Although it is a quiet time for new DVD and Blu-ray releases, if you upgraded to a new TV or player over Christmas there are plenty of bargains to be found online.
The home entertainment scene is still fragmented for the average user, with users still caught between a combination of multi-channel television (Freeview, cable or satellite), optical discs (DVD and Blu-ray) and digital downloads (iTunes and Netflix streaming).
We also shouldn’t discount the impact of the recession, which is something of a double-edged sword: it will affect sales of equipment, but at the same time may boost disc sales as people cut back on going out and spend more time in.
One of the biggest misconceptions I come across talking to people is the assumption that existing DVD discs won’t play on Blu-ray players: this isn’t the case at all, as not only will DVDs play on Blu-ray players, but they will look much better on an HD TV.
My general rule of thumb with Blu-rays is to be selective: every film is going to look and sound better but if you already have a good DVD, then you should ask yourself do I really need this?
The good news is that films of quality (whether classic or modern) really benefit from the format, with greater image resolution and proper aspect ratio amongst the chief benefits.
It is also a golden age for DVD bargains as the price drop of Blu-rays has had a knock on effect with many great 2-disc titles available on DVD for under £5.
Here’s a list of current bargains that I’ve noticed on Amazon UK – I’ve listed single DVDs and Blu-rays that are under £10, whilst box sets are generally under £20.
N.B. Some are region free, which mean they can be played on both US and UK players.
Baraka: Remastered (Dir. Ron Fricke, 1992): Whenever people ask me ‘what is the best looking film on Blu-ray?’ this is the first title out of my mouth. It is a non-narrative film with no actors, dialogue or voice-over. But it was shot on 70mm, mastered at 8K resolution and is still the disc to beat for image quality. [Buy on Blu-ray for £9.99]
Taxi Driver (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 1976): This region free release of Scorsese’s classic portrait of urban alienation was easily one of the Blu-ray releases of the year. One of the truly great films of the 1970s, it not only looks and sounds great but comes with hours of bonus material, including audio commentaries and making of featurettes. [Buy on Blu-ray for £7.49]
Fight Club (Dir. David Fincher, 1999): One of the most daring mainstream releases of the 1990s, this managed to appal Fox owner Rupert Murdoch and critic Alexander Walker before going on to become a major hit on DVD. Look out for the fun Fincher has with the menu screen. [Buy on Blu-ray for £6.99]
The Social Network (Dir. David Fincher, 2010): This 2-disc collector’s edition version was easily one of the best Blu-rays of 2010. The film explored the origins of Facebook with impressive attention to detail, but the making of documentary exploring the production was one of the best of its kind. The sound and visuals are also first rate. [Buy it on Blu-ray for £9.99]
Memento (Dir. Christopher Nolan): The twisty noir that propelled Nolan on to the Hollywood map still holds up very well and the inventive structure makes repeated viewings a pleasure. But his technical skills as a director were in evidence even before the bigger budgets of the Batman films and Wally Pfister’s visuals look terrific. [Buy on on Blu-ray for £6.67]
Psycho (Dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1960): One of the most influential films ever made was seen as a creative risk for Hitchcock at the time: why would an A-list director film a gruesome novel in black and white with the crew from his TV show? However, it paid off handsomely and this region free Blu-ray release is a reminder of the film’s raw power. [Buy on Blu-ray for £6.17]
Children of Men (Dir. Alfonso Cuaron, 2006): This dystopian drama about a futuristic Britian feels so prophetic about our current times that its eerie. Brilliantly realised by Cuaron, it features great performances from Clive Owen and Michael Caine, whilst Emmanuel Lubezki provides some of the most astonishing camera work in modern cinema history. [Buy the region free Blu-ray for £6.07]
The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (Dir. Andrew Dominik, 2007): Westerns are increasing rarity in Hollywood, but a slow, meditative one shot like a Terrence Malick movie is even rarer. Featuring stellar performances from Casey Affleck and Brad Pitt, this looks and sounds magnificent. [Buy it on region free Blu-ray for 6.67]
The Shawshank Redemption (Dir. Frank Darabont, 1994): One of the most beloved films of all time, which regularly jostles with The Godfather for top spot on the IMDb 250, is this prison drama that initially failed at the box office before going on to huge success on home video. Contains the 48-min documentary ‘The Redeeming Feature’. [Buy it on Blu-ray for £7.07]
North By Northwest (Warner Bros.): Another Hitchcock classic, this all action thriller with Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint saw him at his studio peak. The iconic Saul Bass title sequence, use of VistaVision and a script by Ernest Lehman make this “the Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures”. [Buy it on region free Blu-ray for £9.99]
