Chris Lynch's Top DVDs of 2001
2001 has, on the whole, been a great year for DVD. In the two and a half years since I got my player, it has gone from elitist home cinema hardware to the home cinema medium of the masses. Reflecting this change, this year saw the release of true cinema classics alongside more standard Hollywood tosh. My one complaint would be that too many films are receiving “Special Edition” treatment, seemingly for the sole purpose of being able to have an RRP of £25 as opposed to £20. For example, while Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was a justified two-disc set, there was no reason for a double-disc Braveheart. The second disc consisted of a 25-minute documentary and some trailers. Shameless extortion.
This gripe aside, however, 2001 produced some true gems. Here are my top ten:
The Rock: The Criterion Collection (R1)
I first saw The Rock on video during Christmas 1996 and it blew me away. What sets it apart from most action flicks is the quality of the script (no wonder considering it was doctored by Aaron Sorkin, Dick Clement and Ian LaFrenais), the set pieces and the acting. Connery and Cage proved a great double act while Ed Harris portrayed a very human bad guy. Oh, and it has one of the coolest car chases ever.
I remember deciding I had to own this on video at first opportunity but soon after my uncle told me of a new format that was on the way, like laserdisc only better. I decided there and then that I would stop collecting videos and use the money I saved to get this new format when it arrived. I held off from buying The Rock for five years, despite Region 1 and Region 2 bare-bones releases. Five years after my first viewing, my wait proved worthwhile.
The Criterion disc was better than I could have imagined. The transfer was pin sharp, the colours astounding, the black levels perfect. Even better, the disc was Region 1 so the film itself was uncut. What most impressed me about the disc was the sound. Ignoring the DTS track (my decoder is not DTS-compatible), the 5.1 surround was glorious. The entire soundstage was used excellently, with aggressive rears and a thumping bass.
The only letdown was the extras which, while good on paper, proved to be a little superficial. The commentary aside, much of the material had little rewatchability value. Still, the stonking picture and sound compensate entirely. The Rock is a film I could watch every day of the week and twice on Sundays and, thanks to Criterion, I can do this with outstanding AV quality.
The Godfather Collection (R2)
One of the greatest trilogies ever finally emerged on DVD this year. And with their triumphant release, Paramount proved that they can compete with the big boys when it comes to top-notch special editions. Firstly, the set itself was beautifully presented in a simple black mock leather box with the Godfather motif. Thankfully, the films themselves were just as well presented.
Parts 1 and 2 are considered to be two of the greatest films ever made while Part 3 is generally dismissed as an inferior sequel which should be avoided at all costs or watched in isolation. Personally, I find the third part in the trilogy a very impressive film. That is not to say it is not without its faults. It was made purely for economic reason; Robert Duvall’s character absence is explained with a throw-away line; Sofia Coppola’s attempts at acting are genuinely cringe-worthy. But despite all this, it is a fitting and hugely enjoyable conclusion to a superb trilogy. And Al Pacino rounds off what is possibly the greatest characterisation ever as Michael Corrleone.
Paramount have given us a good transfer of all three films. Parts1 and 2 have been extensively cleaned up while there was little need to do much with Part 3. This is the best the films have ever looked, although Part 1 is a little soft and grainy at times. Sonically, the discs are good too with 5.1 remixes of the original mono recordings for Parts 1 and 2 and of the original Dolby Stereo for Part 3.
Unlike The Rock however, the AV quality is not the most important factor here. The very fact that these films are on DVD is enough to shout about, but the sheer brilliance of the extras makes this box-set an essential purchase for every collection. Each film features a commentary from director Francis Ford Coppola while the fourth disc is packed full of information on everything from the writing to the cinematography, documentaries, screen-tests, deleted scenes… This is how classic films should be released.
Die Hard Collection (R1)
Another classic trilogy, another outstanding set. While Bruce Willis is no Al Pacino, John McClane is another example of great characterisation. He is a fully rounded hero. He has his strengths but he also has his weaknesses, unlike many action stars. McClane is cool but he gets his ass kicked, he gets shot, he feels pain. Conversely Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft is cool but we never feel she is in any real danger.
Die Hard is the greatest Christmas film ever and is bettered in the action genre only by The Rock. The sequel takes the Aliens approach: more bad guys, more bullets, more action. The third part, rejects winter for summer and suffers nothing for it. A truly great series.
Fox had released a box-set of theDie Hard trilogy before but it didn’t really cut the mustard so they had another go. And by God did they succeed. Die Hard was released as a part of their 5-Star Collection and was a truly great two-disc set with commentaries (both audio and on-screen), seemless branching for deleted scenes, documentaries and editing suites. The sequels contained much the same type of stuff but not the same care had been taken. Nevertheless, they were still streets ahead of other double-disc sets.
