Another wonderfully sporadic week here on This Week in Blu-ray. Full of great catalog releases and absolutely horrible new releases. I was almost glad that I did not receive copies of either Nine or The Tooth Fairy, as they would have surely crowded up the Avoid section. It worked out though, as I was left with more time to explore two wonderful new releases of older films — Saving Private Ryan and Doctor Zhivago. As you’re about to find out, both are impressive releases. So spend your money wisely this week and fill your collection with Blu-rays worthy of the system you spent all of that money on.
Saving Private Ryan (Sapphire Series)
Run, do not walk, to buy this movie on Blu-ray. In the heyday of DVD, the DTS-encoded version of Saving Private Ryan was the essential reference disc for home theater aficionados. The same will soon be true for the Blu-ray version of Steven Spielberg’s World War II epic. A glorious 1080p transfer and a DTS-HD master audio track have ensured that. It is perhaps one of the most beautiful and alive Blu-ray films of all-time. An experience all its own, for sure. Not to mention the fact that it’s one of the great war movies of all-time, contemporary or not. On the extras side, Private Ryan comes through with a lot of features we’ve seen on previous DVD releases. In fact, I didn’t see anything new to the Blu-ray. That’s sad, yes. But when you first throw this disc into your Blu-ray player and see that Normandy invasion scene in HD, you’ll forget all about everything else.
Doctor Zhivago (45th Anniversary Edition)
If it’s special features you’re in it for, you won’t have to go much further than this anniversary release of Doctor Zhivago, David Lean’s five time Oscar-winning epic. To say the least, the Bolshevik Revolution has never looked so stunning as it does in this release. Disc one of this set includes a brand new two-part retrospective featurette that takes a look back at the 45-year legacy of the film. Disc two, a DVD disc, features several hours of featurettes and an hour-long documentary about the making of the film. This second disc supplementary material is not new to the world, but my research shows that it’s the first time it has all been comprehensively assembled. My overall impression of this set is that it’s a beast, a winner for fans of the film and anyone looking to own a worthwhile piece of cinema history. Oh, and there’s an 8-track version of the film’s soundtrack included with the Blu-ray, as if you needed any extra incentive.
David Tennant and Patrick Stewart in a modern-day telling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. That sounds a lot more interesting than it actually is, let me tell you. Based on the Royal Shakespeare Company’s recent production of Hamlet — a stage production that has received much critical acclaim — this is a version of the play shot on location, rather than in the theater. After seeing it, I would have almost rather seen them record the stage production, as this direction feels like a half-cooked made-for-television affair that cheapens what I’m told is one of the best revivals of Hamlet in years. That said, there’s no substitute for Tennant, who is phenomenal. His performance alone is worth a place in your Netflix queue. Which is where this release belongs, with its basic assortment of extras and its moderate, standard definition-friendly production value.
K-19: The Widowmaker
Before she was breaking the glass ceiling for female directors everywhere, The Hurt Locker‘s Kathryn Bigelow was making kick-ass action flicks. Alright, so she hasn’t exactly changed genres over the years, but you won’t get any complaints from me. K-19 is perhaps her most underrated effort, delivering a few delicious bits of claustrophobic action and two leads (Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson) who succeed despite neither of them being Russian, the nationality of their characters. It’s almost magical the way Ford’s Alexei Vostrikov doesn’t end up going the way of Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood — you know, with the bad accent. Sure, K-19 is no Das Boot (not even close) or The Hunt for Red October (a bit closer), but it certainly is fun. And it looks good in HD, making it worth a rent. The special features are enough to warrant purchase if you’re already a fan, but otherwise you’d be wise to avoid.
Escape from LA
If you’ve heard about the plans (currently in the works) to remake Escape from New York, you may have at one point thought to yourself, “shouldn’t they be focused on remaking Escape from LA instead?” Not as a “remake” so much as a do-over? I’d be in support of that. This movie is bad, there’s now way around it. However, it falls comfortably into the “so bad it’s good” category, if you ask me. Kurt Russell holds tight to the absurdity of Snake Plissken’s second adventure, which includes more than a few leaps of faith for fans of Escape from NY. I can’t say that it’s for everyone — and it certainly isn’t for collectors, as its special features section is a lonely desert of nothingness — but if you’ve got nothing else to do this weekend, give this one a rent. You may also want to be drunk…
The Preacher’s Kid
Former church choir all-star and Destiny’s Child singer LeToya Luckett stars as a church choir all-star looking for her big break. I almost fell asleep writing that one sentence. It’s a powerful coming-of-age journey that falls off the boring map somewhere around the 30 minute mark. The problem, as you might imagine, is that Ms. Luckett is no actress. She’s a lovely singer, but she’s no actress. Perhaps she should follow in the footsteps of her character and get back to trying to make it big in the world of song. And perhaps Warner Bros. should stay out of the “faith can get you a record deal” business, as it’s not exactly a compelling genre.
Sadly — and it’s only sad because Amy Adams is such a delightful actress — this is going to end up on a lot of ‘Worst of 2010′ lists at the end of the year. It’s a downright abysmal romantic comedy experience that appears to be nothing more than an excuse for cast and crew to spend a few days in the beautiful Irish countryside. It reminds me of the Patrick Dempsey pic Made of Honor — they probably had a wonderful time shooting the film, but they didn’t turn in anything resembling a best effort, let alone a quality piece of entertainment. Blu-ray extras aside (there is PocketBlu, SocialBlu and BD-Live, for those interested), this release is a complete waste of time.
Also out on Blu-ray this week, but not reviewed due to a lack of review material:
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