Ryan’s Favorite Non-Criterion DVDs & Blu-rays Of 2010, Part 1: Box Sets

It was essentially one year ago, that our blog really started getting noticed around the internet, and it has been a pretty exhilarating twelve months since. As I noted in my earlier list of favorite Criterion releases of 2010, having a Blu-ray player this past year has allowed me to appreciate some of the finest work being produced on home video in years.

While we are all awaiting the results of the cold war between streaming videos and physical media, I think it’s safe to say that if you love movies, you’re probably making out like a bandit right now, no matter which side you fall on. If you are a streaming proponent, you can point to the incredible success of Netflix and to a lesser extent, Hulu. Those of us that are still holding onto “things,” we can point to the unbelievable releases that have made there way to Blu-ray this year.

Since I’ve already written about my favorite Criterion Collection releases of 2010, I thought it’d be fun to highlight some of my favorite non-Criterion DVDs and Blu-rays that were released in the past year. I’m going to break up this list into 4 posts, and publish them over the next few nights, before New Years. Tonight I’m going to just highlight some of the best DVD and Blu-ray Box Sets. In the coming days, I’ll talk about my favorite Kino & Shout Factory releases, 5 from the Warner Archive, and my favorite Animated releases of 2010.

I’m sure that I’ll forget some that I’ve loved, and so feel free to leave comments below, listing your favorites as well. I suppose you could also just go back throughout the “Disc 2” episodes from the past year, to get an idea of what I’ve been in love with, in my Blu-ray player.

Before I get to my list, I just want to point out one final caveat, I was not able to see some of the real heavyweight champions that were released this year. I just finally ordered the Alien Blu-ray Anthology, thanks to some Christmas gift cards, and so I’m sure that would make my list, had I been able to afford it. I’ll add some more honorable mentions that I want, but haven’t seen, after my list of favorites. Let’s face it, being a collector of physical media is taxing on multiple levels: your body, mind, wallet, and apartment real estate!

Now, this list essentially could be labeled as my “favorite TV box sets of 2010” except for the fact that I’m including the Avatar Collectors Edition. This is mostly due to the fact that most of the movie box sets ended up on my “I want this, but do I need this?” list, which you’ll find in my runners up at the bottom.

Also, I’m including some alternate picks at the end of each description, in case you want something similar, but already own the item being described.

Without further ado: My Favorite Non-Criterion Collection Box Sets of 2010

Avatar: The Extended Blu-ray Collectors Edition

As I’ve made perfectly clear, I’m a sucker for science fiction. Despite all of it’s shortcomings, Avatar is a movie that I’ve really enjoyed time and time again. There is just something about the sense of adventure, the pacing, the world building, the art direction, that pulls at my heartstrings and my geekier sensibilities.

This new Blu-ray set is what Fox should have released initially, instead of their barebones Blu-ray / DVD combo back in April. Nevertheless, here we are, and this set is absolutely worth owning. Along with the Deadwood set, which I’ll talk about below, I absolutely love the tactile nature of this set. It’s not simply a jewel case with lots of discs crammed inside. When you slide out the interior compartment, to reveal discs, held within a book-like cardboard container, with high gloss images, you feel like you’re money was well spent. I usually love the consistency that comes along with standardized jewel case sizes, so that when your collection is lined up, you feel like there is a sense of order to your library. That being said, I’m perfectly fine with slight aberrations like this, to stand out from amongst the other films.

Like the Lord of the Rings Extended Edition DVDs that I treasure, this set contains hours and hours of bonus materials, documentaries, test footage, and basically anything else they could collect for the viewers. They include three different cuts of the film, and it’s fascinating, watching the theatrical version, and then the two slightly longer versions afterwards (presumably on different days, as each cut is around 3 hours). You see so much of what they could have done with some of the side characters and other sub plots, that were cut due to the already long running time. Along with the longer cuts, you also get even more deleted scenes, which also expand on the films mythology.

(If you already own this, pick up the Metropolis Blu-ray, which I’ll be talking about in my next post)

While I have the Lord Of The Rings set in mind, I’ll touch on that briefly before moving onto my next pick. As many of you know, the Lord Of The Rings was finally released this year on Blu-ray, to much discussion by the film geek community. It is noticeably absent from my list, mostly because of the poor treatment the transfers received, as well as the supplements. The Extended Edition Blu-rays likely won’t be finished until the Hobbit (I’m assuming) is done, as Peter Jackson has his hands pretty full these days.

I recently picked up the individual releases of the three Rings films, when they were ridiculously cheap on Amazon during their Black Friday sales. I ended up only paying about $8 per film on Blu-ray, and after watching them, I can say that I’m glad I didn’t pay full price for the set. I already own three different versions of the films on DVD, and I’ll gladly pay for the films again when the Extended cuts hit Blu-ray.

