Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray: recommended discs for Christmas

The 4K disc market is slowly expanding - and here are some of the latest highlights...

Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray hasn’t enjoyed close to the success of the DVD or the Blu-ray format, but it’s quietly building itself a niche amongst those who want the highest possible definition physical format. Furthermore, the last few months have seen a growing number of new and catalogue releases, and we’re rounding up some of the highlights here.

Spider-Man legacy boxset

You get five films for your money in this posh box of Spider-Man movies. Sam Raimi’s original trilogy, and Marc Webb’s less-well-received The Amazing Spider-Man films. Sony hasn’t skimped here, either. You get alternative cuts of Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3 here alongside the theatrical editions, and some new extras too. A booklet is included in the box, which is a limited edition, ahead of the standalone 4K releases of the Spider-Man films in January.

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This, for us, is how a premium set should be done, making sure to hoover up the existing extras, packaging the films well, and taking immense care in their presentation. The presentation of the films is first class, too, with the sound mix a particular upgrade. Raimi’s first two films are the highlights of the set, but this is still a collection that genuinely feels it’s been put together with film fans in mind.

Harry Potter 8-film boxset

What I’ve particularly found interesting going back through the Harry Potter movies in 4K – presented in a very posh-looking box, no less – is how improved the earlier films in particular look. Of the first two movies, director Chris Columbus was a little critical of the CG work in the first in particular, yet the sheer physicality of those films shines through in the 4K transfers. When the tone of the films changes, with Harry Potter & The Prisoner Of Azkaban, things get even more interesting. Such a dark film inevitably benefits from as much resolution as the picture can be afforded, and it’s where HDR also offers significant benefits.

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All of the discs come with digital codes too, as well as carried over extras. But it’s the transfers, and the immersive audio mixes, that are the highlights.

War For The Planet Of The Apes

The premium HMV-exclusive package for this one includes the 3D Blu-ray, a Blu-ray, a digital code and a 4K version of one of 2017’s very best blockbusters. The standard pack doesn’t have the 3D disc in. Michael Giacchino’s score has rarely sounded better, but the visuals are the obvious striking point here. The seamless merging of CG with live action has only been equally by Paddington 2 this year (and that comes to the 4K format in 2018), and the transfer on the disc is really exceptional.

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Blade Runner: The Final Cut

Older films have been particular beneficiaries of 4K upgrades, even ones that have previously had as much love lavished on them as Blade Runner: The Final Cut. But the new release from Warner Bros squeezes yet more detail out of Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking sci-fi movie. It’s the richest, visually, of all the assorted home formats releases of the film, and unlikely to be beaten for some time. Blade Runner 2049 comes to 4K in the new year.

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2

Disney has only released on film on Ultra HD in the UK, although Pirates Of The Caribbean 5 and Cars 3 got an airing in the US. Furthermore, there are rumours that Star Wars: The Last Jedi will come to the format next year.

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Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2 is a very fine disc, though, championed heavily by the film’s director, James Gunn. Rich in colour, and boasting a reference quality audio track, this is one of the finest technical releases on the format to date. It looks and sounds stunning, which makes it all the more disappointing that more Disney releases aren’t making it to our shelves. Hopefully that changes next year.

Wonder Woman

A really, really good release this, of a film that remains one of the blockbuster highlights of the year. As you’d expect from such a recent blockbuster, you’re not shortchanged on the home cinema presentation of the film itself. There’s a lot of fast action in Wonder Woman, and scenes that are quite dark. 4K gives small, rather than dramatic, upgrades to the Blu-ray release, but again, is comfortably the best physical version of the film.

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The Dark Tower

Few would put Sony’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower on their film of the year list, but technically, it’s a 4K release of real merit. The visuals are challenging for home formats, given the many shades of black that the film deploys in presenting its world. The video transfer is top notch, thankfully, and the close-ups comfortably reveal the creases of faces. As 4K sometimes does, it also highlights one or two choppy CG effects. The audio, often the overlooked part of an Ultra HD 4K release, is excellent.

Universal catalogue titles

One of the staunchest supports of the format has been Universal, and it continues to deliver some strong releases from its back catalogue. I’ve taken a look at Get Out, E.T. and Apollo 13, and particularly in the case of the latter two, We were really, really impressed. Neither are what we’d call outright showcase discs, but both offer small, notable, improvements over the previous Blu-ray releases. Details are clearer, colours are richer, and the audio on both discs is really strong. The launch sequence in Apollo 13 is a home cinema treat.

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Spider-Man: Homecoming

Finally, for now, a dazzling treat. The fast, bright and breezy Spider-Man: Homecoming is a welcome contrast to the metaphorical and literal darkness of a few of its recent comic book movie contemporaries. The jam-packed Ultra HD 4K disc is a particular favourite, and a welcome demo for how HDR can subtlety enhance a movie’s picture. The picture quality is strong, if perhaps not quite at Guardians 2 levels. Yet this is a treat of a release. And not for the first time, a disc that showcases superbly a terrific Michael Giacchino score!