The Shelf Space Awards: March 2012

Fred Topel gives out our monthly awards to all the best, worst and weirdest Blu-rays released in the month of March.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


With a new approach to the monthly Blu-ray column, we’ve created The Shelf Space Awards, awarding the new Blu-ray releases worthy of space on your shelves. Blu-ray is so prolific now we hope to help you narrow down your purchases, and it also helps us feature a one stop roundup of the month’s big releases.


The Total Package Award

Well, what can I say about The Muppets? The movie alone is one of the most stunning reference quality Blu-rays I’ve ever seen. The picture is a clear as real life, and I can attest to what Hollywood Blvd. looks like in real life. You see all the detail in the felt and fur and textured backgrounds, plus the bright colors pop. You can even see dust particles in Muppet studio. That’s right, you can even see the air! Bonus features are a treat too, including some original video which turns behind the scenes fluff into more Muppet schtick. A couple of the deleted scenes are amusing, but that prison scene from the trailer will disappoint you. The intermission bit when you pause the movie is a brilliant idea. The schtick in the pause screen isn’t the A-list stuff but it’s a good effort. I mean, it’s new material with the Muppets and the quality is as HD as the movie itself, so it’s good stuff to explore.


The Tragic Nostalgia Award

When Whitney Houston passed away I started thinking a lot about how I saw The Bodyguard in high school. It was a seminal movie for us and classic Costner, so the new Blu-ray edition reminds us of the good old days. It’s really the perfect kind of transfer you hope for your favorite movies. You see a little bit of the original film grain but it’s mostly smoothed over for a clear HD picture. You see new detail and textures in the locations. There are a lot of different settings from bright Hollywood mansions to dark nightclubs to the winter cottage and they all hold up consistently. The sound is even enhanced giving you a bittersweet feeling when you hear Houston hit those high notes at the height of her abilities.


The William Bibbiani Memorial Boycott Award*

I know Bibbs didn’t like Young Adult but it might be a popular item. As a new release big studio movie, the Blu-ray looks fantastic. Especially considering the locations are all cheap motels, dingy bars and fast food joints, they’re full of color and flattering light on Charlize Theron. I even like the level of crusted on makeup she wears. I think that detail is hot.

[Editor's Note: I died?!]


The TV on Blu Ray Award

Game of Thrones. Exemplifying a wealth of fantasy locations, the HBO series is full of rich visions on Blu-ray. All the variety of their exotic locations show lush forests, crisp ice cliffs, golden palaces and earthy villages in rich, textured detail. You see every speck of production design, or natural setting. Occasionally a dark dungeon scene will spatter with digital noise but that’s to be expected. Entire episodes pass without that being an issue and the majority of footage is bright and clear.


The HD Babe of the Month Award

Demi Moore in Striptease. The Blu-ray is a reasonable transfer that still looks like a ‘90s film, but clear with new detail. But it preserves Moore in peak physical condition. You can see the muscle definition in her legs and abs as she struts and sways. Thank God this was committed to film and now preserved in high definition. Runner up goes to Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn, a much classier type of glamour. She really shines in the Marilyn scenes, even the dark moments in a tragic beauty kind of way.


The Unrelated Film Tie-in Award

Surely thanks to the release of The Hunger Games movie, we get the Battle Royale collection on Blu-ray. The films look good. As Asian films do, the overall picture is smoggy, but it’s clear. Both cuts of Battle Royale look smooth while Battle Royale II gets a little grainy and rougher.


The Authentic Film Grain Award

Some Blu-rays preserve the original grain of the 35mm film format, and lots of film aficionados love that. This month, the Blu-ray release of 9 ½ Weeks looks like the film you would have seen in theaters, if you’d been old enough to in the ‘80s. The picture remains sharp and clear, with a time portal into ‘80s New York, but those little silver particles dance around like they all used to.


The Undeservedly Awesome Transfer Award

Jack and Jill is somehow a reference quality Blu-ray. A perfectly clear picture, bright colors and the effects look seamless.


The "It Can’t Be Unseen" Award

Jack and Jill has a deleted scene with Jill in her underwear. The visual effect doesn’t work, maybe it’s unfinished as they spared theatrical audiences the full monty, but it’s still pretty traumatizing.


The Double Feature Double Dip Award

The new special edition of The Town and the Blu-ray release of Reindeer Games go together. Both Ben Affleck heist movies, you decide which order in which to play them. The new Town Blu-ray looks like the original release transfer, so still clear and gritty. The new ending could be what fans of the book wanted, I don’t know. Now you’ve got three different versions: theatrical, extended and extended/alternate ending, so one of them must be right. Games transfer is solid though looks very retouched. There’s some waxy look and some digital correction visible but it’s consistently clear, if a bit dim, and the snow looks really good. I guess I could have gone with Disclosure/Striptease as two Demi Moore sex movies but that’s comedy vs. thriller, not nearly as close as two heist movies.


