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2007 - Holiday Gift Guide - Part I

December 2nd, 2007

It's the first of December. (At least it was when I was writing this intro the first time. I was only going to do a dozen or so releases, but the list ballooned well out of control.) This week kicks off our second annual Holiday Gift Guide with a look at some high definition releases, because nothing says holidays like a format war.

First, let's start off with some general breakdown on the two competing formats, HD-DVD and Blu-Ray.

Before we compare the two competing formats, let's look at switching from Standard Definition to High Definition
Pros: The picture quality is amazing for both formats. The new technology allows for interactive features that were unimaginable on DVD. Both formats can be upgraded over the Internet through Ethernet ports.
Cons: There is a format war and a lot of people are waiting till there is a winner to jump into high definition. The cost is still too high for many people, especially if you don't have a HDTV yet. All movies released on either high definition format are also coming out on DVD, most films coming out on DVD are not coming out on either high definition format.

HD-DVD
Pros: It's a simpler format, and that's really its only advantage. However, this advantage plays out in a number of ways. For instance, it is a lot easier to make the hardware, resulting in cheaper players. The players also tend to be less buggy. (It used to be cheaper to make the software as well, but this advantage seems to have disappeared.)
Cons: While the technology is simpler, it is also less advanced and the disc can't hold nearly as much information. (And don't give me that crap about the triple layer 51 GB disc. That was pure marketing and no one is using it.) Finally, there are fewer studios supporting this format, fewer discs being released, and it is not selling as well. That last item isn't a knock against the format itself, but when players cost this much, you don't want to back the losing side.

Blu-Ray
Pros: It is the newer format and has more power behind it. It has more studios backing it and more discs being released. Blu-Ray discs tend to have more features on them and more often the special features are also in high definition, (this is true of the upcoming Harry Potter Release and this could be the tipping point in the Format War). They use an advanced polymer on the discs making them scratch and fingerprint resistant and therefor more durable.
Cons: It's the newer format and this means the technology is more expensive and not as reliable. (I've had two Blu-Ray discs fail on me and only one HD-DVD disc do the same.) The format has not been finalized, which means if you bought a Blu-Ray player made earlier in the year, it won't have the same features as one made next year.

Conclusion: While I have both formats, I would suggest that for most people the best bet is to wait a year and buy a fourth or fifth generation Blu-Ray player.

And now we move onto the actual movies / TV shows being released...

For those waiting and hoping a sequel will come...
Serenity on HD-DVD
Description: I bought this release when it first came out, months before I had a HD-DVD player. In fact, at the time I wasn't even planning on buying HD-DVD. This is the third version of Serenity and when the Collector's Edition comes out on HD-DVD, I'll be buying that as well. And when it comes out on Blu-Ray, I'll buy it again. I'll buy every version they release till they make a sequel.
Pros: Serenity is an amazing movie and very visual, perfect for High Definition.
Cons: There are no cons. Buy it, even if you don't have a HD-DVD player. Together we will get a sequel made.
Notes: And if you are pushing two lost causes, grab Blu-Ray as well. That movie too deserves a sequel.

For those who like under-appreciated horror comedies, which is practically every one ever made...
Slither on HD-DVD
Description: Horror comedies are arguably one of the hardest genres to market, and even though the film earned overwhelmingly positive reviews, it bombed at the box office.
Pros: A great movie that should be seen by more. The low-budget effects look great in High Definition
Cons: It's an HD-DVD / DVD combo disc, which is more expensive than regular discs and tend to be buggy. Also, it doesn't do enough with the format and that limits the value of the upgrade.
Notes: It appears that Nathan Fillions latest movie, White Noise 2: The Light is being dumped direct-to-DVD. And not just direct-to-DVD, but direct-to-HD-DVD, thus continuing his run of movies with good reviews that miss at the box office.

