2012 - Holiday Gift Guide - Part I

This weekend is Thanksgiving and as always that means Black Friday and Cyber Monday plus 48 hours of shopping in-between. Unlike most years, I'm only halfway done with my Christmas shopping. So what recent, and not so recent releases are prime candidates for the perfect gift this year? Over the next month, we will go over several dozen possibilities with our annual Holiday Gift Guide, which is divided into into four sections. This week we start 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 is the the third year year we have discussed whether or not it is wise to make the leap to 3D. One of the concerns was that 3D was a fade and that it would go away making a 3D setup rather pointless. That's unlikely. According to Wikipedia, there are nearly two dozen 3D films coming out in theaters next year alone. The price of a 3D camera is so low, that low-budget 3D releases are beginning to come out. 3D is likely here to stay. On the home market, there is at least one 3D release coming out nearly every week, even if most weeks there are no prime releases. The final piece of the puzzle is price. You can get a 47" 3DTV for just $600, while a good 3D capable home theater system will run you between $330 to $525. I figure on Black Friday, or better yet, Cyber Monday, you will be able to get a full 3D setup (player, TV, and home theater system) for $1,000. Is it worth it? For a lot of people it will be. If you are in need of a new HDTV anyway, you might as well spend the extra money to go 3D. However, there is one caveat. If you look at Amazon.com's prices, the Blu-ray releases for most films have a much deeper discount that the 3D releases. That's probably a sign that 3D isn't mainstream yet and waiting wouldn't hurt.

So what movies are worth watching on your new setup?

For those who want the culmination of an amazing experiment...
The Avengers - Buy from Amazon: Blu-ray Combo Pack or 3D Combo Pack
Description: Movies about super hero teams almost never work. Why? Because if you take the time needed to introduce all of the characters properly, the movie will be over before any action takes place. So in a brilliant, and risky plan, Marvel introduced most of the members of The Avengers in solo movies before assembling them into a team. And the first super villain they fought is one that they had previously dealt with.
Pros: It is one of the best movies of the year, and not just one of the best action movies of the year. It has an amazing balance of action, humor, and drama, and all of these areas are intelligently written. If someone ever says, 'It's just a mindless action movie.' in response to negative reviews, you can point to this film and say, 'Action movies don't have to be mindless to be entertaining.' Additionally, the Blu-ray has plenty of extras for even more entertainment value and it looks great in 3D.
Cons: The massive box set was pushed back till next year and it looks like it might be worth the wait.
On a side note: There's a scene in the movie that proves it was written and directed by Joss Whedon. Although, there are hints in the movie that the death was faked to motivate the team, and that's pretty much been confirmed by the casting of the new S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show.

For those who don't mind the trend of early reboots...
The Amazing Spider-Man - Blu-ray - DVD, Blu-ray Combo Pack, or 3D Combo Pack
Description: A reboot to the Spider-Man franchise made just five years after the end of the first trilogy. It stars Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker / Spider-Man and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy. It tells the origins of Spider-Man, which were not the same as in the first trilogy.
Pros: This is a movie made strictly for business reasons. After Disney purchased Marvel, Sony needed to make a new Spider-man movie in order to keep the movie rights to the character. If they lost the rights, Disney would gain them. Despite these calculated beginnings, the film's reviews are very good. Many critics praised the film for being more emotionally engaging than the first trilogy, while the acting and directing also earned high marks. There are plenty of extras, including some in 3D extras, which is a nice bonus.
Cons: Not everyone agreed and there were some reviews that were aggressively negative. It's not the best 3D around and it is kind of flat compared to other films that offer a lot more depth.

For those who don't mind waiting a lot time for a sequel...
Prometheus - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-ray Combo Pack, or 3D Combo Pack
Description: A prequel to the Alien franchise coming 15 years after the last installment. At the beginning of the movie, we see the origins of life on Earth before we flash forward to the crew of the Prometheus, a long distance space ship, as it travels to a distant planet to explore a new world where they think they will find an explanation for the origins of the human species. Of course, since this is an Aliens movie, you know the mission doesn't go as smoothly as that.
Pros: The film earned strong reviews with critics praising the acting, the mood, the action, the visual, etc. The Blu-ray is loaded with extras.
Cons: Like the previous film on this list, while the overall reviews were strong, a lot of the people who didn't like the movie, hated the movie. There is some really bad science in the movie, as well as other logical gaps. (If you are going to travel two years and 200 trillion miles, hire a crew that is excited about the mission, not ones just looking for a paycheck. Also, how can you have a 3-D map of an area and still get lost.)

