When Jaws gets a release on a new physical media format it seems fair to conclude that the same format has finally matured and consolidated. The Spielberg classic got its rightful stamp of approval and distribution on 4K UHD last summer. During the Covid-19 outbreak, with release schedules understandably restrained, it is nevertheless true that over the past 12 months we have seen some of the most anticipated and mouthwatering titles arrive on 4K UHD Blu-ray. These are exciting times for movie collectors and home theater cave dwellers!
We asked our trusty team at Reviewers Corner here on HTF to offer some suggestions for their favorite platters from the past year and so have come up with a list of the Top 10 must-own movies in no particular order. Interestingly, everything on this roundup is a catalogue title and shot on 35mm or 65mm film (and not recorded with digital cameras). Perhaps that is testament to the incredible ability of the format – with its increased resolution and high dynamic range – to exhibit the texture, grain, colors and contrast inherent in analogue photographic capture.
Some glaring omissions of legacy releases from the past year include, arguably, Cinema Paradiso, The Elephant Man, The Fifth Element, Flash Gordon, In the Line of Fire, and Total Recall. Releases like Disney’s Soul and Christopher Nolan’s Tenet also proved to be shining examples of how spectacular the format can look on modern titles. As ever, please cross-reference our HTF reviews and, of course, Robert Harris’s invaluable ‘A few words about…’ columns. Please let us know below what would make it onto your 2020/2021 list.
My Fair Lady (1964, Paramount Home Entertainment)
Although retaining the previous 1080p Blu-ray’s highly praised 7.1 lossless audio track, the images of the accompanying 4K movie look simply ‘luvverly’ this time round. The interiors of Higgins’s London home brim with deeply saturated colors and never-before-seen detail from this 4K-scanned platter. Admire the intricacy of Audrey Hepburn’s dress as she arrives at the Ascot Races or the layers of shadow and color highlights in the darker scenes of the Covent Garden market. One of the best looking discs the format has offered up to date.
The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
In some ways it was a blessing that we didn’t have to fork out probably in excess of $200 for 14 UHD films in one box if Universal had decided to replicate its standard Blu-ray Masterpiece Collection. All four essential Hitches in this slimmed down selection look wonderful and exhibit noticeable upticks over their Blu-ray counterparts with luscious grain composition and enhanced color. Of the four titles, the black and white Psycho (1960) in particular looks so vivid and tangible this time around it almost transports the grisly horror tale to another level.
The Ten Commandments (1956, Paramount Home Entertainment)
With Paramount claiming it had used its 6K scanned files from a Vistavision negative of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956) as the basis for this 4K UHD release, the results were sure to be impressive. The studio cover art for the title gives some hints of what lies in store for the viewer, specifically a gorgeous palette of purples, teals and deep reds with unpolluted bright highlights punctuating massive set pieces throughout. One of the greatest filmed achievements of all time, this is a must-have 4K if you love cinema of scale and the Hollywood biblical epic. Can we have Ben-Hur next, please?
Indiana Jones: 4-Movie Collection (Paramount Home Entertainment)
There have been some justified gripes online about the somewhat underwhelming presentation box of the recent Indiana Jones: 4-Movie Collection release. Most collectors, though, will just be thrilled to have these iconic movies finally on UHD disc. The original Blu-rays were pretty impressive in their own right, but now on 4K, colors are popping, flesh tones look beautifully natural and the added detail has given the quadrilogy a new sense of scale (particularly if you are using a projector). Immersive audio upmixes have allowed the scores to bleed into the overheads, giving them even more breadth than previously imagined.
Jaws (1975, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
There’s not much to add to what has already been said about the Jaws (1975) 4K UHD release, but if you want to see what the movie looked like in theaters during the summer of 1975, this is about as close as you’re going to get. A gauze has been lifted on an already-stunning BD, and now we can pick out grains of sand on Amity Beach and specular highlights in the peaks of the rippling waves engulfing the Orca. To add to the intoxicating visuals, John Williams’s score will now flood your Dolby Atmos media room with expansive strings and thudding timpani. If you haven’t done so already, get it!
Spartacus (1960, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
UPHE has outdone themselves once again, this time with the Kubrick-helmed Spartacus (1960). Equal parts complex drama and sweeping epic, the story of an impassioned slave revolt led by Kirk Douglas in the eponymous role marches onto the screen with both Dolby Vision dynamics and DTS:X immersive sonics. This 4K UHD release combines deep blacks and shadow detail with extraordinary image sharpness, all underscored by a ceiling-enhanced audio mix of Alex North’s memorable music, clanking battle effects and pristine, centered dialogue.
The Ladykillers (1955, Studio Canal)
In this world of of movies-on-demand, we have much to be grateful to the sprinkling of independent labels who ensure that we have access to more obscure catalogue titles. Studio Canal is responsible for delivering a vast improvement over earlier physical media iterations of The Ladykillers (1955) with its release on 4K. Whether you choose to watch the included 1.37:1 or 1.66:1 aspect ratio presentations, look out for the exquisite detail of the wallpaper and knick-knacks in Katie Johnson’s drawing room, the subtle night-time blue hues juxtaposed with deep blacks in the railway scenes, and the sumptuous and stable grain composition throughout.
The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
Another trilogy of films for which we could barely control our salivating. There were some who complained that background detail was softened on all three films in this 4K LOTR: The Motion Picture Trilogy release. But if that was the only grievance we’ll live with it because, make no mistake, these films look mind-blowingly good. Director Peter Jackson reputedly oversaw and signed off on a revised color grade (with 4K scans extracted from original camera negatives) and the multi-layered immersive soundtrack now breathes even more life into these timeless classics. Turn off the lights and enjoy the ride.
Full Metal Jacket (1987, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
Kubrick fans can delight once again in yet another title in the auteur’s canon to add to impeccable 4K transfers of 2001, The Shining and the above-reviewed Spartacus. This utterly film-like 1.78:1-framed representation of the source offers up an almost three-dimensional perspective, whether following the hapless marine corps through their starkly-lit training camp or onto the horrifying battlefield. Colors are correspondingly more vivid but it is in the improved detail over earlier disc versions that will surely cause jaws to drop with amazement.
Back to the Future: The Ultimate Trilogy (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
Rather like Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Robert Zemeckis’s first Back to the Future outing seems like it can only be described a ‘perfect’ film. The two sequels are great value too, but all three films in The Ultimate Trilogy 4K boxset look simply gorgeous for their respective image upgrades here. Add in Alan Silvestri’s signature score swamping all 12 of your speakers, and you will wonder how you ever lived without the trilogy on this format. Kudos also goes to UPHE for the stylish presentation box and heaps of bonus materials. Let’s watch them all…again.
Martin, a seasoned journalist and AV expert, has written for several notable print magazines. He’s served in key roles at Lucasfilm’s THX Division, NEC’s digital cinema division, and has even consulted for DreamWorks. Despite his illustrious career, Martin remains rooted in his passion for cinema and acting, with notable appearances in several Spielberg films, Doctor Who, and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. He currently resides in San Francisco.
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