Great New Blu-ray Demo Discs for Your Home Theater
You have a fantastic, fully equipped home theater. Now you want to show it off to your family and friends.
Here are ten recent Blu-ray titles that will wow your audiences with cool special effects, beautiful scenery, and great sound. I’ve even thrown in a title that shows how a well-transferred 1080p image can make squalor look particularly filthy.
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Cool Special Effects: Star Trek
Old characters, new actors, and flashier visuals--that about sums up this year’s Star Trek movie, which reintroduces younger versions of Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the crew. The plot is just an excuse for explosions and special effects, but the fun is in watching the old, familiar characters reintroduced--and in watching the explosions and special effects.
Recommended scene: Start in chapter 7, where Kirk, Sulu, and an expendable extra drop onto a floating platform and engage in hand-to-hand combat with Romulans. Stay through chapter 8, where…well, I can’t explain without a spoiler, but it’s big and impressive.
Cool Special Effects: Up
With Pixar, the whole movie is a special effect, and each film is better than the last--technically, at least. This tale of a crotchety old widower bonding with a young boy offers plenty of technical dazzle, as well as good storytelling. Of course, it helps that the two bond in a floating house, held up by balloons, en route to South America.
Recommended scenes: In chapter 8, when countless balloons appear and lift the house, you see the texture and the transparency of each one. Then skip ahead to chapter 10, where a storm gives your sound system a good workout.
Cool Special Effects: The Wizard of Oz
Toto, I don’t think we’re on DVD anymore. Okay, I admit that these are very old special effects, but they’re still cool. Only a few years after scanning the negative of The Wizard of Oz in 4K for one restoration, Warner Brothers rescanned it in 8K for the Blu-ray release. The results are almost too clear--you can tell when the background is a painted backdrop. But it’s a beautiful painted backdrop, so who cares?
Recommended scene: The munchkins, of course. Start with chapter 11.
Beautiful Scenery: Winged Migration
This is one of the best-looking discs I’ve ever seen, of one of the best-looking movies. This French nature film, which follows various bird species on their long, cross-continent migrations, provides 89 minutes of astonishing nature photography, even though most of it was staged with trained birds. You may learn a bit about our feathered friends from it, but mostly you’ll be awed by the visuals.
Recommended scene: It’s a tough choice, but I’ll go with chapter 1, with its detailed close-ups, swooping flights, and full use of surround.
Beautiful Scenery: Roxanne
This movie makes me want to move to the Pacific Northwest. Steve Martin set his comic update of Cyrano de Bergerac in a charming town nestled among forested mountains (actually Nelson, British Columbia). You may remember the play from high school English, but the original tragedy was never this funny, this charming, or this beautiful.
Recommended scene: I love chapter 4, where Martin (screenwriter as well as star) and Daryl Hannah carry a telescope up a long flight of outdoor stairs. The scenery is breathtaking, and the details on the weathered house are in their own way just as impressive.
Beautiful Scenery: Silverado
Here's a rip-roaring, old-fashioned western starring New Mexico landscapes. After a decade of dark, artistic westerns and another of almost no westerns at all, director Lawrence Kasdan (who wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark) brought back the genre as large-scale escapist entertainment, and he shot it in a wide variety of New Mexico locations.
Recommended scene: Jump right in at chapter 1. The movie starts with a gunfight in a small cabin--a great way to show off your sound system. It then moves outdoors for opening credits over a montage of spectacular scenery.
Beautiful Scenery: The National Parks: America's Best Idea
Our country’s greatest sights, by its best documentarian. If you missed Ken Burns’s six-part, 12-hour miniseries on PBS, catch it now on Blu-ray. The picture looks terrific (better than it did on a high-def broadcast). Along with the fascinating history, the cinematography of Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and other treasures--all shot in high-definition--makes a vacation in our national parks seem all the more enticing.
Recommended scene: The opening of any episode will do, as each has a photogenic prologue followed by spectacular credits. But I’d go with Episode 5’s opening--maybe I just like wolves.
Great Sound: Monterey Pop
Can 42-year-old live music recordings really sound this great? They can on Blu-ray, especially if respected rock engineer and producer Eddie Kramer oversees two new mixes. Monterey Pop documents the legendary 1967 all-star rock concert. Shot in 16mm, it isn't much to look at, but Kramer’s new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix brings Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, and Jimi Hendrix back to life.
Recommended scene: Your choice may come down to your favorite ‘60s rockers, but I’d have to vote for either chapter 11, where Joplin belts out "Ball and Chain," or chapter 17, where Hendrix ignites "Wild Thing."
Squalor: Fight Club
High definition doesn’t always mean that the images depicted will look pretty. Blu-ray can also bring out the squalor in movies that examine the seamy side of life. That’s certainly true with this disturbing, funny, disgusting, offensive, and subversive film (which also blows all of its credibility by the end.) And in the new Blu-ray release, Fight Club gives you plenty of opportunities to study dirty walls, filthy plumbing, and smashed faces.
Recommended scene: Chapter 16 gives us a phone call between two people in their run-down homes. That means sharp, detailed looks at peeling paint, a prescription bottle, and Edward Norton’s bandaged, bruised, and unshaven face. Talk about detail.
This film is a strange, surreal, visual comedy designed for the very big screen. Jacques Tati shot his plotless, almost wordless comedy on large format, 65mm film so that audiences can examine every detail--and laugh at many of them. You can approach Playtime as a commentary on the soullessness of modern life and modern architecture (circa 1967), or simply as a series of loosely connected vignettes filled with delightful visual detail.
Recommended scene: Chapter 20 is set in a nightclub on opening night, where everything goes wrong. The details in the clothing and props will impress your friends between laughs. The muted color is intentional.
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