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2011 Holiday Gift Guide: Part I

November 23rd, 2011

This weekend is Thanksgiving and as always that means Black Friday and Cyber Monday plus 48 hours of shopping in-between. And as always, I've already done my Christmas shopping, for the most part. (I'm still waiting to see if the B.C.Lions win the Grey Cup. If not, I'll need to look for an alternative gift.) For everyone else who is still searching, we present the first part in our annual Holiday Gift Guide. As usual, the gift guide is divided into several sections, starting with Major Movie Releases. These are first run releases, franchise box sets, etc. However, before we get into the individual titles, we will start with an update on...

3D TV

This time last year I mentioned that it would cost between $2000 and $4000 to get a 3D setup, depending on the size of the 3D TV, if you needed a new player, how many glasses you needed to buy etc. I also mentioned how there were only five or so prime 3D releases, meaning the cost per movie was in the hundreds of dollars, so making the leap to 3D just wasn't worth it. Has that changed in the past twelve months? Yes and no. Prices for a full 3D TV setup have fallen to about half of what they were last year, while the number of 3D movies have skyrocketed. Disney alone has released about a dozen animated films on 3D over the past few months. (It looks like they will be releasing the entire Pixar catalogue soon.) On the other hand, 3D is still a niche market on the home market, while a lot of live action films are converted to 3D post-production, that's not always a wise choice.

Last year I predicted the cost of a 3D setup (TV, glasses, and player) would be about $2000, and I was right, more or less. (If you want a 65" screen, then it will cost you a whole lot more, but a 46" screen with all the trimmings is under $2000.) I also predicted there could be more than 100 releases and I was right, although some of them fall under the "Edutainment" category and are not first run releases. Despite these predictions coming true, I think it might be wise to wait another year, because the ticket sales for 3D movies has weakened. It's usually only truly worth it when the film is shot in 3D, or it was a CG animated film, which is easy to convert post-production.

And now we move onto the actual movies being released...

For those who still can't wait for 3D...
Toy Story: 3D Trilogy Box Set: Buy from Amazon
Description: These films are based on a simple premise that I think every kid wondered about: What do your toys do when you are not around? Do they come alive and have their own adventures?
Pros: The first digitally animated franchise of all time and still the best. All three movies earned Oscar worthy reviews. Plus because it is a computer animated film, it is very easy to convert it into 3D after the fact, so it looks amazing, unlike many live action post-production conversions.
Cons: This box set only includes the 3D Blu-rays, so if you want the regular Blu-rays, DVDs and digital copies, you will have to buy the three movies separately.

For those who want a trilogy double-shot...
Star Wars - Buy from Amazon: The Complete Saga or Original Trilogy and Prequel Trilogy
Description: One of the biggest movie franchises of all time, and when it comes to the first trilogy, groundbreaking as well. If you haven't heard of these movies, I would love to know how you found this site.
Pros: The Original Trilogy is considered by many to be the best trilogy ever and it was one of the most anticipated Blu-ray releases in the history of the format. And as I pointed out in my review of The People vs. George Lucas, the prequels were underrated. Finally, the The Complete Saga comes with three other discs full of extras and is the better deal.
Cons: Not every change made to the franchise is a good one and there are some who are holding out for classic versions of the movies. And they will be released eventually.

For those who prefer fantasy over science fiction...
Lord of the Rings - Extended Edition - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
Description: An adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's most famous work. The three movies were filmed concurrently, which many thought was a risk. The studio was spending $300 million on the trilogy and there was a chance the first would bomb and as a result the other two films would only get token releases. (This has happened, more than once.) Fortunately, that didn't happen.
Pros: In fact, the three films were all box office and critical hits. They earned a combined $1 billion domestically and just shy of $3 billion worldwide, while the films earned 30 Oscar nominations, winning 17 of them. The Blu-ray box was also one of the most anticipated releases in the history of the format and, while there are no exclusive extras, it is still absolutely worth the upgrade.
Cons: The 15-disc set will take days to get through. That's not really a downside, but a warning.

