It’s hard to believe that we are nearing the end of 2013. When I began thinking about assembling this list there weren’t as many titles coming to the forefront of my mind as I’d hoped. Once I began going over this year’s reviews I didn’t have any problem coming up with 25 titles that either look, sound or look and sound great making them worthy additions to the collections of enthusiasts. While the year isn’t quite over I wanted to post this article prior to the beginning of the holiday shopping season.
I have included remarks from my review of each along with a link to the review that can be accessed by clicking on the title.
Based on director Joseph Kosinski’s graphic novel of the same name Oblivion is an ambitious, visually engaging and conceptually evocative sci-fi action/thriller that is epic in scope but is slightly derailed by a middling script. Be that as it may I still found much to like and had a good time. It comes to Blu-ray from Universal Studios Home Entertainment featuring glossy reference quality high definition video superb DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound and a fair supplemental offering that looks behind the scenes and includes the option of watching the film while listening to the isolated music score.
Based upon the works of L. Frank Baum, who authored The Wizard of Oz, Oz the Great and Powerful isn’t as wholly satisfying as its inspiration however it is a well crafted, marvelously executed and entertaining film that reflects the spirit of the authors’ vision. It comes to Blu-ray in both 3D and 2D Blu-ray options with the latter being a combo pack and the former a single disc edition that omits supplemental material. From a technical perspective each presentation offers a surreally involving high definition viewing experience that is pure demonstration material. I found the 3D video to be outstanding and among the best that I have seen since the format’s inception.
This is a beautifully crafted digital film that looks amazing in high definition. From start to finish this presentation is nothing short of mesmerizing in its depiction of the film’s animated images. The video is exquisitely detailed, incredibly three dimensional and never left me wanting for fine degrees of subtle delineation and texture. The 7.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio makes for an engaging and fun home theater experience that brings out the superbly crafted and sometimes delicate nature of the soundtrack. Subtle nuance in both the sound effects and Alan Silvestri’s wonderful music score is readily apparent. Excellent dynamic range and crystal clarity enable the shifts from moments of quiet to visceral action to shine equally.
The 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is excellent and truly enhances the film’s overall presentation. This is a dynamically gratifying surround mix that features high level detail, superlative clarity, and rich, room filling surround sound. This is sophisticated sound design that incorporates a vast number of sound effects that are intricately mixed to engage the listening position. Spot on imaging and channel separation draw out both large and small sounds and allow their directional correlation based upon the onscreen events to be definable within the room’s acoustic boundaries.
Man of Steel is screenwriter David S. Goyer and director Zack Snyder’s re-imaging of Superman and while some have complained that it lacks character development and has an over reliance upon CGI I enjoyed its “take” on the character. I will admit that it isn’t as well rounded as I’d hoped but I find it to be an entertaining film experience that is found in the total sum of its parts. Man of Steel comes to Blu-ray from Warner Home Video in both 3D (the subject of this review) and 2D Combo Packs. The 3D converted video presentation probably won’t be your go to disc to show off screen popping effects but I found it complimented the film nicely. The 2D high definition video appeared to faithfully represent the film’s theatrical presentation and looked terrific on my big screen. The DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound is among this year’s best on Blu-ray and knocked my socks off.
Pacific Rim is a rock ‘em sock ‘em good time plain and simple. This isn’t provocatively deep filmmaking nor is it intended to be. What it is, is a full on sci-fi action thriller with an ambitious slant on the monster movie genre. I found it to be thoroughly fulfilling in that regard and enjoyed the infusion of elements that distill the subject matter. It comes to Blu-ray from Warner Home Video in both 3D and 2D Combo Packs that feature resplendent 3D/2D high definition video, rip roaring DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound and a complimentary assortment of bonus supplements that are well worth exploring. If you’re a fan this is a must have Blu-ray that is sure to be at the top of your demonstration material list. Enjoy!
Four years in the making director Ang Lee’s passion and vision are fully realized in this dazzling spectacle that stretches the limits of imagination as it teeters between what we as the audience might conceive as possible or impossible. Either way Life of Pi reaches out to us on varying levels allowing us to draw from its visual lyrics and shaped metaphors. Life of Pi is one of those high definition presentations that looks as good in 3D as it does in 2D. Films like this are tailor made for lossless audio’s higher fidelity and Fox’s 7.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio mix doesn’t disappoint. This reference quality soundtrack bristles with active surround sound, extended dynamic range, and punctuated, room energizing bass that makes for an involving home theater experience.
