By Chaz Lipp

We’ve been meaning to put this together for a while now, before we got too close to the holiday shipping deadlines. Alas, we’re just about out of time so we figured it was now or never to throw something together. Nothing here is particularly obscure – just some of the better box sets, special editions, books, and individual titles we’ve come across in recent months. So without further ado, and in no particular order, here are some of things we think your friends and family would enjoy finding under the tree (of course, we could be wrong – you know them better than we do).

Universal Monsters – The Essential Collection Blu-ray [U.K.Edition] – Not to be confused with the U.S. version, Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection. I guess it may be getting a bit late in the day to order overseas, but we strongly urge you go for the U.K. version (click here for our review). The reason for this is simple: it’s way cheaper for basically the same thing. We’re not talking any minor difference. As we write this, Amazon U.K. is asking 34 pounds for the set (about $55 US). Amazon U.S. has it listed at $129.00. What’s the difference? The U.S. version includes one additional audio commentary on Dracula that has been previously released. The U.S. version also has a sturdier outer box – BUT the U.K. version avoids the dreaded cardboard-sleeves, with plastic trays holding the Blu-ray discs. And being region-free, these Blu-rays will play just fine (features and all) on U.S. players.
Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection [Limited Edition] Blu-ray – Look, we reviewed this limited set (limited to how many? Probably as many people as will buy it!) and we’ll freely reiterate it is a disappointment overall. While most of the 15 movies found here are acceptable in terms of image quality, it is all too apparent that Universal didn’t invest a lot of time in making these look as good as they should. There’s a wide range of quality on display here. But it still contains a ton of great movies. You just have to bargain-hunt a little to find a good price (best we’ve seen domestically: Costco – $163.99). Like the Universal Monsters, this one is available as a region-free release in the U.K. (minus one film, North By Northwest) for less money. The problem is, unlike the Monsters set, we don’t actually own the U.K. Hitchcockset, so we’re not able to confidently recommend it as an alternative to the U.S. version.
Bond 50: The Complete 22 Film Collection Blu-ray – We haven’t even had a chance to review this set because we’re still working our way through it, film by film. This is obviously a LOT of James Bond (nine films make their Blu-ray debut here) and it has been up and down in terms of pricing ever since it was available for pre-order (again we recommend Costco, where it can be had for a reasonable $149.99 versus the current Amazon price of $279.99). There isn’t much of significance in terms of new bonus material, making the bonus 23rd disc a fairly big letdown (the lengthiest piece is just the title sequences of all 22 films edited together, running just over one hour). And completists will rightly bemoan the fact that not quite all of the features previously available on earlier standalone releases have been ported over. Plus the packaging, in our humble opinion, is less than desirable. Inside the sturdy box are two books, 1962-1981 and 1983-2012, between which the 22 films are divided. They’re housed in cardboard sleeve-style pockets, meaning you have to make contact with the disc surface each and every time you retrieve one. So yeah, call it a mixed recommendation.
A Nightmare on Elm Street Collection Blu-ray [Best Buy Exclusive]– We didn’t even know this was out, so there’s probably a good chance some of you didn’t either. It comes out in general release next month, but for now Best Buy is the only place you can get it. We just snagged a copy and haven’t had a chance to fully explore it, but so far this is one supercool set of, dare we say, the best horror franchise of all time. The first film is on its own disc, with parts two and three sharing the second disc, parts four and five the third, and parts six and seven the fourth. The fifth disc contains bonus features and is, disappointingly, a standard DVD. It does have two episodes of the TV series Freddy’s Nightmares though!
Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures Blu-rayAll four Indiana Jones feature films on four Blu-ray discs, plus a fifth BD of bonus features (our review here). This is kind of a no-brainer for anyone who loves these adventures! Most of the bonus material from previous DVD sets (though not all, especially where Crystal Skull is concerned) has been ported over. Best of all is the “On the Set of Raiders of the Lost Ark” two-part documentary with a wealth of fly-on-the-wall footage of the making of the film (plus a great montage of outtakes and deleted material from each of the sequels tacked onto the very end). These movies look and sound great. The only thing I kind of wish they had included, for the sake of being comprehensive, is The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles TV series (which I probably wouldn’t buy on its own, but would’ve made a heck of an addition here).
Blade Runner – 30th Anniversary Collector’s Edition Blu-ray [4-Disc Set] – Besides the 72-page book and the spinner car toy (actually a pretty cool little novelty!), there isn’t anything new here. That said, it’s the perfect package for the Blade Runner fan who doesn’t have any of the previous Blu-ray releases of the film. See our review for more information, but know that you get the five different versions of the film: the original 1982 theatrical version, the 1982 European cut, the 1992 director’s cut, the 2007 “final cut,” and an early workprint version. A ton of exhaustive extras have been ported over from previous releases. If you’re buying for someone who hasn’t upgraded to Blu-ray – or maybe is entirely brand new to Ridley Scott classic – this is the set to get.
Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season One and Season Two Blu-rays – This is just pure heaven for Trekkers. The high definition restorations of these early seasons (One was out in August, Twojust hit stores this month) is a minor miracle. The amount of work invested in the audio/visual upgrade will impress even biggest cynics. And despite what some folks are saying, Season Two’s quality is excellent as well (CBS Digital handled the first season, but farmed out the restoration to HTV Illuminate for the second). And the newly created special features are terrific! We reviewed the first season here and Chaz reviewed the second on The Morton Report, for anyone on the fence who needs more information.
The Charlie Brown and Snoopy ShowThe Complete Series DVDA few of these 18 22-minute episodes have dribbled out on DVD (on the Happiness is…Peanuts releases). But this two-disc set from Warner Archive includes the complete run. Anyone with a soft spot for the Peanuts gang, or who has kids they want to introduce to these old school pleasures, this is the perfect set. See our review for more info.
Doctor Who: Series Seven – Part One Blu-rayIt’s hasn’t been the best season of Doctor Who so far, but the first half contains the last of Amy and Rory. The strategy of releasing the first half of the series, followed by the second half, only to finally offer the entire series later on, is really a cash grab that we could do without. But they kept this set reasonably priced and added a few decent extra features, making this a good choice for fans of The Doctor. See our review for more info.

