Best DVDs of 2001
Brian R. Boisvert
|Best DVDs of 2001 - Brian R. Boisvert
2001 will be remembered (by DVD fans, anyway) as the year DVD went into
high-gear. Since the format's introduction in 1997, there have been well
over 25 million players sold in the United States -- not counting DVD-ROM
drives or DVD-compatible gaming systems.
There were no less than 5500 titles released this year, which represents
almost a 60 percent increase over last year's releases. If it felt like
DVDs were coming out faster than ever before, you weren't imagining
things. Because of this furious release schedule, many of us have even
begun forming piles of unwatched titles, like squirrels storing nuts for
the long winter nights.
So, my job is to now pick the best DVDs of the year -- Wow, what a task!
There have simply been dozens of fantastic titles released in 2001. It's
amazing when you look back on the year and realize not only how many great
special editions have come out, but also how many blockbuster films and
deep catalog titles have made their way onto this glorious 5-inch disc.
There's still quite a long way to go (and there are three pretty famous
trilogies that have yet to appear -- Back to the Future, Indiana Jones,
and the original Star Wars), but we really couldn't ask for a better mix
of films or a more aggressive release schedule than we saw in 2001.
Looking down at my list of the best releases, I'm frankly amazed at what
has come out in such a relatively short period of time.
However, great DVDs of mediocre films do not make the cut, so you'll see
very few 2001 theatrical releases on my list. As impressive as the DVDs
were for films like Tomb Raider, Shrek, The Grinch, Planet of the Apes,
and Pearl Harbor -- I simply didn't enjoy the films. While the studios
deserve to be acknowledged for putting out fantastic DVDs, they also need
to realize that I'm not too excited to sit through 11 hours of extra
material for a film that was virtually unwatchable to begin with.
Like last year, my list of favorites will certainly not match yours
exactly. But, I've tried my best to feature some of the most entertaining
and impressive releases, and focus on the major positives (and negatives)
of DVD watching in 2001. And, as I did for my Best of 2000 list,
I've cheated with my "top 10" list a little bit by grouping similar titles
together. There were simply too many great titles released to restrict
the list to only ten.
So, here it is -- my TOP 10 DVDs OF 2001 (in no particular order):
- Dogma / Big Trouble in Little China -- Two great cult comedy
films came to DVD in fantastic 2-disc editions, with entertaining
commentary tracks and other great extras.
- Universal's Alfred Hitchcock Collection -- After slowly
releasing some classic Hitchcock titles like Psycho and Vertigo during the
early years of DVD, Universal surprised fans by releasing all ten of their
remaining Hitchcock films (including Rear Window, Shadow of a Doubt, and
Rope) in March of this year. All of them arrived with great documentaries
by Laurent Bouzereau detailing every aspect of production.
- Krull / Willow -- Two fun (and slightly goofy) fantasy films
show up on DVD with amazing picture and sound quality, and more extras
than I ever expected either film to have.
- Citizen Kane / Lawrence of Arabia -- Two of the best films ever
made showed up as 2-disc special editions, with restored picture and sound
and extensive extra material detailing the creation of these monumental
- The Wicker Man / Manhunter -- Anchor Bay released both of these
great films on DVD in limited edition 2-DVD sets, including extended cuts
of each movie.
- Star Wars: The Phantom Menace / Star Trek: The Motion Picture --
The initial films in these famous sci-fi franchises both arrived on
DVD, with slightly altered cuts. Each includes an informative audio
commentary and a full disc of extra bonus supplements that are both
entertaining and informative.
- Superman / Close Encounters of the Third Kind -- Both of these
classic blockbusters from the late '70s arrived on DVD, with final cuts
restoring the director's original vision. Both also arrived in extensive
special edition sets, with hours of fascinating extra material.
- The Terminator / The Silence of the Lambs -- MGM acquired these
films in their catalog and reissued them on DVD with improved picture and
sound quality and extra material that fans of these classic films are sure
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs / Walt Disney Treasures Collections
-- Disney continues to impress with their DVD releases. Snow White,
the first of their "Platinum" line of yearly releases, raised the bar for
picture/sound quality, extras, menu design, and just about every other
aspect of DVD production. Their new limited tin sets are very
well-designed (with collectible tin cases that are sturdy, attractive, and
reasonably-sized). The material on these sets includes collections of
some of the best classic Disney programs from a variety of decades, giving
a great historical perspective. I sure hope to see more of these
collections in the years to come.
