Star Wars: The Complete Saga (Blu-ray)
A long time ago in the galaxy you are sitting in, George Lucas released the original Star Wars and ignited epic fan-boy obsessiveness that sparks up again each time the director tinkers with the special effects, which he has done several times over the years. For the long-awaited Blu-ray debut of all six Star Wars films, Lucas has even started making little changes to the more recent prequels, although switching out that creepy Yoda puppet in Episode I with a CGI one makes it more consistent with Episode II and Episode III. Other changes to the original trilogy have caused a stir online, such as making Darth Vader bellow "Nooooo!" before he tosses the Emperor to his doom in Return of the Jedi or having Obi-wan Kenobi do some crazy screaming to scare off the Sand People in Episode IV. To be fair, some of the additions are subtle and welcome, such as making the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi blink to distract viewers from the fact that they are looking at masks with big glass marble eyes.
Whether you think Greedo or Han Solo shot first, Star Wars is Blu-ray's Holy Grail and fans will not be disappointed with the picture and sound quality of Lucas's enduring space soap opera. The Complete Saga has a special Friday release, and fans have the option of buying the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy separately if they like. Right now there is no plan to restore the theatrical versions of the original trilogy, so if you have the limited edition DVDs with the bonus discs of the unaltered Episodes IV-VI hold on to them—those dirty-looking, non-anamorphic discs might be your last hope at watching the Star Wars movies you remember in theaters.
Best extras: A galaxy's worth of interviews, making-of featurettes, retrospectives, deleted scenes, spoofs and much more.
Verdict: Buy Me
Director Kenneth Branagh deftly brings real Shakespearean drama and excitement to Thor, which stars Oscar winners Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman, as well as the real Thunder from Down Under—Aussie actor Chris Hemsworth, a natural choice to play the titular Norse god. Thor is cast out during his coronation to be kind of Asgard by his father, Odin (Hopkins), and falls to Earth as a mere mortal. There Thor meets astrophysicist Jane Foster (Portman) and her team that are studying the wormhole that opens when Asgardians drop in. The cocky god of thunder must prove his worth before he can pick up his magical hammer again, and he gets his chance when his evil brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) steals the throne and sends a metal giant to Earth to finish off Thor once and for all.
Of all the Marvel superheroes that comprise the Avengers—including Hulk, Iron Man and Captain America—Thor is the most challenging superhero to bring to the screen because, unlike the other earthbound guys, he is an immortal being from a fantastical world far away. Branagh pulls it off and adds bits of real humor, like when Thor awkwardly adjusts to life on Earth by smashing his mug in a restaurant after enjoying some coffee. The chemistry between Hemsworth and Portman is palpable, unlike the stale looks between the leads in The Green Lantern.
You might have caught Thor in 3D in theaters, so Paramount is releasing a limited edition Blu-ray 3D—the studio's first real 3D disc—of the movie that comes with a regular Blu-ray, DVD and digital copy. No matter what dimension you choose to watch Thor in, though, it is one of the more enjoyable superhero films of late and will fire you up for the god of thunder's return to the big screen in The Avengers next year.
Best extras: The standalone DVD has the short "Road to The Avengers" featurette and deleted scenes, but the Blu-ray contains both of those plus more deleted scenes, seven behind-the-scenes featurettes and "Marvel One-Shot: The Consultant," which takes you deeper inside the Marvel universe and unveils secret plans about The Avengers.
Verdict: Buy Me
Spartacus: Gods of the Arena
This bloody good six-episode prequel to Starz's Spartacus: Blood and Sand tells the story of a charismatic gladiator named Gannicus (Dustin Clare) and his meteoric rise to become Champion of Capua. John Hannah and Lucy Lawless return as Batiatus and Lucretia—the husband and wife that rule a house of gladiators that collectively will make you want to renew that gym membership.
Like any celebration of Roman excess, revel in plenty of sex, splatter and sword swinging in this audacious cable show that plays out like an NC-17 version of 300 and is even more fun. Curiously, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena does not feature an appearance by the titular character who was played by Andy Whitfield in Blood and Sand. The 39-year-old actor just passed away after a battle with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.
Best extra: Both the DVD and Blu-ray contain several making-of featurettes, a convention panel, bloopers and "On the Set with Lucy Lawless;" the Blu-ray features the exclusive "Ring of Fire" battle sequence in 3D—a first for a cable TV show—for those with 3D setups.
Verdict: Rent Me
Also New This Week: Glee: The Complete Second Season; Halloween II (1981) (BD); Citizen Kane (BD); Supernatural: The Complete Sixth Season; O Brother, Where Art Thou? (BD); Trainspotting (BD); The Frighteners (BD); The Count of Monte Cristo (BD); It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Season 6; Wishful Drinking, Conan O'Brien Can't Stop, Meek's Cutoff and Hesher