of my collection
This is a list of DVDs that I think demonstrate the capabilities of a home theater system. This is by no means a list of favorite films.
A note: At times I will refer to the bit rate of a DVDs audio track. Dolby 5.1 tracks are available in either 384 kilobytes per second or 448. As you can imagine, the higher bit rate is noticeably better. DTS is available in 1509 kbps or 754. More often than not, because of the amount of space that a DTS track takes up on a DVD, it is the latter format that is used, which is usually much more detailed than either Dolby. The full bandwidth 1509 kbps DTS is actually a viable audiophile delivery system, having much better sound quality than CDs.
All of the following discs, save Citizen Kane, are in anamorphic widescreen.
Alien (“Quadrilogy” Edition)
The best presentation of any film in this set is, coincidentally, the best film. With a razor-sharp picture and a deep DTS track, this is one hell of a presentation of this film. The magic of DVD also allows one to watch either cut of the film. Although I'm keeping the old DVD because of the different commentary track and the isolated Jerry Goldsmith score, this is the definitive edition of Alien.
Bram Stoker's Dracula (Superbit)
If, from time to time, the picture looks a little grainy, well, that's just Roman Coppola's in-camera effects evoking the era the movie is set in; the DTS track, however, is flawless and terrifying, and even, at times, erotic.
Except for some minor instabilities in the blacks (which is to some extent a trait of the digital medium), this is the best this film has looked since its premiere... and I've seen it in every conceivable format, including a restored 35 millimeter print. The Dolby mono sound is clear and very present.
Die Another Day
A picture transfer to “die” for, with high detail and perfect fleshtones. The DTS-ES track is rich and enveloping, with plenty of power.
Die Hard (Five Star Collection)
In addition to finally giving this film an anamorphic transfer, this edition of this modern action classic-to-be includes a myriad of special features, but the best of it all is the thunderous DTS track. The helicopter sequence is one of the best demonstrations for a home theater ever.
Fifth Element, The (Superbit)
The colors on this are so bright and vivid, and the DTS track is so full and present that it makes this piece of fluff cinema that much more fun. A favorite demo scene is the Aria from Lucia di Lammermoor, which is a good indication of the quality of the sound... and is then followed by the Diva Dance, in which we get to see Milla Jovovich kick a lot of ass, thus demonstrating the power of said sound.
David Fincher's nightmarish film is perfectly transferred, with an appropriately extreme color palette and an aggressive, powerful Dolby 5.1 track.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
The direct digital to digital picture allows for an amazing image, but the true treasure of this disc is the astounding Dolby 5.1 audio track. Bass is BASS, and the surrounds are constantly active.
As with Final Fantasy, this film was transferred to DVD without every having an analog stage. This offers a completely flawless image. The Dolby 5.1 sound is full and present.
Galaxy Quest (DTS)
In addition to the vivid colors and detail, the 1509 kbps DTS track is one of the greatest things since sliced bread. It has great separations and power, but the detail available with the higher bit rate is what really shines.
Indiana Jones (Box Set)
These eye-popping transfers make one's monitor look like a window to the Sahara desert, Pankot Palace and Venice... the Dolby 5.1 tracks are aggressive and very rich, often creating a great holosonic audio image.
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The (Extended)
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The (Extended)
It is difficult to determine the correct color scheme for these films because, while the digital grading process can be very advantageous to filmmakers, it looks as though there can be flies in the ointment. While the original Fellowship and Two Towers DVDs, on the whole, looked like their respective theatrical releases, the latter film had ugly, colorless and grainy prints (derived from a Super 35 negative, of course), and this was what was represented on the original DVD release. The extended version, however, rectifies this, presenting a full-color, sharp image. The DTS-ES tracks on both are completely enveloping, both in terms of the sound design and the music. Both are superb examples of how to use a 6.1 delivery system.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Never before has a film's sound design played so much a role in establishing the setting and atmosphere of a film; the outstanding DTS track is one of the most effective ever. The picture is excellent, save for a few spotty moments involving fog (never easy for a digital format).
