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In this edition of This Week in Blu-ray, it is time to pick away at the month of September with a swath of TV-on-BD, a forecast for the weeks to come as the fall television season heats up. And since we the missed last few weeks worth of column — and by we, I mean I, it is time to take a look back at some of the better titles from the past two Tuesdays, including DisneyNature’s Earth and Crank 2: High Voltage. All-in-all, it’s yet another busy week for Blu-ray buyers. But fear not, my sheep, for I am here once again to shepherd you to the promise land — the land of high resolution picture, Dolby 5.1 HD sound and more special features than you can shake your walking cane at.

Please use that fancy scroll bar on your browser to take a look at this week’s releases below…

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bd-earthEarth

Pitch: Disney and the BBC team up to bring you a big, beautiful look at our hi-def planet.

Why Buy? As is the case with so many nature documentaries, the visuals in Earth are absolutely beautiful. And much like March of the Penguins, this tells a fascinating story about some of the other inhabitants of this big blue planet. The difference is that Earth — which focuses on the nature of Earth’s tilted access and the seasons it causes — shows us stories from around the globe. Narrated by James Earl Jones, this gorgeous doc is the kind of film that you should buy just so that you have things to educate those kids you might someday have (or might already have). It is an incredibly well-executed, fascinating look at the world around us — one that really shines on Blu-ray.

Blu-ray Exclusives? The Blu-ray menu is cool…

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bd-armyofdarknessArmy of Darkness: Screwhead Edition

Pitch: Bruce Campbell kicks primitive screwhead ass, in HD.

Why Buy? If I need to give you a reason beyond the fact that it’s Bruce Campbell, it’s Sam Raimi and it’s the final film in the Evil Dead series, then I’m not sure what to tell you, friends. I’ve been patiently waiting since the inception of the Blu-ray format for this release. And now we have it, and even though this Blu-ray release leaves something to be desired with BD-exclusive special features, there is definitely something worth buying here. The 1080p transfer on the film looks gorgeous, as does the lone featurette. There is a U-Control feature that pops up during the film with production photos, but that’s it. I would have loved to see something more from Universal on this one (think Evil Dead: Book of the Dead edition next time, Uni.), but at this point I’m just glad to see this film in glorious HD. And you should be, too.

Blu-ray Exclusives? U-Control with production photos, BD-Live link with nothing special to report.

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bd-fringe1Fringe: The Complete First Season

Pitch: One of the best new shows on TV, in which crazy shit happens.

Why Buy? Teleportation. Mind Control. Invisibility. Astral Projections. All of these have a place in the world of FBI Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv). That’s the basic premise behind Fringe, one of last year’s best new shows. It is full of wild twists, fascinating cases and a stellar performance throughout by John Noble as mad scientist turned FBI anti-terrorist weapon Walter Bishop. But enough about the show, the Blu-ray has a lot to offer. There is BD-Exclusive writer/producer commentary with producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci on the final episode, which for those who’ve seen the show, is quite interesting. Don’t worry, you’ll want to watch it once you’ve made your way through the season. There is also a Fringe Pattern Analysis feature that takes 6 select scenes and brings in experts to who evaluate some of the science. It’s interesting enough. What is most interesting is the show itself, not the special features. Watch the show, damn it.

Blu-ray Exclusives? A cool exclusive commentary on the season finale and the Fringe Pattern Analysis, both of which are passable.

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bd-office5The Office: Season 5

Pitch: Michael Scott finally gets booted from Dunder Mifflin in a hilarious fifth season.

Why Rent? From where I’m sitting, the U.S. version of The Office has lost its way a few times in its five year run. But for some reason, it always comes back to the well — to what really makes this show funny. In season 5, we get the full spectrum of quality as we watch Michael Scott lose his love, Holly, then break away from Dunder Mifflin, forming the Michael Scott Paper Company. It sees some awesome cameos from the likes of Jack Black, Jessica Alba and Cloris Leachman, as well as a great half-season role for Idris Elba. It’s not their best season, but it certainly is one of their best endings, in my opinion. The Blu-ray release itself is alright, with a ton of commentary. There is also a One-liner Soundboard, which is fun to play with, as well as a BD-Live link — though there aren’t any Office exclusives on BD-Live. If you’re going to this season at all, its worth getting the Blu-ray. But if you haven’t seen this season yet, you might just want to rent it.

