It may surprise some readers, but apart from the Blu-ray discs we are assigned to review and the occasional disc that flies over the transom, most of us here at Home Theater actually buy the Blu-rays we watch. True, at one time (as the editor of the Stereophile Guide to Home Theater and Ultimate AV), I received many screeners for review. So I do have a large collection of DVDs (many of which have been donated away), Blu-rays, and HD DVDs (RIP). But the pile has grown far more slowly in recent years. Nevertheless, I look forward to upcoming releases just as much as before, and I'll be in line to purchase titles I want that don't come my way for review.
Pouring over the names of upcoming titles, I've added to my list of must haves. This does not include some very recent films that have not yet been announced on Blu-ray. Of these, I've seen only Hugo, War Horse, and The Muppets. War Horse was easily my favorite, while Hugo was good but could have been 15 minutes shorter (you could say the same for War Horse, but there I didn't mind as much). And The Muppets were, well, the Muppets.
My problem with the Muppets movies in general is that the characters seem to work better in short TV sketches ("Pigs in Space"!) or interacting with the ubiquitous guest stars than in full-length features. My favorite Muppet movie by a long shot is Muppet Treasure Island, helped immeasurably by Tim Curry's Long John Silver, some of the best songs in any Muppet film, and, of course, the classic story line. Hey Disney, now that a high-def transfer is available (it looked spectacular on HBO), how about a Blu-ray release?
Of the titles already out there, I plan to add Manhattan, Citizen Kane, and Ben Hur to my collectionthe first two because…well, just because…and the latter as the definitive swords-and-sandals epic. If I hadn't already sat through it at least ten times already, it would already be on my shelf. But it deserves to get there eventually.
If the following list of anticipated titles doesn't highlight my quirky taste in A/V entertainment, nothing will:
Star Trek: The Next Generation
I liked the series, but not enough to shell out the dough for the seven-season boxed set, which would pay for all of the other titles on this list even when heavily discounted. Having already forked over a bundle for the full-series sets of (the new) Battlestar Galactica and Farscape, my two sci-fi series faves of all time, I'll have to ponder this one, at least until the excitement is over and the price comes down.
Anyway, my favorite of the newer Star Trek series, and the one I would seriously consider spending serious money for on Blu-ray, is Voyager. Let the flaming begin. I don't see a Blu-ray of this series in the future; I suspect it wouldn't be a big seller. And the problem with all the Star Trek series except Enterprise is that the producers didn't have the foresight to shoot them in 16:9. But a word to those who own Farscapeif you zoom it out to fill a 16:9 screen, it only rarely looks wrong, and it definitely looks less cramped. Is it possible that the producers filmed it full frame but safe for 16:9?
Shakespeare in Love
Count me among those who agree with the consensus that Saving Private Ryan probably should have won the 1998 Best Picture Oscar instead of Shakespeare in Love. But I'm not among those who thought it a crime. It's a close call, as this is a great movie as well. It should be a visual knockout on Blu-ray.
It's already out, but I was only intrigued enough to consider buying it after watching the first half on cable. Definitely another swords-and-sandals production, though hardly epic and nowhere close to Ben Hur. I stopped watching midway throughnot because I didn't like it, but because I want to see it in its correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio and with uncompressed audio. Take that, HBO.
Puss in Boots 3D
Saw it theatrically. Liked it enough to add to the list. Didn't love it. 2011 was weak for animation, but I'd give the nod to Kung Fu Panda 2 as the best animated title of the year. And this may be the first year that Dreamworks has clearly trumped Pixar. 2010 was much stronger all around, but even then I'd give the prize to Dreamworks. While Toy Story 3 grabbed the 2010 Animated Feature Oscarand was certainly worthyfor me, How to Train Your Dragon was clearly the best of these two strong contenders.
Demetrius and the Gladiators
Yes, more swords and sandals. Team this up with The Robe and The Egyptian (the latter, now available on a limited-edition Blu-ray, is my favorite of the S&S genre) and you can have your own Victor Mature film festival.
Game of Thrones
Yes, it may be too bloody by half, and it's arguably soft porn (both are HBO trademarks), but this multi-part series is also compelling drama. I'd call it a swords-and-sandals epic too, but the mythical setting is too cold for sandals. Swords and fleecy boots may be more accurate, but that doesn't have the same ring to it.
This one is definitely a flawed movie with serious story problemsthe film can't decide if it's comedy or serious drama. And the dragon not only talks, but sounds suspiciously like Sean Connery. Still, the production design is excellent, and the music score is irresistible (the main theme was used for years in trailers for other films). It should make for a great looking and sounding Blu-ray. I hope.
Kate and Leopold
While the premise is time travel, this is more romantic comedy than sci-fi. And as romantic comedies go, this fish-out-of-water tale is one of the better ones. It's also Meg Ryan's last good movie and Hugh Jackman's third best if we leave out the X-Men franchise. (The other two are The Prestige and the recently released Real Steel, one of my favorite films of 2011.)
I've seen this one at some point through the years since its release, but I can't recall much about it except that it wasn't very good. So why is it on this list? With the passing years, I'm curious to revisit the odd casting of Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave in the lead roles.
I'm less interested in the 3D here, though like everyone else, I'll probably see it in the theater to see how good the 3D conversion is and to help director James Cameron finance Avatar 2: It's Not Easy Being Blue. As for the disc release, I'm more interested in the likelihood that the Extra Special Four-Disc Super Special Collector's Special Edition will also include the first 2D release of this film on Blu-ray.