The Shelf Space Awards: August 2012

Fred Topel gives you the skinny on all the best and weirdest Blu-rays of the month, with previews of some of September's biggest titles.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


Every month we give out the Shelf Space Awards to Blu-ray releases that are worthy of space on your ever-crowding shelves. This month I actually invested in two new Billy bookcases from Ikea, the thin ones, not the full Billys, but still. Glad I made some room for some of this month’s classic releases. I definitely want to keep the hi-def copies around, and some new releases earned a spot too.


I Want You To Notice This Award

Headhunters is my favorite little known movie of this month’s batch so I wanted to put it up top to alert you to it. If my Fantastic Fest recap and Witney’s review didn’t quite convince you to seek it out, let this be the clincher. Magnolia brought out the full intensity of the thriller on Blu-ray with a crisp transfer. Only a few really dark night shots get rough, but not distractingly so. It looks like a Hollywood movie, and I promise you the story is better.


Home Theater Demo Award

Well, now that the summer movie season has come and gone, Battleship can finally fulfill its destiny as a home theater demo disc for Best Buy. It sure is pretty, all those polished computer aliens and the blue light reflecting off the big metal boats. And Hawaii. Hawaii’s pretty too. I don’t even have surround hooked up, but you can tell all those electronic whizzes and debris explosions would wrap all the way around the speakers.


Academy Award Award

Best Foreign Language Feature winner A Separation looks better than most American Blu-rays. It’s a perfectly clear and gritty look into the streets and society of Iran. You also get to see a few authentic camera artifacts, from lens scratches to flashes of dirt on the film. Never distracting, it’s just a cool detail that goes well with the stunning picture.


How’d They Do That Award

Putting the Terminator anthology together might have been even more complicated than the Kubrick collection for Warner Brothers. You’ve got two films by bankrupt studios now owned by studios other than WB. It’s a nice, lean box though. If you want to consolidate your shelf (see title of column), you can buy this Anthology. However, it means owning a copy of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. I just wish they’d included the two seasons of “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” which was a WB produced show.


Remake Redo Award

Thanks to this month’s remake of Total Recall, Lionsgate was inclined to remaster the Blu-ray transfer of the original. Technically it came out July 31 but you’re probably shopping this month like me. The remaster still isn’t perfect. It’s a little too bright and still grainy, but it’s consistent. The old Blu-ray (one of the first produced for the technology) was a mess with noise flare-ups and changes shot to shot. So this one maintains the same look throughout the film, even if a tad flawed.


Puberty Award

If you ever saw Re-Animator growing up, you know it marked the day a boy became a man. Now a whole new generation of boys can come of age in high definition. It looks good and it’s not too remastered so it still looks like Re-Animator. The picture looks like 35mm film, and I actually had a chance to see it in a theater two years ago so I can vouch for the authentic look. It’s clear enough to see the detail in the effects, and that scene, you know the scene, it’s glorious.


Bad Advice Award

Think Like a Man looks crisp and glossy on Blu-ray, and it’s got some funny parts, but definitely don’t take its advice seriously. Steve Harvey may not be qualified to tell single moms to introduce new men to their children as soon as possible. But it’s a Hollywood comedy and it looks shiny with golden lighting making all the actors look pretty.


Wrong Month Award

Actually there’s been a tradition of Halloween movies in August for over a decade (see H2O.) So this month Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Meyers and Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Meyers make their Blu-ray debut. They look good, with tons more detail than you’ve ever seen before. Halloween 4 is still a bit rough and grainy due to low budgetness, but 5 looks perfect, clear and glossy. You can’t hear a damn word anyone is saying though, no matter how high you turn the volume.


Regift Award

The new Blu-ray Book edition of Full Metal Jacket might be the same transfer as the Kubrick collection Blu-ray. I don’t know, this is the first time I’m seeing it on Blu-ray but it sure looks great. There’s still a hint of film grain which I’m sure Kubrick would like, but it’s sharp and crisp with shiny bald heads and barracks in basic training, and a gritty, fiery mess in Vietnam.


