What qualifies a movie to make it to my esteemed Top Five list, the latest feature of Greg’s Blu-Ray Buying Guide? Well, for starters, it has to completely blow me out of the water, with both visuals and audio. While many films accomplish one without the other, there are only a few that please both palates and make for a tremendous viewing experience. With all the film transfers I have seen on Blu-Ray, it was not as hard as you may think to narrow it down to the five below, because it is very easy to find faults with most. For a movie to draw a 5-rating on my list, and further more, make it to this list at hand, it must be absolutely breathtaking—it must draw you closer to a film than you have ever felt before, because of new things you may notice in visible textures, or perhaps quips and noises now more ever present in the new, upgraded audio track. With that, I bring you this first installment of my Top-Five, which will be updated and tweaked as I view more movies, and some get bumped off the list. Please note: the screenshots are courtesy of my daily read, Blu-Ray.Com.
Honorable Mention: Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)
Had I written this article a day earlier, this film would have snuck in at number five, but because I viewed the film that now sits in the three seed, this one unfortunately got bumped off the list. The reason why this was even considered to begin with was because it shocked me with superb quality, this coming after many not-so-hot DVD releases and showings on television (there was a time many years ago where it seemed that this movie was on AMC every other week). The visuals present during the many overhead shots of the lush Hawaiian landscape, combined with the deep reds and oranges of fire as the destruction is waged upon Pearl Harbor by Japanese bombers is stunning, combined with the audio that puts you inside the cockpit with some of those pilots who are a bit reluctant at their task. The Japanese may have awakened a sleeping tiger by their attack, but those responsible for this transfer awakened a hell of a gem!
Number 5: A Night to Remember (1958)
While there was seemingly nothing wrong with the Criterion Collection DVD release of this film, the Blu-Ray will make you salivate at the intricate designs of the Titanic’s interior, which were based off the actual blue prints. Putting aside the fact that this is the most accurate film ever made about the Titanic disaster, straightforward with facts in a highly dramatized documentary style, this also just happens to be a damn good movie, completely free of a meaningless ultra-Hollywoodesque love story that does nothing but detract from films such as James Cameron’s. While many Blu-Rays draw high ratings, most become faulty during nighttime scenes, because something with a transfer at night or in the dark just seems to go awry, but thankfully, that is not the case here, as most of the film takes place outside and at night, on the decks of the ship during the sinking. While a few early scenes may be a bit grainy (you can easy tell where stock footage was spliced into the cut), it is rescued by a steady and consistent artifact-free print the rest of the way. Hats off to the Criterion Collection yet again!
Number 4: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Visionary and groundbreaking upon its release, Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece has always held strong, and it still does under the microscope of HD quality, which has gone to expose the camera trickery and poor visual effects of earlier science fiction films. Not the case here, as nothing ever is usually “just the case” when it comes to the film industry’s ultimate auteur. Plain and simple, this film was made for Blu-Ray. A few years ago, when I was still in high school, this film was on an HD channel late at night, and I stayed up and watched the entire thing, because I knew it would be special. That viewing always stayed with me, and was matched by this Blu-Ray transfer, which did not lose any luster during its condensation onto a disc. The effects, scenery, and technology never looked better, and the iconic opening theme has never sounded so epic.
Number 3: Zulu (1966)
Ah, here we are with my latest viewing. This was one of those films that all it took was the first five minutes for me to realize this would be making the list. When you have a film that entails beautiful on-location South African scenery, deep, lush reds of the British uniforms, combined with plenty of battle scenes, it is usually a simple case of boom or bust, and this one goes boom with every rifle shot and spear thrust. What is perhaps the ultimate tale of great last stands and bravery, comparable to the Texans at the Alamo and the Spartans at Thermopylae, the British at Rorke’s Drift against the mighty Zulu army amazes with every pan and every scene. Your jaw will simply drop when you realize how much detail was squeezed out of a print that is more than 45 years old and has never amazed with any past DVD release.
Number 2: Ben-Hur (1956)
This is a film that needs to be in the dictionary next to the term “epic”. It bears all the features of one, with an enormous, star-studded cast, a superb score, and special effects that hold true even today. William Wyler’s classic tale was transferred right, perhaps painstakingly, because I do not think I noticed one instance of grain at all during the nearly four-hour masterwork. There really is just nothing wrong with this print, and if it was not for the no longer household name case, it could have been filmed yesterday. The most famous scene, the grand chariot race, will bring you up out of your chair to cheer along with the thousands of other spectators each rooting for the rider from their native country. Please keep a bowl underneath your mouth, for you may drown in your own saliva as the race begins.
Number 1: Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Always a favorite of mine, it had been a few years since my last viewing on DVD and my first on Blu-Ray. The opening D-Day scene was always fantastic, and one of the best in war movie history, but it never gripped me the way it did here. The haunting visuals combined with the enormously loud audio of explosions and screams of dead and dying soldiers literally put you on the beach, and you could feel the bullets whizzing past your head as the camera lowers itself near the sand. You do not need 3D for this; just an awareness, imagination, and understanding of what you are watching. The consistency held strong throughout the entire film, making this the single best viewing experience I have ever had in my life, in the comfort of my own home.
For more information, please check out Greg’s Blu-Ray Buying Guide.