For those who want the last installment of one of the best trilogies ever...
The Dark Knight Rises - DVD, Blu-ray Combo Pack, Limited Edition Blu-ray Combo Pack, Trilogy Blu-ray Set
Description: The final installment of the Christopher Nolan helmed Batman trilogy starring Christian Bale as the titular Dark Knight. This time he battles Bane, who is one of the most famous villains in the Batman's Rogues Gallery. He also has to deal with Catwoman, another of the most famous villains, who is also a sometime ally.
Pros: Overall, this incarnation of Batman is arguably the best. It is grittier and more realistic than most of the previous versions, although it is still completely insane. (The criminals in these movies are wholly unrealistic, which is necessary to justify a vigilante like Batman, but at least they are not cartoonish in nature.) The previous Blu-rays have been excellent, so I assume this one will be just as strong. (It hasn't been released yet, so I can't confirm that for myself.)
Cons: It's not the best film in the trilogy. This is partially because Bane is not an interesting character. He's not famous because of his personality, but because he broke Batman's back in the comics. Also, the film doesn't come out on the home market till December, so you won't get a chance to take advantage of the Black Friday sales.
On a side note: If you know someone who likes Batman and DC's animated movies, then Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 on DVD and Blu-ray Combo Pack would be a good choice. It has some of the same grittier nature the recent movies have had, but it is more cartoonish. (Also, the politics are facepalmingly bad. The term, "Strawman Attack" barely begins to describe things.)

For those who want the first installment of what could be one of the best trilogies ever...
The Hunger Games - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: Based on the first book in the Hunger Games trilogy, aptly named The Hunger Games. It is set in a dystopian world where the ruling Capital force the poorer regions to offer up two teenagers as tributes in a fight to the death, as punishment for a previous rebellion.
Pros: The book earned excellent reviews and it was a hot property for a movie adaptation. There were some concerns that the movie wouldn't live up to the book, but those concerns turned out to be unfounded. Not only was the film one of the best reviewed releases of the Spring, it was also a record-breaking hit and the number of extras on the Blu-ray reflects that. You can see the full review here for more details.
Cons: It is older than most of the rest of the releases on this list, so if they are interested in the movie, there's a better chance that they already have it.

For those who like their trilogy animated...
Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-ray Combo Pack, or 3D Combo Pack
Description: This time we follow our favorite zoo animals as they travel from Africa to Europe in their quest to finally get back to New York City. However, along the way, they run afoul of the world's most dedicated, and demented, animal control agent.
Pros: Every year there seems to be a flood of trilogies coming out. However, it is rare that the third film in a franchise is the best. Also, the Blu-ray and 3D Blu-ray are loaded with extras, including some that are exclusive to Blu-ray and push the technology (Picture-in-Picture track).
Cons: As I said in my review there's a lot more energy than plot. That said, there's still enough plot, and more than enough energy, to entertain the kids and most adults.

For those waiting to see Firefly or Serenity on this list...
Cabin in the Woods - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: As long time readers might know, Firefly and Serenity tend to find their way on to our holiday gift guide year after year. This is partially because they have been released so many times (DVD, Blu-ray, special edition, etc.), but mainly because I'm a huge Joss Whedon Fanboy. This year, there are no new releases, but the film he co-wrote, Cabin in the Woods did come out earlier this year.
Pros: There was a lot of hype going into this film and it topped expectations. Also, the DVD is loaded with extras and the Blu-ray has an additional Picture-in-Picture track.
Cons: Some films on this list you will be able to watch with everyone on Christmas day; this is not one of them. You need at least a little knowledge about American horror films to get some of the references.

For those who like the trend of 3-D re-releases...
Finding Nemo: 3-D Combo Pack - Buy From Amazon
Description: The story of an over-protective father, who drives his son to do something dangerous to prove he's not scared. As a result, the son is kidnapped and the father has to rescue him, thereby overcoming his own fears. The father is not played by Liam Neeson, but by Albert Brooks, who is playing a fish.
Pros: There have been a lot of 3-D re-releases to come out recently, not all of which earned good reviews. This is one of the best and the 3-D effects have earned a lot of praise. Plus, the Five-Disc 3D Combo pack appears to be loaded with extras. However...
Cons: The screener just arrived yesterday, so I haven't had a chance to review it yet. Also, it doesn't come out till after Black Friday / Cyber Monday. Finally, if you know about the nature of clown fish, the plot takes on strange twist. (Clown fish live in schools and are led by an Alpha Female. If the Alpha Female dies, the Alpha Male changes sex and become the new Alpha Female. That changes the whole movie.)

For those who wait for the 3D release when it came out last year...
Avatar - 3-D Blu-ray Combo - Buy from Amazon
Description: The biggest box office hit of all time. Do I need to say more than that?
Pros: I previously reviewed the earlier 2D releases, so there's little I need to say about the quality of the film. (Short review: Looks amazing. It's beyond amazing. The technical aspects are better than the plot, but that's not much of a complaint.) The reviews I've read said the 3D presentation is among the best, if not the best for a live action film.
Cons: I wasn't able to get a screener for the 3D version (There was just too much demand and not enough screeners to go around.) so I can't confirm this opinion for myself. Also, there are no extras on the 3D Blu-ray, so you'll have to keep the previous Blu-ray release as well.

