This Week in Blu-ray, it’s off to the late 70s, early 80s, mid 90s and the future as seen through the mind of a computer. I won’t even dare mention the trip back to the home of The Fockers, as it’s but a slight detour on our road to an excellent week of Blu-ray releases. So get ready for the old, the new and all of the best in-betweens, because it’s time to go shopping.
TRON: Special Edition
It’s time to go back to where it all began. That’s what Disney did with this wonderful release, they went back to a time when TRON was new and incredible and captured it. We often see releases touting a “restored” or “enhanced” version of a pre-DVD era film, but rarely to we see a release with such a noticeable restoration. There is a vibrancy and pulsing energy to the world of TRON on Blu-ray that was never included on any DVD release. The journey of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) inside the computer has never been so life-like, nor has it ever looked so now. As the cherry, the TRON Blu-ray is lined with special features — several hours worth, to say the least. The best of them is “The TRON Phenomenon,” a look at the pop culture impact of Steven Lisberger’s technoventure. If you found yourself wondering why folks were so emotionally invested in TRON: Legacy‘s release, this featurette helps give you the why. The Blu-ray itself is a big slice of the why — it’s dazzling in its presentation of one of the coolest films of all-time, an achievement in the world of restorations and enhancements.
It’s not hard to look down a list of releases and see what titles have a chance at being on the “must own” list. Taxi Driver is one of those definitive winners. Scorsese directing De Niro to one of his most powerful performances as Travis Bickle, great questions raised about society, law and order, and a young Jodie Foster are just the base layer of excellence. But you know that — Taxi Driver is one of the greats. The real question is whether its Blu-ray release lives up to the legacy. Luckily for you and I, it absolutely does. There’s a marvelous clarity to the HD transfer, a dynamic sensory experience to be had in the 5.1 surround sound mix (including wonderful fidelity in the Bernard Hermann score), all lending to a sense of timelessness. It feels like a movie made not in 1976, but only a few years ago. Round it all off with a healthy dose of anniversary edition supplements, curated from over three decades of discussion, and we’ve got ourselves a Sony release that could very well be repackaged as a Criterion release and no one would notice. There’s even a neat Blu-ray only feature in which the original shooting script plays alongside the movie, giving us a window into the soul of the creative process — we see what is in the script and what was created in the moment. For a film like Taxi Driver, it’s a very interesting sight to behold. Consider it a must own.
TRON / TRON Legacy Collection
Special recognition is owed to this gem of a set. As you read above in my assessment of TRON and as you are about to read below where I talk about TRON Legacy, both films are impressive on Blu-ray. But seeing as I’ve witnessed the reaction of our own readership to the long-awaited TRON sequel, I didn’t feel it right to tell you upfront that this week’s must own is a $80 set ($50 currently on Amazon) that includes one film of questionable quality. So original TRON got pick of the week and the sequel is down there in the rent section. With that said, I’d strongly suggest the value offered by the 2-movie collection to anyone who has already seen and enjoyed Legacy. It includes both films, as well as the 3D Blu-ray version of Legacy. It also includes TRON Legacy on DVD and Digital Copy. It’s one of the few sets that might actually look rad on that big 3D HDTV you’re thinking about buying, so you might as well grab it while it can be purchased as a value pack. Also, it comes with a fancy lithograph cover. Never underestimate the cool factor of the collectible lithograph.
I want to recommend a buy. I want to recommend a buy. I just can’t do it. For all the reasons I enjoyed Joseph Kosinski’s almost 30-year removed sequel, the same reasons caused many a viewer to cringe and perhaps fall asleep. What’s interesting though, is that a rewatch of the original reveals distinct similarities in plot structure, quality of dialogue and performance. The only change is the unarguably more advanced special effects. It’s eerie. But alas, it’s the less impressive based on its inability to move the franchise forward. Enjoyable, but unsatisfying to the throngs of gridhoppers and Flynn worshipers. But I’ll tell you this without batting an eye: it looks glorious on Blu-ray. Every digitized frame of Kosinski’s gaudy gridscape is crisp and sexy. It might even look rad in 3D, should you have the technical specs to pull it off. And with a Daft Punk score that pounds at every opportunity, I’d dare to call this a quality reference disc for anyone trying to show off their home theater system.
I Love You Phillip Morris
Even though it was one of the most talked about films of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, I Love You Philip Morris found nothing but distributor woes in the wake of its debut. The unconventional tale placed well-knowns Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor in a frankly-presented homosexual affair, one that took their reality-based characters to some very unexpected and often amusing depths of humanity. It was perhaps a film too engaging and fun for its time. An uninhibited winner for a country looking for repressed losers. Then again, its distributor (Lionsgate) could have simply dropped the ball. And they did. But there’s no reason why that should keep you from renting this movie and witnessing one of the best performances of Jim Carrey’s career. The Blu-ray may not be collection worthy, as it gives a standard performance on extras (commentary track, featurette, deletes scenes, trailers), but the movie is a worthy addition to your viewing menu.
This week I reviewed a film from 1982 and one from 1976, both of which looked leagues better than the “remastered” presentation of Babe, a delight constructed in 1995. Understandably (to a certain extent) Universal is shooting for the middle on this one. Even though I, and many of my generation, found this little pig’s tale to be one of the more charming films of the mid-90s, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of momentum for this film’s 16th anniversary Blu-ray release, if you can call it that. It’s sad, as this is an Oscar-winning and Best Picture nominated film. A film about a little pig that was nominated for Best Picture! Surely it deserves a more carefully crafted Blu-ray release than this. Right? I suppose it’s not about what the film deserves in the end — which is far more than a pair of featurettes and a decade old commentary track — but what Universal has decided to give it. And in turn, give us. It’s a gift of a film on Blu-ray that should be seen, shared and loved the world over. It’s not a Blu-ray that belongs permanently in your collection. But for now, it’ll have to do, pig.
There was something about entering into another contract with a group of Fockers that put me in a state of ease. Despite the clearly commercial motivations behind this latest Ben Stiller/Robert DeNiro family comedy, there was something soothing about knowing exactly what to expect. And when it delivered every mediocre moment as promised, I felt satisfied. I even laughed a few times (Dustin Hoffman kills me in these movies). Even so, I can’t see any reason why any of you should run out and spend money, hard-earned or otherwise, on a visit to the Focker household. It’s repetitive, derivative situations create humor, but not by earning it. It earned it in the first film and has been aping its own formula ever since. Even a fully-loaded, feature-packed edition of the Blu-ray can’t get this one out of the avoid section. Interviews with Stiller, DeNiro, Owen Wilson. Fancy features like uHear (Which I believe is a feature that allows you to hear cash register noises to signify the paychecks everyone played for — but I could be wrong) and Pocket Blu (Fockers on your iPhone). None of this can save this movie from itself. But I can save you from this movie. All you have to do is trust.