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2009 Blu-ray Gift Guide

With the prices on Blu-ray players falling well below $199CDN over the last few months, as well as the Sony Playstation 3 (which is a fine Blu-ray player as well as a video game console) dropping to a reasonable $299CDN you can be sure that this holiday season you or someone you know will be moving into the next generation of home entertainment. And while you won’t want to throw away your old DVDs (they can be played on a Blu-ray player or PS3 and will even look better than they did on a regular DVD player) you are definitely going to want to pick up some true high-def titles to show off your new gear.

I’ve watched and reviewed a lot of Blu-ray titles this year and can recommend something for all the special people on your list. Whether it’s your mom, uncle, wife or brother, I’ve got you covered. And don’t forget about the kids — Blu-ray discs are more resistant to scratches and abuse from the little ones, and most Disney titles also come with a back-up regular DVD for that portable player you might have in the car (a lot of titles also come with a free digital download that can be played on an iPod or other portable video device).

To make the Blu-ray Gift Guide more user-friendly I’ve linked all the titles to Amazon.ca. If you prefer to shop in-store a majority of these are available at major outlets such as Future Shop, HMV, Best Buy, and Wal-Mart as well. It should be noted that some of the recommendations are films I didn’t personally enjoy but know people who have and therefore will recommend them based on those people and their reactions.

Classics

For the person into films from a bygone era, Casablanca, Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest, and the 70th Anniversary Edition of Gone With The Wind are all a must. Warner Home Entertainment is behind these three titles and they’ve gone above the call of duty to remaster each one in high-def. The Gone With The Wind set is especially beautiful as it comes in a red velvet numbered box and includes the 6-hour documentary on MGM Studios When the Lion Roars, plus a hardcover book of photos and production notes, a CD soundtrack sampler, and  a ton of other great items and featurettes on the film. Easy Rider is another disc worth owning. It looks and sounds amazing in high-def and comes with a 35-page booklet of photos and notes on the film. More recent classics worthy of upgrading to high-def include Braveheart, Heat, and Forrest Gump, which comes in two flavours — the Sapphire Edition and Chocolate Box Giftset. The latter is for hardcore fans of the film and includes a feather, photo book, and scratch-and-sniff chocolate insert.

Family Fun

Disney does a great job with their Blu-ray releases, and titles such as Up, Pinocchio, and Monsters, Inc. are all very impressive in HD and also include a regular DVD of the film (Up and Monsters, Inc. also include a digital copy).  Robert Rodriguez’s Shorts is a fun film that is sure to please both kids and adults, and although Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Land of the Lost, and Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs might frighten younger kids they should be fine for the six and up crowd. Monsters vs. Aliens was not the greatest animated film this year but it does look stunning in HD and has a great Blu-ray release (plus it’s a pretty funny flick that I don’t mind watching with my kid). For teenagers the latest addition to the Harry Potter franchise, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, is a title worthy of upgrading to Blu-ray for. The disc is jam packed with features and looks amazing (the Harry Potter Years 1 – 6 Box Set is also worth adding to your collection if you want all the Potter films in HD). Twilight on Blu-ray is a must for the “Twihard” in your life of course. Other decent family titles on Blu-ray include G-Force (out December 15), Race to Witch Mountain and Bedtime Stories.

Singing And Laughing

People question the need for a non-special effects driven film to be on Blu-ray and I used to agree. That was until I found the interactive features that films like Julie & Julia take use of. With that title you can access and email Julia Child recipes while watching the movie. You also get a slew of special features not included on the regular DVD release such as cooking segments and a look at Julia’s kitchen in the Smithsonian. The unrated version of The
Hangover
(out December 15) and Funny People are also really good packages on Blu-ray (I didn’t care for Funny People but my father-in-law and a few of my friends did). As for musicals, Mamma Mia! (a film I can’t stand but my wife just had to have) has been packaged in an amazing Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! More Gift Set that comes in a box that lights up and plays a bit of the “Mamma Mia!” song. Inside the box is a CD soundtrack, collectible book and a ton of special features on the disc that you won’t get on the regular DVD, including a sing-along version of the film. I also recommend the highly underrated yet charming Sunshine Cleaning starring Amy Adams, Emily Blunt and Alan Arkin. Although the Blu-ray release is not as groundbreaking as one would hope the film is so strong it should be owned on the best possible quality available.

