In 2008, VHS finally died for good, DVD sales flattened and Sony’s Blu-ray format bested Toshiba’s rival HD-DVD in the war for the next-generation high-definition media.
In increasing numbers, studios began including “digital copies” of films in the DVD and Blu-ray cases, hoping to entice Internet surfers away from online piracy by giving them pristine copies of the movies to play on their laptops or iPods.
Concerns over the saturation of the DVD market, combined with the extra storage capability of the Blu-ray medium, resulted in an upsurge of special edition releases on which the extra content was in fact special. Here, in no particular order, is a run-down of some of the best DVD and Blu-ray packages we spun in our player in 2008:
Universal finally did right by Orson Welles’ last Hollywood film with the two-disc “Touch of Evil: 50th Anniversary Edition,” which included all three versions of the director’s superb noir: The edited version released to theaters in 1958, the longer “preview” version used at test screenings by the studio and the definitive restored version, assembled in 1998 using the notes and recommendations Welles wrote in an infamous 58-page memo to his bosses. A reproduction of the memo is included in the outstanding package.
It’s hard to find a disc released by The Criterion Collection that doesn’t put most other DVDs to shame in terms of the quality of the transfer or the supplements accompanying the film. But the company’s release of Paul Schrader’s 1985 drama “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters” was an exceptional production, even by Criterion’s standards. Beginning with the packaging - a beautifully designed box with intricate gold-and-pastels artwork - the disc was as much of a work of art as the film itself, which was presented in an eye-opening, crystal clear transfer supervised by Schrader and cinematographer John Bailey. The extensive extras on the disc included newly shot interviews with all of the film’s main players, along with an hour-long BBC documentary about the real-life acclaimed Japanese author, whose exploits inspired the movie.
The idea of yet another re-release of “The Godfather” pictures might have seemed redundant - until you got a look at what Paramount Pictures had done with “The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration.” A painstaking frame-by-frame cleanup of the first two films, which had always looked fuzzy and washed out since their VHS releases, literally made you feel like you were seeing them for the first time. An entire disc’s worth of supplements was just the finishing touch on a superb package.
Computer animation has always looked pretty snazzy in high-definition, but there are moments on the Disney Blu-ray release of “Wall-E” that are so startlingly clear and detailed, they’re actually a little frightening. The movie, one of the year’s best, had a fascinating production history, which is recounted on the treasure trove of extras included on the disc.
You can tell Curtis Hanson’s superb film noir “L.A. Confidential” is a bona fide classic because 11 years after it was released to theaters, it feels like it could have been made yesterday. Warner Bros. gave the film a much-needed spit and polish for its two-disc special edition and loaded it with some terrific extras, including lots of featurettes about Hanson’s struggle to make the movie exactly the way he intended. You can tell the cast members recall the experience fondly, since all of them - Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Guy Pearce, Kim Basinger and James Cromwell - show up on retrospective documentaries to share their remembrances.
One of the most remarkable qualities about Guillermo del Toro’s comic-book fantasy “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” is its seemingly endless procession of jaw-dropping creatures, landscapes and trinkets, all of which looked like they had been plucked straight out of some long-lost, highly valuable storybook. Instead, many of them came out of del Toro’s imagination. The exhaustively detailed but fascinating 2 ½-hour documentary included on the two-disc DVD and Blu-ray sets shows you every step of the filmmaker’s process in turning the visions inside his head into movie magic.
When it comes to iconic movie police detectives, there is Dirty Harry, and then there is everyone else. The pleasantly hefty “Dirty Harry Ultimate Collector’s Edition” set collected all five of Clint Eastwood’s outings as the trigger-happy, neo-fascist cop in one satisfying box, complete with commentary tracks, retrospective interviews, poster and lobby-card reproductions and even a feature-length documentary on Eastwood’s career.