5 awesome Blu-ray box sets for the holidays

the newsroom

Streaming movies and TV shows over the Internet is all very nice, but you can’t wrap bits. When a loved one opens your gift, you want them to hold an actual, physical object—one that will make them smile and think of you every time they see it or pick it up.

Besides their inherent physicality, Blu-ray box sets have other advantages as gifts. They’re usually filled with commentaries and other extras to delight true fans. Some come with books, lobby cards, and other souvenirs. Their picture quality is still better than anything that comes over the Internet (even if that margin is thinning). And since they’re boxes, they’re easy to wrap.

Whether your loved one is a science fiction nerd, a news junkie, or the sort of person who believes that art must have subtitles, you’ll find a gift for them in one of these five excellent box sets.

Star Trek Stardate Collection

Star Trek started on television, but it hit some of its highest moments on the big screen. This impressive 10-movie collection ($67 on Amazon) contains every original-cast and second-generation theatrical release.

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Not that they’re all masterpieces. The first one, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, is actually pretty bad. But movie number two, the wonderfulWrath of Khan, is Star Trek at its best. It also starts an entertaining trilogy completed with the next two movies, The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home. The final two original-cast films are uneven, but the four Next Generation movies are all quite good, even if they can’t quite compare with that trilogy.

The box contains two thick disc holders, with a total of 12 discs, all Blu-ray—even the two bonus discs filled with extras. These are in addition to the many supplements on the movie discs.

The Newsroom: The Complete First Season

HBO’s The Newsroom is about as intelligent as series television gets (although The Wire still has a slight edge). Jeff Daniels stars as the forthright, idealistic, but socially hopeless anchor of a primetime cable news show. Each episode is set about a year behind the broadcast date, allowing actual news events that we’ve already encountered, like the British Petroleum Gulf of Mexico disaster, to burst into the lives and work of the fictitious characters.

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Much of the show has the characters frantically racing about the newsroom, gathering facts and selecting important stories. But The Newsroom also tracks the backstage infighting and, of course, the main characters’ romantic adventures. Headed behind the camera by producer/writer Aaron Sorkin ( The West Wing, The Social Network), The Newsroom is dramatic, funny, opinionated, and probably realistic.

The box ($25 on Amazon) contains six discs and three ways to watch the season’s 10 hour-long episodes. A thick fold-out case contains the season on four Blu-ray discs. A thin folder contains those same episodes on two two-sided DVDs. And a slip of paper gives you everything you need to download an Ultraviolet copy.

James Dean Ultimate Collector’s Edition

No movie star had less time to enjoy his fame than James Dean. He died in a car crash less than five months after the release of his first film, East of Eden, turned him into an overnight sensation. At that time, he had two other films in the can.

In Eden and his second film, Rebel Without a Cause, Dean epitomized and defined the sullen, confused, alienated, but basically decent teenager. He had only a supporting role in his third film, Giant, but since the story is set over several decades, we get to see him age and stretch his acting beyond adolescent roles. All three were made by important directors (Elia Kazan, Nicholas Ray, and George Stevens) and they’re all worth seeing.

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This Ultimate Collector’s Edition ($72 on Amazon) is more than just a bunch of discs. Inside the large, decorative box, you’ll find a thin picture book about Dean, 12 black and white lobby cards from his films, six inter-office memos from the films’ production, and three full-size posters.

You’ll also find a conventionally-sized disc case with seven discs. Each movie gets its own Blu-ray, with extras. The remaining four discs, all standard DVD, contain documentaries on Dean, additional bonus material on Giant, and a documentary on director George Stevens.

Weeds: The Complete Collection

How does a widow and single mother maintain her upper middleclass, suburban lifestyle? In the case of Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker), she sells marijuana. And she has plenty of customers.

This Showtime dramedy ran for eight seasons. Nancy struggles with the cops, her supply, dreadful neighbors, a blackmailing maid, an untrustworthy ex brother-in-law, and her very-quickly maturing children. And, of course, she struggles with keeping her job secret from those children.

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For what is officially a comedy (you can tell because the episodes are only 30 minutes long), Weeds gets into some pretty dark places. One character develops cancer, and there’s always the threats of arrest and gang violence.

The Weeds box ($55 on Amazon) comes, appropriately enough, in a green-tinted transparent plastic case. Inside you’ll find a thick cardboard book, with the 16 discs inserted into the pages. You’ll also find a slip of paper with Ultraviolet download instructions, so you can watch Weeds without the discs.

Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project

Would you give someone six films that neither you nor they have ever heard of? What if the movies were recommended to you by Martin Scorsese?

Scorsese’s World Cinema Project preserves and restores not the pantheon of world cinema classics, but the overlooked masterpieces that deserve to be seen. This Criterion box set ($120 on Amazon) contains six such films, from Senegal, Mexico, Bangladesh, Turkey, Morocco, and South Korea.

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Consider the Mexican entry, Redes. This story of poor fishermen challenging a system designed to help the rich get richer looks and feels like a cross between Sergei Eisenstein and Italian neorealism. But it was made a decade before the neorealism movement. And it was co-directed by the Austrian-born Fred Zinnemann, who would go on to have a very big career in Hollywood (High Noon, From Here to Eternity).

Some of the films were quite commercial in their native countries. The Housemaid, an erotic thriller from South Korea, inspired two sequels and a recent remake.

The World Cinema box contains three conventionally-sized disc cases, plus a 64-page book with essays on all six films, plus an introduction by Kent Jones on the World Cinema Project and the worth of foreign films beyond the pantheon. Each disc case contains three discs—one Blu-ray containing two films, and two DVDs with one film each.

Whether your loved one would enjoy rare foreign art, 1950’s teenage angst, or spaceships firing photon torpedoes, a box of Blu-ray makes a great gift.

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