For those worried about shooting your eye out...
A Christmas Story on HD-DVD or Blu-Ray
Description: A classic Christmas movie about a boy who only wants a Red Ryder Carbine Action, 200-Shot, Range Model Air Rifle.
Pros: There are few movies that have been made that have better replay value than this movie. It's the kind that you could watch any time of year and still enjoy. It's the kind of movie you could watch more than one a day and still enjoy.
Cons: Doesn't do enough with the technology to be worth the upgrade. (Get used to that phrase, you will read it a lot when it comes to either format.)

For those who want to save the cheerleader, even if they don't care about the rest of the workd
Heroes - Season 1 on HD-DVD
Description: One of the best new shows from last season, it managed to be instantly engaging combing the sci-fi super hero element with real human drama.
Pros: One of the best TV on DVD releases to come out on either high definition format. Not only does it look great, it takes advantage of the technology to give us extras you can't get on DVD.
Cons: Season 2 hasn't started out as well as season 1 leaving some to ask whether it has jumped the shark already. If it can't turn things around, it could be a short-lived show and season 1 will be the only season worth picking up.

For those who remember her before she was the cheerleader
Remember the Titans on Blu-Ray
Description: One of a long line of inspirational coach movies that was based on real life events and until very recently, the biggest hit of Denzel Washington's career.
Pros: My personal favorite of the genre and one that holds up very well seven years later.
Cons: Doesn't do enough with the technology.

For those who like their fairtales with a dark side...
Pan's Labyrinth on HD-DVD or Blu-Ray
Description: One of the best movies of 2006. The film earned several Oscar nominations winning three awards, (Although strangely not Best Foreign Language Film).
Pros: As visual as it is engaging, and the High Definition releases have bonus extras not available on the DVD releases.
Cons: Doesn't actually come out till the 26th.

For those who dream of electronic sheep...
Blade Runner - Five-Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition on HD-DVD or Blu-Ray
Description: Blade Runner didn't catch on during its initial theatrical run, but became a cult classic with a fanbase that only grew during the 25 years it was first released.
Pros: While the fanbase has grown, the number of versions has grown faster, but fortunately this version has all five of them. In addition, the Collector's case comes with plenty of physical extras like a replica of the car, unicorn figurine, not to mention the case. A super gift for geeks like me.
Cons: It is expensive. It is worth the price, but it is expensive.

For those who have wished on a falling star...
Stardust on HD-DVD
Description: A fantasy film that earned great reviews but was perhaps too difficult to market. After a slow start, it did show great legs, but it was too little too late.
Pros: A great movie, especially if you liked The Princess Bride and visual enough to pop on HD-DVD.
Cons: The disc doesn't do enough with the technology. In fact, the extras are light compared to most DVD releases.

For those expecting I was going to make a bad wand joke...
Harry Potter Years 1-5 Limited Edition Gift Set on HD-DVD or Blu-Ray
Description: The first five movies from the Harry Potter franchise in high definition for the first time.
Pros: It's the first five movies from the Harry Potter franchise in high definition for the first time. What more do you want?
Cons: There will certainly be a full franchise Megaset that will have better features. Also, the extras on the HD-DVD release are in standard definition, so if you have both format, get the Blu-Ray release instead.

For those who grew up in the 1960s...
Star Trek: The Original Series - The Complete First Season on HD-DVD
Description: The first season of the series that started it all, and for the first time on high definition.
Pros: Arguably the best season of the best series in the Star Trek franchise, and it's never looked better. In addition, the 10-disc set takes advantage of the technology giving extras you couldn't get on DVD.
Cons: Wow, that's a high price. Also, they messed with some of the special effects, and that might frustrate some of the more diehard fans.

For those who grew up in the 1980s...
The Transformers on HD-DVD
Description: An action packed popcorn flick that bears too little resemblance to the original cartoon for my taste, but is still a fun ride.
Pros: Arguably the biggest surprise of the year, it is also the best selling HD-DVD of all time, and with good reason. Excellent selection of extra, including internet enabled features.
Cons: Fans of the original cartoon will be upset with the number of changes made and the tone of the film. As amazing as it seems, the movie has less soul than the original Saturday morning cartoon.

