Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Heath Holland On...My Favorite DVDs and Blu-rays of 2014

by Heath Holland
Q: What could be better than watching cool movies at the theater?

A: Taking them back to your place so you can get to know them a little better. Clothing? Optional.

It’s been a pretty good year at the movie theater, but it’s also been a pretty fantastic year in terms of awesome DVDs and Blu-rays continuing that experience at home. 2014 saw me spending more time than ever poring through special features and expanding my home library with shiny circles of wonder (which is also what I call my nipples). Yes, physical media is on the decline, but I think this past year was a banner one for those of us who still collect our favorite movies on disc. Curling up on the couch for 5 hours with a DVD or Blu-ray is an experience that money just can’t buy. Well, okay, come to think of it, money is a lynchpin in the whole experience. In fact, without money, there’s no disc. Anyway…here are some of the things that made waves in Casa De Hollywood this year.


Thanks to Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla film, 2014 was the year that MOST of the studios who had the rights to the previous Godzilla films got their act together and released the original, uncut monster movies in high definition for the first time. Sony, Universal, and the handful of other companies which hold ownership of the many Godzilla films made over the last 50 years all managed to capitalize on the anticipation and success of the newest adventure of the King of Monsters by getting the bulk of the Godzilla catalog into the hands of eager G-fans. Other kaiju films benefited from the attention too, and we also got the original Mothra film and its two sequels. Last (and maybe least), the eight original films featuring Godzilla’s irradiated turtle friend Gamera also came to Blu-ray at bargain basement pricing, courtesy of Mill Creek Entertainment. It was a good year for giant monsters.
The Leg Drop of Doom

I have a secret to tell you: No Holds Barred is an awful movie. It’s loud, obnoxious, and is the most concrete proof we have that WWE CEO Vince McMahon doesn’t understand how to translate the riveting action and engaging storytelling that occurs in the wrestling ring to the movie screen. Still, No Holds Barred was once a staple of the video store, but in recent years had become a thing of legend and myth because no new VHS tapes or DVDs were manufactured. It was like everyone involved wanted us all to forget it ever happened. The film finally came to DVD in 2012, but the movie finally came to Blu-ray this year. The disc’s supplements contain almost an hour of wrestling matches, including the 1989 SummerSlam match where Tiny Lister’s Zeus character partnered with Macho Man Randy Savage to take on Hulk Hogan and Brutus the Beefcake. It was a BIG deal. Here’s the thing: this may come as a shock, but I’m not all that crazy about Hulk Hogan. He was limited in his wrestling ability and even more limited in his acting ability. Yet, Hulkamania played a huge part in the culture of both wrestling and in movies; No Holds Barred and the actual wrestling matches that took place in its aftermath are pieces of a big, ever-expanding puzzle. I’m a fan of the business of wrestling, and this movie played a significant part in that business. It deserves to be out there, and even though I think it’s a terrible movie, I’m glad that it’s finally back in circulation in all its high definition horror glory.
Unvaulting Disney

Disney is the best there is when it comes to making you spend your money AND feel happy about doing it. Their Vault concept is genius, but as their releases wind down and the digital era makes the idea of a physical moratorium impractical and outdated, they’ve been forced to use new tactics to sell these last few rounds of discs; I think they really outdid themselves this year. First, February brought the Blu-ray release of The Jungle Book, which I regard to be one of Disney’s best animated films. But that movie sells itself, right? What’s the big deal? Well, on August 12, Disney fans were given a real treat when 1947’s Fun and Fancy Free and 1949’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, both of which hadn’t seen a release in fourteen years, were combined into one epic Blu-ray package. Disney went even further in making sure fans and collectors couldn’t pass it up by adding an exclusive THIRD film to the edition: 1941’s The Reluctant Dragon a curiosity that had graced several collector’s sets over the years but never seen a wide home video release. The market for that level of animation geekery may be small, but Disney sure knows how to milk it. Take my money, please.

Exploiting Legos

I didn’t LOVE The Lego Movie, but I did think it was a whole lot more fun than it had any right to be and played on multiple levels. If the movie was an unexpected joy for me, the special features on the home video release put an even bigger smile on my face. The piece de resistance (see what I did there?) of the bonus materials is “Michelangelo and Lincoln: History Cops,” a faux trailer for a nonexistent exploitation movie about time-hopping cops (“Abraham Lincoln, the city’s number one abolitionist…OF CRIME”) bringing down bad guys. The trailer is complete with scratches, cigarette burns, and a soundtrack full of crackles and pops. This is one of the most awesome extras I’ve ever seen on a movie that’s essentially for kids. It warms my exploitation-loving heart.
Crossing the Streams

2014 finally saw the release of BOTH Ghostbusters films on Blu-ray. While we got the first movie years ago, completists like me have been patiently waiting for Sony Pictures to release the second film in high definition, and we were anxiously hoping that it would sport some decent extras, considering that NO previous edition of Ghostbusters II contained any bonus features. I get that the sequel isn’t Citizen Kane, but I’d be interested in those involved exploring why this might be. Thankfully, the 2014 double feature set contains a roundtable discussion between director Ivan Reitman and Dan Aykroyd on BOTH films, plus some deleted scenes from Ghostbusters II, and, as if that wasn’t enough, they even threw in a Bobby Brown music video. Score! It’s an embarrassment of riches for those of us who have been waiting years for an official peek behind the scenes.