For those who want yet another trilogy...
Jurassic Park: Ultimate Trilogy - Buy from Amazon: DVD Box Set, Blu-ray Box Set, or Blu-ray Gift Set
Description: Another trilogy? Really? An adaptation of the Michael Crichton books about an amusement park filled with cloned dinosaurs.
Pros: The first film was one of the most anticipated films of the decade, and it lived up to the hype. The box set is loaded with new features, while the Blu-rays look and sound amazing.
Cons: As I mentioned in my review, while the first movie is amazing, the second movie is only a good popcorn flick, and the final film was a disappointment.

For those who want more choices in trilogies...
Mission: Impossible: Extreme Blu-ray Trilogy: Buy from Amazon
Description: Tom Cruise stars as Ethan Hunt in these adaptations of the classic TV show. Each one features Ethan dealing with a new threat, sometimes with a team, but mostly focuses on him.
Pros: Fans of Secret Agent movies should enjoy these three films, which earned $1.4 billion worldwide. All three films have different writers and directors, which gives the franchise much more variety that you would expect, and this is mostly a good thing. The Blu-rays have an impressive amount of extras and the box set is about half the cost of the three films individually.
Cons: This box set was previously released in 2006, so the recipient might already have it. However, that was five years ago when the format was in its infancy, so it's likely very few people own it. On the other hand, the average video and audio quality for Blu-rays has improved over the years. For instance, these don't have lossless audio tracks.

For those who want the best of this year's crop of digital animation...
Rango - DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: Johnny Depp provides the voice for the titular character, a chameleon who is a household pet that, by accident, becomes the sheriff of a desert town. There he has to deal with gangs and conspiracy theories, all while trying to figure out what happened to the water.
Pros: Arguably the best digitally animated movie to come out this year, at least of the batch that have reached the home market. It shines in every area from the voice work, to the story, to the design. The Blu-ray is also loaded with additional extras, including some that push the technology.
Cons: I still don't know who this movie is aimed at. It's a kids movie, but it is filled with references to films no kid will get (Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, Chinatown, etc.).

For those that like their animation a little more old school...
Winnie the Pooh - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: A series of loosely connection vignettes set in the Hundred Acre Wood with Winnie the Pooh looking for honey, the entire gang looking for a tail for Eeyore, and later trying to rescue Christopher Robin.
Pros: Arguably the best animated movie to come out this year, at least of the group that has hit the home market. And personally, even with a Tomatometer Score of 91% positive, I thought it was underrated. It managed to nearly perfectly replicate the look and feel of the original, which means it should please the kids of today, plus the parents who will watch the movie with them. Also, it was mostly ignored at the box office, so there's a chance the recipient won't have thought of buying it already.
Cons: The movie is short, so expect to see it three or four times on Christmas Day alone. (Not that I would complain.) Also, there are not a lot of extras on the DVD or the Blu-ray.

For those that like their animation really old school...
Dumbo - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: One of Disney's golden age feature-length animated films. It follows a circus elephant, the titular Dumbo, who was born with huge ears. An outcast whose mother was locked up after she tried to defend him. His only companion is Timothy, a mouse, who acts as his surrogate parent and promoter.
Pros: This era was considered Disney's Golden Age for a reason. Also, the Blu-ray looks amazing and while the extras includes a Picture-in-Picture Cine-Explore track.
Cons: It's a short movie and far less advanced in terms of story or animation than others in the Golden Age.

For those who can't wait for The Avengers...
Captain America: The First Avenger - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Thor - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: The final two solo films before The Avengers hits theaters next year. Thor setup the Norse Mythology, at least how it fits in with the Marvel universe. While Captain America: The First Avenger dealt with the Nazis trying to harness a Nordic for evil.
Pros: Both films earned very good reviews. Both look great in high definition. Both have plenty of extras on their DVDs / Blu-rays.
Cons: Both films have problems. With Thor, many critics either didn't like the time spent in Asgard, or the time spent on Earth, or the change in tone between the two. Plus is was quite dark. Captain America spent so much time going over the origin of the character that we barely got to see him in action. Those are minor compared to their strengths.
Notes: Make it a Marvel triple-shot and grab X-Men: First Class on DVD or Blu-ray as well.

