Best Looking Blu-ray Movies
So, you've finally splurged out on a brand-spanking HD home theatre to wow your friends with - along with any strangers who happen to pass by your house window. (Try not to stare as they press their noses forlornly to the glass: you'll only be encouraging them!)
The next step on your road to high-def glory is to stock up on some Blu-ray movies. After all, a home theatre system is only as impressive as the discs you throw at it. (Note: we don't mean in a Frisbee like manner. That would just be impractical.) Like a supermodel splayed gratuitously over a sports car, a good Blu-ray movie lends an essential decorative air to your hardware. In some ways, it's the most important purchase of all.
While all Blu-ray movies share identical 1080p video resolution; some discs are ‘more equal' than others. Indeed, certain earlier releases barely look any better than a standard-def DVD (Total Recall, we're looking at you.) A true videophile needs to pick his discs wisely.
In the following slideshow, we take a look at some of the best looking Blu-ray movies currently troubling store shelves. We've tried to include films that not only look fantastic, but are also entertaining in their own right. (It's not all about the eye candy - otherwise you could just watch Transformers 2 on a loop, forever.)
To make life easier, we've also included links to where you can buy each disc online. Truly we are the caliphs of audiovisual dissemination.
10. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Okay, so you’ve probably bought the theatrical cut and extended edition on DVD already, but we still think this Blu-ray version is worth shelling out for. The film is presented in its native 2.40:1 aspect ratio with all the ‘pop’ that 1080p brings to the screen. The fine detail present in the embroidered costumes and windswept vistas is truly a sight to behold. Actors are similarly awash with detail: even the completely CGI Gollum looks more lifelike than usual.
The film: Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King didn’t win 11 Academy Awards for nothing. From the opening prologue with Sméagol to the Grey Havens finale, it will keep orc-loving fantasy fans riveted. There's even a love story in there for non-geeks to swoon over.
[Note: This Blu-ray edition of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King contains the original theatrical cut.]
10. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (cont.)
Get it now: You can find pricing info for Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King here.
The disc: An old black & white movie may not seem like the most obvious choice for Blu-ray. However, some of the best video transfers are coming from this era, with many pre-Technicolor films looking better than they did in theatres. Casablanca is a perfect example. The film has been painstakingly remastered in the 1080p/VC-1 format one frame at a time. The disc’s vivid clarity is exceptionally kind to Lauren Bacall’s luminous beauty, while ol’ Bogey looks more worn and craggy than ever. The picture quality is sublime from start to finish.
The film: If you haven’t seen Casablanca before, do yourself a favour and snap it up on Blu-ray. Sure it might be old, but so’s your grandma -- you wouldn’t kick her to the curb, would you? They sure don’t make ‘em like this anymore. For film buffs, this disc is heaven.
9. Casablanca (cont.)
Get it now: You can fing pricing information for Casablanca here.
8. 2001: A Space Odyssey
The disc Stanley Kubrick’s sprawling space saga has never looked better than it does on Blu-ray. For those weaned on the VHS or DVD editions, this 1080p/VC-1 transfer will come as a revelation – it’s like going from the Stone Age to the Space Age in one masterful jump-cut. Every trick in the trade has been used to make 2001: A Space Odyssey look the best it possibly can. Images are awash with hereunto unseen detail, while the vibrant colour palate is truly a feast for the eyes. In short; this is what Blu-ray was invented for.
The film 2001: A Space Odyssey is a timeless classic that demands to be watched and analysed over a lifetime. Originally released in 1968, the visual effects still hold up to this day. (Indeed, the space scenes look so plausible, that some people are convinced Kubrik helped 'fake' the 1969 moon landing!)
8. 2001: A Space Odyssey (cont.)
Get it now: You find pricing information for 2001: A Space Odyssey here.
7. Tropic Thunder
The disc: When it comes to naming the best looking Blu-ray discs, comedies usually get ignored in favour of action and sci-fi. After all, who wants to see Jack Black’s pudgy face in 1080p when you could be watching high-def explosions instead? Fortunately, Tropic Thunder combines both these elements to ensure its place on our list. The 1080p/AVC encoding is impeccable. From the hellish spray of napalm to the lush forest greenery, everything in the movie pops off the screen. More importantly, it'll make your friends laugh as it impresses them.
The film:Tropic Thunder is a rip-roaring comedy adventure starring some of the best comedians working today. If you’ve ever seen The Three Amigos, you’ll have a good idea of how the plot unfolds: three spoilt Hollywood actors set out into the jungle to make a ‘Nam movie – only to stumble into a real-life conflict which they assume is all part of the movie. The film lampoons Hollywood mercilessly, with Robert Downey Jr.’s turn as a pretentious method auteur being a hilarious standout.
7. Tropic Thunder (cont.)
Get it now: You can buy Tropic Thunder: The Director’s Cut here.