Circling the Wagons with John Wayne

I really got into John Wayne movies during 2013, so I’m happy that 2014 was a really good year for building a John Wayne collection at home. Things kicked off in March when Warner released El Dorado on Blu-ray with two commentary tracks: one with Peter Bogdanovich and another with historian Richard Schickel, actor Ed Asner, and author Todd McCarthy. There’s also a 42-minute long documentary about the film. But it was a couple months later in May that it really hit the fan. John Wayne was never known for his westerns with 20th Century Fox, yet he still made a handful of very watchable films with the company, and Fox has quietly been releasing them for the last few years. In May, they bundled seven of those Blu-rays together and released them as a reasonably priced box set. Warner Brothers, not to be outdone, dropped a massive DVD set entitled “John Wayne: The Epic Collection” a couple of weeks later. That box consisted of 40 of The Duke’s films, along with replicas of artifacts and correspondence Wayne had with studio heads and filmmakers. While the DVD set was criticized for not being Blu-ray, I thought it was a great way for Warner Brothers to repackage all the John Wayne DVDs they’ve put out over the last 15 years and are now gathering dust into the hands of those who didn’t already own them; after all, new fans are born all the time. I don’t think it’s ever been easier for newcomers like me to discover the work of John Wayne, thanks largely to one-stop-shopping sets like these.
Higher Gravity

One of the most intense movies of 2013 turned out to be one of the coolest Blu-rays of 2014. It’s not a secret that special features are on the decline, so when a disc like Gravity comes along with a great movie AND a great package of bonus material, I tend to take notice. In this case, we’re treated to over two hours of documentary content—longer than the film itself—that covers every aspect of the production. There’s even a short film by the director Alfonso Cuaron’s son Jonas, which neatly dovetails into the overall story told in Gravity.

Vincent Price

Now we’re getting into the stuff that blew my mind all over the side of my face this year. 2014’s “The Vincent Price Collection II” is a sequel to last year’s excellent original box set from Scream Factory, and actually manages to surpass expectations set by that first collection. For starters, Collection I contained six films, but this time we were treated to seven. The intros and outros that Price shot for Iowa public television in the '80s return for several of the movies in Volume II, and the movies themselves are often loaded with additional special features, such as commentaries, retrospective documentaries, and archival interview footage. There’s an insane amount of goodness in the collection, and it’s enough to convert any cynic. I’ve been aware of Vincent Price for most of my life and have seen my fair share of his movies over the years, yet I always relegated him to camp performance and schlocky horror. Well, it’s hard to maintain that opinion in light of the awesome content Scream Factory compiled for their sets, and now I can’t seem to get my hands on enough of his work. Both existing collections are essential to any film fan’s library, and I can only pray that we get a third volume in 2015. I NEED IT.
Hobbits, Dwarves, and Dragons

Here we go. I was pretty transparent about my disappointment with the middle installment of Peter Jackson’s new trilogy, and I thought The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was bloated, without any real substance, and evidence of a director that wasn’t personally invested in the material he was filming. The Blu-ray containing the extended edition of the film not only silenced many of my complaints, but actually made me love the movie. I’m not a huge fan of director’s cuts and I tend to think that the theatrical cut is usually the way to go, but it turns out that things are different when you start delving into these Middle Earth films. I thought the theatrical cut of The Desolation of Smaug was overlong and lacking in dramatic narrative. Well, as it turns out, adding 25 minutes to the running time changes the movie considerably…for the better. I’m not here to review the content of the new additions, so I’ll just say that the extended edition contains characters and scenes that weren’t in the theatrical cut but that desperately needed to be. It’s a different movie; a deeper, richer one that has more consequence for the characters within it.
My complaints about how it felt hollow and that the story deviated far too much from the source material of Tolkien’s book don’t really hold up after watching almost 10 hours of behind-the-scenes footage. Jackson addresses the criticisms himself, discussing how the pieces that would have connected a two-film project lacked drama and that a trilogy was necessary to create a cinematic experience that people would want to see. And that’s key: there’s a way to film The Hobbit in a way that stays incredibly faithful to Tolkien, but it would be cost prohibitive and not very interesting to the general public. I still have some qualms with beats of the story and with some of the decisions that were made behind the scenes, but I’ve warmed so much more than I ever thought possible when it comes to The Desolation of Smaug. My turnaround is 100% because of the extended edition of the film and the hours and hours of time I spent watching the actual production of the movie. I’ve cherished my discs of the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I have a feeling that I might actually hold my copies of Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy even closer when all is said and done because they actually converted me from a stance I thought I’d never budge from. And no, I can’t believe I just wrote that.

