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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 film achievements.

  • 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 to enjoy.

  • 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 supplemental material.

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 arriving.

  • 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 unacceptable.

  • 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 titles -- 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
    Aaron Beierle
    Brian R. Boisvert
    Jason Bovberg
    Phillip Duncan
    Glenn Erickson (DVD Savant)
    G. Noel Gross (CineSchlock-O-Rama)
    Chris Hughes
    Gil Jawetz
    Matt Langdon
    Holly Ordway
    John Wallis


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