The Holiday Season is upon us, which means it’s time to crank up the gift-giving machine. The good news for you is that HTS is here to help! Staff writer Mike Edwards (Home Theater Shack's Movie Guru) and I have compiled a Movie Gift Guide that will cover all of your bases. These films represent highlight releases launched on Blu-ray and DVD during the past year; films that will more than satisfy fans of just about any genre. For more information about these titles, simply click on the film’s name and you’ll be able to read Mike Edwards' full film review. Of course, if you think we’ve missed one of the better releases of 2015, please make your own suggestion in the comments section. We look forward to seeing what our members can dig-up! Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and Happy Watching!
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation: 25th Anniversary Edition
Kicking off this Holiday Gift Guide is a film that has carried Christmas cheer for 25 solid years: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Featuring comedian Chevy Chase and a cast full of familiar faces, the Griswold family is now pristinely enshrined on Blu-ray disc with a 25th Anniversary Edition. This remastered version of the film features audio and video improvements that easily trump previous disc iterations, making it a must own for fans of the film.
John Wick, staring Keanu Reeves, is our top rated action Blu-ray of the year. Filled with blood, guns, knives, mobsters, explosions, and awesome one liners, Wick is an absolute cinematic delight. The film’s video transfer is stunning, only one-upped by its Grade-A Dolby Atmos audio track. Aside, from Gravity (Diamond Luxe), John Wick is one of the best immersive Atmos Blu-rays to date.
The long running Fast and Furious franchise has raked in several billion dollars worth of revenue for Universal Studios. With some hits and misses over the years, the series has put forth quite a few solid efforts. Of course, the untimely death of star actor Paul Walker makes Furious 7 a landmark film for his fans. Furious 7’s Blu-ray treatment is excellent on both visual and auditory fronts, with a delicious video treatment that ever so slightly outshines its sound presentation.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Mad Max: Fury Road is probably the most polarizing film in our Gift Guide. The story is one you’ll either love or hate, but there’s no denying its cinematic presentation is unique. It's heavily stylized with an awesome post-apocalyptic vibe. Visually, the Blu-ray release is stellar with fine details abound. Its Dolby Atmos audio track is no slouch, either.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Due to hit store shelves on December 15th, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is on our upcoming review list. That being said, the film was a Box Office smash hit, raking-in $700 million worldwide. If its Blu-ray release is anything like the series’ last film (Ghost Protocol), then we’re in for a real treat. You might remember that it was Paramount’s first Dolby Cinema release (HDR and Atmos), and we’re expecting it to be encoded with Atmos audio on disc.
Spirited Away is one of Mike Edwards’ more highly rated Blu-ray releases of 2015. As Mike said, “It is the epitome of hand drawn Japanese animation at its finest, rivaling even the greatest and most impeccable of digitally animated films today. The colors are nothing short of amazing, with vibrant primary colors, soft pastels and a huge incorporation of octopus inky black levels. Shadow detail is nothing short of amazing, and fine detail in the animation is just ….well…. perfect.” Toss in a top-notch story to match, and Spirited Away makes for a very compelling holiday gift.
Big Hero 6
Disney delivers, period, and Big Hero 6 is no exception. The film was a commercial success, oozing everything that makes Disney films so amazing. This one is a must buy for a young one in your life, and is also loaded with enough to keep adults entertained, too. Audio and video characteristics are top-notch, and a 2.40:1 presentation makes this one a videophile’s demo delight.
Star Wars Rebels: Season 1
On the heels of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Disney brings Star Wars Rebels to the table. With all the feel of the Original Trilogy, Disney delivers a return-to-roots experience (which we’re all hoping to find with the upcoming feature film: Star Wars: Episode VII). Mike Edwards says the Rebels series was a blast to watch (audio and video experience is solid), making this a great alt-Star Wars gift.
Aladdin (Diamond Edition)
Finally, one of Disney’s all-time classics has landed on Blu-ray, and it’s spectacular. We all know the story, and Robin Williams' Genie character is a show-stopping career highlight for the much-missed actor. Video details are stunning from beginning to end, showcasing fantastic hand drawn animation, and a 7.1 DTS-HD MA audio track is equal to the task. This is a must-add to the collection release for kids and film collectors, alike.
