Well… it’s that time again, folks. Time for The Digital Bits to honor and acknowledge the best of Blu-ray Disc from the past year’s crop of excellent releases.
For this year’s awards we’ve decided to strip things down and keep it simple. We’ve boiled down our awards to just TEN categories, with one BONUS category. And while many titles could obviously qualify in multiple categories, we’ve decided that if a title wins any category that would disqualify it from winning in others – the idea being that this would allow us to recognize as much great work as possible. The primary qualification is that each winner must have arrived in stores in the calendar year 2012. Beyond that, virtually every title was eligible for consideration. Each member of The Bits voting staff was invited to nominate as many titles as they wished per category and then to select their choice for the very best. What follows is the result – one winner per category and a handful of titles we also felt deserved special recognition in each. We hope you enjoy it.
From all of us here at The Digital Bits, our hearty congratulations to everyone in the industry who contributed to the winning titles and to all of the other fine titles we considered. It was an especially good year for Blu-ray!
Let’s get started…
Best New Release/Special Edition – Prometheus: 4-Disc Collector’s Edition
This Fox title was the unanimous pick of every Bits staffer. The simple fact is that, whether you liked Ridley Scott’s sequel to the original Alien or not (and many of us didn’t), this 4-disc set is arguably the single most comprehensive and voluminous special edition ever produced for a new release film. Not only does producer Charles de Lauzirika best his impressive previous efforts by pushing every traditional “film school in a box” button that you’d hope, this set delivers in terms of the latest cutting edge features as well, including Second Screen tablet and smartphone compatibility and even 3D. Snap!
Runners-Up: Leading the list of other titles we considered in this category are Marvel’s The Avengers from Disney, Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games (special props to Cliff Stephenson’s outstanding documentary) and The Cabin in the Woods, and Sony’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. All are well worth your time and money.
Best Catalog Release (post-1970) – Jaws: Universal 100th Anniversary Series
Steven Spielberg’s first real big screen blockbuster was another near-unanimous pick among Bits staffers this year. Universal’s Blu-ray release features a magnificent and light-handed restoration of the film itself, along with the all new (and simply fantastic) The Shark is Still Working documentary and virtually all of the already excellent previous DVD special edition features.
Runners-Up: This was a loaded category to be sure. Among the other worthy nominees were Universal’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: Anniversary Edition, Criterion’s Heaven’s Gate and The Game, Warner’s Empire of the Sun and Sony’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Best Deep Catalog/Classic Release (pre-1970) – Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection
We went back and forth as to whether to award this Bitsy to a single film or a box set. But the simple fact of the matter is that Universal’s Classic Monster films are hugely influential, much loved and we never seriously expected to see them on Blu-ray Disc, much less in this kind of quality. Universal’s individual restorations – particularly Dracula – are magnificent, the extras are voluminous and there’s real joy in having all of the key titles collected together in a single box. Universal even included The Creature from the Black Lagoon in both 2D and 3D! This is just about as good as it gets for classic film fans.
Runners-Up: Also worthy of your time and money in this category are Criterion’s The Gold Rush, The 39 Steps, Harold and Maude and Rosemary’s Baby, Universal’s Pillow Talk and To Kill a Mockingbird, and Warner’s A Streetcar Named Desire.
Best Film Restoration – Lawrence of Arabia: 50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition
This selection was a no-brainer. Sony took years to get this restoration right, and we’re delighted to say that their care and effort paid off magnificently. All you have to do is watch the shocking before and after footage comparisons in the box set’s Lawrence at 50: A Classic Revisited featurette to get a sense of just how much work was required here from Grover Crisp and his restoration team. Best of all, Sir David Lean’s 65mm masterpiece was restored in full 4K resolution, so it’s ready for generations to come.
Runners-Up: There was a lot of great restoration work on display on Blu-ray in 2012, including (but certainly not limited to) Paramount’s Wings and Sunset Boulevard, Warner’s Singin’ in the Rain, Disney’s Cinderella, Criterion’s Heaven’s Gate and many, many others. It’s also worth noting that Fox’s Patton was finally (and all too quietly) delivered to Blu-ray in the quality it deserves, correcting the terrible disservice done by the original Blu-ray release. We sincerely hope that 2013 will continue this fine trend of magnificent film preservation work.
Best Box Set – Bond 50: Celebrating Five Decades of 007
Yes, it took a long time to finally get this box in our hands. Yes, the bonus disc could have been stronger. And yes, Casino Royale isn’t the 2-disc version. But still… the simple fact that you can now buy all 22 classic Bond films on Blu-ray Disc – each loaded with extras of its own – in a single gorgeous and affordable package made this hands-down our favorite big box of the year. The Amazon price amounts to just $7 per film and the damn thing even has a slot for Skyfall! That’s easy cash on the barrelhead.
Runners-Up: Paramount’s Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures and Universal’s Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection were also clear stand-outs in this category. Noteworthy as well were Olive Film’s The Otto Preminger Collection, Criterion’s David Lean Directs Noel Coward and Three Colors sets, and Warner’s Harry Potter Wizard’s Collection among others.
