'Best in Blu-ray' is a weekly column that runs on Tuesday; from the week's new Blu-ray releases, we recommend titles for both the Blu-ray veteran and newbie, as well as the coolest special feature (unique to the format) and most intriguing rental.
For Blu-ray Vets:
'Fantasia' / 'Fantasia 2000'
Twitter Tag Line: Walt Disney's wondrous 1940 experimental feature remains a transfixing piece of cinema 70 years later.
New Features Unique to Blu-ray: "The Schultheis Notebook" details the animation techniques; two audio commentaries on 'Fantasia,' one featuring the assembled thoughts of Walt Disney; two more audio commentaries on 'Fantasia 2000'; plus the short film 'Destino,' a collaboration between Disney and Salvador Dali, and an 82-minute doc on that collaboration.
Transfer/Audio: "Both Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 look fantastic, and Disney has done a wonderful job of ushering each one into the 21st century. Animation enthusiasts and Vault collectors will be exceedingly happy with the treatment each one has received." (Blu-ray.com)
Replay Value: Endless. Really. The episodic structure means that you can go directly to whichever sequence strikes your fancy and/or mood at the time. Because there's no dialogue -- only spoken introductions -- it's tempting to throw it up as background eye candy and listen to the orchestral score, though the distractions on offer may keep you from getting any real work done.
One Caveat: Supplemental features from previous DVD releases, totaling 304 minutes, are only available via "Disney's Virtual Vault," accessed via BD-Live.
Further Reading: "Behind the Scenes: 'Fantasia/Fantasia 2000' Blu-ray." (Moviefone) "O.K., Hippos, Grab Your Tutus." (Dave Kehr, New York Times) For the Newbies:
'The Sorcerer's Apprentice'
Twitter Tag Line: Nicolas Cage plays a modern-day wizard who battles ancient foe Alfred Molina while teaching gifted young Jay Baruchel to follow in his magical footsteps.
Why See It (Again): Discounted Blu-ray players were a hot item on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and if you finally picked one up, congratulations! If you're hesitant about plunging into the wonders of classic films spruced up for Blu-ray, we'll help you get over that. For example, 'Fantasia,' covered above, is great place to start.
If you prefer a modern version of one of the episodes in 'Fantasia,' however, 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice' is the way to go. Bonus for buyers: you can get a combo pack with a DVD version and, for a few dollars more, a digital copy, which makes the upgrade path easier. Unless you're pre-sold on the movie, though, you'll want to rent it rather than risk a blind buy.
What to Look (and Listen) For: "The entire image is just stunning to look at. This is one of those video presentations you'll want to play over and over for friends in order to show off [your] home theater. ... Colors are bright and bold. Primary colors shine magnificently on screen. Even the special effects look polished and real." (High-Def Digest) "Disney's aggressive, reality-warping DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is just as extraordinary as the film's video transfer. ... Its sonic goods captivate from beginning to end, far more than the film itself." (Blu-ray.com)
Further Reading: "Not really about storytelling as much as it is about marketing. It's not about "what happens next" as it is "how much stuff can we cram in there, and how well can we sell it?" (Jeffrey Anderson, Cinematical)
Coolest Special Feature:
Twitter Tag Line: Walt Disney and Salvador Dali team up.
Details: With a dearth of interesting special features this week, we decided the coolest thing to highlight would be this short film, just 7 minutes in length, which is only available in high-definition as part of the 'Fantasia / Fantasia' Blu-ray combo packs. Our own Monika Bartyzel called it "one of the most amazing things" she'd ever seen.
"Dali began working on the animated project while under contract for Walt Disney Pictures for eight months in 1946," wrote Eric Kohn for Cinematical. He "only managed to complete fifteen seconds before heading off to place his focus elsewhere. Disney released a completed version of Destino in 2003 (which screens at MOMA in a room with original Dali sketches). The newer film integrates computer animation, suggesting Dali might have enjoyed the prospects of twenty-first century technology."
Most Intriguing Rental:
'Kill Zone' (Ultimate Edition) [AKA S.P.L.]
Twitter Tag Line: An invigorating, flat-out brilliant collection of action sequences enliven a standard cops 'n' criminals Hong Kong flick.
Why Seek It Out on Blu-ray: Hong Kong action movies were in a slump when 'SPL: Sha Po Lang' emerged in 2005 to kick-start a mini-revival. Veterans Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung know how to fight good on camera; newcomer Wu Jing showcased his martial arts skills. Director Wilson Yip staged the action scenes in kinetic fashion and gave the proceedings a glossy, stylish look.
Why Rent and Not Buy: The high-def transfer "fails to impress in any way," says High-Def Digest. "Slight amounts of noise turn quickly into uncontrollable barrages, coating scenes in a way that cannot be missed. Skin tones are random, sometimes accurate, sometimes a bit yellow. Detail levels are consistently subpar."
Further Reading: Cinematical Seven: Best Donnie Yen Fight Scenes. (Alison Nastasi, Cinematical)
Also consider: 'Make-Out with Violence.' If your interests extend to dead ex-girlfriends who become zombies, have we got a movie for you! Truth be told, it's a lyrical drama that consistently plays against expectations, which makes for a unique and sometimes breathtaking experience. To read more, check out thoughts from our own Scott Weinberg (scroll down), Jen Yamato and yours truly, in an article in which I named it one of the best of the decade. The only reservation concerns the Blu-ray transfer; you can read more at DVD Beaver.
Recent Theatrical Releases, Now on Blu-ray:
'Knight and Day.' Tom Cruise, who may or may not be a rogue spy, kidnaps civilian Cameron Diaz; much running and shooting ensues. Directed by James Mangold. "It's a calculated, artificial formula for box office success barely disguised as a story." (John Gholson, Cinematical)
'The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.' The third installment in the popular series about sparkly vampires finds Kristen Stewart dithering between Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner. "It still isn't great, and there still isn't much crossover appeal, but it's easily the best of the three films so far." (Eric D. Snider, Cinematical)
'Going the Distance.' Drew Barrymore and Justin Long flirt, fret and joke about a romance separated by 3,000 miles. "An intermittently funny romantic comedy that piles on obscenities and sexual innuendo in a desperate attempt to be hip and relevant." (My complete Cinematical review.)
'Vampires Suck' (Extended Bite Me Edition). From the people who brought you 'Epic Movie' and 'Disaster Movie.' "Almost bad enough to make me pity the Twilight film series for being the subject of such limp, toothless mockery." (John Gholson, Cinematical)
Further Reading: New on DVD & Blu-ray, Week of November 30. (Moviefone)