Galapagos (BBC): BBC nature documentaries are often great for testing out a new TV and Blu-ray player and this 2006 series exploring the Galapagos islands is no exception. Narrated by Tilda Swinton, it features stunning scenes of wildlife and scenery shot from the sea, land and air. [Buy it on region free Blu-ray for £6.49]
Inside Job (Dir. Charles Ferguson, 2010): This Oscar-winning documentary explains the financial crisis with devastating clarity and is essential viewing or anyone interested in why the world has been plunged into turmoil. [Buy on DVD for £5.49]
All The President’s Men (Dir. Alan J. Pakula, 1976): The forensic Watergate drama that should have won Best Picture that year is now available on 2-disc DVD for under £5. There are really no excuses not to buy this. [Buy on DVD for £4.49]
To Catch A Thief (Dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1955): It may not be Hitchcock’s finest film, but this 2-disc Special Collector’s Edition is a real treat, with a great transfer and oodles of extras. [Buy on DVD for £3.97]
A Man For All Seasons (Dir. Fred Zinneman, 1966): This Oscar-winning period drama, brilliantly adapted by Robert Bolt from his own play, stands as one of the great historical films ever made. [Buy it on DVD for £3.99]
Blow Up (Dir. Michaelangelo Antonioni, 1966): One of the great films of the 1960s is this elliptical tale of a London photographer, which brilliantly depicts the dark side of that decade and the limits of what we see. [Buy it on DVD for £4.97]
Sideways (Dir. Alexander Payne, 2004): The film that should have won Best Picture instead of Million Dollar Baby is this bitter-sweet tale of two guys on a tour of Californian wine country. [Buy it on DVD for £3.97]
Hope and Glory (Dir. John Boorman, 1987): One of John Boorman’s more overlooked films is his marvellous coming-of-age tale set during World War II. [Buy it on DVD for £3.99]
No Direction Home (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 2005): Scorsese’s 208 minute documentary on Bob Dylan focuses on his career during the 1960s and remains spectacular value for money. [Buy it on DVD for £4.97]
The Fog of War (Dir. Errol Morris, 2003): The famed US documentarian won an Oscar for this fascinating exploration of the life and career of Robert McNamara, one of the architects of the Vietnam War. [Buy it on DVD for £3.97]
Dead Men Dont Wear Plaid (Dir. Carl Reiner, 1982): Ingenious film noir spoof starring Steve Martin as a private eye, which intercuts footage of classic film stars with the story. [Buy it on DVD for £3.97]
BLU-RAY BOX SETS
Alien Anthology (20th Century Fox): Outstanding collection of all four Alien films with hours of extra material. [Buy it on Blu-ray for £14.99]
Planet Earth – Special Edition (2entertain): BBC nature documentary which is arguably the greatest natural history series ever made, featuring all episodes from the original series and plenty of extras. [Buy it on region free Blu-ray for £16.99]
The Godfather Coppola Restoration (Paramount): The restored versions of Coppola’s classic gangster films. Just ignore the third part and savour the first two. [Buy it on Blu-ray for £21.97]
Apocalypse Now (Studiocanal): 3-disc Special Edition including the extended cut and the making of documentary Hearts of Darkness. [Buy it on Blu-ray for £17.99]
Stanley Kubrick: Visionary Filmmaker Collection (Warner Bros.): Includes 2001, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, Eyes Wide Shut and Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures [Buy on region free Blu-ray for £24.99]
The Ultimate Bourne Collection (Universal): All three Bourne films in one package. [Buy on region free Blu-ray for £15.97]
Firefly (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment): Joss Whedon’s cult sci-fi series. [Buy on Blu-ray for £13.37]
The World At War: The Ultimate Restored Edition (Fremantle Home Entertainment): The restored HD version of the landmark series. [Buy it on Blu-ray for £33.99]
Alistair Cooke’s America (BBC): Classic 1970s series on the history of America. [Buy it on DVD for £16.99]
The World At War: The Ultimate Restored Edition (Fremantle Home Entertainment): World War 2 is comprehensively depicted in this restored version of one of the greatest shows in the history of television. [Buy it on DVD for £21.89]
Hitchcock Collection (Warner Home Video): This 7-disc collection includes Dial M For Murder, I Confess, Stage Fright, The Wrong Man, Strangers On A Train and North By Northwest. [Buy it on DVD for £13.79]
Alfred Hitchcock – Essential Collection (Universal): 4-disc set includes Rear Window, Psycho, The Birds and Vertigo. [Buy it on DVD for £12.97]
Stanley Kubrick : Special Edition 10 Disc Box Set (Warner Bros.): Includes Lolita, 2001, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, Eyes Wide Shut and Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures. [Buy the DVD for £21.22]
Roman Polanski Collection (Paramount): Includes Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant. [Buy the DVD for £6.37]
Humphrey Bogart Collection (Warner Bros): 6 disc set including Casablanca , Treasure of Sierra Madre, Maltese Falcon and High Sierra. [Buy it on DVD for £10.49]
Marx Brothers Box Set (Universal): Includes Animal Crackers, Duck Soup, Monkey Business and Horse Feathers. [Buy it on DVD for £18.97]
Before Sunrise / Before Sunset (Warner Home Video): 2 disc set featuring Richard Linklater’s two films with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. [Buy it on DVD for £4.99]
If you have any bargains you’ve noticed, the just leave a comment below.
> Best DVD & Blu-ray releases of 2011
> The Best Films of 2011