Inside Out (3D/2D)
We can always count on Pixar for an outstanding film, and history repeats with the release of Inside Out. The storyline is a crowd pleaser, definitely outpacing such recent releases as Planes and Cars 2, and its 1.78:1 AVC transfer and 7.1 DTS-HD MA audio are nearly perfect. Add a ton of rewarding extras to the mix, and Inside Out makes a great Blu-ray gift.
Army of Darkness (Special Edition)
Our lone horror recommendation comes in the form of a 20-plus year old film, Army of Darkness. This is an incredibly unique horror classic, blending humor and goofy gore. Luckily, SCREAM Factory has etched this Director’s Cut release with an excellent video remaster that should have videophiles clapping their hands. This is a must buy for fans of horror films.
The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies
Peter Jackson’s last three Hobbit films weren’t as well received as the original trilogy, but that doesn’t stop The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies from making the cut. It is, after all, the series’ final climatic film and a bookend to a set of movies that has captured the imagination of moviegoers around the world. If you buy the Extended Cut, you’ll not only find alternative packaging, but also a plethora of extras.
Ant-man is another homerun for Marvel, having done extraordinarily well at the Box Office while receiving quite a bit of critical acclaim. The bottom line is that the story is just plain fun, and the Blu-ray disc’s audio and video presentations are practically perfect. While the included extras aren’t extravagant, they are more than adequate and should be of interest to fans of the film.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Avengers: Age of Ultron is our second featured Marvel movie. While the storyline ultimately suffers a bit of “bridge syndrome” experienced by many middle movies in a trilogy, it’s still a fun ride and loaded with lots of great comic characters. Audio and visual qualities of the release are stellar; this disc is a must-buy for Marvel Comics fans.
Here’s a suggestion that’s a tad off the beaten path: Whiplash. Winner of both the Audience and Grand Jury Prizes at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, Whiplash has received quite a bit of critical acclaim. The story is an adrenaline-pumping drama about a young jazz musician pushed to the brink of perfection (and sanity) by a hard-driving teacher. This might be one of the best dark-horse gift ideas for film fans and collectors.
Foxcatcher is another interesting film that fits into the drama category. Sporting high marks for audio and video quality, this Blu-ray release offers little in the form of eye-catching extras. The story, however, is an impressive psychological drama delivered by the director of the critically acclaimed film Moneyball. This is definitely one to keep high on your list. Home Theater Shack has yet to review this film.
Interstellar is a tremendous Sci-Fi ride, blending science and action in the form of a (nearly) three hour cinematic tour-de-force. Directed by Christopher Nolan, Interstellar is an absolute masterpiece. The only knock on the film’s video transfer is the awkward switching between 2.39:1 and 1.78:1 aspect ratios (only of real concern to owners of fixed cinemascope screens); audio is superb despite a 5.1 DTS-HD MA track. This all goes without mentioning extras, which are copious and revealing.
Ex Machina has the distinction of being the first DTS:X encoded Blu-ray release, ever (despite DTS:X decoding remaining unavailable). It also has the distinction of being my favorite Blu-ray release of the year. Mike Edwards came close to agreeing with my assessment, issuing the movie’s storyline as strong 4.5-stars. The video transfer is a tad soft and inconsistent, but solid nonetheless. Audio is phenomenal. The meat of the release (the film itself), is simply fantastic. Highly recommended.
He’s Back! In a film that falls short of being a classic, Terminator Genisys has enough twists to remain highly entertaining. What makes this release even more fun is a killer Dolby Atmos mix that’s guaranteed to light your system – and ears – on fire. If you’re looking for a fun action romp, put this one on your short list.
Gravity (Diamond Luxe Edition)
The Diamond Luxe Edition of 2013’s blockbuster film Gravity is more than just a retread, it’s a revelation. One of the biggest disappointments with the film’s original Blu-ray release was a paltry 5.1 audio treatment. Well, someone at Warner Bros was paying attention and the decision to give Gravity a Dolby Atmos treatment deserves more than a round of applause. The audio impact of Atmos paired with Gravity is spine tingling and goose-bump inducing; it’s easily the best Dolby Atmos film I’ve experienced to date. This version of the film is a must buy, even if you’re only running a 7.1 speaker array.