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The Best DVD Boxes of 2004
by David Cornelius

As my local shopkeep already knows, I’m a sucker for DVD box sets. A junkie, in fact. The maximum amount of programming, available for the maximum amount of cash, always gets my disc-loving heart a-pumping, and my money-carrying wallet a-emptying. But before I break down and start buying any of the brand new 2005 releases, I figured now would be a fine time to recap my personal favorite sets - both single-movie and multi-movie - of 2004. (Yeah, I’m leaving out TV sets. It’s a movies-only list today, pal.)

The best single-movie box sets:

5. Clerks: 10th Anniversary Edition. The real treat here isn’t the working cut of the film, finally available for the first time to View Askew freaks, but the nifty documentary about Kevin Smith’s journey from New Jersey to film school and back, complete with interviews of some of Smith’s old pals who got bumped out of the movie - and out of indie fame. I’d call it a must-have for Smith fans, but something tells me you Smith fans already bought it.

4. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World: Collector’s Edition. Here’s how every movie should be treated on disc - a no-frills, movie-only, inexpensive one-discer for the Blockbuster and Wal-Mart crowd, and a second, overloaded double-discer for the gotta-have-it-all fanatic. Peter Weir’s nautical masterpiece - one of last year’s finest movies - gets such a treatment, and the two-disc box is one that does the film proud. Extensive behind-the-scenes features, a nifty book, and, yes, even a detailed map of Captain Aubrey’s travels help bring out the geek in all of us.

3. Gone With the Wind: Four-Disc Collector’s Edition. Even if you’re none too crazy about Selznick’s epic Civil War soap opera, you’ll be duly impressed with this four-disc edition, which more than apologizes for the paltry one-disc release from ages ago. Film historian Rudy Behlmer (whose name on a DVD always means good listening) provides top notch commentary, while the last two discs offer up every ounce of making-of fun you could want. Some consider this the best movie ever made, and now there’s a DVD set to hold up that argument.

2. Dawn of the Dead: Ultimate Edition. Yeah, it’s no fun when a company puts out multiple editions of a DVD, forcing you to keep buying the upgrade. And sure, Anchor Bay’s previous “Dawn” discs left you wanting. But all is forgiven, because their four-disc release of George Romero’s zombie wonderland is the most definitive a horror fan could possibly demand. Three separate versions of the film are included (along with three separate commentaries), while a fourth disc includes both an all-new retrospective and the retro doc “Document of the Dead.” Sprinkled throughout are other goodies, too, meaning the only thing left out is a personal visit from Tom Savini.

1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - Extended DVD Edition Collector's Gift Set. No surprise. And while you all know why the Extended Editions are so killer - all those commentaries, more behind-the-scenes info than you could ever need, etc., etc. - I’ll raise you the gift set extras: a boffo sculpted keepsake box shaped like Minas Tirith (the detail is mind-boggling) and a bonus disc on Howard Shore’s fantastic music and his “Lord of the Rings Symphony.” It’s crazy add-ons for the completist, and it’s worth every penny. Buy two.

(Honorable mentions: Aladdin: Collector’s DVD Gift Set; Hellboy Director’s Cut; Panic Room: Special Edition; Schindler’s List: Collector’s Gift Set; and Short Cuts: Criterion Collection.)

The best multi-movie box sets:

10. Star Wars Trilogy. Let’s all say it together: this would be the year’s best DVD set if only... well, you know. As is, though, it still kicks Wampa, since the movies have never looked better. And that fourth disc comes overflowing with terrific bonus material, too. So let’s not wallow in what could have been, and instead celebrate what we have.

9. The Tarzan Collection. It’s all six of the Johnny Weismuller Tarzan flicks in one handy box, as well as a feature-length Tarzan documentary and a few short subjects. The movies look great, as does the packaging. Fun for all jungle fans.

8. The Martin Scorsese Collection. Sure, you could buy these five Scorsese pictures separately, but if you’re looking for them all, why not get the handy slipcase, too? The centerpiece of the box is the new two-disc edition of “GoodFellas” (finally getting the deluxe treatment it demands), but also offered are the earlier gems “After Hours,” “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” “Mean Streets,” and “Who’s That Knocking At My Door.” And with Marty commentaries on all!

7. The Marx Brothers Collection/The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection. (A pretty convenient tie, don’tcha think?) Paramount’s set has the better movies, containing all of the Zeppo-era Marx classics. Plus, the packaging is unique and eye-catching, and the included booklet is a nice touch. But the extras are too light, making Warner’s collection - which features commentary, shorts, cartoons, and making-ofs on each disc - the better value. Besides, if for some reason you don’t want all of the post-Zeppo flicks, you can pick and choose them separately. But why would you wanna?

