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Best DVDs of 2002
by Holly Ordway

This is "my top ten DVDs of 2002", with an emphasis on the "my". As it's drawn from the DVDs that I personally saw over the course of the year, it's a decidedly idiosyncratic list. In my choice of ten outstanding DVDs from the 2002 releases that I saw, I came up with a quite varied lot: feature films, television programs, and documentaries; some that may have garnered a lot of publicity, and others that were released and received with little fanfare; modern productions and older classics; and a mix of genres. In making my choices, I focused on the quality of the content, though the DVD treatment was also a strong influence: most of my choices are as outstanding in their DVD transfers as they all are in their content. Here are ten DVDs that made 2002 a happy year for me: enjoy!

Star Trek: The Next Generation season sets
1. 2002 will go down in Trekkie history as the year that Paramount delivered all seven years of Star Trek: The Next Generation in one fell swoop. Well, they weren't released all at once, but with the releases coming mere months apart, it sometimes felt like it. For any enthusiast of science fiction, Next Generation on DVD is a must-buy, particularly seasons Three, Four, Five, Six, and Seven, which contain the best of the series. Paramount should be commended for their outstanding handling of the Next Generation material: released in full-season sets, the Next Generation seasons have been remastered to an image quality that is far better than was ever seen on broadcast TV, and with an excellent remastered Dolby 5.1 soundtrack and over an hour's worth of quality special features on each set.

Cosmos: Collector's Edition
2. 2002 was a good year for documentaries, and in fact four documentaries have made my top ten list this year. Coming in ahead of the others is Cosmos; though it was initially released in 2000, 2002 saw a re-release and a price reduction, giving me a good reason to put it on my top ten list for this year. In a nutshell, if you only buy one science-related documentary in your entire life, make it Cosmos. The science content is top-notch, and since it focuses on fundamentals, it's hardly dated at all since its original release in 1980; the DVD set even includes science updates when necessary. More than that, it's Carl Sagan's insightful, passionate, and always interesting narrative that makes the most complex ideas unfold for the viewer in an accessible and meaningful way.

Blue Planet: Seas of Life
3. The stunning Blue Planet: Seas of Life documentary series came to DVD in an outstanding package in 2002. From the frozen Arctic oceans to the warm waters of the coral reefs, Blue Planet takes viewers on a dazzling tour of the oceans that cover most of the Earth's surface. Each of the eight episodes focuses on one subject, allowing the filmmakers to explore the topic in depth, giving Blue Planet a quality of content unmatched in any other marine documentaries I've seen, not to mention that the gorgeous photography is in league of its own as well. Blue Planet received an outstanding DVD treatment, with a beautiful anamorphic widescreen transfer and a substantial amount of "making-of" material.

A Sunday in Hell
4. The next documentary on my list shifts to an entirely different area: bicycle racing. The classic film A Sunday in Hell, focusing on the famous Paris-Roubaix cycling race, has been around on VHS for a while, but the DVD edition is (of course) much better in terms of image and sound quality. A Sunday in Hell is that rare creature, a documentary that is equally enjoyable for viewers who are new to the subject and ones who are devoted fans. This documentary does a great job of capturing the excitement of the Paris-Roubaix race in all its many facets, and is a little gem that is worth seeking out.

Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring: Extended Edition
5. Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring: Extended Edition is probably going to appear on a lot of "top ten" lists this year, but I can't let it slip past me just on that account. I was skeptical of Peter Jackson's ability to create a film that would truly capture the magic of Tolkien's great novel, but he did. It's simply an incredible film, practically a reinvention of fantasy in film. The Extended Edition is an equally incredible DVD treatment, with glorious image and sound quality accompanied by quite simply the most extensive and highest-quality set of special features I've ever seen on DVD. 

Amadeus Director's Cut
6. Amadeus had been out for some time, but 2002 brought us a great new release: Amadeus Director's Cut. The longer cut of the film adds several scenes that significantly enhance the story, adding depth to the relationships of Salieri, Mozart, and Mozart's wife. The DVD is fantastic as well, with the remastered anamorphic image significantly cleaner and with much richer colors than the earlier release, and the Dolby 5.1 track capturing the magnificence of Mozart's music perfectly. A substantial "making-of" documentary rounds out Amadeus Director's Cut as certainly one of the best releases of 2002.

A History of Britain: The Complete Collection
7. For history buffs, the release of A History of Britain late in the year made for a great Christmas present. This extensive, five-volume boxed set is the work of historian Simon Schama, who both wrote and narrated the material; and indeed it shows the hand of a true historian rather than a scriptwriter. Filmed in a captivating style with liberal use of paintings, architecture, and artifacts of the time, A History of Britain takes us on a grand tour of British history from the earliest Neolithic civilizations to World War II. It's intelligent, well-presented, and completely captivating for anyone who enjoys a serious documentary. A History of Britain looks good on DVD, except that unaccountably it's been transferred in 1.33:1 rather than its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio.

The Forsyte Saga
8. With big-name feature films from major studios tending to hog the spotlight when it comes to DVD releases, somebody has to take a moment to give a pat on the back to Acorn Media and their low-key, steady releases of classic British television and film. For instance, the boxed set of the 2002 BBC miniseries The Forsyte Saga is not to be missed; it's a gripping family drama with top-notch acting, and its anamorphic widescreen transfer lets us enjoy the lush period setting to the fullest. Also to Acorn Media's credit is the continuing release of the highly entertaining Poirot series starring David Suchet: in 2002, Agatha Christie's little Belgian detective made his way onto DVD in the Movie Collection 2 (containing four feature-length mysteries) as well as the one-hour episodes found in the Collector's Sets 1, 2, and 3.

Babylon 5: The Complete First Season
9. For true science fiction fans, few DVD releases were as eagerly anticipated in 2002 as Babylon 5: The Complete First Season. It's true that the transfer is imperfect, with the image quality of the CGI scenes suffering from being cropped to match the widescreen aspect ratio of the live-action scenes. But while disappointing, that problem doesn't hold back Babylon 5 from being the great show that it is. With its attention to detail, its well-drawn characters, and its incredible story arcs, Babylon 5 set a new standard for science fiction, and its incredible rewatchability makes it a perfect set to own on DVD. Now we just have to wait (impatiently!) for the second season to be released...

The Thief of Bagdad
10. What holiday top ten list would be complete without a little bit of whimsy? A new experience for me but a childhood favorite of my husband, The Thief of Bagdad has a sense of pure adventure, fun, and enthusiasm that invites the viewer to join in the unselfconscious enjoyment of its story and spectacle. And in truth, it is a spectacle: the special effects are incredible for 1940 and many of them stand up exceedingly well even sixty years later. But that's not really the point: The Thief of Bagdad is a refreshing antithesis to technically sophisticated, CGI-heavy films that rely on dazzling the viewer's senses rather than awakening his sense of wonder. The DVD of The Thief of Bagdad is a pleasure to watch as well, with the clean, carefully restored print showing off the film's vibrant colors in fine style.

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