Deadwood: The Complete Series Blu-ray

This Blu-ray set is a sight to behold. When I was first turned onto Deadwood back in 2005 & 2006, it honestly took me a few viewings of the pilot before I really got why this show is so important. Deadwood impresses on almost every level. From the incredible script work of show runner David Milch, to the brilliant performances from each and every actor who graces the screen, Deadwood has to be one of the HBO’s finest achievements of the 2000s. Yes, I realize that the Wire and the Sopranos were able to complete their runs, and they absolutely have earned their places at the head of the HBO dinner table.

As I’ve been writing about this release on Twitter, I’ve found myself constantly being asked if one should invest in this set, despite the fact that the show didn’t receive a proper ending. Yes, the ending leaves you hanging. There is no denying that. But once you get over the fact that you won’t get a satisfying conclusion, you can relish in knowing that the journey was worth it, and you can have it again and again with this set. If you’re thinking about picking up this set, don’t hesitate. If you enjoy smart writing, a lot of cursing, and complex character work, you will love this show.

Aside from the actual content itself, the Blu-ray packaging is formidable. They didn’t bother separating the seasons in this release, but rather presented it as one monumental piece of work. It is a heavy book that slides out of the slipcase, and the glossy cardstock, holding each disc is beautiful. I’ve often compared this series’ writing to listening to, or reading Shakespeare. And I mean that in the geekiest way possible. When you strip away the artifices of the western setting, and all of the cursing, and get down to people speaking incredibly intelligently, you have a magical body of work.

I know this is one of the more expensive box sets around right now, but it is absolutely worth the cost of admission. Having gone through the series multiple times, I can say that you will get your money’s worth.

(If you already own this set, check out Rome, another period drama from HBO that got really good, but was canceled too early.)

Flight of the Conchords: The Complete Collection

Another HBO release that I spent hours and hours and hours watching this year, Flight Of The Conchords was one that I wish I had somehow supported while it was on the air. I certainly was aware of the show, from interviews on the NPR, and friends quoting lines out of context for me. It wasn’t until this complete series set landed on my door, that I actually learned what all the fuss was about.

While this is only two seasons (4 DVDs), it is incredible how rewatchable the show is. It is, in many ways, like Deadwood. It was a show that didn’t necessarily receive a proper ending after a cliffhanger, but for different reasons. The show is very smartly written, and the performances are deadpan and absolutely hysterical. I’m not sure that a Blu-ray release would be necessary, but if HBO ever decides to put that out, I will gladly support them. The DVDs have a minimal amount of supplements, but this is a case where the main presentation (the series) is all that I need to appreciate the cost of the set.

You can essentially get through this entire series in a few nights, if you try hard enough. But you will want to go back, and really soak in the songs. They will get stuck in your head for weeks (anytime anyone mentions “mermaids” I get their damn song stuck in my head).

I’ve never found HBO’s comedy programming all that appealing, compared to their dramatic series of the past ten years, but shows like Flight of the Conchords and Bored To Death are ones that definitely appeal to the geekier persuasion. Again, this set is worth your dollars.

(If you already own this, go and get Season 1 of Bored To Death).

The Twilight Zone: Season 1 & 2 Blu-rays

Image Entertainment has really hit two home runs with their Blu-ray presentations of The Twilight Zone. Every episode looks absolutely gorgeous in high definition, and the supplements presented are worthy of some sort of award.

I feel like I’ve gone on at length on several of our “Disc 2” episodes, about my experience going through these sets, but I’ll just say a few things about why I love these sets so much. Aside from the absolutely gorgeous transfers, and dense supplements, the actual stories are what make these Blu-rays worth owning. I think it’s safe to say that anyone producing science fiction, fantasy, or horror in todays modern film or television world, has to have been influenced in one way or another from the Twilight Zone. And what makes them so special for me, in revisiting them, is being reminded as to how fresh the writing is, and how well the actors take on their roles.

However melodramatic the stories get at times, they are played with such honesty on all levels that I never found myself taken out of the experience. The science fiction and fantasy elements are often much deeper and darker than I remembered, which is rare when revisiting older television that you are nostalgic towards.

These sets are something that I will treasure for years to come, as I’ll be soon raising my own daughter to be as much of a geek, as her dad is.

I cannot wait for Season 3, due this February. I’m sure they’ll release some sort of box set collecting the the entire run on Blu-ray, but if you can’t wait, don’t. Also, some folks have asked as to whether they should just buy the collected DVD sets, since they’re considerably cheaper than the Blu-rays. I’d say if money is really that big of an issue, then yes, buy the DVDs. If you have an eye and an ear for appreciating the upgrade in the look and sound of the episodes, then you will be rewarded for the extra money you drop on these.

