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Publisher/Senior Reviewer
Colin Jacobson
David Williams

Copyright 1997-2003
All rights reserved.

Top Ten DVDs of 2002

Before I started to figure out my final Top Ten for 2002, I didn't think it'd been all that great a year in the land of DVD. I recall my struggles to place quality DVDs for movies I liked in the Top Ten for much of the year, as it seemed like a lot of titles made the list by default.

However, it took a lot of effort to find the proper order for the year's releases, and this made me realize just how much good material we received in 2002. The year once again continued the dominance of multi-DVD sets, as it remained virtually impossible for a single-disc release to crack the final Top Ten. The last one to do so was The Nightmare Before Christmas in 2000, as all of 2001's winners featured two platters.

However, 2002 expanded that notion, as two of its 10 included four DVDs. Releases that move past just two discs don't look to become common anytime soon, and it seems possible some studios may start to constrict their releases. Rumors indicate Disney may become stingier with their Collector's Edition versions of animated films, a notion that seems supported by the lack of announcement for a Lilo & Stitch deluxe package. Nonetheless, I'd expect more three-plus DVD sets in the future.

We'll have to wait and see how productive 2003 will be, but 2002 offered many nice releases. Of course, some disappointments appeared along the way. A number of blockbusters received somewhat tepid treatment. The biggest hits from 2002 and 2001 - Spider-Man and Harry Potter And the Sorcerer's Stone, respectively - both produced decent but surprisingly lackluster DVDs. Universal cheesed off many with confusing/deceptive advertising for ET the Extra-Terrestrial and the botched framing on parts of Back to the Future Part II and Back to the Future Part III. They also alienated much of the online community with their decision to stop sending screeners to websites.

Still, I think 2002 offered much more good than bad. Probably the biggest trend this year stemmed from the vigor with which studios released complete seasons of TV shows on DVD. In the past, we found many compilation packages of TV series, but fans declared that they preferred entire years, and the studios listened.

Apparently nobody paid more attention than Paramount, who went Star Trek nuts. Many gripe about the studio's efforts, but they demonstrated serious improvements in the world of Trek. For one, they started to produce fairly nice two-DVD special editions of the Trek films, a plan that should give us at least two or three more releases in 2003. While fans of the original series needed to buy 20 different DVDs to get the full 79 episodes, those who enjoy Star Trek: The Next Generation only had to pick up seven full season sets. In addition, while it took Paramount more than two years to release the three seasons of the original series, they shot out all seven years of Next Generation in a mere nine months or so. Look for that relentless pace to continue in 2003 with the whole seven-year run of Deep Space Nine due.

What else will light up 2003? The year promises another four-DVD Lord of the Rings release when The Two Towers hits. Hopefully Warner Bros. will improve upon the lackluster Sorcerer's Stone when they put out the disc for its sequel, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Disney should provide a nice version of The Lion King in the fall, and I've heard some rumors that we may start to get the Indiana Jones flicks this year as well. I'd not feel surprised to find a release of Schindler's List either, since the film experiences its tenth anniversary in 2003.

But I don't want to get ahead of myself. Let's finish off 2002 before we move ahead into 2003. For better or for worse, here are my picks for the ten best DVD releases of the year.

Colin Jacobson, Senior Reviewer

Somewhere out there you'll find a reviewer who doesn't select the four-disc version of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring as the best DVD release of 2002, but it won't happen here. While I still don't adore the movie as much as many fans, I've come to really like it, and the extra footage found in this set makes the film work even better. Picture and sound quality seem less than perfect but still appear very positive, and the package includes a roster of extras second to none. Without question, Ring sets the standard by which all other DVD sets are judged, and I don't know if we'll ever find another release that will surpass this stunning effort.

Another year, another Star Wars DVD in second place on my Top Ten. Just as The Phantom Menace took home the silver for 2001, Attack of the Clones only managed to snare the number two spot in 2002. However, Menace almost nailed the prize, whereas Clones didn't even come close to the four-disc Ring. However, Clones still offered a very solid piece of work. The movie itself remained enjoyable but not up to the standards of the original Star Wars trilogy. At least I liked it more when I rewatched it. The DVD improved considerably on the flawed picture quality of Menace and provided similarly magnificent audio. When I compared extras, Clones fell a little opposed to Menace, mainly since the latter included a terrific documentary; none of the material on Clones equalled the Menace program. Nonetheless, I liked Clones as a movie and felt that the DVD provided a very positive piece of work.

For the first year since I started to make these Top Ten lists, a Disney title failed to win the top prize. Indeed, we must move to the number three slot before we find a single Disney title. Frankly, I could have put Monsters, Inc. in the number two position instead of Clones, but ultimately I decided I liked the latter package a little more. Perhaps that's because I continue to feel less than thrilled by the movie, which offers the weakest Pixar flick to date. Nonetheless, the movie offers some fun, and the DVD's stellar. From the virtually flawless picture to the active and accurate soundtrack and the compelling set of extras, Monsters, Inc. doesn't get my most enthusiastic rating, but it's good enough to take the number three spot for 2002.

