by Randy Miller III
1. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Extended Edition) - DTS, DD 5.1Honorable Mention
Surprise, surprise...the second installment in the hugely successful Lord of the Rings Trilogy takes top honors this year! If you're one of the few who haven't experienced this on DVD, the audio quality alone is worth it! This DVD was a slight step above the theatrical release and features a commanding DTS track (although the DD 5.1 is no slouch either!). Even during the many dialogue-driven sections, there's plenty of atmosphere...but the many thrilling action scenes are a roller coaster ride for your ears! If this (as well as last year's Fellowship of the Ring: Extended Edition) are any indication of the upcoming Return of the King DVD release, we might just have another winner next year!
2. Starship Troopers: Superbit - DTS
Whille not the most critically acclaimed film of our time, you can't deny the over-the-top audio armageddon found in Starship Troopers. Huge bugs explode, soldiers are massacred, and you'll be amazed at the sound mix every step of the way. This has been released several times on DVD so far, but the new Superbit is the way to go for the true audio enthusiast. This is another spectacular DTS track, and will really make your neighbors hate you...even the ones down the block. Oh well, just invite them over too. This is a truly excellent effort, and well-deserving of the #2 spot this year.
3. Alien (from the Alien Quadrilogy) - DTS, DD 5.1
Like, Das Boot, Ridley Scott's Alien was a majorly influential movie in desperate need of a worthy audio treatment. While the Special Edition was great, the recent Alien Quadrilogy boxed set is an absolute masterpiece in every department. While all four movies featured excellent sound quality, the first deserves the most praise...it's now nearly 25 years old, but you'd never know by listening. This is one of the most effective mixes for any horror movie, and the subtle (and not-so-subtle) uses of surround really up the creep-out factor here. Even in scenes of extreme quiet (where you only hear the purr of the spaceship engine), it's hard not to be impressed by Alien. Both audio mixes really do wonders for the effectiveness of the movie itself, and that's what makes everything work so well.
4. Das Boot: Superbit - DTS
While it isn't nearly as old as Casablanca, there's no denying that Wolfgang Peterson's Das Boot is a classic. This awesome movie is one of the most influential thrillers of all time, and the sound design is one of the many reasons for that. Thankfully, this one finally gets a major upgrade in the form of an equally awesome DTS track...it's an impressive mix that will have you on the edge of your seat for over 3 hours! While I'm normally not the biggest fan of Superbit, Das Boot is one of the better offerings and deserves high marks for its stunning audio. If you have any prior versions of this movie on DVD, give this version a rent and hear the difference...it's well worth it!
5. The Beatles Anthology - DTS, DD 5.1, PCM Stereo
This updated version of the popular VHS boxed set from a few years back gives you every reason to make the upgrade, especially in the audio department. It features a great selection of audio mixes for your listening pleasure, and gives every classic track new life! The PCM stereo track is an especially nice inclusion, so all sound systems have something to look forward to. Heck, this sounds so good, it's worth the purchase even if you don't like the Beatles (shame on you both). If that isn't reason enough to make the list, I don't know what is.
6. Jane Goodall's Wild Chimpanzees - DTS, DD 5.1
What's another nature documentary doing in the Top 10? Sitting pretty at a very respectable #6, that's what. This release is a wondeful film about Jane Goodall and her famous work with chimpanzees, and the sound mix is simply amazing! Much like Winged Migration, this is another break from the noise, but an equally enthralling audio experience. The highlight of the release is the DTS track, but don't let that hold you back if you don't have the equipment...the 5.1 mix is also excellent in its own right. If you're still not convinced, hunt this one down and hear it for yourself!
7. The Work of Director Chris Cunningham - DD 2.0 Surround
The second entry in the Directors Label Series by Palm Pictures, The Work of Director Chris Cunningham is a collection of music videos and other short works by the UK director. From the menu design to the films and videos themselves, this is pure sonic assault and will have your ears begging for mercy. Feautring videos from Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, and many more, this disc is one of the most aggressive I've heard in a while...especially surprising for a 2.0 Surround mix! Give this one a spin...it'll really throw your ears for a loop!
8. Finding Nemo - DD 5.1
Our next entry in the Top 10 takes us from the air to the sea...Finding Nemo is another highly enveloping sound mix, and should earn praises from both audiophiles and their kids! The DD 5.1 mix is surprisingly aggressive at times, and is a work of art in its own right. The soundtrack and score are both surprisingly full and well-rendered, and also deserve special mention. Let me tell you, being underwater for 90 minutes never sounded so good.
9. Winged Migration - DD 5.1
One of the sleepers of this year, Winged Migration is a stunning documentary about birds, and sounds just as good as it looks! The 5.1 mix is one of the most immersive and dramatic in recent memory, and really makes you feel like one of the flock. For a break from all of the explosions and car crashes from the latest Hollywood action flick on DVD, check out Winged Migration. It's a resfreshly different kind of audio experience, and your ears will thank you!
10. Casablanca: 2-disc Special Edition - Dolby Digital Mono
With the inevitable glut of modern DD 5.1 and DTS tracks that will dominate this list, I felt at least one restored mono release should get some attention. Out of all the classic films I've experienced this year on DVD, Warner Bros.' Casablanca 2-disc Special Edition impressed me the most in terms of audio quality. While not a perfect sounding audio mix in the least, there's a lot to appreciate here...most notably the much-restored dialogue. While the sound effects and even a few musical numbers are a little on the tinny side, the 61 year-old Casablanca has never sounded better, and that's why it's here.
X2: X-Men United - DTS, DD 5.1
Daredevil - DTS, DD 5.1
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: Criterion Collection - DTS, DD 5.1
Bad Boys II - DD 5.1
The Matrix Reloaded - DD 5.1
Terminator 3 - DD 5.1
Aliens (from the Alien Quadrilogy) - DD 5.1
The Lion King: Platinum Series - DD 5.1
Coldplay: Live 2003 (CD + DVD) - DTS, DD 5.1
The Core - DD 5.1
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl - DD 5.1
As you can see, there were plenty of top-quality audio releases this year...enough for a Top 20 at least! I apologize for leaving so many popular blockbusters in this section, but I wanted to cover as many bases as possible...it was a tough call in all respects! If you have any other picks for the best-sounding DVDs of 2003, feel free to start a thread over in the Forum. As always, thanks for reading, and have a safe and happy holiday season!
Randy Miller III is a part-time cartooning instructor based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in an art gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.