Rise of the Guardians isn’t as heartwarmingly engaging as some of the better animated films from DreamWorks but it’s spirited, apropos and perfectly suited perennial entertainment that I rather enjoyed. Speaking of enjoyable it looks absolutely beautiful in high definition. Both the 3D and 2D presentations offer breathtaking visuals are perfect for showing the capabilities of your high definition display. In addition to that the Dolby TrueHD 7.1 channel soundtrack is top notch and compliments the video in rousing style.
Action films like this live or die by their soundtracks and this DTS-HD Master Audio mix gets it right. This is an engaging surround sound mix that features an array of well placed sound effects that at times prove very involving. I appreciated the attention to detail that went into creating the surround mix as it effectively replicates the environments featured in the film. Near field sounds are accurately placed within the sound field which gives them multi-dimensional perspective that places you right in the middle of the action. Low frequencies are rich, and occasionally room energizing as they accentuate the audio’s excellent dynamic range with palpable impact. Dialogue intelligibility is never a problem even during the film’s more active moments. This is a great surround sound presentation that makes for an entertaining home theater experience. Be sure to give the volume knob an extra turn.
Any shortcomings associated with the script are forgivable as I found World War Z to be an engaging film experience that took the genre in an offbeat and entertaining direction that elevates it just slightly above your typical popcorn flick. The action based sequences transform the listening area into a three dimensional sound field that generates involving surround activity that mates perfectly with the events unfolding onscreen. Low frequency effects produce deep resonating bass that rumbles with tactile authority and occasionally pressurizes the room. A great example of this can be found at the 1:05:31 mark during a firefight in Israel. There is a sweeping four of five second low frequency burst that reaches down deep and literally shook my room. It sounded so good I played it back three or four times. The track as a whole sounds quite excellent in this regard.
The Great Gatsby was shot natively in 3D and is framed in its native aspect of 2.40:1. Large portions of the film were shot against green screens and the reproduction of the digital effects and wide angle background elements translates positively here. There is little use of 3D imagery that goes well beyond the screen’s borders but natural dimension abounds which enhances the “being there” effect. This is a superlative audio presentation that features wide dynamic range built around a wonderfully balanced surround mix that sounds great. Clarity and detail are exemplary which reveal lots of subtle nuance in the recording. The mix of dialogue and music play an integral and central role however there are brief moments that allow this mix to flex its dynamic muscle.
This is a gorgeous and stunning reference quality video presentation from Paramount. Images onscreen exhibit high level detail, razor sharpness and resolute definition that bring out the lifelike textures captured by the camera. At times dimensional perspective has an infinite appeal that is captivating. Superb imaging and channel separation draw out both large and small sounds and allow their directional correlation based upon the onscreen events to be definable. Michael Giancchino’s music score drives the story and helps set the stage with its perfect blend of evocative instrumentation and rousing orchestration.
Knowing Disney I had high hopes for this native 3D presentation and of course I wasn’t disappointed. Monster’s University incorporates its share of fun pop out of the screen 3D however its implementation isn’t overplayed. This is a stellar 3D presentation that features superlative onscreen dimensional correlation. Textures abound as the richness of the digitally created objects onscreen are incredibly nuanced and lifelike regardless of their placement within the frame. The 7.1 channel Dolby TrueHD audio is in a word, awesome.
I don’t know how Disney does it. They continually push the envelope with refreshing takes on family themed animation that both parents and kids can enjoy. I watched Wreck-it Ralph with my wife and kids, who are both in college, and we all loved it. This four disc Ultimate Collector’s Blu-ray package from Disney includes the feature film in high definition in both 3D and 2D flavors with each offering a superlative viewing experience coupled with reference quality 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound.
Wow. This is my first time seeing it in its entirety. I have seen it referenced in other films, TV shows etc. but had never gotten around to sitting down and watching it. I absolutely loved it. This is a superbly constructed film with its three distinct storylines and wonderfully drawn characters. I can’t praise the performances of the ensemble cast enough. Their marvelous chemistry sell the unfolding and inevitable events making the evocative nature of the drama all the more involving. The finale and memorable closing moment is the icing on the cake.
