Empire Blu-ray Special: Family

EmpireFamilySquarePirates of the Caribbean Trilogy
Back in 2001, Disney was justifiably nervous about green-lighting the first of these movies, the $140 million adventure-comedy The Curse of the Black Pearl. And no wonder: the last pirate film, Cutthroat Island, had sunk so badly at the box office it took its makers, Carolco, down with it. An earlier film based on a Disneyworld attraction, The Country Bears, also flopped. And director Gore Verbinski… didn’t he make The Mexican? Perhaps a big star could stave off the Pirate curse. But The Lord of the Rings’ Orlando Bloom could barely open a door, much less a movie, Keira Knightley had only been seen trying to Bend it like Beckham, and Johnny Depp, while a highly respected actor, had only had one box office hit (Sleepy Hollow) to his name. Disney needn’t have worried. True to his pirate spirit, Depp stole the entire movie, despite a scenery-scoffing turn from Geoffrey Rush, and the kind of special effects which can only be appreciated on the big screen – or in high definition. The sequel, Dead Man’s Chest, wisely put Depp’s Jack Sparrow front and centre, and upped the effects quotient, for an overlong but undeniably enjoyably high seas yarn which roped in Bill Nighy for a memorable turn as squid-faced sea dog Davy Jones. Disney, Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer threw everything but the galley sink into the third instalment, At World’s End, to reductive effect – but the epic battle at the centre of a gigantic whirlpool known as the maelstrom is one of those Blu-ray showcase moments you’ll want to revisit before Jack Sparrow & Co. return before Part 4 sails into view in 2012.

The Nightmare Before Christmas
Halloween stages a hostile takeover of Christmas in Henry Selick’s stop-motion marvel, drawn from Tim Burton’s macabre and magical imagination. With a deep, dark digital restoration and sackloads of extras, it’s a Blu-ray for life, not just for Christmas.

Ice Age 2: The Meltdown
The first digital toon to hit Blu-ray, the HD transfer Fox’s mammoth sequel was a testament to Blue Sky Studios’ CG craftsmanship, with the fur and hair of Manny, Sid and Scrat as sharp as Diego’s teeth. Extras include the cracking No Time for Nuts short.

Wall*E
Pixar’s melancholy masterpiece, about the lonely life of a clean-up robot left behind on an abandoned Earth, takes CG animation beyond photo-realistic to a kind of hyper-reality which demands to be seen in HD. Adults and kids can spend hours picking through the extras, too.

Pinocchio: Platinum Edition
Disney outdoes itself with this magnificent restoration of the animation studio’s first truly timeless classic, achieving astonishing colour and clarity. Extras abound – and there’s even a bonus copy of the film on DVD, so the kids can watch it in their room.

Planet Earth: The Complete Series
Spanning five discs, nine hours and billions of years, the BBC’s epic nature series narrated by David Attenborough should come as standard with every Blu-ray player. Take a day off work, sit back and start exploring a stunning HD world – your own.

Ratatouille / Pixar Short Films Vol 1
A triumph of subtlety and artistry, Ratatouille (also available separately) has all the right ingredients for another Pixar classic. For a few extra pounds, you can add a baker’s dozen of the studio’s finest short works, from early classics (Lux Jr., Tin Toy) to recent delights (Mater and the Ghostlight).

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
The second outing of Marvel Comics’ favourite family is superior in every way to its cheap and cheerful predecessor, thanks to a bigger budget, superb special effects, a classic Stan Lee storyline – and the HD-friendly Surfer himself. Marvellous!

Speed Racer
Sure, the movie is flawed – but this is a ‘best of Blu-ray’ feature, and few films boast brighter colours, trippier effects or more kinetic action than the Wachowski brothers’ wacky take on the legendary ‘60s anime about a boy (a charmless Emile Hersch) who’s born to race in a neon-lit parallel world.

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