Personal blog - and temporary home page until new website is finished - of writer, editor and graphic artist Christopher Mills

Thursday, December 13, 2007

15 Favorite DVD Releases of 2007

2007 was a great year for DVD collectors, despite the rise of competing high-priced, high-definition formats and the inevitable proclamations of the imminent death of the regular DVD disc. As a reviewer, I've been fortunate to get a look at a lot of 2007's releases, even though my column was rather irregular and I wasn't able to quite cover everything I received.

Here are fifteen of my favorite 2007 releases. In every case, these are films I like a lot, and they were especially well-served by their DVD releases.

1. FROM BEYOND. After a very long wait, while various rights issues were worked out, MGM finally unleashed Stuart Gordon's gooey follow-up to Re-Animator in an unrated, digitally restored – and, most importantly – properly framed widescreen edition. Beautiful hi-def transfer, uncut content, and solid extra features.

2. THE MONSTER SQUAD. Repeat pretty much everything I said about From Beyond. Another awesome release of a long-anticipated and beloved flick.

3. TWIN PEAKS: THE GOLD BOX COLLECTION. David Lynch and Mark Frost's influential, mindbending and tragically short-lived surreal soap opera finally receives a damn-near definitive home video treatment, with every episode completely remastered. The set also includes the rare, original Pilot Film and European Theatrical/Home Video feature version of same, tons of comprehensive behind-the-scenes material, original TV promos and commercials, a featurette with Lynch, and much, much more. One of the best TV-on-DVD sets ever.

4. WITCHFINDER GENERAL. For years I've been wanting to see this acclaimed Vincent Price film, originally released in the U.S. as The Conqueror Worm. It's reputation – and that of its young, tragic director, Michael Reeves – was so great, that I was certain I was missing out on something truly special. As it turned out, I was. While maybe not quite as wonderful as I'd come to expect, it was still a fine period horror flick, with an extraordinarily nuanced and effective performance by Price. MGM's "Midnite Movie" release of this title sports a beautiful transfer, the original music and U.K. cut.

5. THE ICONS OF HORROR COLLECTION: SAM KATZMAN. Who would have thunk that Columbia would release a box set of low-budget B-movies produced by one of Hollywood's most notoriously cheap producers – and put his name on the box? Not only does it contain gorgeous transfers of The Giant Claw, Creature With the Atom Brain, Zombies of Mora Tau and The Werewolf, but the set also includes a chapter of the Katzman-produced Mysterious Island serial, a Mr. Magoo cartoon, a comedy short, and tons of vintage Columbia sci-fi trailers!

6. THE SERGIO LEONE ANTHOLOGY. Remastered, restored versions of A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, and Duck, You Sucker! Okay, I already had the special edition of TGTB&TU, but the restored Fistful and More were revelations. Eastwood and Van Cleef never looked so good. And I'd never seen Leone's Duck, You Sucker!, with James Coburn and Rod Stieger, before. Each movie is also loaded with informative extras.


8. PAYBACK: STRAIGHT UP. Brian Helgeland's "Director's Cut" of the Mel Gibson -compromised Richard Stark adaptation is a definite improvement over the already pretty good theatrical version. This cut is much grittier, with a completely different musical score and third act, and it possesses a real 70's crime flick vibe. The behind-the-scenes documentary is a a real revelation and effectively illustrates how screwed up and second-guessing Hollywood studios have become.

9. INVASION OF ASTRO MONSTER. Better known as Godzilla Vs. Monster Zero, this was but one of several awesome, widescreen, restored kaiju releases in 2007. Godzilla, Rodan and Nick Adams battle the mighty King Ghidorah and evil aliens from Planet X in what's probably my favorite Godzilla film. A gorgeous transfer of the Toho classic, both English and Japanese versions, and a handful of solid extras. So much fun.

10. JASON OF STAR COMMAND. This 70's Filmation release from BCI was a childhood favorite and it was awesome to see this satisfyingly silly space opera (with its stellar special effects!) again on DVD, complete with a retrospective documentary, interviews with stars Craig Littler and Sid Haig, and other bonus features.