The New Name, New Blu-ray Award

If you’ve already seen Twins Effect II aka Vampire Effect II, you’ve already seen Blade of Kings. The Well Go USA version is actually a really nice Blu-ray. It still looks like a Hong Kong film but it’s smoothed over and brings out the bright colors and detail (and flaws in their early visual effects attempts.) A few spots flare up with digital noise but as Hong Kong movies go it’s a solid job.


The “2D Looks Just Fine” Award

The standard Blu-ray release of The Adventures of Tintin just shows why you don’t even need 3D. The picture is so clear, it already feels like you’re looking into the landscapes without having to wear glasses. It’s all digital so the animation is polished and shiny, full of textural detail in all of the elements.


The Best Documentary Blu-Ray Award

Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel. The HD footage is actually a tad off, like the interviews are blown out, but the footage of Roger Corman films looks fantastic. It really captures the quality of each era of films, from degraded video to old film through the modern day cable productions. The film clips aren’t restored, they’re just preserved authentically and you can see the beauty of actual film and limited means.  For some new Corman, check out Camel Spiders, Corman’s Syfy Channel offering. The picture is so clear you can really see how bad not only the CGI spider effects are, but even the simple makeup for spider bites and webbing.


The Mood Lighting Award

The Wal-Mart exclusive Blu-ray of The Ring really captures the greenish hue of those creepy Japanese horror movies of which it is a remake. It gets lighter, darker, brighter, more muted as the scene requires. The transfer itself is striking with its clarity and detail in the frightened faces staring at a TV monitor.


The Sloppy Trilogy Award

Thanks to the upcoming American Reunion, we get the original American Pie trilogy on Blu-ray. Unfortunately, like many series releases, it seems all attention was paid to the first one and little to the sequels. American Pie looks great. The picture is clear, bright colors, detail (every crumb of the destroyed pie if you must know.) American Pie 2 looks the worst with a muddy, dirty looking tint to the picture. American Wedding looks better. The picture is the right color and brighter, but it is fuzzier. On its own it might look like a respectable transfer of a movie that was slightly pre-HD, but compared to Pie 1 it just looks like a less sharp transfer they dumped out to sell the set. You probably only wanted to buy the first one anyway.


The Oscar Winning Blu-Ray Award

Hugo technically came out February 28 but that still counts. And oh man, does it look great on Blu-ray. Everything glows, from the train station to the old Melies’ film sets. You see all the detail in the gears and metal, and the pipes drip with detail. The Descendents also came out this month and it just looks okay. The point is kind of the Hawaii isn’t glamorous, and the transfer is sharp and clear, but nothing standout about it. If Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close had won its Oscars, I could mention that the Blu-ray version is a startlingly clear portrait of New York City, but it didn’t win so I can’t.


The Remake Looks Great Award

Sucks that there are enough remakes for this to be a category, but Footloose comes to Blu-ray this month. It’s a solid transfer, a tiny bit of grain, but I guess that means they still shot it on film. The HD transfer still makes a clear picture for all those dancing shoes to cut loose with their hip new remakey moves.


The Kids Movie That Looks Amazing Award

They send me everything and that includes the kids movies. I like to check them out because they usually look great, and Happy Feet Two looks amazing. The computer animated picture is crisp and clear and you can see all the subtle detail in the different types of ice, and the beautiful shades of blue in the ice and water.


The Obsolete Technology Award

That virtual file system from Disclosure. You probably don’t remember this. In 1995, the Michael Crichton movie imagined that corporations would store their information digitally, but would access it by strapping into a VR helmet and sorting through the files as virtual avatars. It’s kind of funny to see these flashy graphic anomalies now. It’s supposed to look like a video game so the CGI is kind of spot on, and seeing Michael Douglas as a flickering avatar on Blu-ray kind of looks like a digital artifact. So I guess Crichton really was ahead of his time. The VHS tape in The Ring kind of counts as obsolete tech too but the rest of that movie looks stunning in HD.


The Best Classic Release Award

For those collectors of classic Hollywood, it’s got to be Paramount’s release of To Catch A Thief. The VistaVision is preserved beautifully with bright colors and a clear picture that shows off all the epic locations. If only Universal’s Deer Hunter release were quite as strong. It’s a good transfer with a crisp picture, but flares up with digital noise quite often.


Coming in April:

Looking forward to reviewing the Blu-rays of War Horse, We Bought a Zoo, Chinatown, The Darkest Hour, Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Shame, Haywire and, uh, Contraband.