AV-wise, all three films were a joy to watch with re-mastered prints correctly framed and anamorphically enhanced and kick-ass 5.1 soundtracks. DTS was also available to those with the capabilities to play it.
Charlie’s Angels (R1)
Take three beautiful women. Add a funny script that both parodies and pays homage to kitsch, a scene-stealing turn from comic genius Bill Murray, fabulous action scenes, a huge amount of energy and a great soundtrack. The result? A fun film that is perfect no-brain entertainment. Charlie’s Angels suffered a lot of terrible press at the time of its release. I thought it was great (but then again, I think Hudson Hawk and Terminal Velocity are great too!).
Such a vibrant, colourful movie required a first-class transfer and Columbia Tristar delivered. The images literally jump off the screen as the girls change into a seemingly endless collection of tight-fitting and colourful costumes and wigs. The image was very sharp, with no bleeding between the strong colours on display. Soundwise, the disc was just as tight. The 5.1 track gave the speakers a good workout, with well placed sounds accenting the action and showing off the impressive soundtrack.
Like the film, the extras on the disc were fun. The commentary with director McG was a joy to listen to as he enthuses his way through the film like a giddy schoolboy. The featurettes and Easter eggs too all conveyed a sense of fun that seemingly everyone in the cast felt. A little on the supposed rows and onset punch-up between Lucy Liu and Bill Murray would have been nice but could hardly have been expected. A great disc for silly unadulterated fun.
The Silence of the Lambs is one of the greatest films ever made. So naturally when the sequel novel was released, I read it. And man was I disappointed. Thomas Harris’ Hannibal was such a bad book. It had its good parts but the bad far outweighed the good. What was the story with the memory castle? The ridiculous butch lesbian sister/Barney subplot? That ending? Thankfully, the film version did away with all these ridiculous elements and left us what we wanted to see: Anthony Hopkins’ enigmatic cannibal gentleman.
Like Charlie’s Angels, Hannibal was panned on release. The reason was that people were expecting something more akin to either the book or its Oscar-winning predecessor. It is neither of these – it is a comedy. Admittedly, it is as black as they come but all the more enjoyable for it.
MGM gave us yet another two-disc set but saw fit to cram as much as they could onto it. Disc 1 held the film with a wonderful transfer and engrossing soundtrack which for the most part played up Hans Zimmer’s fantastic (and surprisingly less derivative than usual) score. It also held another informative commentary from Ridley Scott. The second disc contained one of the most enjoyable documentaries I have seen in a long time. Split into five segments, it covered everything from pre-production to how the film was received upon release. We were also treated to multi-angle features, deleted scenes and a very intriguing Easter egg.
That’s the top five. But there were so many good releases this year that special mention must also go to:
Anchor Bay’s Special Edition of the best horror film ever had a stunning transfer, presenting the film in a way which many have never seen it before. The television version was largely take or leave but it was worth it for the beautiful print and that score in 5.1 surround.
The Silence of the Lambs (R1)
One of the greatest films ever given special edition treatment to tie in with the release of Hanniabl. And what a treat it was. A good transfer and re-mastered sound with a very good documentary and a neat novelty phone message from Anthony Hopkins.
Big Touble in Little China (R1)
Another classic from John Carpender. Well ahead of its time upon its initial release, Fox gave this cult classic the treatment it deserved including another classic commentary from the director and Kurt Russell.
The Terminator (R4)
James Cameron’s sci-fi masterpiece. MGM gave us a nice transfer and a remastered 5.1 track along with a host of extras on a second disc, including some interesting deleted scenes. A Cameron commentary would have been good though.
Total Recall (R1)
Ultra-violent action on Mars from the crazy Dutchman Paul Verhoeven. Is it real or is it a dream? Who cares? It’s a riot from start to finish and thanks to Artisan, we can enjoy it with a lovely new transfer and 5.1 soundtrack or commentary by the director and Arnold himself. And, it came in that tacky but brilliant red tin.
And that’s it. My top ten of 2001. I would have loved to include Moulin Rouge as I have a feeling it will prove to be a fantastic package (the very fact that it is on DVD and is one of the best films this year would probably warrant inclusion alone) but as I have yet to receive my copy I cannot.
I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy New Year and thank you for your support throughout the year. Here’s hoping 2002 will be as good as this year and that we’ll finally get the greatest trilogy ever released on DVD. Roll on Indiana Jones…