In 2008, VHS finally died for good, DVD sales flattened and Sony’s Blu-ray format bested Toshiba’s rival HD-DVD in the war for the next-generation high-definition media.
In increasing numbers, studios began including “digital copies” of films in the DVD and Blu-ray cases, hoping to entice Internet surfers away from online piracy by giving them pristine copies of the movies to play on their laptops or iPods.
Concerns over the saturation of the DVD market, combined with the extra storage capability of the Blu-ray medium, resulted in an upsurge of special edition releases on which the extra content was in fact special.
Here, in no particular order, is a run-down of some of the best DVD and Blu-ray packages we spun in our player in 2008:
•Universal finally did right by Orson Welles’ last Hollywood film with the two-disc “Touch of Evil: 50th Anniversary Edition,” which included all three versions of the director’s superb noir: The edited version released to theaters in 1958, the longer “preview” version used at test screenings by the studio and the definitive restored version, assembled in 1998 using the notes and recommendations Welles wrote in an infamous 58-page memo to his bosses. A reproduction of the memo is included in the outstanding package.
•The idea of yet another re-release of “The Godfather” pictures might have seemed redundant – until you got a look at what Paramount Pictures had done with “The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration.” This painstaking, frame-by-frame cleanup of the first two films, which had always looked fuzzy and washed out since their VHS releases, literally made you feel like you were seeing them for the first time. An entire disc’s worth of supplements was just the finishing touch on a superb package.
•Computer animation has always looked pretty snazzy in high-definition, but there are moments on the Disney Blu-ray release of “Wall-E” that are so startlingly clear and detailed, they’re actually a little frightening. The movie, one of the year’s best, had a fascinating production history, which is recounted on the treasure trove of extras included on the disc.
•One of the most remarkable qualities about Guillermo del Toro’s comic-book fantasy “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” is its seemingly endless procession of jaw-dropping creatures, landscapes and trinkets, all of which looked like they had been plucked straight out of some long-lost, highly valuable storybook. Instead, many of them came out of del Toro’s imagination. The exhaustively detailed, but fascinating, 2 1/2-hour documentary included on the two-disc DVD and Blu-ray sets shows you every step of the filmmaker’s process in turning the visions inside his head into movie magic.
•When it comes to iconic movie police detectives, there is Dirty Harry, and then there is everyone else. The pleasantly hefty “Dirty Harry Ultimate Collector’s Edition” set collected all five of Clint Eastwood’s outings as the trigger-happy, neo-fascist cop in one satisfying box, complete with commentary tracks, retrospective interviews, poster and lobby-card reproductions and even a feature-length documentary on Eastwood’s career.
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