With Star Trek out on Blu-ray this week, we thought we'd bring you our choice of Top 10 sci-fi films on Blu-ray, plus an interview with the key players on the latest outing for the Star Trek franchise.
No.1STAR TREK (2009)Join a fresh-faced Kirk and Spock as they lock horns for the first time on the Enterprise and then duke it out with a Romulan baddie bent on revenge. Leonard Nimoy also shows up, which you'd think might be confusing. And is. But not in a bad way. Oh, just see it...
Vision: 2.35:1 Sound: Dolby TrueHD
"It was a very profound experience for me," muses Zachary Quinto, the man chosen to don the pointy ears and play the cool, logical foil to the reckless captain James T. Kirk in the latest addition to the Star Trek franchise. "I'm glad to be part of something I am genuinely excited about and feel really proud of."
We'll admit, when we first heard there was going to be a prequel, eyebrows were raised. Then when we heard that JJ 'Lost' Abrams was going to be at the helm, foreheads were corrugated as well. Could he pull it off? Is he a Trekker? Hell, do we even trust him at all? The man wrote Armageddon, for God's sake...
Down in our testing room, there was a collective intake of breath at the opening scene - where the USS Kelvin faces off against an impossibly huge Romulan vessel. That breath was then held for pretty much the next two hours until the very end, where... well, you'll just have to see it, won't you.
So then, there'll be no prizes for guessing what we think is going to be the bulldozing Blu-ray sales machine this Christmas.
And it's a different experience than you might think. Those of us brought up on the original series or The Next Generation will be expecting a pristine future; one where money, war (among humans, at any rate) and poverty are all anachronisms. Not so in the universe Abrams has created. This one's visceral and violent.
Set your faces to 'stun'But Abrams was conscious of not overdoing it. As stunning as the effects are, visual set-pieces count for nothing if the story isn't there - just look at Star Trek V. "None of the visual effects would matter if you didn't care about and believe those characters," Abrams says. "That was the goal.
"We wanted to make the thing feel real and alive," he adds. "A lot's over the top, you know - it's a clear fantasy - but I really wanted to make sure you believe it, and the only way to do that is with the characters."
How to portray such iconic characters was something the cast agonised over. Chris Pine, aka Kirk, decided against a straight William Shatner impression. "That wasn't the mandate that JJ had set forth at the beginning. It was time to breathe new life into these characters. I felt I had gotten enough of the series and the spirit with which Gene Roddenberry had created it," Pine says.
But while the rest of the cast had big shoes to fill, Quinto's pair was humungous. And there in the room with him in the shape of Spock Mk.1, Leonard Nimoy. Any nerves? "I didn't feel any pressure from him. From the very beginning he was so supportive and welcoming," says Quinto.
While some involved in the production came in cold, Simon Pegg, or Scotty to his space-pals, had a slightly different experience: "To become part of it, as a nerd, which is what I am, and I'm sorry but it's true, is extraordinary. It was odd to have Leonard look at me, say lines and me not to become very excited and need to go to the toilet. I never went into this wanting to impersonate James Doohan. I wanted to pay homage to him".
We could go on. But that sense of arm's-length reverence pervades the production. The characters are freshened-up, but still recognisable - Karl Urban nails it as Bones McCoy - and the little touches still cater to the die-hard fans. The continuity is there.
We don't want to give too much of the plot away, but suffice it to say, it's a very good one. Following Kirk from before he even sets foot on the Enterprise makes for a wide-open story - and, as Abrams wanted, lets the characters evolve in new and interesting ways.
It's not without its comedy moments, either, with most of the laughs coming from the sharp back-and-forths between Kirk and McCoy: "Dammit, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a physicist!".
So, that's the arty stuff. What about the disc? Awesome. Sharp, clear and with the kind of punch you'd get from an angry Klingon after you'd just chatted up his missus. The sound, in its 5.1-channel Dolby TrueHD glory, is weighty and full, with the kind of sofa-shaking bombast you'd expect from a blockbuster.
And this reboot has a twist – one that retains the integrity of all the Trek past, while letting the franchise boldly go where it hasn't gone before. It's a winner – an essential disc.
No.2BLADE RUNNER (1982)Harrison Ford was a superstar after Star Wars and Raiders – so Ridley Scott's grimy, dystopian tale of replicants, revenge and romance was a career risk. Which initially didn't pay off.
