A somewhat smaller Shelf Space Awards column this month, partly because I was away at Sundance, but also because after the holidays, not as many major titles come out. I took a look at some of the major releases of January and a few early February previews to award the ones that deserve space on your Blu-ray shelf.
The CraveOnline Seal of Approval Award
Yes, not all CraveOnline reviewers loved Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, but my own analysis of it landed on the front cover of this Blu-ray. That was for my Fantastic Fest/theatrical review but I can vouch that the 2D Blu-ray preserves the magnitude of what I appreciated. Like most movies shot in 3D, whether you like the 3D or not, the process creates a perfectly clear, reference quality 2D movie. Day of Reckoning has a stark look without a lot of flashy cinematography or production design, and it holds up in HD. Dark sweaty clubs and dingy bunkers look clear and gritty, while daylight locations and the epic sporting goods store fight look like real locations in sharp, crisp clarity. I even think the colors of the forest start to pop, not in a way that breaks the stark look, but in a way that you know you’re watching a Blu-ray.
The Very Specific Skills Award
Taken 2, or as I call it Taken Too: Still Taken After All These Years, looks as good on Blu-ray as it did theatrically. Istanbul looks gorgeous and the film is shot with that ultra-grainy style to give it some grit in the quick cuts. That’s on purpose, so the Blu-ray captures the saturated grain. It varies from shot to shot, as quickly as the shots smash together, and that’s the aesthetic. Some shots are ultra grainy, some shots a little more slick, and it cuts together in Taken style.
The Cahiers du Cinema Award
This month Lionsgate and Studio Canal put Luis Bunuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire on Blu-ray. That’s the one where two different actresses alternate playing the same character. It’s good culture and history, you should check it out, and if this is your first time it couldn’t have looked this good in French cinemas of 1977. The picture is now stunningly clear, with some scenes looking like real life, and at worst it looks like high quality film with bright, lush colors in the European backdrop.
Early February Awards
The Digital Truth Award
We reviewed Side By Side in its theatrical and VOD release, and even discussed the film vs. digital documentary with Keanu Reeves. On Blu-ray it’s an even more striking illustration of the differences. Footage of film laboratories are stunning and clear making it an invaluable archive of a historical process. The interviews with filmmakers look fine. They’re just talking heads so it’s no big deal, but the film clips are what illustrate the arguments. Most of the clips look as great as their Blu-rays, but you can totally see how bad the digital work in Collateral is. It can’t even make a brief shot for a film clip without digital noise. You can see for yourself on February 5.
The ‘80s Dream Award
The Perks of Being a Wallflower was one of my favorite films of the year, for the script and story. I wasn’t necessarily paying attention to the visuals, but it’s noticeable on Blu-ray. The whole movie has a sort of dreamlike image quality. It’s a little fuzzy, a little surreal, a little artificially lit and it works. It creates a feeling like we’re in a memory, a memory that looks colorful and detailed in HD, but an impression of the past nonetheless.
The Bloody Valentine Award
Just in time for Valentine’s Day date nights, Tyler Perry’s Alex Cross reboot hits Blu-ray. This is a Rob Cohen movie and it looks perfectly slick. You’ll get a crisp, clear picture in the locations around Ohio suburbs and downtown Detroit. The climactic fight in the old theater is full of detailed debris and grit. The HD transfer helps make the action-mystery look epic. Whether it delivers depends on your interpretation of the sincerity of the plot and actors. Available February 5, over a week to pre-order and have it delivered for your special romantic night!
The Wu Tang Award
I look forward to delving fully into the extended cut of The Man with the Iron Fists in a detailed review prior to its February 12 release date. For a quick preview, Iron Fists looks great on Blu-ray. It’s one of the most clear and sharp new releases I’ve seen. The locations look like all the villages from old martial arts movies, only photographed with the sharpness of today. The pink of Madam Blossom’s brothel is striking every time the film visits it.
The Skin Job Award
Keeping in mind that Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome premiered online, it looks pretty good on Blu-ray. It was designed to be watched on Machinima Prime, so I’ll cut it a little slack for some of the rougher visual effects shots. Digital noise is minimal and it won’t ruin the scene. Scenes like the ice caves where they crash land and the climactic Cylon lair do retain near perfect clarity, so you can see all the detail in the practical portions and the CGI art as they blend together. You can own it February 19.
Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.