For those who want some nostalgia with their Sci-fi...
Super 8 - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: A group of kids are trying to make a film for a local film festival when the location they are shooting at becomes the center of a train disaster. However, it wasn't just any train, but a Air Force train with some seriously top secret cargo. Now the military has shown up
Pros: Written and directed by J.J. Abrams and produced by Steven Spielberg. That set up some really high expectations, but the film met them. (Although it was the child actors who were arguably the best part of the movie.) The film looks and sounds amazing on Blu-ray, plus there are a ton of extras.
Cons: Some have complained that the film relies too much on nostalgia with a few too many elements borrowed from previous films.

For those who can't wait for the super duper box set...
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: It would take a strained effort to avoid all contact with popular culture to not know about Harry Potter.
Pros: The franchise ended on an incredible high note, while the home market releases have been constantly amazing.
Cons: The studio is releasing the films for a limited time before releasing a special box set next year. It's worth the wait.

For those who will have to wait for a little while longer...
Kung Fu Panda 2 - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: Po and the others have another adventure when a new villain, Shen, threatens to destroy all of Kung Fu.
Pros: The reviews were excellent, even if they were a little weaker than the original's reviews were.
Cons: It doesn't come out for a few more weeks, so I don't have a screener yet. I don't know how it looks, or what extras are on the DVD and / or Blu-ray.

For those who were disappointed with Hangover 2...
Bridesmaids - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: Kristen Wiig stars as a woman dealing with a company going bust, a relationship filled with problems, who should be excited when her best friend tells her she is getting married. (It doesn't. It just makes her more depressed.) However, while trying to plan the perfect Bridal Shower, everything seems to go wrong.
Pros: There were a lot of R-rated comedies that came out this year. This one was the best. Top to bottom, everything about this film worked. It has very high replay value and years from now it should still be thought of as a classic.
Cons: There were not just a lot of R-rated comedies that came out this year, but too many of them. There's a chance burn out has set in for some.

For those who were disappointed with the 2001 version of Planet of the Apes...
Rise of the Planet of the Apes - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: Planet of the Apes is one of the longest running movie franchises around, and this film tells the story of how it all began.
Pros: This film earned incredible reviews and by all accounts should really please long time fans of the franchise, as well as newcomers.
Cons: It doesn't come out till the sixth of December, so I don't have details on extras, video / audio quality, etc.

For those who were happy summer started a week early this year...
Fast Five - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: Fast Five opened in theaters on the last weekend in April, which is normally a really bad time to open a movie, as competition from a summer blockbuster could crush it. However, not only was this film a hit, it was a bigger hit than many of the summer blockbusters that opened after it.
Pros: It is a fun ride with everything you could want from a popcorn flick. The Blu-ray also looks and sounds great, while both formats have enough extras to add significant value.
Cons: While it is a great popcorn flick, it doesn't do too much to rise above that label. Also, when they do try emotional character growth, the two male leads are not up to the task.

There are also quite a few other major releases that came out this year that have already hit the home market, but films like Transformers: Dark of the Moon or The Hangover 2 were disappointing and are not gift guide material.

Next week we will get to some TV on DVD releases, while we still have Independent / Foreign / Classics to go over. Not to mention the final panic week where I talk about everything else movie related, plus a few DVDs / Blu-rays I will inevitably miss over the coming weeks.


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Filed under: Monthly Preview, Star Wars Ep. IV: A New Hope, Star Wars Ep. I: The Phantom Menace, Star Wars Ep. III: Revenge of the Sith, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Jurassic Park, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Star Wars Ep. II: Attack of the Clones, Star Wars Ep. VI: Return of the Jedi, Star Wars Ep. V: The Empire Strikes Back, Toy Story 2, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible 2, Toy Story, Jurassic Park III, Mission: Impossible, Mission: Impossible III, Dumbo, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II, Thor, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I, Toy Story 3, Kung Fu Panda 2, Captain America: The First Avenger, Rango, Fast Five, Bridesmaids, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Super 8, Winnie the Pooh