For those who like James Cameron's 3-D releases, even his older releases...
Titanic - 3D Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon: Limited Edition or Collector's Giftset
Description: At one time, this was the highest grossing film of all time and it is based on one of the most famous disasters of all time. There's a cross-class love story inserted into the real-life disaster story.
Pros: It's a really good movie that deserves to be called Epic. It looks great on Blu-ray and there's a lot of extras. The 3-D is really good for a post-production conversion, or that's what most reviewers said.
Cons: I never got a chance to review it on 3D. Also, some of the special effects looked dated in 2D, so I'm not sure how they will look in 3D.

For those who like James Cameron's 3-D releases, even the documentaries...
Ghosts of the Abyss - 3D Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
Description: James Cameron's documentary on the real life resting place of the Titanic.
Pros: It is a very good movie and the reviews of the 3-D presentation are excellent, just like the other two James Cameron releases on this list.
Cons: Also like the other two, I never received a screener, so I can't judge for myself. Additionally, like the other two, it is more of a technical wonder than an in-depth, scholarly documentary. Finally, there are not a lot of extras.

For those who like 3-D releases, even if they were not big enough to get a theatrical release...
I, Robot - 3D Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
Description: Will Smith plays a detective in a near future world where robots are a central part of society. While robots are accepted in everyday life by just about everyone, he's one of the few people who don't trust robots. This comes in handy when a robot is accused of murdering his creator.
Pros: It is a good sci-fi action movie and Will Smith is a charismatic lead. It is more a popcorn flick than a cerebral story like its source material.
Cons: I'm still waiting for the screener, but so far the reviews of the 3-D conversion are good, but not great. It is well done, but the film wasn't shot with 3D in mind, so the 3D doesn't add a lot to the movie.

For those who don't want to think about a film from their childhood being classic, at least not yet...
ET: The Extra Terrestrial - Blu-ray Combo Pack - Buy from Amazon
Description: Long term readers know that each year we have a four-part Holiday Gift Guide. The first part, this list, is for major releases, franchise, etc., while the third part is for classics. I was going to put this film in the classics section, then I realized this would mean a film I was old enough to watch when it first came out is now considered a classic. I'm not willing to admit that.
Pros: While the film isn't old enough to be considered a classic, no matter what anyone says, it certainly is good enough to be considered a classic. Also, for a film that is 30 years old, it looks amazing on Blu-ray and the 7.1 surround sound audio track is just as good. There are also lots of extras on the Anniversary Edition Blu-ray and it is easily worth the upgrade.
Cons: Most of the extras are ported over from the DVD and they weren't upgraded to high definition. Hell, one of them is still in non-anamorphic widescreen. Really?

For those who liked the nuclear fridge...
Indiana Jones: The Complete Box Set - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
Description: Raiders of the Lost Ark is inarguably one of the most famous adventure movies of all time and it spawned a franchise that is still going strong.
Pros: The best films in the franchise are masterpieces of the genre. Even the weakest installment has huge replay value. The films look amazing on high definition and the box set is loaded with extras.
Cons: There's a weird backlash against George Lucas and some have decided they hate the fourth film. It did earn overwhelmingly positive reviews.

For those who waited a year to complete their collection...
Harry Potter - Wizard's Collection - Buy from Amazon
Description: Harry Potter is one of the biggest franchises of all time and while it was released on a Blu-ray Box Set last year, it was a barebones collection and the massive collector's edition was released this year.
Pros: It is a stunning 31-disc set loaded with extras, bonus discs, physical extras, and comes in a really cool box.
Cons: It is overpriced. There's really no way around that. It's five times as expensive as the regular box set and really should only be twice as expensive. Yes, there's nearly four times as many discs, but that includes twelve DVDs. I couldn't justify spending that much money on myself, but I wouldn't say no if someone bought it for me as a gift.

For those who like their franchises even bigger...
Bond 50 - Buy from Amazon
Description: Bond, James Bond.
Pros: All 22 movies released in a massive Blu-ray box set for a price that is very good, including nine that haven't been released on Blu-ray yet. The set is rounded off with a bonus disc of new extras that includes a production diary for Skyfall. There's so much here that it would take about a week to get through the entire box set. That's a week straight, without sleep.
Cons: You know there will be another box set coming out sooner rather than later. I would be shocked if there wasn't one for the 25th Bond Film, at least.

For those who are still debating the fate of Mr. Pink...
Quentin Tarantino: XX - Buy from Amazon
Description: Eight films from the career of Quentin Tarantino, starting with Reservoir Dogs and finishing with Inglourious Basterds.
Pros: The best films in this box set are simply amazing, while even the weakest are worth watching. There's two discs loaded with special features that makes up for the double-dips.
Cons: Like with all box sets of this nature, there's double-dips to deal with and missing films.

I think it is time to end the list there, as I've gone overboard again. 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.


- C.S.Strowbridge


Date posted: 2012-11-23