Sci-fi Nerd

Star Trek
, Star Trek, Star Trek! The 2009 J.J. Abrams reboot of Star Trek is another title worthy of upgrading to Blu-ray for. It is one of my favourite discs to blast when I’m home alone and gives my surround sound a workout. Everything about this movie is enjoyable and in HD it shines even brighter. Sticking with the Trek universe I’ve also found myself hooked on the first three seasons of the original series. I started with Season 2 for the Troubles with Tribbles episode that I’ve always been a fan of. I was so impressed with the updated effects and the special features that I picked up Season 1 so I could start from the beginning. Now that I’m completely hooked I’ve been anticipating the arrival of Season 3 (which arrives in stores on December 15). Star Trek: Next Generation Motion Picture Collection is also a nice set for real Trekkies. The set comes with the films Generations, First Contact, Insurrection, and Nemesis as well as a bonus disc of features. For non-Trek fans, District 9 is one of the best sci-fi films of the year (and a personal fave). It arrives on Blu-ray December 22 and is loaded with features. The animated Dead Space: Downfall will interest fans of the video game it’s based on, and Terminator Salvation, Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut, and Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen all look and sound amazing (but only fans of these films will appreciate the quality).

Horror Buff

My five-part Horror on Blu series I did in October covered this category to death. Titles I didn’t include then that should please the darker soul in your life include Black Christmas, Rob Zombie’s animated zombie film The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, and the Masters of Horror television series (four volumes from season one have been released on Blu-ray). Grace, a twisted film about a baby who hungers for blood, and the original Dawn of The Dead are also excellent releases. Titles I mentioned in my series that would make great gifts include Poltergeist, The Shining, the first three Friday the 13th films, and the Hannibal Lecter Anthology.

Drama Queens (And Kings)

If it’s tears you’re looking to give than My Sister’s Keeper will do the job. There is an additional 15-minutes of scenes on the disc that is sure to help use up a box of tissue (box of tissue not included). St. Elmo’s Fire, The Green Mile, and Leon: The Professional are also decent Blu-ray releases. For more violent dramas Natural Born Killers and Inglourious Basterds (available December 15) are both must have titles. Natural Born Killers comes in the Director’s Cut version and includes a 44-page book with photos and production notes. Inglourious Basterds is missing an audio commentary with director Quentin Tarantino but the features it does have, and the quality of the film itself, warrants the purchase and will please the Tarantino fan on your list.

TV Junkie

Most recent television shows are being released on Blu-ray, including the latest seasons of Lost, The Office, Weeds, Fringe and Scrubs. Some of the better titles I’ve picked up are The Sopranos: The Complete First Season, Dexter (the first three seasons are available), and HBO’s World War II miniseries Band of Brothers, which comes in a nice tin can set and is an amazing experience in high-def. The first season of the Canadian produced Flashpoint, starring Hugh Dillion, is another show worth getting on Blu-ray. The Tudors, Mad Men, and Rome: The Complete Series are also nicely put together sets for fans.

Something Different

Planet Earth on Blu-ray is one of the best gifts you could give to a Blu-ray newbie. It’s the one title I’m constantly putting on to show off the quality of HD. If it’s too pricey for you then the cut-down DisneyNature version, Earth is a wonderful glimpse of the amazing footage. While on the topic of nature, The Botany of Desire is a very cool look at how humans rely on certain plants. It’s based on the Michael Pollan book and is narrated by Frances McDormand. Natures Most Amazing Events is also a worthwhile nature series that features stunning photography. Another unique gift on Blu-ray is Animation Express. This is a collection of thirty-nine short animated films from the National Film Board of Canada including the Oscar winners Ryan and The Danish Poet. It Might Get Loud (out on December 22) is the perfect Blu-ray for the musician in your life. It’s a documentary on the electric guitar and showcases Jack White, The Edge, and Jimmy Page. The disc includes deleted scenes, an interactive playlist, and footage from the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival press conference.

Those are my picks for Blu-ray titles you should be giving your loved ones this holiday season (and should help cross everyone off your list). Did I miss something you would recommend? Post a comment below or email brian.mckechnie@citynews.rogers.com.

Top image: Blue Santas in Yonge-Dundas Square promoting Warner Home Entertainment’s Blu-ray titles (and making a snowman). Photo by Brian McKechnie.