There you have it. Those are the discs that blew my skirt up this year and rocked my world. It’s hard to complain about the death of physical media when there is clearly still a ton of cool stuff coming out. What about you? What were you excited to add to your shelf in 2014?


  1. This year I imported a Bluray player to the uk so I could add films not available here. I have been all Scream factoried up. Favourites so far a Lake placid. The Burning. Evilspeak. Nightbreed.

    Favourites from uk bluray market this year are Tremours. Poltergeist. Cabin in the woods. You're next. And Back to the Future boxset looks amazing

  2. Please ignore my illiterate typos ;)

  3. I love this column. I’ll say it loud and proud, long-live physical media! I can’t wait to check a couple of these out, especially The Hobbit Part 2.

    Here’s a couple of my favorites of the year:

    Shout Factory’s Werner Herzog Collection. It’s not a complete filmography but it contains most of his masterpieces and tons of commentaries. Still working my way through it although “Even Dwarfs Started Small” may have ruined part of my soul…

    Lake Placid: F-heads know about Scream Factory. Had been waiting on a decent release of this since 1999. So good.

    Paramount redeemed themselves for botching the initial Star Trek Into Darkness release with Star Trek: The Compendium. The full length documentary detailing the making of the movie was far more entertaining and well-done than the actual movie (as is so often the case). Blink and you miss it cameo by Heather Langenkamp (yes, that one) who is a crew member (!).

    The Expendables 3: The footage of the cast riding into the Cannes film festival on tanks and trash-talking each other during a press conference is worth the price of admission.

  4. El Dorado might be a shameless remake of Rio Bravo, but it's still a really good standalone film. Especially if you haven't seen Rio Bravo. If you're still looking to expand your Wayne knowledge, I always recommend the unsung Big Jake. It's a movie where John Wayne just gets to be pure, manly John Wayne, and it has one of the better villains in his movies.

    Also I agree on the Gravity Blu ray. That might be the best Black Friday deal I've ever impulse-bought.

    1. Thanks for the tip on Big Jake. Truthfully, I've yet to see a John Wayne movie that I didn't like or that didn't have something that made it worth watching.

  5. I picked up a stack of discs during the Black Friday sales, also. Have been enjoying Gravity, Super 8, and Edge of Tomorrow. Plan to watch the first three Bourne movies and The LEGO Movie during the holidays.

  6. Glad somebody agrees with me about DoS' extended cut. I really disliked the theatrical cut, but the extended cut was freaking wonderful.

    1. I still haven't figured out why that cut isn't what was shown in theaters. The one we got was inferior. I know three hours is a long time to sit in a theater, but we've done it before for these films and if it allows you to tell a better story, why not? Maybe the effects weren't finished in time?

    2. I haven't seen the longer cut of DoS yet, but this was my experience with The Fellowship of the Ring. When I saw it in theaters, I felt like it was fine but repetitive (keep in mind I had no history with the books). It wasn't until I saw the Extended Edition later that year that I really fell in love with it.

    3. Totally. I had the same experience with Fellowship, and I don't know why those cuts were made. Last year's extended version of An Unexpected Journey had minimal additions that were fun but added little to the story or characters. This is a whole different beast, though. These additions alter portions of the movie, particularly the third act. I kind of hate that we live in a world where we have to specify which version of a movie we're talking about.

    4. Just wanted to echo the love for the extended cut and the extras on that Blu-ray. Although it makes me a little worried about the kind of digital filmmaking/acting that is happening now (because it feels like it's almost bordering on not being acting anymore, but that's another discussion for a different post), I am also at the same time impressed with it.

  7. Ha! If only. Why give fans one DVD when you can get them to buy two DVDs of the movie? Or, if you're Ridley Scott, approximately 237,912 DVDs of the same movie. Ka-ching!

  8. Well, that answers my question on if I should get the Theatrical or Extended LOTR Trilogy. Thanks Patrick! Anyway, my favorite blu-rays this year are Snowpeircer, Edge of tomorrow, Lego, Gravity, Guardians of the Galaxy and the 4K Remaster of Paul Verhoeven's Robocop~! The Flesh and Steel documentary is fantastic.