The Dark Knight Manual and Batmobile:The Complete History Insight Editions issued these two Caped Crusader hardcover books earlier this year. Manualis by Brandon T. Snider and Batmobileby Mark Cotta Vaz. Both of them make fantastic companions to the recently-released The Dark Knight RisesBlu-ray as they are up-to-date with information about the Nolan trilogy. Manual is the less conventional of the two, basically a faux scrapbook containing Bruce Wayne’s case files. Batmobile is a straightforward history of Gotham City’s most iconic vehicle, beginning with its comic book origins and continuing through its various TV and film incarnations. See our review for further details.

The Making of Life of Pi – A Film, A Journey – Written by one of the film’s producers, longtime Ang Lee associate Jean-Christophe Castelli tells the story of one of this year’s Golden Globe Best Picture nominees. Fittingly, given how important the film’s astounding visual are to its appeal, the book is lavishly illustrated with behind-the-scenes photos. This hardcover Harper Design volume includes a foreword by Life of Pi  novelist Yann Martel and an introduction by director Ang Lee.

Steven Spielberg: A Retrospective – If it wasn’t such a great book, film critic Richard Schickel’s Retrospective is more than heavy enough to make a great doorstop. You won’t want to use it for that, however, as it goes film-by-film through Spielberg’s filmography with comments by the director culled from hours of exclusive interviews conducted by Schickel over the last several years. This isn’t a biography, but rather a look back at an extraordinary body of work via photos and text. Check our review for more.

Bad 25 – Deluxe Anniversary Edition [3-CD/1-DVD] – Michael Jackson’s follow-up to Thriller has really only gotten better with time. A quarter century later, away from the pressures and expectations of crafting a “sequel” to the biggest-selling album of all time, Bad can now be appreciated for the slam-bang collection of classic dance-oriented pop that it is. See our review for more details, but the video component here is one of the set’s best elements – a 1988 concert, filmed in London, presented in its entirety on DVD and remixed in 5.1 surround sound.

Prince from Another Planet [Deluxe2-CD/1-DVD Box Set]The King of Rock and Roll in New York City for his first every full concerts at Madison Square Garden. Elvis Presley came to MSG in 1972 for four shows over two days. Two of the shows are presented here on CD (previously available, but now with excellent remastering and remixing). The DVD isn’t packed, but what is here is essential for Elvis fans – a short documentary, press conference footage, and best of all some fan-shot Super8 footage of the King onstage, synced to the remastered audio. We reviewed this set here.

Beatles-related Releases: Magical Mystery TourBlu-ray, Yellow Submarine Blu-ray, Paul McCartney – Live Kisses Blu-ray, Beatles Stories DVDs – For reasonably priced, music-related gifts, there are a number of superb recent Beatles-related pieces. The first two listed above (Mystery Tour, Submarine) are the first to officially bring the Fab Four’s film forays into the Blu-ray age. The former features killer new extras, including a Paul McCartney commentary track. The latter underwent a full 4K restoration and looks unbelievable. Both offer truly great lossless surround sound. McCartney’s recent Live Kisses finds the 70-year-old stretching out by reaching back – way back to the songs of his parents’ age. Lastly, songwriter and recording artist Seth Swirsky came up with one of the most pleasant Beatles-themed surprises with his documentary Beatles Stories. Swirsky spent eight years collecting videotaped interviews with a wide variety of subjects (some very famous – Ben Kingsley, Jon Voight, Brian Wilson, Graham Nash – and some not at all), all of whom shared their own personal anecdotes of Beatle encounters. It’s Swirsky’s first feature and includes fascinating stories – many of which will be new even to the most well-versed fans – and previously unseen photos.

Those are our best ideas, good luck out there with getting your shopping done. We hope we helped a few of you! Happy holidays from Cinema Lowdown.
Chaz Lipp

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