SLIDESHOW

Great Blu-ray Box Sets for the Holidays

When you give the gift of high-definition entertainment this holiday season, wrap up more than just a disc.

Blu-ray Box Set Gift Ideas

Anyone on your list with a Blu-ray player? Movies and TV shows are great gifts, but box sets are even better--or more impressive, at least. A standard Blu-ray case with three or four discs looks and feels better than a case with just one or two. And a bigger box--perhaps including a book, interesting packaging, or reproductions of lobby cards--makes for a gift that anyone will want to show off.

Tastes vary. To help you select the right gift, I'm offering recommendations for eight types of movie and TV fans.

The following films aren't all among my personal favorites, but all have won either critical or popular success. And the packages all offer much more than just a movie.

Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector blogs about film at Bayflicks.net. He also writes PCWorld's Answer Line column.

Sci-Fi Adventure Fan

Alien Anthology

$75 estimated street price as of November 26, 2010

After the unexpected success of Jaws and Star Wars, Alien had to happen. But it didn't have to be as atmospheric, scary, and entertaining as it was. Neither did the first sequel, James Cameron's Aliens, which also surpassed expectations.

The six-disc (all Blu-ray) Alien Anthology gives the four movies the royal treatment. You get two different versions of each movie (thanks to Blu-ray's seamless branching technology), plus commentaries and Bonus View trivia. The remaining two discs offer loads of documentaries, still images, and other information. And everything comes in a booklike container displaying artwork from the films.

Second choice: Avatar: Extended Blu-ray Collector's Edition

Harry Potter Devotee

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: Ultimate Edition

$35 estimated street price as of November 26, 2010

Warner Brothers is slowly rereleasing special editions of the Potter movies, and Goblet of Fire is the best of the films released this way so far. The first one rated PG-13, it takes the young wizards into scarier, more grown-up territory.

This box will wow fans before they even open it, thanks to the lenticular 3D cover. Inside they'll find a Blu-ray of the movie (including Bonus View pop-up commentary) and two bonus discs. The first of those is merely the second DVD from the original video release, but the other is a treasure, with plenty of new and interesting material. Also in the set are two character collector's cards; a small, glossy book on creating the sound and music for the series; and a slip of paper with instructions for downloading the digital copy.

Second choice: Any of the other three Ultimate Editions

Teens Just Growing Out of 'Twilight'

The Vampire Diaries: The Complete First Season

$50 estimated street price as of November 26, 2010

I have to admit that I haven't developed much of a taste for this TV show--but I don't fit the target demographic. So I checked with an authority: my 15-year-old daughter. She loves it, and recommends it for teens who like Twilight but now want something "a bit darker." She gives it credit for going "farther into character development than the books" on which it's based, and describes it as "nice, but creepy."

The packaging is nothing special. The 22 episodes--some with scenes never broadcast--and a smattering of extras fill four Blu-ray discs, all squeezed into a conventional case.

Second choice: Supernatural: The Complete Fifth Season

Animation Aficionado

Fantasia/Fantasia 2000

$30 estimated street price as of November 26, 2010

Seventy years after Walt Disney took animation and classical music to a new level, Fantasia still stands out as a major achievement. The much younger sequel, Fantasia 2000, caught animation in transition from hand-drawn efforts to CGI, and has many great moments of its own. Both films gain tremendously from Blu-ray's video and audio capabilities.

This set packs four discs into a standard case. Each movie comes on both a Blu-ray disc and a DVD. A fine assortment of bonuses extends across the discs, including an interactive art gallery (you can grade images and later view only your favorites), and a short, 1946 collaboration between Disney and Salvador Dali that has only recently been completed.

One disappointment: Many of the extras from the original Fantasia Anthology three-disc DVD package are omitted.

Second choice: Shrek: The Whole Story

Old-Fashioned Romantic

The Sound of Music

Limited Edition $60, 45th Anniversary Edition $20, both estimated street prices as of November 26, 2010

The biggest hit of the 1960s isn't everyone's cup of overly sweetened tea, but a great many people adore this 3-hour musical about love, child-rearing, singing, and escaping the Nazis. And just about anyone can appreciate the visuals, with their lovely alpine scenery and lush, Todd-AO cinematography (which used a frame size about 2.5 times the standard size). Of all the films I'm recommending here, this is the one I'd pick to show off what Blu-ray can do.

The 45th Anniversary Edition has the movie on Blu-ray and DVD, plus a second Blu-ray of special features. Across those three discs (which come in a regular case), you get the movie with two audio mixes, the sing-along version, assorted Bonus View items, and many documentaries.

The Limited Edition comes in a large box with two books (one a reproduction of the original souvenir program), postcards from Salzburg, a letter of authenticity, and a wind-up music box that plays "My Favorite Things." The standard Blu-ray case inside the big box holds the three discs in the Anniversary Edition, plus the soundtrack CD.

Second choice: African Queen: Commemorative Box Set

War-History Buff

Apocalypse Now: Full Disclosure

$40 estimated street price as of November 26, 2010

Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam War update of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness creates a hallucinatory ambiance to capture the insanity of war in general and that conflict in particular. Fractured and episodic, brilliant but at times flawed, it contains some of the most effective battle sequences ever filmed.

The first of the fold-out case's three Blu-ray discs has the original cut of Apocalypse Now and the much longer Apocalypse Now Redux, thanks to seamless branching technology. An audio commentary by Coppola works with both. The second disc has a treasure trove of extras, both new HD ones and older, SD material from DVD releases. The third disc contains Hearts of Darkness, a feature-length documentary on the film's troubled production that hit theaters in 1991. The box also offers a Collector's Edition booklet.

The only thing missing: Ernie Fosselius's hilarious spoof, Porklips Now.

Second choice: The Bridge on the River Kwai

Nature Lover

The BBC High Definition Natural History Collection 2, featuring Life

$100 estimated street price as of November 26, 2010

Nature documentaries look great in HD, and recently the BBC has made several terrific-looking documentaries. This box set contains four of them (on a total of nine Blu-ray discs).

The jewel in the crown is Life, a ten-part survey of plant and animal survival narrated by celebrity naturalist David Attenborough. Shot over four years and containing much breathtaking footage (the spectacle of two Komodo dragons fighting is something I never want to see in real life), this massive documentary looks at how our fellow earthlings have adapted to varying habitats. Just don't confuse this with the shorter, Discovery Channel edition narrated by Oprah Winfrey.

The other documentaries in the package are South Pacific, Yellowstone: Battle for Life, and the hyperbole-laced title Nature's Most Amazing Events.

Second choice: Life

Serious Cinephile

America Lost and Found: The BBS Story

$90 estimated street price as of November 26, 2010

From 1968 through 1974, the production company BBS (originally called Raybert Productions) helped to start and lead the revolution in American filmmaking chronicled in Peter Biskind's book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. Criterion has transferred seven of the company's eight films to HD and released them in one Blu-ray box set.

The set includes one film of significant cultural and historical importance (Easy Rider), two of the best dramas of the period (Five Easy Pieces and The Last Picture Show), and what might be the weirdest movie ever financed and released by a major Hollywood studio (the Monkees' only feature film, Head). Most of the films have commentaries (Easy Rider has two) and plenty of extras.

The slipcover holds a book and six very thin cardboard cases, each with a single Blu-ray disc (one disc carries two films: Drive He Said and A Safe Place). The book offers five essays on the company and its films, each by a different author.

Second choice: Apocalypse Now: Full Disclosure