It’s still what I’d consider to be fairly early stages for Blu-ray given a slower than desirable mass uptake of the format, however some of us are already addicted to watching films in High Definition. I think there are several reasons it’s very much worth upgrading for: the increased resolution of a Blu-ray image brings what you see closer to how it might be seen projected from film. Often films are released with ‘lossless’ audio, meaning that the codec used does not dispose of any information that is perceivable through the human ear - therefore theoretically giving us the same quality (depending on your AV equipment obviously) that might be heard when the film is originally sound-mastered. There is of course the supremely enhanced storage capacity of Blu-ray, usually meaning that disc swapping is not as prevalent as it was/is for DVD. Added to that is the development of genuine 3D functionality meaning that distinctly different 1080p images (i.e. Full HD) can be delivered to each eye with the help of suitably equipped AV gear and specs - this is a feature that‘s up and coming but could herald a new era in home cinema/gaming.
I think the resolution of the format grants us with the most perfect balance between source detail and unnecessary noise: any less (e.g. standard definition) and we lose out on valuable picture information, whereas any more (whatever comes further down the line, if anything) would only give us more grain and/or visual flaws. Therefore, more extras notwithstanding, I think most films (at least those shot on 16/35mm film itself) transferred to Blu-ray should never really have to be bought again unless there’s some sort of fundamental flaw in the A/V department or with completeness of material.
Only owning about 50 Blu-ray Discs so far I thought it would be more appropriate to whittle it down to 5 rather than effectively listing 20% of my collection. So, with great difficulty I’ve chosen the following that represent my current favourites (again in no particular order), something I may update as time goes on…
Blade Runner (Warner, US)
After years of uncertainty over whether we’d ever see the definitive edition - in any format - dust settled and Warner bestowed us with the definitive edition in spades. The film had been revisited and many corrections were made (for example, replacing the face of the obvious stuntwoman/replicant falling through glass with that of the actress), it was remastered in excess of HD resolution for best image quality, granted with a superlative surround mix, and placed on the first disc of this set as ‘The Final Cut’. Just in case, however, you preferred the ‘Director’s Cut’ of the early 90s (which is not really the director’s cut in truest sense) that’s on the third disc, along with the original theatrical version… and the more violent European version… furthermore even the rarely seen Workprint edition is included on the fifth disc. Therefore, just about nobody has room for complaint. The mammoth Dangerous Days documentary takes up the second disc and the fourth is filled with other extras. This is the only version of Blade Runner you ever need to buy, although why Warner chose to only let the UK have the first two discs for Blu-ray owners is beyond me, and a little underhanded. Rest assured that the US release plays on UK players without regional coding issues.
Psycho (Universal, UK)
I’ve heard it said that older films don’t benefit so much from the HD upgrade… well check this one out. It wasn’t an especially big-budgeted film, it was shot it B&W, and looks fantastic. Audio options are provided in either lossless surround or original mono, plus there are plenty of extras. The disc is also available in either standard blue box or limited tin - I went for, and would recommend, the latter as it’s more appealing as a physical product and there’s an additional booklet inside over the standard edition.
Dark City (EIV, UK)
I believe it’s been mentioned here and there online that the film suffers from excess Digital Noise Reduction - maybe, maybe not; personally I’m thrilled to have this HD edition and it thrashes my old Region 1 DVD in every respect. Firstly, and most importantly, the disc contains both the theatrical cut and the preferred untainted vision of Alex Proyas, restoring the ideas that were diluted somewhat by studio nervousness. Image quality is way superior to that of DVD, as is the audio, plus there’s a wealth of extras. Complain if you wish about this example of the modern film buyer getting too fussy for their boots, but this is a fantastic disc of one of the best philosophical science fiction films to come out of the US since, well, ever!
Institute Benjamenta (British Film Institute, UK)
Back in my university days I picked up a video cassette of this live action movie in the library, interested mainly because of the better known (though still obscure in mainstream terms) animation work of its directors. Immediately I recognised that it would be something unique and lost in its own strange world. Having a vibe that makes me think of David Lynch shooting a Grimm fairytale the story tells of a man who visits an academy in the middle of oppressive woods where he’s confronted by the weirdly conformist behaviour of its pupils. Shot in grainy B&W with a disturbing sound mix this Brothers Quay film is perfectly represented on the Blu-ray Disc. There’s a fantastic documentary containing interviews with the brothers and some of the cast/crew, plus some short Quay films for added value. There’s a nice booklet containing essays/notes, plus a DVD containing pretty much the same content is included in the package, meaning that almost anybody who likes the look of this film can pick it up. Overall a tremendous collector’s item from BFI.
Night of the Creeps (Sony, US)
God, after so long waiting for Fred Dekkar’s careful analysis of… zombies, creepy crawlies, and exploding heads, Sony saves us having to double dip by releasing it on Blu-ray as well as DVD! Of course I picked up the former (it plays without a hitch on UK BD machines), and no longer do I have to sit through the fullscreen stereo video cassette that I’ve had for nigh on twenty years - glorious widescreen Full HD presentation of the director’s cut (which ends slightly differently and still can’t make my mind up whether I prefer it), lossless DTS surround (i.e. it should sound as good here as it did in the mixing studio), plus commentaries and quite a lot of documentary material. Not a demo disc mind you (comparing this to the likes of Cars or Speed Racer) but the definitive home cinema release of a cool 80s comedy horror that has deservedly built itself a cult reputation.
Having been a Blu-ray movie buyer for a while, I now consider myself ‘avid’, and rather than people sitting around complaining about ‘DNR’ (unless it’s really taking the pi*s), grain (i.e. the inherent structure of the source product), absent mono tracks (a factor that can be compensated for with pretty much any AV equipment, though I always favour the original option if possible), a missing two minute EPK featurette that was once on the DVD (which would have added to the thousands of hours worth of extras we still haven‘t got time to watch), or the design of the bloody cover artwork, perhaps people who claim to love films should acknowledge the blessing that we’ve been bestowed with in this new format and get on with what originally got them interested in the first place: loving films, and enjoying them in better quality than we’ve ever had before (and, worryingly, than we might ever get again).