The Shelf Space Awards: September 2012

Fred Topel is back to present the best, worst and weirdest Blu-ray releases of the month. 

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


I got back from Fantastic Fest to a stack of Blu-rays waiting for me. It’s quite a big month for The Shelf Space Awards with some major new releases and landmark classic titles. We even got a lot of October titles early so we could get ahead on awarding next month’s Blu-ray releases.


The “Duh” Award

I give The Avengers the “Duh” Award because it’s not like anyone was not going to buy the biggest movie of the year and biggest superhero movie ever. For me personally, it’s nice to watch the 2D Blu-ray and not have to worry about broken 3D glasses. The Blu-ray is stunning with a perfectly clear picture and a bright, colorful pallet. It kind of looks more 3D this way. You see all the detail put into the vast sets and epic debris of the superhero battles. The sharpness is so incredible it creates an ultra tangible world in which to see superhero battle.


The Spielberg Award

There are actually two contenders for a Spielberg award this month but E.T. beats the Indiana Jones quadrilogy (more on that below). It’s not quite as amazing as last month’s Jaws Blu-ray but E.T. definitely got the Universal anniversary treatment. It’s a beautiful, smooth picture with only one fuzzy scene towards the end (E.T. returning to the spaceship).


The Indy Award

I’m naming this to set up my next joke, but unfortunately The Indiana Jones Complete Adventures Blu-ray falls into the trap of most series sets: the original looks great and the sequels get dumped out. Raiders of the Lost Ark looks great, though still has some problem areas in the opening jungle scenes and some dark caves and tombs. Largely it is the bright, sharp, clear restoration we hoped for. Temple of Doom is better than I expected actually. It’s all set in a dark cave, so more of the sequences look clear than I expected, but it’s uneven, as if nobody tried to balance the transfer. Last Crusade has no excuse. It’s full of digital noise through even the brightest scenes. The grail caves are just unwatchable. Really, I might still just watch The Last Crusade on DVD. Is this a backdoor strategy to get people to appreciate Crystal Skull since it’s new modern transfer looks comparatively superior?


The Indie Award

Ha! Get it? Indy and Indie! Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress looks far better than any of the Indy movies on Blu-ray, even Raiders. The Sony Pictures Classics movie gets big Sony Blu-ray treatment with a sparkling, glowing picture. The clarity is perfect and the film’s college campus setting looks real, with a glamorous lighting making the film’s lovely ladies look angelic.


The Black and White Award

It’s so rare we get to give this award anymore, but the Blu-ray release of Ed Wood is just another reminder how glorious black and white can look in HD. The picture is perfectly clear and the contrast makes the extremes of light and darkness palpable. All the grays in between look solid too so you can see all the detail in the film’s period sets and costumes, particularly the cheesy props and creatures on Wood’s movie productions.


The Hoo-Ah Award

One of the great outrageous Al Pacino movies comes to Blu-ray this month. The Devil’s Advocate made no pretense about asking Pacino to scream and charm and catch phrase it up. The movie looks great on Blu-ray. At 15-years-old it has a primo transfer with a sharp, crisp picture. I didn’t see any significant transfer problems or aged wear and tear, but somehow this film won’t get the attention of this month’s other classic movie releases.


The Snakes on a Plane Memorial Award

I still think Snakes on a Plane is the best idea for a movie ever, but Bait comes close: Sharks in a Supermarket. The Blu-ray of this basically exploitation movie looks stunning, probably because it’s a 3D movie and I’m watching the 2D version. They’ve got double the picture to make it look good. But a flooded supermarket looks totally clear and full of detail, with bright spots focusing on the action.


The Other Comic Book Movie Award

Oh yeah, The Avengers wasn’t the only comic book movie on Blu-ray this month. As Bibbs covered in his double review, Judge Dredd hit Blu-ray timed to the release of Dredd 3D. It actually looks quite good, with elaborate detail for the lavish production design, and every ridiculous detail in the costumes. It does get hazy with some digital noise in parts but for a movie that could have been just dumped in the catalog, it looks like a real Blu-ray.


The Double Shelf Space Award

I already have all eight Harry Potter movies, some in thick Ultimate Editions, so the latest Wizard’s Collection would save you some shelf space by consolidating them into one box. If you’re going to rebuy the set, you’ll complete the 7th and 8th part of the Ultimate documentary, and another bonus disc of new extra features. There’s a 90-minute documentary from the set of Deathly Hallows 1 and 2that really captures the difficulty of such a monumental production. It’s not in a “poor me” way but it’s honest about the sacrifices crewmembers make. There’s beautiful HD footage of the sets and production offices. Have they really not shown how they did Quidditch and Hagrid yet? The “Secrets Revealed!” spots are pretty awesome, just as far as how they improved from film to film. The animatronic Robbie Coltrane is good enough to star in Nuns on the Run 2. Never would have guessed they’d go to that trouble when they could just CGI it.


The “Not Tom Cruise” Award

When Queen of the Damned came out, it suffered for the recasting of Lestat and the death of Aaliyah. Also it was ridiculous, but in a pre-Twilight world, at least those vampires ate people. Once again Warner Brothers gave a phenomenal transfer to their catalog title. The picture is entirely clear, with it’s blue-ish rock club tint, and you see both monstrous detail and the smooth polished faces of the eternally young leads.


Early October Awards:

The "No Crying in Baseball" Award

A League of Their Own is really 20 years old? Aw, man. The Blu-ray looks better than I remember the movie in theaters. The baseball greens are so bright, and you see all the detail in the fields and dugouts. Even when it gets grainy in dark scenes, like the team bus, it’s only a minor shift in the overall quality, barely a problem. It’s really a joy to see this classic reproduced so beautifully.


The Eye-Max Award

We just saw Flying Swords of Dragon Gate in Imax theaters a month ago, so this turnaround time is surreal. While the Imax 3D was cool, one advantage to the 2D Blu-ray is normal subtitles. We really struggled to adjust our eyes between subtitles and picture. Now we can just watch and read the movie at the same time. The HD version looks every bit as 3D with vast landscapes, crisp clarity and bright shiny colors bringing the historical epic to life.


The Travelogue Award

The Lady stars Michelle Yeoh as Burmese democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi, directed by Luc Besson. The Blu-ray of the film shows off the beauty of Burma and Thailand locations with golden light and stark detail. I know, you wanted Luc Besson to have Michelle Yeoh kicking ass, but this is still good.


Film Lives Award

In an age where more and more directors are shooting digital, Wes Anderson not only shot film, but 16mm film for Moonrise Kingdom. You can tell the difference on Blu-ray, where the picture has a rougher, more weathered look. It’s still perfectly clear and sharp though, like a Blu-ray. You see some grain, since the grain is bigger when 16mm is blown up. The color tint evolves from yellowish/green to pink to natural. It’s a nice reminder of an aesthetic that will become more and more rare.