We continue our list of best DVD and Blu-ray releases. Check out Part I.
Best Restoration: Jaws
Steven Spielberg's story of a great white shark that terrifies a coastal town was one of just 13 films Universal fully restored as part of the studio's 100th anniversary. Jaws was cleaned, repaired and color-balanced frame by frame, then digitally remastered, all under the close supervision of Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment's post-production team. Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw starred as a trio out to kill the super shark. Yes, the special effects look tame in comparison to today's CGI capabilities. And no, it's not in 3D or IMAX or any thing else we've come to expect from our action films, but the fear factor is just as high now as it was when the film first hit screens in 1975. Spielberg was smart enough to make audiences afraid, not of the monster itself, but the idea of a monster. It worked very, very well. This was easily our favorite of the year's restored releases.
Best Box Set: Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection Yeah, the price tag of almost $300 will keep any but the most ardent real Hitchcock fans away from this collection and that's a shame because each of these 15 films deserves to be seen. The titles range from early gems like the 1942 Saboteur to signature works such as the 1960 Psycho. Most of the films have very few extras, just theatrical trailers and production photographs for some, but a few have lots of additional material such as Tippi Hedren's screen test, deleted scenes and the original ending for The Birds. Vertigo features the censored ending, excerpts of interviews with Hitchcock, and commentary by Associate Producer Herbert Coleman, other original production associates and members of the restoration team.
Two more box sets that deserve some notice are the Doctor Who Limited Edition Gift Set on DVD and Tarantino XX 8-Film Collection on Blu-ray. Both include lots of gadgets and on-screen extras. Did we say lots? Sorry, we meant lots and lots.
The Doctor Who set includes more than 70 hours of episodes (seasons one to six, with Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith as the ninth, tenth and eleventh Doctors), plus lots of bonus footage, including three Doctor specials on DVD for the first time ever. There's also a collectible Doctor Sonic screwdriver, original art cards and the Doctor Who at Comic Con comic book. Tarantino's set includes Pulp Fiction/Inglourious Basterds, Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill Vol. 1, Kill Bill Vol. 2, Jackie Brown, Death Proof and True Romance, and five hours of all-new extras.
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Best Silent: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea The underwater scenes in this multi-tinted Grapevine Video release were considered groundbreaking at the time it was released in 1916. Based on the story by Jules Vernes, 20,000 Leagues follows Professor Aronnax (Dan Hanlon) aboard Captain Nemo's (Allen Holubar) ship, the Nautilus. Stuart Paton directs.
Best Documentary: Mankind: The Story of All of Us A History Channel production, Mankind chronicles the evolution of humans from the first stirrings of life in Mesopotamia through to the discovery of the Americas, all in 12 hours. It's an epic story, thankfully broken down into understandable chunks.
Best Performing Arts: Company We weren't surprised at Neil Patrick Harris's brilliant performance in Company. He's got great comedy chops and has proved he can sing and dance along with the best of them -- and it's indeed the best of them that made up the Company cast with Patti LuPone, Stephen Colbert, Martha Plimpton and Jon Cryer among those on the roster. The show features music by Stephen Sondheim and book by George Furth. The all-star cast in the staged concert production performed live with the New York Philharmonic in April 2011, at the Lincoln Center. The DVD version was taped over three days of live performances.
Best Visual Arts: Gerhard Richter Painting Fans get a glimpse of legendary German artist Gerhard Richter's creative process in this documentary by Corinna Belz. Extras include several interviews with Richter, an interview with director Corinna Belz and theatrical trailers.