Gift Guide: 9 great Blu-ray box sets

Blu-ray box sets make great gifts for the movie or TV lover on your holiday list. Sure, your loved ones can stream an awful lot of entertainment over the Internet, but nothing outside of a real movie theater beats the image and sound quality of Blu-ray. And the commentaries, making-of documentaries, and even toys included in these boxes add even more value.

Besides, have you ever tried giftwrapping a stream?

Here’s a recommendation for everyone on your list with an HDTV and a Blu-ray player. (And if you need to pick up a player as well, check out our Blu-ray player buying guide for what to look for.) Each of these sets comes with at least three discs. Several have more than ten. And many of them are designed to look as great sitting on a bookshelf as playing on a television.

1. Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures ($100)

Everyone who loves simplistic, witty, turn-off-the-brain action loves Raiders of the Lost Ark, and most have a soft spot for at least one of the three sequels. (I love Raiders and Last Crusade, like Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and hate Temple of Doom.) Played for wit and excitement but never for realism, these four collaborations between Steven Spielberg and George Lucas follow archeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) as he fights Nazis, Communists, and an evil cult while searching for ancient treasures. “Trust me.”

Paramount has given Raiders a frame-by-frame restoration, and it looks stunning enough to use for showing off your home theater. The 5.1 lossless audio will give your speakers a workout as well.

The set comes in a book-like Blu-ray case holding five discs—one for each movie and another stuffed with making-of documentaries, behind-the-scene footage, and other goodies. When this story was posted, it was selling for $40 from Amazon.com.

2. Blade Runner: 30th Anniversary Collector’s Edition ($65)

Loosely based on Phillip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner provides everything one looks for in futuristic science fiction—a visually exciting future society, fast action, and some food for thought on the nature of humanity. Not commercially successful during its original release, it has since earned a place among the great works of the genre.

The three Blu-ray discs in this collector’s edition (which is selling for about $50 as I write this) contain four cuts of the film, plus some extremely extensive extras, including a three-hour making-of documentary. A DVD and UltraViolet copy will let your loved one enjoy Blade Runner when a Blu-ray player isn’t available. Use the Blu-ray of the “Final Cut” to show off your home theater.

Also included: A model of the hero’s flying car, and a hardback book with stills from the picture and illustrations used in designing the film.

I promise: This is the last film I’m recommending staring Harrison Ford.

3. Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Two ($130)

Lionsgate

One of the few sequels to outdo the original, Star Trek: The Next Generation (ST:TNG) became a hallmark in television science fiction. Intelligent scripts, likeable characters, thoughtful ideas, and a much larger budget than the original show made it a stand-out.

ST:TNG lacks the kind of continuity you find in 21st century television series, so you can skip the mediocre first season and go right to the good stuff, including classic episodes like “Measure of a Man,” “A Matter of Honor,” and “Q Who?”.

This conventional Blu-ray package packs all 22 episodes and plenty of extras onto five discs. The best extra? An extended version of “Measure of a Man.” You can buy this set for as little as $65.

4. Entourage: The Complete Series ($300)

This long-running HBO sitcom provides the vicarious thrill of life as a young and handsome movie star—or as a close friend on the payroll. But it also allows you to laugh at the absurdities of Hollywood society and a life of easy money and easier women. Entourage, which ran from 2004 through 2011, is funny, hip, very male-oriented, and definitely not for kids.

Photo: HBO Home Entertainment

The 18 discs in this Complete Series box come in a black, book-like holder that allows easy access while minimizing shelf space. I’ve seen it on sale for $140.

5. Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection ($300)

No director could manipulate an audience—keeping them at the edge of their seats in terror while thoroughly entertained—like the Master of Suspense. A highly successful commercial filmmaker in his time, Hitchcock is now recognized as one of the great artists of the medium.

The Masterpiece Collection contains 15 films, and while they’re all not masterpieces, enough are to justify the hype. These include Vertigorecently named the greatest film of all time by Sight & SoundNorth by Northwest, Shadow of a Doubt, Psycho, The Birds, and my favorite, Rear Window.

Universal

Four of these films, including Vertigo and North by Northwest, were shot in VistaVision-a large-size film format that with today’s technology yields fantastic-looking Blu-ray transfers.

The 15 discs come in a book-like case, along with a real book about Hitchcock. All of the discs have extras, some of them extensive. Even the street price itself may scare you: $175 and up.

6. Disney Cinderella 3-Movie Jewelry Box Collection ($90)

One of Walt Disney’s original “princess” animated features, Cinderella hasn’t lost its charm in 62 years. Disney and his collaborators fleshed out the original fairy tale with adorable animals and lavish, hand-drawn, Technicolor animation.

The Jewelry Box Collection comes, fittingly enough, in a jewelry box, complete with a mirror, three small drawers, and a little door. Behind that door you’ll find six discs containing the original Cinderella and two sequels on Blu-ray and DVD, plus a digital copy of the original.

As I write this, Amazon is selling the entire package for $50.

7. Casablanca: 70th Anniversary Limited Collector’s Edition ($65)

One of the most beloved movies of all time, Casablanca rolled off the Warner Brothers assembly line in 1942 and into the hearts of half the world. Humphrey Bogart and Ingmar Bergman light up the screen as reunited former lovers who must choose between their own happiness and fighting the Nazis.

Warner really went to town on this special edition. The large, fancy box (worth saving for other gifts) contains a picture book of the film’s production, a really terrific poster, a faux-leather box containing four coasters, and a fold-out disc case containing the movie on Blu-ray and DVD, plus enough supplemental extras to choke a cinephile.

And you can buy it for less than $50.

8. The BBC High Definition Natural History Collection ($150)

In addition to literary adaptations and Monty Python, the BBC produces some of the best nature documentaries in the world. Their camera crews take the time to find truly amazing images, which are edited into informative programs with intelligent narration. These cry out for high definition.

Photo: BBC DVD

This box set contains four programs with a total of 10 Blu-ray discs. The jewel in the crown is Planet Earth, an 11-episode, six-disc epic that explores different types of ecosystems—mountains, caves, jungles, and more.

The collection also contains Galápagos, Wild China, and Ganges. You can buy it for about $100.

9. Buster Keaton Ultimate Edition ($300)

Few actors, and fewer directors, could make people laugh as reliably as Buster Keaton, the great stone face of silent comedy. His masterpiece, The General, stands among the best comedies ever made. His other films earn near-equal acclaim.

The Ultimate Edition contains all of the 19 shorts and 10 features Keaton made during his all-too-brief time as an independent filmmaker. They show off his perfect timing, amazing acrobatic skills (Jackie Chan learned a lot studying Keaton), and complete grasp of the cinematic medium. The set also contains a feature he starred in before making his own films, and 16 talkie shorts he made after his star began to fade.

Photo: Kino Lorber

These films were originally screened with live musical accompaniment. Since it wasn’t practical to include real musicians in the box, Kino has added recently-recorded musical scores by Robert Israel, Carl Davis, the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, and other stars of today’s silent film scene. Some films have two of three different scores.

This boxed set, which goes on sale on December 11, wasn’t available for review in time for this article. But I have all but one of the separately-sold titles it will include (the exception, College, will first be released on Blu-ray as part of this set). Current pre-orders are in the neighborhood of $225.

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