The 10 Best Blu-Ray, DVD Releases of 2008

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CHICAGO – For audiences increasingly accustomed to watching movies at home instead of at the multiplex, it was an interesting year for DVDs and Blu-rays.

In this list of top Blu-rays and DVDs of 2008, we cover “Tropic Thunder,” “Dirty Harry,” “The Last Emperor,” “Iron Man,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Dark City,” “Mad Men,” “Spaced,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “The Godfather” and others including “Band of Brothers,” “Firefly,” “Star Trek,” “Transformers,” “The Wire,” “The Sopranos,” “Dexter,” “24,” “Lost,” “Deadwood” and “Casablanca”.

Of course, the biggest event was the end of the format war between HD-DVD and Blu-ray, but the impact of that Blu-ray victory has yet to fully be realized considering the incredibly small market share still being occupied by the next-gen format. With Blu-Ray players dropping in price by the day and the increasing popularity of HD TVs, it seems like only a matter of time before Blu-Ray supplants DVD in the same way the previous format took over for VHS.

Besides the horrendous economy and the notion that Blu-Ray isn’t significantly superior to DVD to force the change on a technological level, it seems to me that the next hurdle for Blu-Ray is that there just haven’t been enough must-own titles to spur buyers to make the upgrade. Imagine if Blu-Ray had deleted scenes or special features unavailable on the standard version. Imagine the impact that would’ve had on a lot of people’s decision to trade up to HD.

And Blu-Ray wouldn't necessarily even have to resort to format-exclusive features. The more titles that hit the format that truly utilize its potential, the more people will go out and pick up a player. There were a few of those discs this year. "Game-changers,” if you will. They're in the top ten.

But, before we get to that, some honorable mentions. In the world of TV on DVD, the well went considerably dry in 2008. Not only have most of the classic shows already hit the market, but the strike-shortened season of '07-'08 made nearly every new release more lackluster than the season before.

Band of Brothers was released on Blu-Ray by HBO Home Video.

Some of the most notable TV on DVD releases were re-issues of already available material. "Band of Brothers" and "Firefly" both hit Blu-Ray in sparkling sets, while fans of "Star Trek: The Original Series" can now own seasons two and three with remastered video and special effects on standard DVD.

One of the most consistent producers of quality TV on DVD this year was BBC Home Video, releasing excellent season sets for the first and second installments of the brilliant "Torchwood,” a great package for the first volume of "Primeval,” and one of the best mini-series in the history of the form, "State of Play.” HBO didn't lag too far behind with series sets for "Extras,” "The Wire", "Deadwood", and "The Sopranos" all warranting acclaim alongside 2008 gems like "John Adams" and "Generation Kill.”

The first season of "24" was finally given the special edition treatment (the initial release of the first bad day in Jack Bauer's life had been relatively bare-bones) and a few current shows - "Weeds,” "Dexter,” "Lost" - did release above-average season sets. Finally, "Family Guy: Blue Harvest" is a must-own for any fan of the Griffin family, "Frisky Dingo: Season One" was the best Adult Swim title of the year and everyone worth knowing would smile at the third season of "The Muppet Show.”

As for classic movies released on DVD or Blu-Ray, early-year highlights included a great 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition of "In the Heat of the Night" and a Platinum Edition of "101 Dalmatians” and this month's collector's set for "Casablanca" is a beauty. And, while the box set market was underwhelming compared to years past, "The Stanley Kramer Collection,” "The Frank Sinatra Collection,” "Rambo: The Complete Collector's Set,” "5 Films by Dario Argento,” and "The Peanuts Deluxe Holiday Collection" were all notable.

The Transformers was released by Dreamworks Home Video.

When it comes to current films, the stand-outs were few and far between. There are a couple in the top ten, but lackluster presentations and a dearth of interesting special features were more common complaints this year than in many past. Stand-outs include one of the best transfers in the history of home theaters for "The Transformers" on Blu-Ray, a sparkling gift set release of "Batman Begins" on the new format, and gorgeous sets for the two most successful animated films of the year, "Wall-E" and "Kung Fu Panda.”

Finally, Criterion had another impressive year, moving seamlessly into Blu-Ray at the end of the year with new releases for "Bottle Rocket" and "Chungking Express" along with reissues of some of their best work like "The Third Man" and "The Last Emperor.” Must-add Criterion titles of 2008 included "Blast of Silence,” "The Lovers,” "Before the Rain,” "Mafioso,” and "Europa.”


Tropic Thunder was released by Dreamworks Home Video.

10. "Tropic Thunder: Director's Cut"

The comedy Blu-Ray release of the year included not only a director's cut worth seeing but also special features nearly as funny as the movie itself. There are a few too many bite-sized featurettes (5-10 minutes before getting thrown back to a menu screen is just annoying), but they were more than balanced out by commentaries, perfect picture and sound, and the fantastic spoof documentary, "Rain of Madness.” Including a satire of a pretentious behind-the-scenes documentary on the release for a satire of pretentious war movies and their obnoxious actors was a stroke of genius.

Dirty Harry was released by Warner Brothers Home Video.

9. “Dirty Harry: Ultimate Collector’s Edition”

The best DVD box set of the year includes hours of special features, a gorgeous collection of physical collectibles, and fantastic video and audio. What’s most unusual about “Dirty Harry” is that it may be the last time you ever read these words - pick it up on standard DVD, not Blu-Ray. The HD picture makes “Dirty Harry” look a little too plastic and clean. Harry needs to be a little dirtier. But the DVD gift set is remarkable. With new featurettes and interviews with the major players along with some previously available material, it’s a definitive set.

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