Before 2002 began, this four-disc VISTA release of Pearl Harbor sounded like it should win the top prize for the best DVD of the year. Indeed it could have taken that spot were it not for one compounding factor: the movie itself. Don't count me as a Harbor basher, as I think the film provides a moderately stimulating experience. However, it remains flawed, and I noticed that I liked it less and less with each successive viewing. On the other hand, the year's other monster DVD package for Ring includes a flick that became more enjoyable to me every time I saw it.

So that's the difference between number one and number four. Based on DVD quality alone, Harbor would probably still come in second place after Ring, but it'd be a tight race. Unfortunately, the movie dropped Harbor down a few notches to fourth place. The flick remains fairly interesting, and the DVD does almost everything right, but I just don't think it merits a place above number four.

Although Disney lost the top spot for 2002, the studio still dominated my Top Ten. Buena Vista produced half of the titles I selected, which left New Line in second place with their two releases. Like Pearl Harbor, Atlantis lost points due to the film in question. The movie itself is a modest disappointment; while entertaining, it lacks the spark and charm of the best Disney animation. However, I still like it, and the DVD itself helps make up for any flaws. Gorgeous picture, killer sound, and a truly terrific batch of extras mean that the 2-DVD set of Atlantis remains among the cream of 2002's crop.

6. BLADE II (A/A/A+)
While I didn't think Blade II was as good a movie as the original flick in the series, it still offered some good comic book action. The DVD provided a stellar piece of work that helped make the movie more compelling. From the excellent picture and sound to the exhaustive and entertaining roster of extras, this set has it all. However, I remain too lukewarm toward the movie itself for it to place higher than this on my Top Ten, though honestly, very little distance separates Blade II and some of the flicks above it - they're all excellent DVDs for decent but unspectacular movies.

It's the eternal Top Ten dilemma. Which gets the higher rating: a movie I love that offers a good but not great DVD, or a film that I think seems decent but unspectacular that comes with an excellent DVD? I might change my mind later, but right now DVD quality takes the prize, which is why Beauty and the Beast ends up only in seventh place for now. The flick remains one of Disney's best. While it doesn't quite compare with their all-time classics, it still offers a thoroughly solid experience. The DVD also presents very good picture and sound with a fine complement of supplements. The package as a whole can't compete with the six releases above it, but Beast is good enough for seventh place.

Examine my remarks for Beauty and the Beast and ditto them here. Actually, I find E.T. to offer a superior film experience above Beast and every other film in the Top Ten; despite a little lost luster over the years, it remains one of my all-time faves. Unfortunately, the DVD package isn't up to the same level of the titles above it. Picture and sound quality appear very good, but the "Ultimate Gift Set" earned its "A-" for supplements mainly due to the inclusion of the original 1982 cut of the film and an excellent hardcover book; the package's other DVD-based extras don't seem as strong as I'd like. Nonetheless, the release appears very good. Combine that with my love for the flick and it lands in eighth place.

Yet another product from Buena Vista, this one once competed for the top spot. Now it drops to number nine, but it's still an excellent product. Though not Kevin Smith's best flick, Silent Bob has a lot of laughs and it actually seemed more entertaining during my second viewing. The DVD provides good but unexceptional picture and sound plus a slew of excellent extras. From the fine audio commentary to the tons of deleted scenes and other bits, all this set lacks is a good documentary. Even without that, it remains a positive package that I thoroughly enjoyed.

The battle between movie quality and DVD quality redux. With picture/sound/extras grades of A/A/A-, it felt odd to leave Ice Age off of my Top Ten. However, its appearance here would have supplanted Singin' In the Rain, and I didn't want to do that, mostly because I don't think much of Ice Age as a film. Probably the greatest musical ever made, Rain finally gets a DVD that lives up to its stature. The package provides excellent picture, very good sound, and a surprisingly rich and entertaining compendium of extras. As a DVD, it doesn't match up with the releases above it, but it's one of the best films of the bunch.

SPECIAL YEAR-END EXTRAS: For the statistically-minded out there, I tallied the Top Ten by release dates. This found that September produced the highest number of winners with three: Blade II, Monsters, Inc., and Singin' In the Rain. October and November both provided two entries, while we got single releases from January, February, and July. That meant nothing from March, April, May, June, August or December landed on the Top Ten. (Interestingly, my top two for 2002 both came out on the same day; in 2001, numbers one and two hit the shelves within a week of each other!)

Since I don't want to totally ignore the months that didn't chart, here are my choices for the best DVDs from each:

MARCH: Joy Ride

APRIL: The Usual Suspects

MAY: The Last Waltz

JUNE: A Beautiful Mind

AUGUST: Pulp Fiction

DECEMBER: Austin Powers In Goldmember

For more statistical fun, I examined my three Top Tens by studio. For that span, Disney wins with 11 of the 30 possible slots. Fox comes in second with eight DVDs, and everyone else brings up the rear. New Line, Sony and Warner Bros. each nailed three slots, while Universal and Artisan both came in with one disc apiece. No releases from Paramount, MGM, DreamWorks, or any of the smaller companies ever landed on the year-end Top Ten, though some of them appeared in the monthly iterations.