DTV Award

One in the Chamber. Cuba Gooding Jr. vs Dolph Lundgren. Amazingly, it does not disappoint. The plot is standard straight to video hitman drama shot in Eastern Europe, but there are a lot of exciting confrontations and Lundgren really has fun with it. Gooding takes it ultra seriously but that kind of makes it more fun to see Lundgren fight him. The Blu-ray looks flawless so there’s that too.


The Told You So Award

I knew something looked fishy with The Hunger Games in theaters, but I thought it might be a bad screen/projector situation. Nope, when it’s dark at night in the forest (and a lot of this movie is at night in the forest), you can’t see anything. Lighting schmighting, it’s just black blur with grainy white specs due to lack of light. The city scenes are nice though, lots of bright neon color and shiny steel structures.


Second Opinion Award

It’s been well covered before I got here but this Jaws Blu-ray as part of Universal’s 100th anniversary collection truly is stunning. I feel like I’ve never seen a Blu-ray this blue before. The ocean, the sky, day and night, it just captures the deepest shades of blue. This is really the perfect Blu-ray transfer. It’s clear and flawless, but still looks like the original movie. It’s 1975 all over again.


Film Festival Nostalgia Award

I saw Lovely Molly almost one year ago at the Toronto International Film Festival, so seeing the Blu-ray brings back memories. Shot on the RED camera, is has that utterly clear look of RED movies, which is pretty stark for the extent of Molly (Gretchen Lodge)’s descent into madness. Lovely to see an actress go all out in such detail.


Classic Decades Award

Four more Universal 100th Anniversary Editions – Sixteen Candles, Airport, Harvey and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein – cover many generations of the studio and all look great. Airport wins with a crisp, sharp picture full of bright colors and details in the snow, cabins and instrument panels. It’s comparable to Jaws’ transfer. It must have been restored also. Harvey is close behind doing the same thing for black and white, just utterly sharp and high contrast. Candles has a glossy digital polish look but it’s perfectly clear and bright, with a slight shaking effect from a film projector too. Weird but authentic. Meet Frankenstein is a solid black and white, some scratches from the original film prints, but sharp and clear.


Good Enough Award

School of Rock is a good movie, though not exactly a visual powerhouse, so this Blu-ray version is just fine. It’s pretty much HD with a sharp picture and some detail in the mundane school and rock club sets. There’s a slight hint of digital haze but if you’re determined to watch School of Rock and standard def just won’t do, this Blu-ray will.


Early September Awards:

We received a few Blu-rays well in advance of their street date, so we can bring you previews of their September releases.


New Release Award

I doubt any September new release will look better than Snow White and the Huntsman. It’s got a great crisp dark look with sharp clarity in the striking visual designs. Then about an hour in, the fairy sanctuary gets bright green and vibrantly colorful. It remains clear even in dark scenes, and the visual effects of the dwarves and the Queen’s phantom army look stunning. The mirror and other creatures look like lame CGI, but really shiny lame CGI!


Freeze Frame Award

When The Cabin in the Woods streets September 18, you know you’re going to want to freeze frame during the finale to see all the background monsters. In high definition, you can make everything out clearly and there are some good ones. Even better, the whole aesthetic is sharp with deep clear blacks that never ruin the light or contrast of the scene.


Stubble Award

Safe is Jason Statham’s best movie, and there’s no better format than Blu-ray for a day’s growth bearded hero to kick ass. This Blu-ray doesn’t disappoint, especially that intense close-up of a silent, stoic emotional Statham. The action looks gritty, and there are a couple digital noise flare ups, but otherwise a solid new release Blu-ray.


Canceled TV Award

HBO releases three Blu-ray sets of shows they’ve already cancelled next month: Hung, Bored to Death and How to Make it in America. Bored looks by far the best, like a flawlessly clear and colorful picture. Hung sure gives you some lovely ladies to see in HD with their HBO permissible fornicating. America has a more saturated looks, tweaking the colors a little, but still bright and sharp.