- Notorious / Rebecca -- Criterion has once again done Hitchcock
fans a favor by releasing editions of some of the master's best films,
with excellent picture and sound quality and a tremendous wealth of
Honorable Mention: Ben-Hur, The Bridge on the River Kwai,
Cleopatra, Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler, Elephant Man, Fritz Lang's The Tiger
Of Eschnapur/The Indian Tomb, Gandhi, The Godfather Collection, Haxan:
Witchcraft Through the Ages, The Hidden Fortress, Pin, V: The Original
Miniseries, When Harry Met Sally
Fantastic Re-releases: American Werewolf in London, Behind the
Planet of the Apes, Carrie, City of the Dead (aka Horror Hotel), The Die
Hard Trilogy, A Few Good Men, The Lost World (1925), Monty Python and the
Holy Grail, My Best Friend's Wedding, Nosferatu, The Princess Bride,
Queen: We Will Rock You, Spartacus, The Stanley Kubrick Collection, Total
Recall, The Vanishing
Missed Opportunities: 2001 was not without its share of missteps by
the studios. Here are a few of the most notable:
Apocalypse Now Redux -- The expanded version of the Coppola
classic was released to DVD late in the year in an edition that
disappointed many by having no additional supplements, such as an audio
commentary. Also, fans can't help but wonder why this film has now been
released to DVD twice, but the Hearts of Darkness documentary --
one of the best documentaries ever made -- still shows no sign of
Babylon 5 -- Late this year, Warner released the first DVD of
Babylon 5, which includes two of the movies that occur near the beginning
of the show. While the DVD itself isn't terrible and is reasonably priced
at $20, it is a disappointment to see the first B5 DVD released without
any extras, without 5.1 sound, and with picture quality that is merely
adequate. Additionally, Warner has said that they will not even consider
releasing full seasons of the epic show unless sales figures of this first
(mediocre) DVD warrant continuing. It would be great if Warner would
finally realize that they have one of the best TV shows in history in B5
and they should give it the proper support. I hope to see full-season
boxes, widescreen picture and 5.1 sound, with commentary and other extras
in the future.
Dune -- The popular TV miniseries arrived on DVD promptly after
its television airing, but it arrived non-anamorphic video, no 5.1 sound,
no audio commentary, and very few extras. The lack of extras was
certainly disappointing, but to release a production from the year 2000
without 16x9 enhancement is absolutely unacceptable. The rumors that
Artisan now plans to release a special edition of this title in 2002 make
this quickie, mediocre release even more insulting.
Halloween II -- The announced special edition of this popular
sequel eventually got scaled back, and arrived without the promised
director's commentary or any of the deleted scenes that have been shown on
television over the years. The only real advantage to this version over
the existing budget disc from Goodtimes is marginal picture improvement
and 16x9 enhancement. Universal would have been better off delaying the
DVD until they could pull together a proper edition, and give the fans a
disc they actually want.
The Rocky Gift Set -- MGM released all five Rocky films in a
boxed set for the 25th anniversary of the series. Unfortunately, they made
the inexcusable choice to reuse the old 1997 DVD editions for Rocky II and
IV, even though they had poor, non-anamorphic video and even had a
subtitle problem with the fourth film. These DVDs were considered poor
back in '97 -- to pass them off to unsuspecting consumers in 2001 is
Universal's "Ultimate Editions" -- These Universal re-issues
have become an ongoing joke with DVD fans. In general, the updates of
DVDs like American Pie, Notting Hill, Patch Adams, and others have added
nothing but a couple of trivial extras, a full-frame version of the film,
and a DTS track that is virtually indistinguishable from the existing
Dolby Digital track. If Universal is serious about creating "Ultimate
Editions" of their films, I suggest they start with Jaws and
Touch of Evil (which, as I mentioned last year, arrived in fairly
disappointing editions that did not live up to potential).
Most Exciting Development: The most exciting and surprising aspect
of DVD collecting in 2001 was the wide variety of television programming
released on disc. British comedies like Absolutely Fabulous and Fawlty
Towers; science fiction like Farscape, Space: 1999, and The Prisoner;
animated comedies like Clerks and The Simpsons; old favorites like The
Sopranos, Star Trek, and The X-Files; and even variety programs like The
Muppet Show and The Best of Johnny Carson -- 2001 saw an amazing number of
TV show releases.
2002 looks to be adding some great collections as well, including Buffy
the Vampire Slayer, M*A*S*H, and Star Trek: The Next Generation. We can
only hope that the great quality of most of these releases continues into
2002 and beyond, and studios begin to delve deeper into their catalogs.
Many fans would love to own season boxes of shows like Miami Vice,
Futurama, The Outer Limits, Hill Street Blues, Battlestar Galactica,
Cheers, NYPD Blue, Family Guy, and -- dare I say? -- Babylon 5.
Final Thoughts: Considering the number of players I'm seeing this
holiday season with price tags below $100, there's no denying it -- DVD
has gone mainstream. Nearly a third of U.S. households now have a player.
By the end of 2002, Blockbuster Video expects DVD to account for 40
percent of rental revenue.
As the format matures, we're sure to see some of those last remaining
major titles trickle out, in addition to even more obscure cult films and
other surprises. And, of course, the constant stream of re-released
-- with better picture quality and more extras than the original releases.
If the past two years are any sign of things to come, 2002 should be a
truly amazing year for DVD fans.
- Brian R. Boisvert
DVD Talk Reviewers and Columnists take on the Top DVDs of 2001 :
DVD Talk Main Best of 2001 Page
Brian R. Boisvert
Glenn Erickson (DVD Savant)
G. Noel Gross (CineSchlock-O-Rama)