Top Ten DVDs of 2006
Usually in this spot I address the DVD trends you saw reflected on our site during the year. Instead, I'll discuss the trend you didn't see reflected on the site this year: the wild world of HD-DVD and Blu-ray.
Those formats were the big DVD story in 2006. In terms of "standard-def" DVD, nothing exciting happened. Like 2005, it was a "stay the course" year with plenty of great releases but no innovations or trends that made it stand out from the past. For better or for worse, SD-DVD is a mature format and isn't going to change in any significant way.
So that leads us to the hi-def formats and their impact. I've received a few e-mails over the last few months asking about our HD/Blu-ray coverage - or lack thereof. Unlike many other sites, we've failed to embrace the new formats and have offered no reviews of those titles.
How come? For a number of reasons. Time is a primary concern. We're a small operation: I do the reviews, and David does the coding. If I start to review HD/BR titles, that takes away from my coverage of SD DVDs. I may be wrong, but I don't think that's in the best interests of the readers. I don't know our demographics, but I'd guess the vast majority of you don't own HD and/or BR players. They're serious niche markets now, and I'm reluctant to use my time on DVDs that will appeal to such a small number of readers.
There's also all the controversy about which format will "win". It seems like a waste to expend time and effort on titles that may be essentially obsolete if the format dies. Of course, the HD partisans feel SD DVDs are already obsolete, but given the tens of millions of SD DVD players - and that will continue to be used for many years - that's not correct. Face it: only a tiny number of DVD fans have made the leap to high-def, so the rest of the world still wants to know about SD DVDs. I'm loathe to get involved in HD stuff until there's been some settling of the format wars.
And I will admit cost is a factor. This site doesn't exactly have me rolling in the dough, so I'm very reluctant to drop big bucks on two separate players - one HD, one Blu-ray - when one may end up as a door stop in a couple of years. I love working on this site, but I don't think it's prudent to shell out all that money just so I can review HD/BR DVDs.
I'm sure eventually I will make the move to some high-def format, and maybe that'll be sooner than later. 2006 wasn't the right time, in my opinion. I don't like the fact that this may make the site look "behind the times", but I have to take all these factors into account, and they said to me that 2006 was too early for me to dive into high-def formats.
I welcome all and any reader feedback on the issue. Maybe there's a majority of you who do want high-def reviews and I'm just a Luddite with my head in the sand. Let me know opinions in either direction - if you prefer to see the usual standard-def reviews, I want to know that. Feedback is good!
In the meantime, let's look back at the best good old SD-DVD had to offer in 2006!
Colin Jacobson, Senior Reviewer/Owner
KING KONG - DELUXE EXTENDED EDITION (A+/A+/A+)
The movie may be seen as something of a disappointment, but I think Peter Jackson's version of King Kong works pretty well. It rebounds after a
slow-paced first act and turns into very crisp entertainment. The DVD offers virtually flawless picture and audio along with a terrific roster of extras. I can't
provide many negatives in regard to this excellent release. (By the way, the two-disc version of the theatrical Kong is also excellent, but the Extended Edition is the superior DVD.)
THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE - EXTENDED EDITION (A-/A-/A+)
While not a genuinely memorable movie, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe manages to entertain. It does what it needs to
do to succeed. Happily, this "Extended Edition" DVD stretches beyond those simple goals to become a terrific set. The movie looks and sounds great, and
it packs plenty of solid extras. This is a fine package. (Note that ala Kong, the two-disc "Collector's Edition" of Narnia is also terrific but this set blows it away in terms of supplements.)
SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE - FOUR-DISC SPECIAL EDITION (A-/A/A+)
While the 2001 release of Superman: The Movie Was solid, this new four-disc Special Edition makes it even better. I don't like to include DVDs that simply update older product in my Top Tens, but when they're as good as this one, I can't resists.
The four-disc Special Edition improves on the picture of the original and includes many fine new extras. We get the flick's theatrical cut on DVD for the first time, and that version presents the movie's original mix as well, a move welcomed by fans. Me, I love the
2001 remix, but I'm happy we have the choice. Add to that the fact Superman remains an entertaining and enjoyable film and this Special Edition fully merits its spot high on my Top Ten for 2006.
THE MALTESE FALCON - THREE-DISC SPECIAL EDITION (A-/B-/A)
Arguably the greatest film noir ever made, The Maltese Falcon holds up awfully well after 65 years. Dark, tight and engrossing, this is a
simply terrific little mystery thriller. The DVD offers excellent picture and extras along with more than acceptable audio. I find this to be a solid
little package and one of the best reissues of 2006.
KINGDOM OF HEAVEN - DIRECTOR'S CUT (B+/A-/A+)
Although many "Director's Cuts" don't do much to alter the original theatrical releases, the extended Kingdom of Heaven creates
a substantially improved movie. It transforms Ridley Scott's epic into something much more satisfying and involving. The new DVD presents
picture and audio that are very good and packs an astounding roster of extras. Combine a pretty good movie with fine DVD specifics and this
turns into a top-notch release.
