I think I see your problem. You have this list. It’s a list of people you need/want to buy a Christmas gift for. The trouble is that they’re into home theatre, and you don’t know Star Trek from Star Wars. You couldn’t tell a Wolf Man from a Wolverine. And you always thought that Paranormal Activity was something too kinky to talk about. Fortunately, Upcomingdiscs has come to the rescue every Christmas with our Gift Guide Spotlights. Keep checking back to see more recommendations for your holiday shopping. These gift guides ARE NOT paid advertisements. We take no money to publish them.
Universal has released a strong slate on both Blu-ray and 4K this year. The Universal Monster films is a particularly nice gift for a fan to find under their tree. Here’s more on that Blu-ray set and some 4K titles from Universal.
Universal Classic Monster: The Complete Collection
After nearly 90 years the Universal Horror cycle stands as one of the most enduring collection of horror movies today. Their influence on modern horror is unmistakable. There have been literally thousands of incarnations of Dracula, The Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s Monster, but the first image that comes to your mind will always be the nightmare creations of those Universal films. Studio head Carl Laemmle, Jr. was trying to break away from his father’s control and create a studio culture of his own. The results would start in 1931 when an unknown Hungarian actor named Bela Lugosi jumped from the stage to the screen in Dracula directed by Tod Browning. Laemmle’s niece, Carla Laemmle, is the girl in the coach headed for Borgo Pass as the film opens to the musical strains from Swan Lake. She is reading a travel brochure about vampires and thus speaks the very first lines ever spoken in a horror film in the era of sound. Lugosi was mesmerizing, and the film was a hit. There was a depression on, but that didn’t stop crowds from lining up around theater blocks to be hypnotized by Lugosi’s Dracula.
The success was deafening, and Universal had a new horror star. Plans were immediately begun to follow up Bram Stoker’s gothic classic with another horror classic novel. This time Lugosi would play the monster in Mary Shelly’s iconic cautionary tale Frankenstein. But Lugosi wanted no part of the role. He thought it would be silly to flail about and grunt throughout the film. He passed. Could Universal catch lightening in a bottle with another relatively unknown? Enter Boris Karloff. He had already been in a great number of films but hadn’t found the right movie to give him the same kind of recognition as the so-called leading men of the time. That all changed with Frankenstein. and suddenly Universal had two horror stars.
The hat trick came when the son of the silent-era master Lon Chaney was looking to break out. Lon Chaney Jr. wasn’t quite the makeup master that his father was, but Universal didn’t need that any more. They had Jack Pierce, who would go on to inspire nearly a hundred years of makeup artists to this very day. When Lon Chaney, Jr. morphed into Pierce’s Wolf Man makeup, he was transformed, and so was the Hollywood movie business. Universal had its triumvirate, and movies were never going to be the same.
I’m often asked why I love movies so much. I can out-marathon anyone on this staff. I could literally spend days watching movies. It all started with my father. We actually didn’t have a lot in common when I was young. He worked a lot, so I didn’t have that ball-throwing experience that many sons share with their fathers. But he loved horror movies. He would buy Famous Monsters Magazine and pass it on to me when he was finished. Little could either of us know that I would get to become friends with the magazine’s editor and driving force, Forry Ackerman. We also used to watch the “Creature” and “Shock” programs that came out of the Philadelphia independent stations in the late 60’s and 1970’s. It was there with my dad that I was first exposed to Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, and finally The Creature From The Black Lagoon, which would become my favorite.
Here are the included films:
The Mummy (1932)
The Invisible Man (1933)
The Bride Of Frankenstein *(1935)
Werewolf Of London (1935)
Dracula’s Daughter (1936)
Son Of Frankenstein (1939)
The Invisible Man Returns (1940)
The Mummy’s Hand (1940)
The Invisible Woman (1940)
The Wolf Man (1941)
The Ghost Of Frankenstein (1942)
The Invisible Agent (1942)
The Mummy’s Tomb (1942)
Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (1943)
Phantom Of The Opera (1943)
Son Of Dracula (1943)
The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944)
The Mummy’s Ghost (1944)
House Of Frankenstein (1944)
The Mummy’s Curse (1944)
House Of Dracula (1945)
She-Wolf Of London (1946)
Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
Abbott And Costello Meet The Invisible Man (1951)
Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954)
Revenge Of The Creature (1955)
Abbott And Costello Meet The Mummy (1955)
The Creature Walks Among Us (1956)
The first two Creature films are included in 3D, and they look absolutely stunning.
If you’re a fan, I don’t have to tell you how important this collection is. It’s also worth upgrading from the last Blu-ray set where the discs were stored in sleeves. Here they are in plastic cases and better protected. You get a nice full-color booklet that talks about the major films with some fun facts. All of the bonus features going back to the DVD collections are retained here. There’s plenty to keep you busy for many Halloweens to come. Sit back and “Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.”
Jurassic Park 25th Anniversary Collection:
Just in time for the release of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom you got a chance to catch up on the first 4 films.
“Welcome to Jurassic Park.”
With those words begin an adventure that started with the legacy of Willis O’Brien’s The Lost World. You see, dinosaur films are nothing new; they have held our childlike fascination since the industry was born. Jurassic Park was, however, something very new when it thundered into our cineplexes and forever into our imaginations 20 years ago. The marriage of brand new CGI technology with Stan Winston’s superbly detailed animatronics models transports you back 65 million years in time. CGI technology has improved since then and has become somewhat commonplace, but there is nothing common about Jurassic Park.
