'Best in Blu-ray' is a weekly column that runs on Tuesday and examines the week's new Blu-ray releases while focusing on recommending titles for both the Blu-ray veteran and newbie.
For Blu-ray Vets:
'The Night of the Hunter' (The Criterion Collection)
Twitter Tag Line: Robert Mitchum is the personification of evil in Charles Laughton's allegorical classic about the glories of innocence.
New Special Features: Almost everything is new, including an audio commentary and 2 1/2 hours of outtakes, "rushes" and behind the scenes footage, as detailed at DVD Beaver. Another important note: the aspect ratio is correctly rendered.
Transfer/Audio: Our own David Ehrlich feels that the visual presentation, with a veritable "grainstorm ... really toes the line between respectful and distracting.' He reports, however, that the audio is "flawless." (See his article for more preliminary notes.)
Replay Value: The first and only film directed by the great Charles Laughton is an allegory about good vs. evil and innocence vs. corruption. Robert Mitchum is, by turns, charming (in a greasy sort of way) and menacing (in a "wet your pants" kind of manner). The first couple of times through, it's easy to be distracted by a first-time director's inexperience, notable especially with the inexpert child acting, and the narrative bumps and bruises. Once you've absorbed those points into your subconscious, however, it's easier to take flight with the film's many virtues.
For the Newbies:
'Modern Times' (The Criterion Collection)
Twitter Tag Line: Charles Chaplin's timeless classic deserves a place in your Blu-ray collection.
Why See It (Again): Yes, it's in black and white; yes, it's silent (mostly); yes, it's more than 70 years old; yes, it will make you laugh more than you ever thought possible.
What to Look For: The trick here is to forget the lack of color and the age of the film. For the record, it does have bits and pieces of sound to accompany the visual gags, but, really, you'll find that doesn't matter as the story plays out. Charlie Chaplin's "Little Tramp" is a character for the ages: his frustrations with machinery mirror those of anyone today trying to learn a new piece of technology and his yearning for a beautiful woman is understandable to anyone who's ever had a heart. At some point, you'll remember that there's no talking and no color, but you won't care. Instead, you'll marvel that the Blu-ray surely makes the film look as new and fresh as the day it was first released.
Coolest Special Feature:
'A Christmas Carol' 3D
Twitter Tag Line: Jim Carrey meets Ebenezer Scrooge in the digital age.
Details: Is 3D a special feature? Hmm, probably not anymore, what with an army of discs arriving for early adopters. Harley W. Lond of Moviefone covered the DVD release (and much more!), but we want to add a note on the 3D presentation. High Def Digest raves: "This is one of, if not the best transfers I have seen on the 3D Blu-ray format to date. Disney's first commercial 3D Blu-ray release is sure to be a demo disc for electronic stores over the holiday season. ... In addition to the demo worthy colors and animation, 'A Christmas Carol' also features the best 3D effects I have seen to date. The strength of this release lies in the incredibly realistic sense of depth.I only had a few very minor complaints with this transfer.' We're not entirely sold on the necessity of 3D, especially considering the added expense, but we'll keep monitoring reactions as home video enthusiasts get a chance to try out 3D Blu-rays at home.
Most Intriguing Rental:
'Mutiny on the Bounty' (1935)
Twitter Tag Line: "Mis-tuh Christian!" Clark Gable and Charles Laughton go toe to toe while surrounded by sweaty sailors and exotic women.
Why Seek It Out on Blu-ray: The visual imagery has never really jumped off the screen in its various video incarnations. Now, however, the new transfer is notably improved and cleaned up from previous releases, according to BigPictureBigSound: "It's soft in many shots certainly, with the indications of some film damage remaining, along with some flicker and noisy skies. But overall this new transfer reveals more detail than expected from a movie of this age, right down to the texture of the uniforms, the faint mist visible across the deck, even a tiny drop of spittle when Capt. Bligh shouts 'My ship!' All factors considered, the video here is ship-shape."
Why Rent and Not Buy: As opposed to 'Modern Times,' released a year later, the original screen version of 'Mutiny on the Bounty' has not held up well. Part of that is the source material itself, which has also resisted remakes. It feels inextricably tied to outdated nationalistic traditions and narrative conventions. It's well worth seeing at least once, however. Charles Laughton has tremendous bluster as Captain Bligh and Clark Gable is a rowdy Fletcher Christian.
More New Blu-ray Releases:
'The Last Airbender'
'Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore'
'The Polar Express' 3D
'Clash of the Titans' 3D
'The Kids Are All Right'
'The Extra Man'