by the great array of extras including commentary tracks on each episode.
So, what didn't make it into my best DVDs of the year - well, the most obvious omission is Lord of the Rings: Collector's Edition which appears to be a BIG favourite for most of you. Why did I omit it? Because I haven't watched it yet is probably a good enough reason - I can't face watching four hours of Fellowship of the Ring just yet, let alone all the extras that accompany it! I have no doubt that it's probably the most comprehensive DVD release to date, and I'm sure you'll forgive me for not including it here! The other release that was in the running until I had to drop it at the last minute was the Back to the Future Trilogy - and the reason it had to go was because of the recent discovery that Universal had botched the transfer. Even worse, we STILL don't know if they're going to do the right thing by their UK customers and offer a replacement. It's a shame as other than the picture framing, the rest of the release was superb - especially the DTS soundtrack and the excellent restoration job carried out on the picture...