Top Ten DVDs of 2004
As I mentioned last year, we don't see any real innovations in DVD anymore. The format went about as far as it could go a few years ago, so you won't see much difference between the best
releases of 2004 when compared to those of 2003, 2002, or 2001. 2000 was the year in which DVD really took a big leap forward in quality, and the past four years have mostly maintained those improvements.
Definitely don't regard that as a bad thing, for there's little reason to complain when we look at the fine releases of 2004. This means there's less for me to discuss, though, as 2004 lacked any of the notable trends of prior years. 2000 was the year that mulitple-disc packages became
more common; it's the last year for which my Top Ten includes a single-disc release, as nothing with fewer than two platters has cracked a year-end Top Ten since then. 2001 marked the rise of good music DVDs, while 2002 was the year studios
finally embraced season sets for TV series.
2003 and 2004 continued those trends and fine-tuned them but didn't do anything innovative. We can see that when we compare the three Lord of the Rings extended editions. The first for Fellowship of the Ring stunned us, and it remains absolutely superb. However, 2003's Two Towers expanded things a little and was even more satisfying, and 2004's Return of the King
took things even further. There's no startling jump from Fellowship to King, but the latter's unquestionably a richer and more detailed package.
As for us drones here at the Movie Guide, 2004 went smoothly. 2003 marked a big change when site founded Van Tran relinquished the reins and David Williams took over as webmaster. Somehow he's managed to put up with my nonsense for about 18 months now, and he's done a great job making sure the site looks and works great. We also added another reviewer in the form of
Brian Ludovico as the year came to an end. Hopefully everyone's enjoyed Brian's work so far, and I look forward to our continued collaboration in the future.
So that summarizes 2004 - let's move on to 2005 and another year of good DVDs!
Colin Jacobson, Senior Reviewer
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING - EXTENDED EDITION(A/A/A+)
If you bet that this extended edition of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King wouldn't be my pick as the best DVD release of 2004, you're a sucker. Both of its predecessors took the prize for their respective years,
so unless New Line dropped the ball badly, there was little chance King wouldn't join them. Some folks complained that this set was just "more of the same" and didn't innovate. Huh? What could they do to make it better? Change just for the sake of change is
stupid. This franchise set the standard for DVD excellence, and King continued that trend with arguably the best movie and the strongest package of the three. At least 2005 will open up the top spot on my chart for someone else, since
Peter Jackson and company sewed it up for three years straight. I doubt my 2005 winner will be as good as this, however; all three LOTR extended editions are the gold standard for DVDs.
HELLBOY - SPECIAL EDITION/HELLBOY DIRECTOR'S CUT (A-/A/A+)
Not one but two Hellboy DVDs end up near the top of my chart. The movie itself
offers a very good comic book flick, and I can find little fault with the package. Picture and sound quality
are excellent, and both sets include a terrific roster of supplements. I made both the original two-disc edition
of Hellboy and the three-disc Director's Cut of the film tied for first place simply because I didn't
think it was fair to give the movie two slots on the Top Ten. I prefer the Director's Cut package since it
includes more extras, but you can't go wrong with either one.
THE STAR WARS TRILOGY (A/A-/A-)
Given all the uproar and complaints that have greeted the four-DVD Star Wars Trilogy set, I expect
this will be my most controversial choice in the Top Ten, especially given its high placement. Yes, I recognize
that the set has its flaws. However, overall the thing is amazing, as the movies have never looked or sounded
better. The extras could have been more extensive but they nonetheless cover a lot of good territory. And don't
forget the movies themselves, all three of which continue to dazzle and entertain. I found myself too impressed with this
wonderful set not to give it high placement on my Top Ten. Of the whole list, it's the one that will get the most
use in my collection.
THE ULTIMATE MATRIX EXPERIENCE (A-/A-/A+)
I struggled over whether to place Star Wars or The Ultimate Matrix Experience in the #3 slot. Obviously I went with Star Wars, largely because I like the movies more.
However, if I judged strictly on DVD quality, this Matrix set would have to get the nod. As with Star Wars, it's not perfect. Better audio commentaries instead of the tedious critics/philosophers tracks heard here would probably have
bolstered my overall impression of the release. Nonetheless, many hours of video extras add lots of information and make this an excellent package. It's a real treat for Matrix fans.
SPIDER-MAN 2 (B/B+/A+)
I also flip-flopped on where to place Spider-Man 2 in my Top Ten. On one hand, the movie is excellent and has only grown in stature with each time I've viewed it. The set
also includes a truly terrific set of extras. A lack of quality supplements made the first Spider-Man release from 2002 one of the year's big disappointments, but no such fate befalls the sequel.