Blu-ray Exclusives? One-liner soundboard and a BD-Live link, which is mostly worthless.

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bd-drunkenmasterLegend of Drunken Master

Pitch: Jackie Chan gets drunk and beats ass in this 1994 classic.

Why Rent? Hilariously dubbed in English, chock full of wicked action as only Jackie Chan can deliver, this movie is a favorite of anyone who loves some fun action-comedy from the Far East. The only problem is that I feel like I bought this exact release once before, on DVD. The only difference is that this version is in HD. The special features are the same, the terrible English dub is the same, and I had the same good time watching it again, but I failed to find anything new. Which was disappointing to a certain extent, but seeing it in HD was cool. If you’ve never seen Legend of Drunken Master, the Blu-ray is certainly worth a rental.

Blu-ray Exclusives? None.

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bd-heroHero

Pitch: Jet Li uses his martial arts skill to rise up and defy an empire.

Why Rent? If you’re a fan of Jet Li’s Fearless, a great martial arts film that I reviewed on Blu-ray not too long ago, then you know what I mean when I say that Hero is a perfect companion in your Blu-ray collection. The action is there, the cast is bigger (including Crouching Tiger hottie Zhang Ziyi), and even though the plot is needlessly complex, it still manages to deliver action on an epic scale. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then this Golden Globe nominee is a must rent on Blu-ray. If for no other reason than your cinematic education. Sadly, the only thing keeping this release from making it into ‘Buy’ territory is the special feature assortment, which is comprised of D-Box Motion Code, a Close-Up of an Action Scene feature that shows us extended interview minutes with Quentin Tarantino and Jet Li, and several featurettes that have been seen in previous DVD releases. All-in-all, it’s a movie worth owning, but not one worth owning a second time if you already bought it.

Blu-ray Exclusives? Close-up of an action scene, D-Box Motion Code, BD-Live.

bd-earl4My Name is Earl: Season 4

The Pitch: Jason Lee returns as the Karma-obsessed hillbilly just trying to make amends.

Why Rent? If you don’t watch My Name is Earl, I would suggest you make an effort to go back and catch some of the first three seasons. It’s a simple, funny and charming shoe with a few fun, memorable characters — not the least of which is Jason Lee in the title role or Jamie Pressly as the uber-trashy Joy. Sadly, the Blu-ray release doesn’t quite do the show justice. There is a single featurette called “Earl’s Fan Mail,” which is good for a laugh, and a few deleted scenes and a gag reel, but that’s it. I’m surprised they needed 4-discs for this set. It is an all-too-unfitting way to send off Earl’s fourth and final season.

Blu-ray Exclusives? None.

bd-supernatural4Supernatural: The Complete Fourth Season

Pitch: After enduring unspeakable torture, Dean escapes from Hell, rescued by an all-powerful creature he’s never seen before – an Angel – a warrior of God who recruits Sam and Dean into Heaven’s battle against Hell.

Why Rent? I’m not the best person to be telling you about Supernatural, as I have never seen the first three seasons, but I will say this about season four: this is an unexpectedly cool show. The Blu-ray release, for all its special features faults, shows off how visually arresting this show can be. And when you consider the budget they must get for a show on The CW, it is doubly impressive. The BD release features 23 minutes or so of deleted scenes, one featurette and a very short gag-reel. It is a selection that mirrors that of the DVD release, sadly. It’s worth a look, but as I experienced, you might need to have been on board with this show from the beginning.

Blu-ray Exclusives? Three episodes worth of commentary.

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bd-crank2Crank 2: High Voltage

Pitch: Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) refuses to die some more in this high-octane action sequel.