From Here to Eternity has undergone a 4K scan restoration/re-mastering and the results deliver marvelous video quality. 60 years later this wonderful film looks terrific thanks to a well executed restoration that appears to have faithfully preserved the film’s original elements.
Downton Abbey Season Three represents my first foray into the popular English TV series and I must say, better late than never. This is an engaging and wonderfully written show that might just surprise genre fans that have never bothered to give it a look. For those that never miss it I guarantee that Season Three has lots to offer including several interesting twists, a few turns and one or eye openers that reinforce why it is one of top rated shows on the air. Downton Abbey Season Three comes to Blu-ray in this three Disc release from PBS Home Entertainment featuring sparkling reference quality high definition video, crystal clear lossless sound and a strong supplemental package that fans will appreciate.
House of Cards is a well written and compelling political drama that pulls no punches and leaves you hankering for more. Star Kevin Spacey anchors a stalwart stable of supporting actors lead by the always reliable Robin Wright with whom he shares excellent onscreen chemistry. Season one plays out as a series of chess moves with each one critically relying on the one before resulting in an engrossing and entertaining show that capably segues into the upcoming season two. House of Cards comes to Blu-ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment featuring excellent high definition video and crystal clear lossless sound.
Zero Dark Thirty is a gripping and evocative thriller that serves as an expose that is less about the killing of Osama Bin Laden but more about the looping process, the steadfastness of someone destined to see it through and finally, proof that sometimes one person can make a difference despite seeming insurmountable odds. Quality filmmaking from end to end it is an indelible cinematic experience that has become a personal favorite. Zero Dark Thirty comes to Blu-ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment featuring faithful and reference quality audio/video that I found deserving of the rare 100/100 technical rating.
This is a flawless and film like video presentation that delivers exquisite high level detail and rich image penetrating colors that look gorgeous in high definition. The video has incredible depth and dimension that is rarely limited by the camera’s perspective. The level of resolution present produces imagery that in many cases has a near infinite visual acuity that draws out the finest details in close ups while enhancing the delineation and textural nuance within objects and backgrounds. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio soundtrack is technically proficient and sounds terrific. This is a supremely articulated and commanding presentation that will reward those with systems capable of thoroughly reproducing its elements.
Looper came out in December 2012 with my review going live on December 22nd after my 2012 article. I think it is deserving of recognition and decided to include it in this year’s recommendation.*
Looper is a stylish, thought provoking and imaginative sci-fi action thriller that can’t miss with fans that revel in multi-genre films of its type. It isn’t perfect but writer/director Rian Johnson utilizes an excellent cast and top notch production value to successfully draw you into his world. Looper comes to Blu-ray Disc from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment featuring reference quality high definition video, a superb DTS-HD Master Audio surround mix and above average supplements that provide a glimpse behind the curtain.
This is a pristine and reference quality high definition presentation from Fox. The video quality is superlative in its depiction of the film’s animated subjects. Detail and definition is impeccably rendered as images have a luminous and sparkling clarity that is appreciably dimensional. Fine degrees of subtle delineation and texture are clearly discernible. Colors are richly saturated, vibrant and beautifully rendered.
The Last Tycoon turned out to be much better than expected as it is a multi-genre that expertly blends romantic themes with enriching elements of action/crime that revolve around well drawn characters that are easy to care about.
Detail rendering is nearly flawless with lucid visual acuity and fine articulation that brings forth lots of subtle detail in the images onscreen. Colors are rich and delineated with oversaturated primaries and warm tonality that make them pop nicely. This is an involving surround mix that intelligently utilizes the entire system where appropriate. During the extended Japanese bombing raid sequence the listening position is actively engaged by a mixture of spatial and discretely placed sound effects that place the listener in the heart of the action.
This is a terrific DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that features crystal clear dialogue, powerful dynamics and a subtly aggressive and involving surround sound mix. I was impressed with the implementation of both spacial dimension and discrete directional sounds that created a realistic and occasionally immersive listening environment. This worked hand in hand with film’s music, and thematic elements to build tension and help drive the story.