On the other hand, quality isn't as good as it should be, a fact proven by the superior visuals and slightly stronger audio of the Superbit edition. I put Spidey 2 this high on the Top Ten simply
because it's a great movie with a wonderful roster of extras; the movie presentation isn't superb, but it's also fine for the most part. (A release that combined the quality of the Superbit with the supplements of this
set probably would have challenged Hellboy for my #2 slot, however.)
CLERKS - 10th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (C+/C+/A+)
As always, my Top Ten isn't about the DVDs that simply provide the absolute highest quality ratings. If that were the
case, I'd just look over the various letter grades and pick the "best" based on that. I also need to look at
the quality of the main program and the set's potential. Did those involved do all that they could do with the material?
In the case of this splendid 10th anniversary release for Clerks, the answer comes back as a resounding "yes". The
movie still looks and sounds weak, but unless they reshoot the whole thing, that's inevitable. The package displays a remarkable
level of care and includes pretty much everything you could ever want to know about the movie. It's not Kevin Smith's
best film, but it's his best DVD, and given the excellent prior releases of his flicks, that says something.
GONE WITH THE WIND - COLLECTOR'S EDITION (A/B+/A+)
Objectively, I probably should place this spectacular special edition of Gone With the Wind higher on my list. It's probably the best-ever
DVD release of an older title. The package provides extremely good picture and audio with gobs of interesting extras. It seems unlikely we'll ever get another
special edition for a flick of this vintage that surpasses this set. Unfortunately, I can't get past my general dislike of the movie to place it higher
on my Top Ten. It's a well-crafted flick with many reasons for me to dislike it. Nonetheless, it's an excellent DVD that raises the bar for what can be done with
PANIC ROOM - SPECIAL EDITION (B+/A-/A+)
Ever since this fantastic three-disc special edition for Panic Room first appeared on my Top Ten in April, I predicted it might be the only title from early 2004 to make my final list. That wasn't correct, since another March release - Texas Chainsaw Massacre - also snuck onto the chart. However, that doesn't diminish the high quality of this set.
While not David Fincher's best flick, it offers a satisfying take on Hitchcock. Both picture and audio seem solid, and the extras provide a very rich look at its creation. Chalk this one up as a truly terrific DVD.
DAWN OF THE DEAD - ULTIMATE EDITION (B+/C/A+)
Go back to my mention of Clerks for a justification of how a movie with moderately lackluster technical grades
makes my Top Ten. Unlike Clerks, however, I must acknowledge a lack of enthusiasm for the film itself. Dawn is a good
horror flick but not something that really rocks my world; I prefer the 2004 remake. Nonetheless, I have to give this set a lot of credit for making the movie
look and sound as good as it does, and fans will certainly drool over its exhaustive roster of supplements. It's a terrific release that would have been 2004's best "archival" set were it not for Gone With the Wind.
TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE - PLATINUM SERIES EDITION (A-/B+/A)
Die-hard fans will disagree, but I think this 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre offers the superior flick when compared
to the 1974 original. Even if one doesn't go along with that sentiment, no one should argue that the newer flick gets the
better treatment on DVD. New Line provides a great package for the modern iteration, with excellent picture and sound plus
a broad and entertaining package of extras. This one seems like a great choice for horror fans.
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: Star Wars, Clerks and Dawn of the Dead. March, November and December each provided two entries, while we got single releases from July and October. (Yes, this adds up to 11 since I counted the two Hellboy releases on the chart - technically July and October offered the same title in the Top Ten.)
This left no titles from January, February, April, May, June, or August on the list. Perhaps not coincidentally, most of those same months weren't represented on my 2003 year-end list; it had a June release and nothing from July, but otherwise the same months didn't wind up with anything on the final Top Ten. 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: Alice in Wonderland - Masterpiece Edition
FEBRUARY: My Fair Lady - Special Edition
APRIL: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World - Collector's Edition
MAY: Around the World in 80 Days
JUNE: Elvis Presley: '68 Comeback Special - Deluxe Edition
AUGUST: Predator - Special Edition
Oddly, nothing from August ever made a Top Ten in 2004. Usually at least one or two titles a month make a list, even if just for a short while. But that didn't happen in August - none of its titles cracked the Top Ten. What makes this more surprising is that August actually had a lot of good releases - it was a pretty nice month in retrospect, and probably better than many others in 2004. It just lacked any GREAT releases.
For more statistical fun, I examined my five Top Tens by studio. For that span, Disney wins with 15 of the 50 possible slots. Fox comes in second with 11 DVDs, and everyone else brings up the rear. Sony nailed seven slots, and New Line came in with six. Warner Bros. filled five and Artisan had two. Universal, Paramount, Anchor Bay and TGA - the latter produced the Rolling Stones' Four Flicks - both came in with one disc apiece. No releases from MGM, DreamWorks, 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. That's a small change from last year, since Anchor Bay finally made a year-end chart in 2004.