6. Star Trek
The disc: The 2009 edition of Star Trek looked spectacular up on the silver screen – and it looks spectacular on Blu-ray too. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is rock solid: close-ups are incredibly vivid, while the abundance of CGI impresses throughout. While it would have been nice to see some Dark Knight-style IMAX shots, the disc still looks out of this world. The choice is elementary: get Star Trek on Blu-Ray.
The film: Somehow, J.J. Abram’s quasi Star Trek reboot managed to please Trekkies, critics, and newcomers alike – hell, even Klingon-hating Star Wars fans were won over. Although the film has been criticised for being less cerebral than its predecessors, we think it makes up for any mental shortcomings via plenty of adventure. If you want to give your grey matter a workout, go watch an MIT lecture, pointdexter. Dumb Star Trek rocks!
6. Star Trek (cont.)
Get it now: You can buy Star Trek here.
5. The Godfather collection: The Coppola Restoration
The disc: As its subheading implies, The Godfather collection: The Coppola Restoration was produced by Zoetrope Studios under the personal supervision of the films’ director. To ensure a pristine transfer, brand new prints were made from the original negatives and then restored frame by frame. The results are flawlessly detailed, yet still retain the soft, filmic quality that Coppola is famous for. Even if you’ve already splurged on the DVD editions, this Blu-ray collection is (wait for it...) an offer you can’t refuse. [Oh dear. -- Ed.]
The films: It’s the Godfather. ‘Nuff said.
5. The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration (cont.)
Get it now: You can buy The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration here.
4. Casino Royale
The disc: Blockbuster movies tend to be lavished with lots of care and attention on Blu-ray, and Daniel Craig’s 007-reboot is no exception. Regularly cited as one of the better looking films on Blu-ray, Casino Royale is a very hard disc to fault. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer does a solid job of replicating the film’s look in theatres, with plenty of detail bursting from each frame. We’re even willing to sit through the film’s laborious beach canoodling without ripping our eyes out. In short, Bond has never looked so good (steady girls -- we’re talking about the disc, not the actor!)
The film: James Bond’s 21st cinematic adventure is definitely one of his best; especially if you prescribe to Ian Fleming’s original vision of the agent. By stripping away the series’ silly gadgets and outlandish action, Craig and co were able to get to the real meat of the character. For the first time since Sean Connery, you actually felt like Bond was in mortal danger. The bone-crunching stairwell sequence is a wince-inducing highlight.
4. Casino Royale (cont.)
Get it now: You can buy Casino Royale here.
The disc: Pixar has a track record for producing some of the most impressive Blu-ray movies on the market, and Wall-E is arguably their best disc yet. The vividly rendered characters and landscapes are guaranteed to captivate kids of all ages, with the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 direct-to-digital transfer providing a flawless picture. When it comes to perfect looking HD video, Wall-E is one of the best discs on the planet.
The film: It’s a little known fact that Pixar makes its movies with fairy dust they discovered in the Walt Disney vaults. That's what gives each movie its magic. Despite being devoid of recognisably human characters, Wall-E is Pixar's most human movie yet. It's essentially a love story between a cleaning droid and a satellite probe set amidst the ruins of an abandoned Earth. Even if you don't have any kids, you need this movie in your Blu-ray collection.
3. Wall-E (cont.)
Get it now: You can buy Wall-E here.
2. Red Cliff
The disc: The meticulously researched Red Cliff is the most expensive Chinese movie ever made -- and it shows; especially on Blu-ray. The film’s battle sequences are a sight to behold, with thousands of extras waving their swords about in razor-sharp detail. The 2.35:1 transfer captures all the action, with minimal grain marring the epic spectacle. If you want a flawless Blu-ray experience, it’s hard to look past this amazing looking film.
The film: Red Cliff recounts the epic struggle between warring Chinese Dynasties in the 2nd century; as made famous by the 14th century novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. It is history writ large, bursting with spectacular battles, stunning cinematography and countless elaborately garbed characters. If you’re a fan of Akira Kurosawa’s Ran or Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, this disc is an essential purchase.
2. Red Cliff (cont.)
Get it now: You can buy Red Cliff here.
1. The Dark Knight
The disc: The Dark Knight was one of the first Blu-ray titles to really show what the format is capable of. It also stars fricking Batman, which is half the battle won right there. But the real hero of this disc is the awe-inspiring IMAX scenes, which are presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Rarely has Blu-ray made such masterful use of a HD TV screen. The IMAX sections bring Gotham City to life with a clarity and depth that surpass nearly every Blu-ray disc on the market. There’s a reason electronics stores always have this playing in their windows: it looks bloody fantastic!
The film: Unlike certain other blockbusters we could mention – (cough) Transformers (cough) – The Dark Knight isn’t just about eye candy: it’s also a great movie that you’ll want to re-watch again and again. It’s a shame we’ll never get to see a sequel with the late Heath Ledger: all the more reason to preserve his legacy on Blu-ray.
1. The Dark Knight (cont.)
Get it now: You can buy The Dark Knight here.
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