2011 has been yet another impressive year for Blu-Ray. With each New Year comes Blu-Ray’s slow takeover as the dominant home video format. Market shares are increasing and awareness is increasing. 2011 gave way to classic titles making their first appearance on the high def format like Taxi Driver, Pulp Fiction, Star Wars, Jurassic Park and many many more. 2011 also marked for the introduction to 3D Blu-Ray; a technology that is still slowly catching on.
As we’re drawing closer to the New Year, I’ve put together this list of my personal favorite Blu-Rays of 2011. I’ve broken them down into separate categories that I thought would help give the viewers a better idea of why I chose a particular disc. I must note that hundreds of Blu-Ray discs came out over the year and I wasn’t able to check out all of them, so this list shouldn’t act as the absolute list of 2011, but more so my personal selections of 2011.
Best Picture Quality – The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick‘s incredibly bold film The Tree of Life is hands down the best looking Blu-Ray disc of 2011. It’s one of the most beautifully shot films of all-time and Fox transferred it to Blu-Ray without a single flaw. His use of nature and simple details of life to tell a story in a non-linear way might not be for everybody, but The Tree of Life‘s stunning imagery is worthy of celebration. The film features a wide array of color, from the dark and cold colors of space to the warm and bright colors of the O’Brien’s front yard. This is a reference disc that is sure to please anyone looking to take Blu-Ray to maximum capacity.
Best Audio Quality – Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Michael Bay‘s latest Transformers flick might not have been a good quality movie, but it sure sounds amazing on Blu-Ray. The 7.1 Dolby TrueHD audio mix is one of the best tracks ever released on Blu-Ray. Everything about the track is so loud, clear and pristine. The last hour specifically is the ultimate treat for any high def junkie, but even the films quieter moments impress. Dialogue is never a problem and environmental detail is extraordinary. Every single piece of broken glass can be heard as well as every piece of broken building towards the ending climax. The audio track is an all-out war of explosions and power.
Best Animated Film – Rango
While I didn’t particularly care for the film in general I think it’s hard to deny Rango this award. The film’s quality combined with the video and audio easily make it the best animated film released on Blu-Ray in 2011. The film itself sort of dragged in quality for a good half hour, but the natural detail is so sharp and colorful. Let it be noted that Rango is a Paramount release and not Disney, yet it looks just as good as any Pixar production. The characters are creatively designed and displayed with a realistic visual approach that adds detail like dirt, sweat and lifelike wear and tear. Rango holds up as one of Johnny Depp‘s better efforts and one of Paramount’s only films that can truly rival Disney and their Pixar films.
Best Catalog Release – Pulp Fiction
The film that we’ve all been waiting for has finally hit Blu-Ray. Pulp Fiction easily wins as best catalog release of 2011. For those of you that don’t know catalog release simply means a title that was previously available to own on a past format like DVD or VHS. Lionsgate gives Quentin Tarantino‘s cult-classic the utmost respect when they transferred it over to Blu-Ray. The disc is loaded with detailed special features and it looks and sounds better than ever. Watching the film on Blu-Ray was like watching it for the first time all over again and it still holds up as one of the best films ever made.
Best Box Set – Jurassic Park
I might take some heat for not picking Star Wars for this category, but I honestly thought Universal’s release of the Jurassic Park trilogy was far superior to Fox releasing George Lucas‘ epic sci-fi trilogy (and their horrible prequels). Star Wars fumbled onto Blu-Ray with new butchered cuts by Lucas. The theatrical cuts were nowhere to be found, which made the disc go from great to good. The video, audio and special features for the Star Wars package were good, but the lack of the original cuts made it become something already in need of a double dip.
The Jurassic Park trilogy on the other hand comes with all three films and a wide array of special features, including a never before seen six part documentary. Each film looks better than ever with full 1080p video transfers and the 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks are all full of range and detailed effects. The first film still remains the best of the series, but I think the second one holds up well while the third feels a little too warn out and tired. Watching this trilogy set on Blu-Ray brought back the kid in me who was awed by Steven Spielberg‘s entries in the series. The dated special effects hold up well with the universal stories being told.
Best Replay Value – Take Me Home Tonight
This category is reserved for a personal favorite film of mine from 2011. Michael Dowse‘s Take Me Home Tonight had a long bumpy road trying to get a theatrical release, but in 2011 that goal was finally achieved. I still think the film is one of the most entertaining films of the year despite its imitation of classic films like American Graffiti and Dazed and Confused.
Topher Grace, Dan Fogler and Teresa Palmer all provide funny, yet down to earth performances in this coming-of-age story set in the 80’s. The Blu-Ray disc features a grainy video transfer that replicates the film experience and a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that rocks due to the film’s great soundtrack. I’ve probably watched the film on Blu-Ray over 10 times, including all of the special features. It’s one of the most overlooked films of 2011 and I’m glad the Blu-Ray disc is such a winner.
Best 3D Blu-Ray Release – TRON: Legacy
Like I mentioned above, 2011 marks for the release of Blu-Ray 3D on the home video format. Until this year only a few titles got 3D treatment and most were “fake” 3D. Disney started to pump out classic titles like The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast while Paramount and Sony jumped on the bandwagon with The Smurfs and How to Train Your Dragon. The biggest 3D release, Avatar, has still yet to receive a wide 3D release (it can be purchased with specific 3D Blu-Ray player bundles). Each and every studio started releasing their library in hopes to capitalize on this latest 3D craze and I found one particular title to be the best one in terms of 3D video, 2D video and audio.
Disney’s live-action TRON: Legacy is a dark visual treat for 3D fans. The 3D transfer contains tons of depth and impressively rendered special effects that make the disc worthy of a purchase. The film might have been a stinker in theaters, but the experience it provided cannot be ignored. It took the 3D craze and turned it on itself providing you with a world of dark colors and a base heavy techno score. TRON impressed me because it managed to go in the opposite direction of Avatar in terms of visuals, which provided it with a unique set of visuals I’ve only ever seen once before in the original TRON. Everything was dark and lifeless in the high-tech futuristic world of users and programs.
The 3D Blu-Ray perfectly represents the theatrical experience of the film with a layered 3D transfer, a sharply slick 2D transfer and an absorbent 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track.
2011 was without a doubt one hell of a year for Blu-Ray technology. Traditional 2D films have been equally selling when compared to their DVD counterparts and 3D combo packs have been slowly making a dent. With the slow decline in theater revenue the home video market has been flourishing and it’s great to see every day buyers invest in Blu-Ray. There’s been hundreds of worthy titles released on Blu-Ray both classics and new releases and the continued success will only mean more for the future.
I wish I could cover every Blu-Ray disc that I really enjoyed, but there are just too many out there. I’d like to close my article mentioning a few more titles that are worthy of viewing. Titles like The Social Network, Attack the Block, Source Code, Fast Five, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and X-Men: First Class were all great films that received great Blu-Ray transfers in 2011. They might not have been named best PQ or AQ in my book, but the films themselves are really good and the Blu-Ray packages are top quality.
Here’s to the great job studios did on 2011 Blu-Ray titles (even though they messed up a fair share of titles too) and here’s to 2012 and what Blu-Ray titles it brings for us! I’m personally looking forward to the Indiana Jones collection and more Alfred Hitchcock titles. I’m sure we’ll see even more noteworthy titles released in 2012 as the format slowly settles in for the long haul!