Memento (Special Edition)
The high-definition picture transfer (in color and black and white) and the deep DTS track make this a truly amazing presentation of this film. The sound can be subtle, but it can also cut loose with power. Furthermore, the separations give a very real sense to the settings.
Once Upon A Time In The West
Has this film ever looked this good? I mean, seriously, one can count every pore on Charles Bronson's face, every strand of hair on Jason Robard's face, and every weathered wrinkle on Henry Fonda's face. This is a movie with a lot of faces. A classic film that looks like it was made yesterday, thanks to an astounding restoration. The Dolby 5.1 sound pretty much concentrates on adding dimensionality to Ennio Morricone's music score, but since this is one of the best film scores ever, one can't really complain, can one?
Road to Perdition (DTS)
In addition to a wonderful picture, preserving Conrad W. Hall's beautiful and hypnotic cinematography, the DTS track (not available on all editions) is detailed and subtle, quietly immersing the viewer in the story and Thomas Newman's amazing score.
SE7EN (Platinum Series)
This was a difficult film to transfer because of how dark it is. Cinematographer Darius Khondji used the silver retention process to create some very interesting theatrical prints for the film, but most video transfers (save that of the Criterion laserdisc, which still has some wonderful features that haven't been carried over here) were overbright. This has been corrected in this flawless picture transfer, with detail and sharpness to spare. The DTS-ES sound is one of the best in terms of spatial imaging. In an early scene, one sees Somerset getting ready for work. There is an argument coming from another apartment, and unless one pauses the DVD, it really sounds like an argument coming from next door. This is also a great disc in terms of special features, and the combination of performance and content really makes Columbia TriStar's "Superbit" series look like the marketing gimmick it really is when one comes right down to it.
Starship Troopers (Superbit)
“Ah!” many have said. “Proof that the 'Superbit' moniker is a gimmick! The old DVD of this looked and sounded great!” “Ah!” I replied, “how about an A-B comparison?” And there is no comparison. As good as the old disc was, it looks pale and fuzzy when directly compared, and the 384 kbps Dolby track can't hold a candle to the new DTS.
Superman: The Movie
This is another brilliant restoration, this time taking a film that has always had muted colors and grain and replacing it with a fittingly candy-colored image. This disc is the only one of the Superman features to have undergone a full overhaul before its DVD release. The sound is a perfect example of how to redesign a Dolby Stereo soundtrack for Dolby 5.1; while it adds presence to John Williams' epic score (one of his best, and it is isolated in stereo as well) and opens the soundfield considerably, it still has the character of the original mix. If there is a little bit of dated fidelity here and there, it is not the fault of the disc producers.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day (Extreme Edition)
See my recent comments on this DVD and the relationship between a home theater enthusiast and the film here.
2001: A Space Odyssey (Remaster)
Rectifying a botched job (the non-anamorphic MGM port-over of the old laserdisc, which was then licensed to Warner for their first Kubrick box set), this new transfer is about as good as they come, with perfectly accurate colors and loads of detail. The sound, too has been remastered for Dolby 5.1, and it is great. In addition to the full surround activity, the breathing effects that dominate the latter portion of the film are presented in such a way as so to replicate the effect of wearing a helmet.
World Is Not Enough, The
As with Die Another Day, an outstanding presentation, this time of the most daring Bond feature since On Her Majesty's Secret Service, with excellent picture and sound quality. Although there is no DTS track on this release, the Dolby 5.1 audio is very well-wrought, with a lot of aggressive activity.
X-Men (1.5 Edition)
The first X-Men had a pretty damn good DVD presentation in the first place, with great colors, high detail and great sound. The picture transfer is the same on the new edition, but the addition of a DTS track makes this the preferred version, as it is much more powerful than the anemic-by-comparison-only Dolby on the original. X2 features a similar-looking appearance, which means that the DVD significantly improves over the wretched, grainy theatrical prints (I hate the Super 35 format). The DTS track is also pumped and great fun.
Click for the Chickenhawk Data
Strange Cross Reference
I have no idea what this picture has to do with X2, but it comes up in Google when performing an image search on it.