1995: Toy Story
The world’s fi rst feature-length computer-animated film, Pixar’s Toy Story is also one of the funniest, smartest and most inventive ‘toons yet put on the silver screen. The CG renders look a little basic in comparison with the mind-boggling work Pixar is doing these days, but at the time it was state-of-the-art stuff , dazzling us with visual trickery unlike anything that had been seen in animation before. And behind all the spectacle and razzle-dazzle was the captivating relationship between draw-string cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks) and astronaut action figure Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen). Toy Story had an oddball home media birth. It arrived on VHS and Laserdisc in 1996, but got a VHS re-release with bonus content in 2000 before making its DVD debut. Those who waited for the latter were given a THX-certifi ed digital-to-digital transfer and rambunctious Dolby Digital 5.1 EX soundtrack to savour.
1996: Independence Day
Until this disaster movie/sci-fi obliterated box offices in the Summer of 1996, alien invasions on fi lm had been about stealth rather than strength. Independence Day had its antagonists targeting Earth with brazen brutality, looming over entire cities and blowing up famous landmarks – just the sort of spectacle home cinema fans in the mid-90s were crying out for. Fox’s Laserdisc became an instant demo favourite upon release in 1997 thanks to its seismic LFE track. Only 11 years later the Blu-ray repeated the trick.
1997: Star Wars: Special Edition Trilogy
When George Lucas returned to the Star Wars universe to create Special Editions of his trilogy with revamped CG visuals, additional footage and new sound mixes, we all storm trooped off to the multiplex to gawp. And when the SE versions appeared on DVD in 2004, they were quickly added to our collection. We did the same again in 2011 when the BD boxset was released. Why? Because this trio of sci-fi adventures are, for many, what home cinema is all about – perfect popcorn fodder replete with TIE fighters ripping through your speaker array. Altogether now: ‘That’s no moon!’
1998: Saving Private Ryan
A film that set out to capture the unsanitised reality of warfare was always likely to have a terrifying soundmix, and Steven Spielberg’s mud-splattered, WW2 drama delivered in spades. When …Private Ryan surfaced on DVD and Laserdisc, we spun up the Omaha beach sequences and a legend was born. Here was an audio track that left you battered, bruised and with ears ringing, and AV-hedz spent many hours comparing the Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 mixes.
1999: The Matrix
This was supposed to be the year when Star Wars made a triumphal return to cinemas. But as 1999 drew to a close, there was only one sci-fi on the minds of movie fans: The Matrix. Made for half the cost of …The Phantom Menace, the Wachowskis’ film was an ingenious melding of gun-play, virtual reality and philosophy, with groundbreaking ‘bullet time’ action scenes thrown in for good measure. The Matrix continued to surprise with its revolutionary DVD release, which used seamless branching to allow viewers to ‘Follow the White Rabbit’ while watching the fi lm and jump directly into scene-specifi c behind-the-scenes featurettes. Hardly surprising, then, that it became the fi rst DVD to sell over one million copies in the US.
Historical epics roared back into fashion at the start of the millennium when Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe teamed up for this big-budget Roman showdown, making a star of its leading man and putting its director back in the A-List. With its CG tigers, huge sets and classic tale of revenge, Gladiator had a sense of scale about it that harked back to Hollywood’s 1950s heyday. Hungrily devoured on DVD, the movie’s hi-def touchdown was ruined by an awful Blu-ray release. So bad, in fact, that Universal quickly issued another one.
2001: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Peter Jackson proved that J.R.R Tolkien’s fantasy novel wasn’t ‘unfilmable’ with this barnstorming fi rst part in his eventual trilogy. You just needed a huge budget, stunning locations, an excellent cast and some in-camera and CG special eff ects know-how. The initial two-disc DVD dazzled; the following four-disc Extended Edition rewrote the rulebook on what the format was capable of – even if it did split the film over two platters.
2002: Blade II
This was a major year for sequels, with the Lord of The Rings,Star Wars, Men in Black and Harry Potter franchises all coming back for more. 2002 also saw Spider-Man swing into view, but it was a different comic book adaptation – Blade II – that stole the show. Here, Hollywood took a gamble on monster-mad Mexican movie-maker Guillermo del Toro (last seen directing the subway slimefest Mimic) and he repaid it with an inventive slice of action cinema combining martial arts and horror to thrilling effect. The eventual R1 Platinum Edition DVD cemented the film’s status as a must-see. The image felt as sharp as Blade’s teeth, and the disc packed (as was the habit back then) both Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and DTS 6.1 ES soundtracks, plus bags of extras.
2003: Kill Bill: Volume 1
Quentin Tarantino’s ultra-violent homage to the martial arts and exploitation flicks of his youth struck a chord with cinema goers in 2003. Kill Bill gave the indie filmmaker his biggest opening weekend to date – more than twice that of either Pulp Fiction or Jackie Brown. Annoyingly, the DVD release (and its sequel) suffered from an abundance of edge enhancement; Disney’s 2008 Blu-ray put things right with a film-like AVC 1080p encode delivering bold colours (particularly yellow…), macabre blacks and plenty of detail. It’s a disc that still gets dug out for demos today.
2004: Spider-Man 2
His first Spidey film seemed a bit subdued, but director Sam Raimi brought his A-game to this superior sequel, creating jaw-dropping demo sequences such as the web-slinger’s train-top tussle with Doc Ock. There have been various Blu-ray and DVD releases, including a Superbit edition and Spider-Man 2.1. We bought them all!