For those hoping four and five will be better...
Shrek the Third on HD-DVD
Description: Third time was definitely not the charm here as Shrek the Third was the weakest of the franchise so far. That said, it should still please kids if not adults.
Pros: One of the biggest hits of the year, and that means there's strong demand. Purely digital content means a great picture. Uses the technology to give extra content in the form of internet features.
Cons: Weakest of the four $300 million hits to come out this year. Almost guaranteed there will be another version of the movie coming out before The Next Shrek comes out and a Megaset when the franchise is done.

For those who remember the earliest days of computer animation...
The Last Starfighter on HD-DVD
Description: Alex Rogan doesn't have much going on in his life and seems destined to be stuck in his small town trailer park. The only thing he excels at is the arcade game, The Last Starfighter. After beating the game, he's recruited by a alien to help in a space battle as a real starfighter.
Pros: I may be a little biased here, but I loved this movie as a kid and it is great fun to see it again, even if it's just for nostalgia.
Cons: The transfer doesn't really seem high definition and the extras are weak even compared to the average DVD.

For those who want to see the latest and greatest computer animation...
Ratatouille on Blu-Ray
Description: The latest from Pixar was about a rat in a restaurant and it earned arguably the best reviews of the year.
Pros: Not only were the reviews nearly perfect, the animation is amazing on high definition and the Blu-Ray disc as plenty of extras, including those that take advantage of the technology.
Cons: Didn't earn as much as previous Pixar release and some think that this is because having a film about a rat in a restaurant is gross.
Notes: Another great gift idea is Cars on Blu-Ray.

For those who want to see everything in-between when it comes to computer animation...
Pixar Short Film Collection - Volume 1 on Blu-Ray
Description: Every single Pixar short film from before they were even called Pixar till Lifted.
Pros: It's a history lesson on computer animation complete with audio commentary track and featurette. For anyone interested in the medium, this is practically a must have.
Cons: Doesn't do enough with the technology. There are no additional extras, and it's kind of funny to see the really old releases in such high detail, since they don't have that much detail to show.

For those who like their computer animation flat...
The Simpsons Movie on Blu-Ray
Description: This is a movie that really could have sucked. The series has clearly jumped the shark and there was worries that is would just be a cash grab. Fortunately, the movie was great.
Pros: A very funny film for a series that has a lot of fans.
Cons: A lot of very dedicated fans. Given the strong reviews and the short legs, the Fanboy Effect is very much in pay here meaning there's a good chance most people who want the movie have pre-ordered it already.

For those who like biggest and the best...
Spider-Man 3 on Blu-Ray
Description: Spider-Man 3 was the biggest hit of the year, and the best reviewed of the four $300 million movies released this year.
Pros: This is still a very good movie that earned weaker reviews because it suffered when compared to the first to films in the franchise and the 2-disc set is very well done.
Cons: However, it doesn't do enough with the technology. A blockbuster like this needs something you just can't get on DVD to justify it's existence. Also, it's very likely there will be another version released, perhaps even a special edition Megaset with all three movies and I recommend waiting for that.
Notes: Is also coming out on a Trilogy Box Set, but the first two movies are just the single-disc editions, further suggesting this isn't the last release for this movie.

For those of you with 'tweens...
High School Musical 2 - Extended Edition on Blu-Ray
Description: The cultural phenomenon continues with this record breaking TV movie.
Pros: If you have a 'tween, this is a mandatory purchase.
Cons: If you don't have a 'tween, stay far, far away.