There are four official (and seven unofficial) versions of this now-classic future-noir masterpiece – but we think that this, the Final Cut, is the best. The picture is, to say the least, jaw-dropping – among the finest remastering jobs we've ever seen.
They've done a lot of work, including fixing lip-sync issues and even re-filming and digitally correcting the dramatic scene where replicant Zhora (Joanna Cassidy) smashes, in slow-mo, through the panes of glass. This film is a bona-fide classic, and this final version really does it proud.
Vision: 2.4:1 Sound: Dolby TrueHD
No.3 TRANSFORMERS (2007)Check your brain at the door. Two factions of warring robots from the destroyed planet Cybertron arrive on Earth to battle it out over a gizmo that will decide the fate of the universe. Yeah, we know, it's not exactly cerebral - but who cares?
The Blu-ray transfer is amazing; it sounds truly massive through a capable system, the CG is almost photo-real, and it has Megan Fox in it. What's not to like?
Vision: 2.40:1 Sound: Dolby TrueHD
More after the break
No.4 X-MEN 3/WOLVERINE (2009)We're including the whole saga here: the original X-Men Trilogy as well as Wolverine's own spin-off outing. It's fair to say that, plot-wise, the series started off iffy and went downhill from there - but in terms of a fun high-def experience, it has few equals.
The cooling-tower scene in Wolverine is a sight to behold on a big screen with its near-flawless picture, packed with detail and vibrancy.
Vision: 2.35:1Sound: DTS-HD MA
No.5 THE MATRIX TRILOGY (2008)Again, a trilogy that got ropier with each instalment – but, again, don't let that put you off. It's fantasy, after all. The transfer here is excellent, with deep, inky blacks and plenty of detail.
The weird colour treatment when the characters are in the artificially created world is preserved nicely, and the sound during the frantic fight sequences is good and... well, punchy.
Vision: 2.40:1Sound: Dolby TrueHD
No.6 I, ROBOT (2004)Whatever you might think about the liberties director Alex Proyas took with Isaac Asimov's book, I, Robot remains a very watchable film.
Turn up your amp and skip to the tunnel chase scene and you'll be wowed with a powerful, percussive soundtrack and fast-paced action that never loses cohesion. Elsewhere you'll find a clean, detailed picture with a great colour treatment. Just pretend it has nothing to do with the book...
Vision: 2.35:1 Sound: DTS-HD MA
No.7 WATCHMEN (2009)As faithful as director Zack Snyder has been to Alan Moore's opus, cuts had to be made to turn the epic graphic novel into a film. The Cold War backdrop has become more coincidental than it should, but the cast is spot-on and the action is suitably thrilling on the detailed transfer.
Standout moment? The nuclear-explosion kiss scene. You'll need your subwoofer up for this one – it's subterranean in its depth. And feels like an earthquake, too.
Vision: 2.40:1Sound: DTS-HD MA
No.8 PITCH BLACK (2000)Vin Diesel stars as the double-hard, shiny-eyed convict Riddick who ends up as the only hope of survival for the occupants of a crashed spaceship. The sun-scorched planet they're stranded on plays host to flesh-eating aliens that come out only when it gets dark every 22 years.
Guess what's about to happen? Rotten luck. But intelligent writing, a great cast and stylised, high-contrast visuals (which look stunning on BD) lift it far above the humdrum.
Vision: 2.35:1 Sound: DTS-HD MA
No.9 STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS (2008)Until the classic trilogy hits Blu-ray (c'mon, George!), this animated effort will do. An intro to the brilliant Clone Wars TV series, it's clearly aimed at a youthful crowd, but grown-up fans will enjoy it too, not least because the digital Anakin is far less irritating than Hayden Christensen.
It's distilled Star Wars, full of great HD action scenes but with hardly any of the turgid talkiness. We like, then.
Vision: 2.35:1 Sound: Dolby TrueHD
No.10CLOVERFIELD (2008)A colossal monster destroys New York in this intense JJ Abrams-produced film. Told from the point of view of a group of people with a video camera, the footage is predictably shaky and grainy, but this only adds to the cloying, frantic atmosphere.
The picture isn't the star here, though – the sound is. Flick to the relentless street battle with the tanks and you'll be pinned to the back of your seat.
Vision: 1.85:1 Sound: Dolby TrueHD
Check out the rest of our Ultimate Blu-ray Collection in the Ultimate Guide to Blu-ray, on sale now