So you finally received that long-awaited Blu-ray player for Christmas, and you've wisely decided to use all those stocking-stuffer gift cards from Borders and Best Buy to make your first Blu-ray disc purchases. But what to choose?
It's a daunting task getting started, but we're here to help. To that end, here are some suggestions from various genres and eras. And to help facilitate the selections, all of the chosen films were released on Blu-ray over the course of 2010, just to really ensure that the technology is as up-to-date and cutting edge as possible. There's also a "Blu-ray Money Shot," indicating a sequence in the film that truly shows off the format's sight and/or sound superiority. And now, for your consideration:
ALIEN ANTHOLOGY (1979-1997)
Category: Box Set
The Lowdown: Backed by support groups of varying skill (salvage crew, soldiers, convicts and scientists, respectively), Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) squares off against murderous outer-space monsters in Alien (1979), Aliens (1986), Alien3 (1992) and Alien Resurrection (1997).
Blu-ray Money Shot: Even a dimly lit scene — like when Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) comes to a gruesome end in the first picture — looks sharp in this format. (In space, no one can hear you scream, but on Blu-ray, everyone can see you gutted.)
Extras Include: Two versions of each film (original, plus Director’s Cut for Alien and Special Editions for the rest); the MU-TH-UR interactive mode; audio commentaries on each film (participants include Weaver, Ridley Scott and James Cameron); deleted and extended scenes; and over 12,000 photographs. All told, the set promises over 60 hours of special features!
APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)
The Lowdown: During the Vietnam War, Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) has been ordered to travel up river into Cambodia and terminate the insane Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) "with extreme prejudice."
Blu-ray Money Shot: What else but the helicopter attack on the quiet village, scored to Wagner's "Flight of the Valkyries"?
Extras Include: Two versions of the film (original theatrical release and 2001's Apocalypse Now Redux); a 52-page booklet; audio commentary by Francis Ford Coppola; the feature-length documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse; and original screen tests.
Category: Science Fiction
The Lowdown: In the year 2154, the Americans have decided to plunder a distant planet and make off with its riches. Employing technology that allows humans to look like the blue-skinned locals, the Earthlings send in a Marine (Sam Worthington) to gain their trust, but as the jarhead gets to know these aliens better, he finds himself conflicted.
Blu-ray Money Shot: The sequence in which Jake (Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) avoid the rainbow-hued, airborne beast (but really, all of the aerial scenes look astounding).
Extras Include: Three versions of the film (original theatrical version, special edition re-release and collector's extended cut); a feature-length documentary; deleted scenes; and 17 featurettes covering various aspects of the production.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991)
The Lowdown: It's the timeless fairy tale about a cursed prince whose beastly visage can only be dissolved by the love of a woman.
Blu-ray Money Shot: The eye-popping "Be Our Guest" musical number. Nuff said.
Extras Include: Three versions of the film (original theatrical release, special extended edition and original storyboard version); audio commentary and interviews with key players; deleted scenes; interactive games; and a sing-along mode.
THE EXORCIST (1973)
The Lowdown: A priest (Jason Miller) struggles with his faith even as he attempts to help an older clergyman (Max von Sydow) rid a little girl (Linda Blair) of the demon who's taken control of her body.
Blu-ray Money Shot: The early sequence, set in Iraq, in which Father Merrin (von Sydow) stares at the statue of the demon Pazuzu. It's hard to ascertain which is more strikingly blue: the sky behind Pazuzu or von Sydow's eyes.
Extras Include: Separate audio commentaries by director William Friedkin and screenwriter-producer William Peter Blatty; an introduction by Friedkin; a new three-part documentary which includes never-before-seen set footage; and the original ending.
KING KONG (1933)
The Lowdown: This "beauty and the beast" variation centers on a great ape and the woman (Fay Wray) who strikes his fancy.
Blu-ray Money Shot: Kong's last stand atop the Empire State Building.
Extras Include: Audio commentary by visual effects veterans Ray Harryhausen and Ken Ralston, with interview excerpts of Merian C. Cooper and Wray; a seven-part documentary; and The Lost Spider Pit Sequence.
THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (1992)
The Lowdown: In the Colonial America of 1757, frontiersman Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his Mohican family (Russell Means and Eric Schweig) seek to protect two British sisters (Madeleine Stowe and Jodhi May) from the vengeful Huron named Magua (Wes Studi).
Blu-ray Money Shot: The final chase, confrontation and resolution on the rocky terrain, allowing viewers to check out those gorgeous North Carolina vistas (the film was shot in the Blue Ridge Mountains and surrounding areas).
Extras Include: Commentary by director-coscripter-coproducer Michael Mann; and a new making-of featurette.
MOULIN ROUGE (2001)
The Lowdown: A high-maintenance courtesan (Nicole Kidman) and a penniless writer (Ewan McGregor) fall in love in 1899 Paris, with tunes by (among others) David Bowie, Elton John and The Beatles fueling their passion.
Blu-ray Money Shot: With so many exquisite musical numbers on tap, you’re really gonna make me choose? OK, let’s go with “Your Song,” with its eye-popping mix of blues and reds.
Extras Include: Audio commentary by director Baz Luhrmann and crew; a 26-minute making-of featurette; the “Toulose Tonight Web Series”; and footage from Kidman’s first vocal test .
ROMEO + JULIET (1996)
Category: Love Story
The Lowdown: Shakespeare’s immortal tragedy about those star-cross’d lovers (Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes) who hail from the feuding Montague and Capulet houses.
Blu-ray Money Shot: The crystal-clear shots in which Romeo and Juliet gaze at each other through the crystal-clear water in the aquarium.
Extras Include: Picture-in-picture mode with audio commentary by director Baz Luhrmann and crew; a 50-minute piece on the film’s hit soundtrack and score; and interviews with DiCaprio and Danes.
SPACE: 1999: THE COMPLETE SEASON ONE (1975-1976)
The Lowdown: The inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha — including Commander Koenig (Martin Landau) and Dr. Russell (Barbara Bain) — find themselves hurtling through space after an explosion knocks the moon out of Earth's orbit.
Blu-ray Money Shot: The opening credits sequence alone provides various glimpses of the vibrant visual effects.
Extras Include: Audio commentary by producer Gerry Anderson on two of the 24 episodes; various featurettes covering the show's creation, effects, and more; HD image galleries of rare stills and gum cards; and alternate opening and closing titles.