Why Rent? This movie is divisive, that’s for sure. Robert Fure spent about 1,400 words essentially refuting my original review of Crank 2: High Voltage earlier this week in his own long-form Blu-ray review. I am here to once again sing a different tune. If you enjoyed the first Crank, you will find something to like in the second one. If you enjoy a well put together Blu-ray release, you also might enjoy High Voltage, as it sports some nifty features. There are two behind the scenes featurettes, which are pretty standard. There is also a very cool commentary track feature that allows you to switch between having the directors (Neveldine/Taylor) in the big window with the movie in the small picture-in-picture window, and vice versa. As BD features go, that’s new. That’s the only BD-Exclusive feature, but overall the disc is fleshed out well. If you’ve seen and enjoyed any film in the Crank franchise, you might want to buy this one, but for others it’s at least a rent.

Blu-ray Exclusives? Cranked Up commentary track (picture-in-picture).

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bd-wolverineX-Men Origins: Wolverine

Pitch: Hugh Jackman returns to his favorite X-Men character with an origin story that gets lost in the details.

Why Avoid? Because this movie is awful. Beyond that, the special features on the Blu-ray encroach on annoying more often than not. The most annoying of the special features is the Director’s Chair picture-in-picture commentary with director Gavin Hood (a Blu-ray exclusive), who proceeds to try and justify his choices in story, tone and visual effects execution. If you’d like to play a game, rent this BD release and try watching it… If you can watch more than 30 minutes, your a more tolerant person than I am. It seems sad that such a lackluster effort in action cinema would come with so many special features — there are a ton — and so little value. It also seems a waste that this is the first BD release to feature IMDb Live Lookup, which connects you directly to IMDb.com right from your Blu-ray player. Pretty cool. Maybe someday they’ll put it on a disc with a movie I actually want to watch again.

Blu-ray Exclusives? Ultimate X-Mode (Director’s Chair commentary, trivia track, Pre-viz picture-in-picture and X-Connect interactive content). IMDb Live Lookup.

bd-stateofplayState of Play

Pitch: A movie about journalism, in which the “blogger” always gets it wrong.

Why Avoid? Call me a mediumist, but any movie where the online journalist (especially one as dashing as Rachel McAdams) is the butt-end of a bunch of journo hate, I’m just not down. Also, I trust in the general opinion of our own Managing Editor Cole Abaius, who called this film simply “boring.” He expanded on those remarks, calling it “a political thriller with no thrills, random character choices, and plot holes.” Now that’s just not something I can get behind. Combine that with a BD release that rides high on its U-Control picture-in-picture feature as its landmark extra, and we’ve got ourselves a full-blown pile of avoidable sucked, wrapped in a thick blanket of boredom. And to think that this entire cast signed on to this movie… Oh, what we’ll do for a paycheck in this life. Avoid at all costs, my smart friends.

Blu-ray Exclusives? U-Control, My Scenes, Tutorials about U-Control and My Scenes, and BD-Live with no State of Play related offerings.

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bd-heroes3Heroes: Season 3

Pitch: .

Why Avoid? Anyone who watched season 3 of Heroes knows why it should be avoided — it was completely off the rails, so much so that I stopped watching it about 4 episodes in. Thinking that the second time was a charm, I attempted to get through all of the episodes on Blu-ray — it was torture. And unfortunately for those of us who chose to suffer through it, the Blu-ray release doesn’t offer ‘alternative story mode’ in which the story is good instead of bad. The HD extras on the disc are really solid, which is a major let down unless you were somehow a fan of this season. They have really great interactive commentaries on every episode, as well as a ‘Hero Connections Network’ feature that links all of your favorite characters, all courtesy of BD-Live. A very impressive set of extras. Now, if only the show were worth watching.

Blu-ray Exclusives? Interactive commentaries, Hero Connections Map, Building Coyote Sands featurette, impressive BD-Live features, D-Box encoding.

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Also Out This Week (but not reviewed):

What are you buying on Blu-ray this week?


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