11. THE MARIO BAVA COLLECTION. I'm including Volumes One and Two in this, as both sets came out this year, and include new, improved versions of pretty much all the most important titles in the legendary maestro's filmography: Black Sunday, Black Sabbath (Three Faces of Fear), The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Knives of the Avenger, Kill, Baby...Kill!, Lisa And the devil/House of Exorcism, Bay of Blood, Baron Blood, Kidnapped, Roy Colt & Winchester Jack, 5 Dolls for an August Moon and Four Times That Night. Not every film is particularly great, but Mario Bava's distinctive visual sense and directorial style is evident in virtually every frame. Good, cleaned-up transfers, some fine commentaries on the most important films by Tim Lucas, and nicely packaged. Oh, I would have liked better it if they'd been able to include the U.S. versions of Sunday and Sabbath, but overall, it's an awesome collection.

12. MICHAEL SHAYNE MYSTERIES. Four snappy B-movie mysteries – Michael Shayne: Private Detective, The Man Who Wouldn't Die, Sleepers West and Blue, White and Perfect – starring Lloyd Nolan as Brett Halliday's wisecracking Irish-American private eye, assembled into one sharp boxed set by Fox. The bonus features aren't quite as good as the ones on the Charlie Chan and Mister Moto discs, but the package artwork – new paintings by the great Robert McGinnis – more than compensates for any deficiencies. Gorgeous transfers, too.

13. RATATOUILLE. Another instant classic from Pixar and Brad Bird. The DVD isn't as loaded with extras as usual – expect a "Collector's Edition" to come along soon – but the movie is both gorgeous to behold and deeply involving. Who would have figured a movie about a gourmet rat could be so wonderfully written, designed and executed?

14. DOCTOR WHO – THE COMPLETE SECOND/THIRD SERIES. Series 2 was released at the beginning of the year, and I just picked up Series 3. Despite all the crappy reimaginings and remakes of old TV shows, this Who – and the new Battlestar Galactica – are the best arguments for continuing to mine TV's past for new entertainment. While I enjoyed the first series with Chris Eccelston, David Tennant's take on The Doctor is more to my tastes, and the show really found its footing once he took over. Sharp, funny and emotionally moving writing, great performances and delightful special effects have breathed new life into the U.K.'s most venerable sci-fi franchise... and the DVDs are "bloody brilliant," too.

15. FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD. Finally, one of the most fondly remembered kaiju classics from Toho Studios comes to U.S. DVD courtesy of Media Blasters – in three different versions! There's the Japanese language version, the U.S. dubbed version, and the "International" version, complete with the legendary – and never before seen in U.S. – "Devilfish" climax, in which the mutated, giant Frankenstein's monster inexplicably battles a landbound giant octopus that appears out of nowhere during the climactic forest fire! All three versions look pristine, and there are a handful of cool extras.

These aren't necessarily the best DVD releases of '07, but they're the ones I'm most enthusiastic about. A couple that almost made the cut include Warners' Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland Collection, The Evil Dead Ultimate Edition (and would have, if the extras were just a little better) from Starz Entertainment, and MGM's Return of the Living Dead Collector's Edition. I only wish I'd been able to afford the complete Get Smart and Man From U.N.C.L.E. TV series sets and the new Blade Runner: Final Cut collector's set.


Sidney said...

My dad took me to see a double feature of "Tarzan and the City of Gold" and "Frankenstein Conquers the World" when I was a kid. It was a blast back in the day.

Christopher Mills said...

Man, I wish I'd been able to experience the drive-ins like that. When I was a kid, my mom would take my sister and me to the Augusta Drive-In for Disney double features when my dad worked third shift at the paper mill. It was almost always a classic animated re-release paired with a live-action comedy. My sisiter almost always slept through the second feature, but, unfortunately for my mom, I always toughed it out.

I did get to see a few good R-rated exploitation double bills at the Winslow Drive-In in the 80's before it shut down, though.