6. The Ultimate Oliver Stone Collection. It’s every single Stone-directed movie ever made - “Alexander” (thankfully) not included. This massive, multi-studio effort loses points for presentation(the discs are merely lifted from their previous editions; nobody bothered to relabel them, so the ones from two-disc sets still read “disc one,” reminding us that to get the complete extras, you may still have to buy some of these movies separately as well), but wins them back for being overly complete. The “complete Stone” idea has been done before, but this is the best of the bunch, a fourteen-discer that also includes Stone’s documentaries “Looking For Fidel” and “Persona Non Grata,” plus short films and some revealing interviews, none of which you’ll find elsewhere. Well worth the price tag.

5. That’s Entertainment! The Complete Collection. It’s more than we could have asked for here, as we not only get all three “That’s Entertainment!” films looking sharper than ever before, but we also get a fourth disc featuring a stack of brand-new goodies celebrating Hollywood’s golden age. (Absent from the box is the off-shoot “That’s Dancing!,” although the bonus disc is so loaded it makes up for the omission.) A great treat for fans of the series, and a fine introduction to the classics for that pesky friend or family member who still whines about not liking older movies.

4. The Monster Legacy DVD Gift Set. Here’s where “Van Helsing” actually turns out to be not a complete failure - the film inspired Universal to cash in and rerelease their Classic Monsters line in handy double-disc sets, grouped by creature. The second wave (featuring “The Creature From the Black Lagoon,” “The Invisible Man,” and “The Mummy”) are geniune keepers themselves (plus, no pesky interviews with “Helsing” director Stephen Sommers taking up valuable disc space), but the original wave (“Dracula,” “Frankenstein,” and “The Wolf Man,” with fourteen movies between their three volumes) is what you really want. The Gift Set packages these three sets in one box, along with miniature busts of the three title characters.

3. The Ultimate Matrix Collection: Limited Edition Collector’s Set. It’s everything you ever wanted from “The Matrix,” not counting a better third movie. But you’ll be eager to forgive the failings of “Revolutions” once you dig into any of the set’s ten - count ‘em, ten - discs. There’s a documentary here for just about everything, from the science of the films to the stunt coordination. We also get in-depth looks at all three pictures, the underrated “Animatrix,” and every cut scene created for the “Enter the Matrix” video game. Oh, and then there are the commentaries, sneakily featuring philosphers on one track and critics who didn’t like the films on another. For even more geekified fun, shell out the big bucks for the gift set, which features a gorgeous make-your-neighbors-jealous clear case plus a bust of Keanu Reeves. As box design goes, this is the sharpest set I’ve yet seen.

2. Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Two. How could last year’s Golden Collection possibly be improved? For starters, Volume Two has “What’s Opera, Doc?” and “One Froggy Evening,” which should be enough to make you buy. Oh, but there’s much, much more, including too many commentaries and music-only tracks to digest in one sitting, plus making-of features, the vintage “Bugs Bunny 50th Anniversary Special,” the pilot episode of “Adventures of the Road Runner,” and... you get the idea. This set tops Volume One, something I didn’t think could be done. If you’re a Looney Tunes fan with fifty bucks to spare, there is no excuse for you not to own this.

1. Alfred Hitchcock: The Signature Collection. Warner Brothers’ ten-disc, nine-film set not only completes every Hitch fan’s DVD collection - it does it in grand style. All ten flicks are given superb digital makeovers, along with brief making-of features. More importantly, the previously released, extras-packed “Noth By Northwest” disc (which reappears here) has been trumped in terms of goodies by a two-disc overhaul of “Strangers On a Train,” arguably Hitchcock’s finest work. But even without the bonus features, merely having Hitchcock’s Warner catalog on DVD is enough to please any movie buff. A wonderful companion to Universal’s marvelous Hitch releases from years back, as well as a dandy set all its own. If you’re looking to start collecting the classics, this is where to start.

(Honorable mentions: The Best of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Volume 3; Cary Grant: The Signature Collection; Film Noir Classic Collection; Five Film Noir Killer Classics; Friday the 13th: From Crystal Lake To Manhattan Ultimate Edition DVD Collection; Fritz Lang Epic Collection; Gamera: Complete DVD Collection; Rock Hudson and Doris Day Romance Collection; Tom and Jerry: Spotlight Collection; and any title in the Walt Disney Treasures line.)

Did I leave out your favorite box? Don’t just sit there and mope - give me what for in the forums!

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originally posted: 01/02/05 06:53:52
last updated: 01/02/05 18:06:39
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