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A look back at the year's DVD and Blu-ray highlights...
Best Standard-Definition Release
The Story of Film
Music Box Films / 915 Minutes / 2012 / Unrated / Street Date: December 11, 2012
Hopefully we won't even have this category to deal with in the next year or two. DVDs - once the single most important commodity in the home theater business - are personae non gratae these days, usually most valuable as bonuses in Blu-ray compilations that can be used in portable players to entertain kids in cars on road trips: hell, consumers relish iTunes Digital Copies of movies they can enjoy on their tablets and smart phones more than they do those crusty ol 'spinning discs.
But a couple notable releases in 2012 were only released in standard-def form, and despite the innate limitations of their video trappings, some were definitely worth noting. Supergeeks had a chance to revisit their cheesily beloved Mighty Morphin Power Rangers in a Complete Series collection (a surprisingly big hit), but our pick for best DVD of the year came in a different flavor of geekdom. The Story of Film - a fifteen-part 6-DVD set that covers the timeline of the art form - takes its time (it's a long one), but without anything rushing him, director Mark Cousins is able to linger on his subjects, and veer into territories that even hardcore armchair cinephiles have little familiarity with. Yeah, there's a lot of Orson Welles and Georges Melies here, but we also get extended ventures into early African filmmaking and other national cinemas that have been in the past underrepresented in film school texts.
Now if only Music Box Films would release it in high-def....
Best Video Presentation
Lawrence of Arabia
Sony / 227 Minutes / 1962 / Unrated / Street Date: November 13, 2012
The argument could be made that some of Pixar's output in 2012 was the most immersive, demo-quality usage of the Blu-ray format in 2012 (and there's no denying that live-action releases like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo also looked sharp as a tack), but for us, the knock-you-on-your-ass most impressive piece of high-def this year came in the form of David Lean's well-worn epic. Larry has looked good on every home theater format to date - LaserDisc, DVD, VHS - but with the Cadillac 4K resolution delivered by its 1080p presentation on Blu-ray, Arabia is simply transcendent. Try not to have your heart swell as Lawrence and his followers reach Aqaba and the guns are pointed out to sea. It's enough to make me want to stop typing and watch it again right now....
Best Audio Presentation
Buena Vista / 143 Minutes / 2012 / Rated PG-13 / Street Date: September 25, 2012
Proving to nonbelievers that the upgrade to lossless sound quality is one of Blu-ray's grandest virtues continues to be a tough sell (especially with older catalog titles), but the 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that came on The Avengers' high-def debut might just make naysayers see the light. Produced with continuous finesse and marvelous dynamism, this mix covers the gamut, with heroes and villains swirling from left to right (and behind you, of course), music waxing and waning like a stormcloud on approach, and atmospherics that quite literally put you right in the center of action.