(If you already own these, count yourself lucky. If you’ve never gone on to watch stuff like the Outer Limits, or Night Gallery, pick up those sets.)

The Pacific

2010 has been a pretty fantastic year for World War II films on DVD and Blu-ray. From Criterion’s epic Rossellini War Trilogy DVD set, to their Blu-ray editions of Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence and the Thin Red Line, the memory of that era is being retained through the eyes of some incredible filmmakers.

This year also saw the impressive mini-series from HBO, The Pacific, which was a follow up to their award winning series, Band Of Brothers. The Pacific follows several different characters, throughout the years following the American involvement in World War II, specifically in, as the title denotes, the Pacific Campaign.

It is a fascinating companion piece to my watching of The Thin Red Line. I’d say the Pacific falls under the Spielberg-ian tradition of Saving Private Ryan, in terms of it’s art direction, and overall tone. I think after watching the Pacific, I tend to lean towards Malick’s more poetic depiction of war, but I really enjoyed the HBO series.

The Blu-ray set is absolutely gorgeous, and the sound is incredible. The battles can get pretty loud at times, and I relished the clarity of the surround sound. As usual, HBO packs a lot of supplemental material into this box set, and if you’re a history geek, you’ll enjoy it. There are picture in picture commentary tracks, lots of documentaries, and all kinds of other treats. As I said earlier, I love when box sets go above and beyond the usual jewel cases, and this dense metal tin, with a fold out cardboard digipak, is quite a sight when laid out on a table.

(If you already own this set, check out Band of Brothers, and definitely The Thin Red Line.)

There will be a few more box sets that I’ll talk about later on in the week, when I get to talking about Shout Factory, and their substantial releases of 2010.

I know this list isn’t very long, as I am a lowly bookseller, and cannot afford much, when most of my money goes to buying Criterion DVDs and Blu-rays. This past holiday month has seen some of the best deals on Blu-rays that I’ve ever known, and I can’t wait to see what next Black Friday brings to us geeks.

And now onto the stuff that I really wish I had been able to afford, and will get one day:

Alien Anthology Blu-ray Set

I guess this one deserves to be in some sort of middle ground, or waiting room, as I just finally purchased it. I have heard nothing but good things about this incredible set, and I can’t wait to see for myself. I’m a fan of the last two films, despite their problems. I love the design of the aliens, and all of the character work that Ripley goes through, throughout all four chapters of this saga.

I cannot wait to spend an entire weekend devouring this Blu-ray set when it arrives. Hurry up, Barnes and Noble!

Fox 75th Anniversary Collection DVD Box Set

I’m only putting this on the list, because it retails for $400, and contains 76 discs. It’s a set that I doubt I’ll ever see come across my door, but it’s fun to drool over its contents.

Honestly, if I had $400 to blow on a set, I’d really just say go buy the Kurosawa set, the BBS set, and a few of the other Criterion boxes, before you go to this. But if you already own all of those, then why the heck not put this in your Amazon shopping cart.

Toy Story Trilogy Box Set (10 Blu-ray discs!)

I probably would have bought this one, if I hadn’t bought the first two films individually on Blu-ray first. I love the packaging design work that they did for this. I’m such a sucker for Pixar, and they really know how to market their home video releases, with in-depth supplements.

You know, what with me getting ready to have a baby and all, I could probably justify buying this set, just to have spares of the films at the ready, for a trip to grandmas house.

Back To The Future Trilogy Blu-ray Box Set

Again, there is very little standing between this set and my Blu-ray player, except for that whole “money” thing. It’s not even like this set is all that expensive, it’s just that I really can’t put this above some of the other discs that I feel like I need to own before Back to the Future.

I love these movies, but apparently not quite as much as some people on the internet, who constantly refer to these as the greatest works of cinema, ever. I think the price point, sweet spot for this set to make me buy it without question, would be in the $20 region, whereas it currently sits at about $40 on Amazon. Does that make me a cheapskate? Yes, yes it does.

Lost Blu-ray Set

Another incredible piece of packaging design, the Lost Blu-ray set is one that I was completely jealous of all of my online writer friends when they started tweeting out pictures of their review copies. Since I already own the first five seasons on DVD, I have a hard time justifying re-buying the whole shebang just to have it on Blu-ray.

That being said, anytime this pops up in my Amazon searches, I can’t help but be tempted to buy it without question. That feeling doesn’t last too long, as I think of all of the Criterion Blu-rays that I could own instead. I think if this set drops down below $100, I’ll take it a little more seriously as a purchase.

Well, if you made it this far, I thank you. I know this post didn’t include too many surprises, but I just wanted to try and point out a few of my favorite sets from 2010, that didn’t have a Criterion logo on them.

What were your favorite box sets that were released in 2010?

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