Best TV Release – Star Trek: The Next Generation – Seasons 1 & 2
This was also the unanimous choice of Bits staffers. The simple fact that this series is even coming out on Blu-ray at all is impressive, not to mention the fact that CBS Digital is taking the time, effort and expense to rebuild every single episode – shot by shot – in full high-definition and to polish up the visual effects where needed. Add in all the old extras plus Roger Lay, Jr. and Robert Meyer Burnett’s outstanding new bonus features and you have a clear winner.
Runners-Up: Also impressive in newly-upgraded high definition is Image’s The Dick Van Dyke Show: The Complete Series and Warner’s Friends: The Complete Series. More recent shows weighed in too including Anchor Bay’s The Walking Dead: The Complete Second Season, HBO’s Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season and the BBC’s Sherlock: Season Two.
Best Documentary – Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Magnolia’s Jiro Dreams of Sushi blew us away. If you’re a sushi fan, watching this documentary in high-definition is enough to bring you to tears and fill you with the desire to spend big bucks for a plane ticket to Tokyo and a rarefied reservation at Jiro Ono’s Michelin three-star restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro. Even if you’re not, you can’t help but be amazed at the perseverance and dedication of Ono, whose sole purpose in life seems to be to pick one thing and work tirelessly to be the very best at it. Truly a delight.
Runners-Up: Also be sure to check out Criterion’s And Everything Is Going Fine, MPI’s Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Ken Burns’ The Dust Bowl, Anchor Bay’s Corman’s World and Eagle Rock’s Produced by George Martin, among others.
Best Music/Concert Release – The Beatles: Magical Mystery Tour & Yellow Submarine
It was virtually impossible to decide which of Apple’s two Beatles Blu-ray releases should get the Bitsy in this category, so we finally gave up trying.
Runners-Up: Also worth checking out are Peter Gabriel: Secret World Live and Hungarian Rhapsody: Queen Live in Budapest from Eagle Rock, Criterion’s terrific Quadrophenia, Warner’s Led Zeppelin: Celebration Day (a Walmart exclusive) and Sony’s Neil Young Journeys and Paul Simon: Under African Skies.
Best Blu-ray 3D Release – Hugo: Limited 3D Edition
Directed by Martin Scorsese and released by Paramount, last year’s Best Picture winner remains the single best 3D experience we’ve seen on disc in the past year. The 3D effect itself is well and tastefully used to enhance the drama and the disc itself reproduces the theatrical experience of depth at home with near perfection.
Runners-Up: Other great 3D experiences from 2012 included Marvel’s The Avengers and Brave from Disney, Paramount’s Transformers Dark of the Moon, Titanic and The Adventures of Tintin, and Fox’s Prometheus. Special note should also be given to Universal for updating The Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3D (in the Universal Classic Monsters box) and to Warner for a similar upgrade of Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial “M” for Murder. Finally, it’s worth noting that James Cameron’s Avatar finally arrived widely in stores on Blu-ray 3D for the first time in 2012.
Best Psychotronic/Cult Release(s) – Scream Factory
This was another tough one. But as we were considering all the nominees in this category, one Scream Factory title after another kept coming up: They Live, The Funhouse, Terror Train, Halloween II, Halloween III: Season of the Witch. There was just no way to choose. So our hats off to everyone at Shout! Factory for a terrific line of mind-blowing cult classics on Blu-ray! It looks like their 2013 line-up is shaping up nicely too…
Runners-Up: We should also tip our hats to the fine folks at Kino Lorber for their excellent Mario Bava and Redemption Films BD lines, which were very highly prized here at The Bits in 2012 – Black Sunday was a particular standout. Other gems for the year include Anchor Bay’s Battle Royale: The Complete Collection, Universal’s Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Olive Films’ Johnny Guitar and Criterion’s World on a Wire.
And finally, here’s our Bonus category…
Most Unexpected Release – Stanley Kubrick’s Fear and Desire
This was a wide open category, but Kino Lorber narrowly edged out a win by delivering not just one but two of Stanley Kubrick earliest films to Blu-ray on this release (the second being The Seafarers). It’s admittedly for Kubrick diehards only, but if anyone had told us a year ago that we’d get to see these films in high-def, we’d have said they had a screw loose.
Runners-Up: Warner’s Little Shop of Horrors: Director’s Cut was a very close second in this category, given that none of us ever thought the deleted footage would be found in color. Also noteworthy are such gems as Flicker Alley’s A Trip to the Moon and This is Cinerama, Olive Films’ The Sterile Cuckoo, Warner Archive’s Gypsy (1962) and Twilight Time’s Lost Horizon (1973).
And that’s it for this year! We hope you’ve enjoyed our look back at the Best of Blu-ray in 2012. Bitsy will return this time next year for The 11th (Semi) Annual Digital Bits Bitsy Awards! Bitsy into Darkness perhaps?
- The Digital Bits