LADY AND THE TRAMP - 50th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (A+/B+/B+)
If movies get more charming than Lady and the Tramp, I've not seen them. 50 years after its initial release, Tramp remains sweet, amusing and likable. The DVD
offers excellent visuals along with very solid sound and a nice collection of extras. This is a fine package for a wonderful little movie.
APOCALYPSE NOW - THE COMPLETE DOSSIER (A-/A/B+)
The 1979 cut of Apocalypse Now is a flawed classic but a classic nonetheless. The 2001 Redux version is more problematic but still interesting for fans
to see. This "Complete Dossier" finally packages the two together and lets us make better comparisons. It also offers very strong picture and audio as well as many useful extras
highlighted by an excellent audio commentary. The absence of the legendary Hearts of Darkness documentary remains a disappointment, but the "Dossier" nonetheless is a strong
WORLD TRADE CENTER - TWO-DISC COMMEMORATIVE EDITION (B+/A-/A)
Because I wasn't wild about the film, I was reluctant to include World Trade Center in my Top Ten. Heck, it wasn't even the best 9/11-related flick for 2006! However, despite the movie's flaws, I thought
the DVD was too good to omit. It presents solid picture and audio along with an exceptional set of extras. With commentary from WTC survivors and other insightful components, those materials are worth the price of admission alone.
THE GREEN MILE - TWO-DISC SPECIAL EDITION (A-/B+/A-)
As a movie, The Green Mile appears destined to always remain in the shadow of The Shawshank Redemption, another Frank Darabont movie based on a Stephen King story. Does it deserve that "kid brother" status? Not really - Shawshank is a little better, but
both offer satisfying films. This new 2-DVD Special Edition of Mile is a strong affair. It presents very good picture and audio along with excellent extras highlighted by a rich documentary and one of the best audio commentaries I've ever heard. This is a "double dip" that's
worth the effort and the money.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST - 2-DISC SPECIAL EDITION (B+/A/A-)
As a film, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is notably inferior to its predecessor. However, it still musters reasonable fun and allows us to look forward to the third chapter in the series. The DVD of Chest is a
step up from its predecessor, at least, mainly due to superior picture quality. Chest also features excellent audio and many interesting extras. My ambivalence toward the movie made this one a reluctant Top Ten choice, but I thought it
was good enough to make the list.
SPECIAL YEAR-END EXTRAS:
Let's start with an Honorable Mention: all four volumes of the James Bond Ultimate Editions. I omitted these sets from the Top Ten largely due to inconsistency: while most of the titles look and sound great and feature strong extras, they're too up and down to merit a consistent grade. In addition, I really don't like to
include multi-movie packages if I can avoid it. Yeah, the Alien, Batman, Star Wars, Matrix and Indiana Jones sets wound up on Top Tens, but those were more consistent and featured many fewer films. I just thought it was too much of a stretch for Bond to end up as a Top Ten entry.
Nonetheless, the set really deserves mention as something special. For the most part, the movies have never looked and sounded better, and the extras are usually quite good. Some nitpicks can greet the sets, and they do suffer from some unfortunate flaws. Nonetheless, I really love these packages and feel happy to own them. They're quality sets that only fail to make
my Top Ten due to my own nitpicking and technicalities.
For the statistically minded out there, I tallied the Top Ten by release dates. This found that November and December produced the highest number of winners with three each: Kong, Superman and Green Mile for November, and Narnia, World Trade Center and Pirates for December.
We got single releases from February, May, August and October.
This left no titles from January, March, April, June, July or September on the list. Since I don't want to totally ignore the months that didn't chart, here are my choices for the best DVDs from each of the Forgotten Months:
JANUARY: The Wild Bunch - Special Edition
MARCH: Traffic - Criterion Collection
APRIL: Event Horizon
JUNE: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - Ultimate Collector's Edition
JULY: Grand Prix
SEPTEMBER: A Nightmare On Elm Street - infinifilm Edition
Note that while the theatrical DVDs for King Kong and Narnia were easily the best releases for March and April, respectively, I didn't include them here because their siblings are on the year-end Top Ten. It seemed like more fun to include something else for those months.
For more statistical fun, I examined my seven Top Tens by studio. For that span, Disney wins with 20 of the 70 possible slots. Fox comes in second with 13 DVDs, and everyone else brings up the rear. Warner made the race tighter; their three 2006 titles boosted them to 12 placements over the last seven years. Sony nailed seven slots, and New Line came in with six. Paramount came up to five, while Artisan and Universal have two. Anchor Bay, DreamWorks and TGA - the latter produced the Rolling Stones' Four Flicks - both came in with one disc apiece. No releases from MGM, Criterion or any of the other smaller companies ever landed on the year-end Top Ten, though some of them appeared in the monthly iterations. No studios broke into the year-end Top Ten for the first time in 2006; the five studios represented have all been here in the past.