For those who like their comedies rated R...
Superbad on Blu-Ray
Description: One of the funniest films of the year and a surprise hit at the box office earning more than $120 million on a production budget of less than $20 million.
Pros: Seth Rogan follows in Judd Apatow footsteps creating a comedy that gets its laugh based on real characters, and that's something that has not happened a lot in this age of gross-out comedy. Also, the Blu-Ray disc is overloaded with extras, including Superbad Supermeter, which is not on the DVD.
Cons: This film earns its R-rating, do not be mistaken about that. It may be about two kids in high school, but this is a movie for adults.
Notes: Also worth picking up are Knocked Up on HD-DVD and The 40-Year Old Virgin on HD-DVD.

For those who like their action films rated Arrr. Get it? It's a pirate pun! Moving on...
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End on Blu-Ray
Description: The final film in the Pirates trilogy was the weakest of the three, but still a fun ride.
Pros: Massive 2-disc Blu-Ray release really pushes the technology and could be one of the best high definition releases of the year.
Cons: Perhaps it pushes it a little too much as my player can't handle it. (I think I need an upgrade to my Java player, but one is not available at the moment.)
Notes: Also worth picking up are Curse of the Black Pearl on Blu-Ray and Dead Man's Chest on Blu-Ray.

For those who are as confused as me...
Lost - Season Three on Blu-Ray
Description: One of the most talked about shows the year it debuted. It has been inconsistent since then, but still worth checking out every week. In fact, it's better on DVD than on TV.
Pros: If you are like me and can't get to watch the same shows every week, TV on DVD is a godsend, especially for shows like this one where missing an episode can mean missing key information that makes catching up almost impossible. Also, the Blu-Ray release has extras on available on the DVD.
Cons: The show has a five-year arc, and at the end of that arc it is very likely a Megaset will be released with even more extras.

For those trying to figure out what the other two kinds are...
Close Encounters of the Third Kind - 30th Anniversary Ultimate Edition on Blu-Ray
Description: A classic sci-fi film coming out on high definition for the first time.
Pros: This is the first time any Steven Spielberg film has ever come out on high definition, and it contains all three versions of the film plus plenty of extras, including some not found on the DVD.
Cons: Its sales were really bad suggesting its time may have past. Either that not enough people know it was released.

For those who don't know the meaning of the word die...
Die Hard Collection on Blu-Ray
Description: All four films from the Die Hard franchise in one Megaset.
Pros: The franchise was able to maintain a high quality level throughout most of its run and the films have never looked better.
Cons: Live Free or Die Hard is the PG-13 version seen in theaters and not the Unrated version that came out on DVD. (Although the changes are very minor.)

For those who don't think thirteen is an unlucky number...
Ocean's Trilogy on HD-DVD or Blu-Ray
Description: The heist trilogy in one Megaset released in both formats.
Pros: I love heist and this is one of the best franchises in the genre, even if the second one was a little weak.
Cons: There's not a whole lot extra on the high definition version to make the upgrade worth it, and certainly nothing that pushes the technology.

For those who like to keep their mind wide open...
Bridge to Terabithia on Blu-Ray
Description: An adaptation of the book of the same name. The movie earned beat expectations at the box office.
Pros: One of the best movies I reviewed this year, this film features amazing performance by AnnaSophia Robb and Josh Hutcherson as well as an excellent mix of drama and fantasy.
Cons: There are no extras on the Blu-Ray release that weren't on the DVD and there's nothing that really pushes the technology.
Notes: Strangely, both AnnaSophia Robb and Josh Hutcherson followed up this film with two terrible movies, The Reaping and Firehouse Dog, which opened the same week. Neither is worth owning, even on Blu-Ray or HD-DVD.

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Filed under: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Cars, Ratatouille, The Simpsons Movie, Knocked Up, Live Free or Die Hard, Ocean's Twelve, Superbad, Ocean's Thirteen, The 40 Year-old Virgin, Bridge to Terabithia, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Stardust, El Laberinto del Fauno, Serenity, The Reaping, Firehouse Dog, Slither, Pixar Short Film Collection - Volume 1, High School Musical 2