Jurassic Park not only broke ground in its fantastic visual presentation, but in its audio presentation as well. It was the first film to be released with an accompanying digital soundtrack in theaters that were equipped to handle it. With one roar of a T-Rex, digital audio was born in our movie houses. It was the perfect film to make the milestone. When T-Rex delivers his first roar on screen, we can’t help but be spellbound. The iconic scene was one of those perfect moments. Spielberg was smart enough to eliminate any of John Williams’ brilliant score. There is silence…until there isn’t. And it’s the ear-piercing shrill of the dinosaur that fills the room. There have been few cinematic moments that have been more memorable or immersive. It almost couldn’t have been better…almost.
Now you get to see all four landmark films (OK, maybe the third is not so landmark) for the first time all over again. I say for the first time because Universal has released the collection of four films (Jurassic Park, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Jurassic Park III and Jurassic World) for the first time in UHD Blu-ray with wonderful new transfers in 4K with HDR. With the release of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom coming upon us swiftly, this is the perfect time to revisit the franchise so far.
Jurassic Park (1993)
If you don’t already know the story, shame on you. Most of you can skip this little paragraph and go straight to the head of the class. John Hammond (Attenborough) has an idea for an amusement park that would spin Walt Disney in his grave. Using blood from ancient insects caught in amber, InGen obtains dinosaur DNA. Soon cloned dinosaurs are the star attractions at Hammond’s Jurassic Park.
Bonding agents are a little nervous, so Hammond hires Alan Grant (Neill), famous dinosaur expert, and Ian Malcolm (Goldblum) to put their stamp of approval on the project. Approval becomes secondary when a disgruntled computer programmer shuts down the park’s vital systems to steal dinosaur embryos.
Grant and Malcolm along with Hammond’s grandchildren and Grant’s partner (Dern) spend most of the film being chased by the park’s prized T-Rex and the intelligent velociraptors.
The biggest surprise is noticing just how well these 20-year-old f/x hold up. That’s rare, at least for me. I can still love the classic f/x of 1960’s Star Trek or any 20-year-old film. I’ll accept the dated f/x because that’s the way it is, and they might have been groundbreaking at the time. But no matter how much you still love it, you can’t help but notice the “strings” of it all. We’re getting spoiled more and more each year. Folks like Peter Jackson’s WETA have delivered stunning images that just weren’t possible 20 years ago, or were they? Jurassic Park still looks incredible. The dinosaurs sell just as well today as they did back when.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
Was there ever a doubt that we would be returned to the land of cloned dinosaurs? How do you make a blockbuster better? The simple answer is: you don’t. The story for this one is about as contrived as a good Godzilla film. Call it the politically correct Jurassic Park. The high point, however, is bigger, better, and cooler dinosaurs. The T-Rex and raptors are back, but now they’re joined by dozens of new species to gape at. The movie is actually fine until the ending. What was Spielberg thinking? Substitute Tokyo for San Diego, and we’ve seen it too many times before, done better.
John Hammond has been almost ruined by the events of Jurassic Park. He hires Malcolm (Goldblum) to go to a second island where the first dinosaurs were developed. Several groups converge upon the island, and the typical chaos ensues.
With the title of this sequel Spielberg and writer Michael Creighton pay homage to the beginning of the dinosaur stories. A story written by Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle became the very first dinosaur film in 1925 with stop motion effects by Willis O’Brien, who would go on to animate King Kong almost a decade later.
Jurassic Park III (2001)
Desperate to fund research for his new theory of velociraptor intelligence, Grant is particularly vulnerable when wealthy adventurer Paul Kirby (William H. Macy) and his… wife Amanda (Téa Leoni) approach him with a proposition. They will open their checkbook to him if he will accompany them on an aerial tour of Isla Sorna, a second InGen site. Just adjacent to Isla Nublar, this quarantined island has become both a primordial breeding ground for John Hammond’s creations and a magnet for thrill-seekers eager to encounter them.
Accompanied by his protégé (Alessandro Nivola), Grant suspects that something’s not right when the pilot prepares to actually land on the island. Angry and alarmed, Grant begins to protest when out of nowhere an enormous creature appears in the path of the plane, forcing it to crash into the jungle treetops.
Once again stranded on an island inhabited by genetically cloned dinosaurs, Grant finally discovers his deceptive hosts’ true reason for inviting him on this journey. This excursion was never intended to simply be an aerial tour but, in fact, a search and rescue mission. The Kirbys are actually a middle-class, divorced couple reunited for the sole purpose of finding their 14-year-old son Eric (Trevor Morgan), who disappeared while vacationing with Amanda’s boyfriend. Aware of Grant’s prior trip to Jurassic Park as well as his current financial hardship, the couple desperately concocted this elaborate scheme hoping to find an experienced guide to lead them to their child. But they overlooked the fact that Grant’s prior visit was to Isla Nublar, not Isla Sorna. Now, as they attempt to locate Eric and find a way to escape with their lives, the marooned group must encounter terrifying new creatures undisclosed by InGen, including the massive Spinosaurus, which can hunt both on land and underwater, and the flying Pteronadons. And Dr. Alan Grant is forced to learn the dreadful implications of his raptor intelligence theory firsthand.
Jurassic World (2015)
“We need more teeth.”
That’s the problem with sequels, isn’t it? There’s always the belief that you have to go bigger and stronger than you did before. It’s an ideal that is also reflected quite literally in the story of Jurassic World. You know what kills worse than dinosaurs? Expectations. It is those expectations that will turn what is a pretty solid action movie into a disappointment for so many. No doubt, Jurassic World is a fun and entertaining movie. But it’s not Jurassic Park, and the truth is it never could be. If you go to this movie hoping to recapture what you felt the first time you heard the words “Welcome to Jurassic Park”, it’s never going to happen here. Thank God that you will always have the original. It’s even out there in an impressive 3D conversion. You can watch it whenever you want. You have to approach Jurassic World as something almost totally different. If you can, there is fun to be had.