The Intouchables is a beautifully crafted dramatic film that eschews pointed melodrama and speaks to the human condition from a candid perspective derived from an enchanting story of the healing power of friendship. This is a top notch video presentation that boasts plenty of high level detail, boldly applied contrast, rich colors, and appreciable dimensional perspective. Fleshtones are lifelike and exhibit warm yet descriptive complexional tonality. Blacks are punchy and visibility in low lighting/darkened areas is estimable. Images are dynamic, clearly drawn, and well suited for the source material.
Based on true events, Argo is a captivating thriller that chronicles the life-or-death covert operation to rescue six Americans, which unfolded behind the scenes of the Iran hostage crisis-the truth of which was unknown by the public for decades. It comes to Blu-ray/DVD Combo pack from Warner Home Video featuring gratifying and faithful high definition video quality, excellent lossless surround sound and an excellent supplemental offering that is highlighted by an informative picture-in-picture in-movie track. Not to be missed Argo on Blu-ray comes highly recommended.
Django Unchained *by request
Django Unchained was an impressive ride that solidified (if we even needed that) Tarantino’s unrelenting love for exploitation cinema and his knack of taking any genre and throwing it in his own exploitation blender. DeCaprio and Waltz, the latter whom won Best Actor for his role, are amazing here, as are all the performances Mr. Tarantino channels from his actors. My only gripe is the skimpy bit of extras, I wanted more, and of course, wanted a directors commentary. Fans must have seen this by now, and probably have it on Blu-ray, but if you had any question in your mind, go for it…it’s worth it.
Evil Dead *by request
I was not expecting this but Evil Dead gets a recommendation from me. Not as a replacement, remake or even re-boot to the classic 1981 The Evil Dead, but as an entry to the series it holds its own, albeit it bit more serious then the originals. Spectacular video and definite reference audio round off this packed that comes with a UV copy and a few enjoyable extras. Fans, you can go ahead and buy this one.
*I added this one not so much because of its technical strength but because I feel it’s a film that is worth sharing.*
The Way Way Back explores very familiar themes as it takes us back to a place that most of us have been to in one way or another. The awkwardness of adolescence, struggling to fit in and how one summer, one good friend or the right attention from a crush can be a transformative experience. I thoroughly enjoyed this film and reveled in its heartwarming, personal and charming story about a boy who needed understanding and how the right person was there when he needed it most.
There you have it – My picks for this year’s best Blu-ray releases. I'd love to hear your thoughts as well as your own picks for 2013. I would be more than happy to entertain recommendations that based upon a group consensus could be added to the list.
Ralph Potts has been a member of AVS for ten years and has been reviewing audio/video hardware and digital home media for even longer. He has been AVS’ official Blu-ray reviewer for the last five years and has provided over a thousand Blu-ray reviews for the AVS Community. You can follow Ralph along with AVS’ other official Blu-ray reviewer Lee Weber HERE).
Ralph Potts AVS Forum Blu-ray Reviews
Reference Review System:
JVC DLA-RS55 3D Ready 1080p High Definition Front Projector
(Calibrated with Calman 5 & C6 Meter from Spectracal)
Stewart Filmscreen - Studiotek 130 G3 100” 16x9 Screen
Marantz AV8801 11.2 Channel Audio/Video Processor
Sherbourn Technologies - 7/200 Seven Channel Amplifier
B&K Reference 200.7 Series 2 Seven Channel Amplifier
Oppo BDP-103D Universal Disc/3D capable Blu-ray Player (With Darbee video processing)
Panasonic DMP-BDT310 3D capable Blu-ray Player (HDMI Audio/Video)
Toshiba HD-XA2 HD DVD Player (HDMI Audio/Video)
Sony Playstation 3 Blu-ray disc Player (HDMI Audio/Video)
System Controller: Apple iPad/iRule Pro HD Universal Remote Control
Canton "Ergo" Series speakers
Axiom Audio QS8 Quadpolar speakers
SV Sound PB-13 Ultra (Rosenut finish)
APC AV S15BLK Power Conditioner/Surge Protector
Wireworld, Better Cables (Silver Serpent) - Audio/Video/Speaker Cabling
Cool Components - CP-CP102 cooling package