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Gift Guide 2018: Best of DVD, Blu-ray and 4K UHD television

December 5, 2018

Here’s a selection of top gift ideas for the DVD, Blu-ray and 4K UHD-loving, TV binge-watcher in the family.

Robin Williams: Comic Genius (Time Life Home Entertainment, not rated, more than 3,000 minutes, 1.33:1 and 2.35:1 aspect ratio, $199.99) Fans can now celebrate arguably one of the greatest improvisational comedians ever to have lived with this massive collection spotlighting Robin Williams’ televised work.

Those still saddened by the death of Williams will find some solace in this 50 DVD set capturing more than 50 hours of his comedic brilliance in action.

Although he was best watched in short doses, much like staring at a solar flare, viewers will find a hard time not binge-watching the master at work between the years 1977 and 2013.

Just some of the highlights to the collection include all five of his HBO stand-up specials “Off the Wall” (1978); “An Evening with Robin Williams” (1983); “An Evening at the MET” (1986); “Live on Broadway” (2002) and “Weapons of Self Destruction” (2009); 11 episodes from his hit 1970s sitcom “Mork and Mindy”; the complete James Lipton’s interview for “Inside the Actor’s Studio” (with deleted scenes); the 2018 HBO documentary, “Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind”; and a nearly 90-minute, never-before-released, performance at the Las Vegas MGM Grand (taped in 2007).

Under favorites, viewers will appreciate his whirlwind appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and Jay Leno, his hosting of “Saturday Night Live” and nearly all of his awards show appearances.

Yes, that includes his Best Actor Oscar acceptance speech for “Good Will Hunting” at the 70th Annual Academy Awards.

Even his rare guest appearance in SCTV in 1982 performing with Martin Short is contained as well as the ceremony to place his hand and footprints at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

Best extras: Although I would consider everything in this set a bonus, it also offers new interviews with Martin Short, Jay Leno, Lewis Black, Pam Dawber and Williams’ manager David Steinberg.

Also, the large box (11 inches wide by 8 inches tall) contains the 24-page, full-color book “Robin Williams: Uncensored,” packed with memories such as archival photos from award-winning photographer Arthur Grace; words from friends and colleagues; and even handwritten, personal tour notes from the master mirth maker.

Batman: The Complete Animated Series (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, not rated, 2,541 minutes, 1.33:1 (4x3) and 1.78:1 aspect ratio, $112.99) Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski’s noirish and passionate celebration of the Dark Knight’s somber mythos finally arrives in high definition in this deluxe limited-edition set.

Appearing on the WB Network between 1992 and 1995, the series boasted an art deco-rich Gotham City with a tip of the cowl to Max Fleisher’s Superman cartoon in its character design. It was a nearly heart attack-inducing experience for fans used to the “Super Friends.”

The 12-disc Blu-ray set contains all 109 episodes of the show that spotlights Batman, Robin and Batgirl battling legendary villains such as the Joker (voiced dementedly by Mark Hamill), Manbat, the Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Clayface, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Catwoman, Ra’s al Ghul, the Riddler, Scarecrow and Two-Face.

The set also includes two, animated movies in the same animation style “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” (1993) and “Batman Mr. Freeze: SubZero” (1998).

Although it’s great to see the show in 1080p resolution, I wish Warner had cleaned up the visuals a bit more. I cant believe I was still seeing an occasional scratch and speck of dirt on some of the opening credits.

Still, the majority of the visual prowess is impeccable with hues looking deep and sharp. There is plenty of reason to watch some of the episodes multiple times, especially the ones starring the colorful Joker (those bright red lips and purple suit) or pale-faced Harley Quinn in her stark red, white and black costume.

Best extras: Well, to put it mildly, the avalanche of bonus content will keep fans of the series busy for days.

The extras include introductions to five episodes by Mr. Timm; eight featurettes (roughly three hours in total); and optional commentary on a dozen episodes (one is a video commentary) featuring production team members such as Mr. Timm, Mr. Radomski, writer Paul Dini, composer Shirley Walker and art directors Glen Murakami and Dan Riba.

A bonus disc offers the new 90-minute documentary “The Heart of Batman” covering the origins and production of the series loaded with interviews from nearly three-dozen members of the cast and crew.

The package holds another font of goodies, starting with the book-like container of the discs in a slipcase; and three, 1.5-inch-tall, big-headed Funko mini-figures of Batman, Joker and Harley Quinn.

Finally, and my favorite part, is the inclusion of seven, three-dimensional lenticular art cards (5.5 inches by 7 inches) offering eye-popping moments with the Dark Knight and characters such as Poison Ivy and Catwoman. I would absolutely frame the set.

Rescue Me: The Complete Series (Mill Creek Entertainment, rated TV-MA, 4,022 minutes, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, $69.88) Acerbic comedian Denis Leary branched out into not only the role of a television series creator (with Peter Tolan) but starred in his efforts as a emotional beaten and alcoholic firefighter surviving in a post-9/11 New York City.

Offered for seven seasons on FX channel between 2004 and 2011, the dramatic and almost-too-real series delved into the complex life, loves and ghosts of the inner demon-loaded Tommy Gavin (Mr. Leary) as well as the machismo-fueled team members of Ladder Company 62 located in northeast Harlem.

All 93 episodes of the award-winning series are now available on 16 Blu-ray discs to offer an entrance into this world of hard-core heroes often unrecognized and underappreciated for the life-saving miracles they deliver every day.

Loaded with emotional scenes and politically incorrect moments as well as plenty of profanity, “Rescue Me” never disappoints and makes for riveting binge-watching for mature viewers.

The high-definition transfer sometimes looks as murky as a smoke-filled room but actually adds to the grittiness of the high-impact drama.

Best extras: Any time I can listen to Mr. Leary and his special brand of angry humor, I’m happy, and viewers first get a pair of optional commentary tracks (on the episodes “Guts” and “Sanctuary”) featuring the wise guy in fine form and his co-creator Mr. Tolan.

More generous, almost three-dozen featurettes provide more than five hours of production information, on-the-set hijinks and at a look at the world of firefighting.

Especially compelling is a 22- and 36-minute segment with firefighters talking about their job, and it even has them critique the show.

Scorpion: The Complete Series (Paramount Home Entertainment, rated PG, 3,896 minutes, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, $38.88) The nerdy, brain-powered drama that ran on the CBS network for four seasons between 2014 to 2018 arrives in a 24-disc DVD set.

The show follows Team Scorpion, a group of socially awkward but highly skilled misfits led by eccentric genius Walter OBrien (Elyes Gabel) as they work with federal agent Cabe Gallo (Robert Patrick) and the Department of Homeland Security to thwart high-tech threats around the world

Owners get all 94 episodes on the antiquated format (boo) but will appreciate characters such as the human computer Sylvester Dodd (Ari Stidham) and gambling behaviorist as Toby Meriweather (Eddie Kaye Thomas), as well as the complex level of crime-solving not limited to locating Soviet missiles, stopping a world extinction event and, of course, an assortment of cyber terrorists.

By the way, not that owners will need any more reason to watch this entertaining show, but controversial businessman and tech genius Walter O’Brien and his company Scorpion Computer Services were the actual inspiration for the series.

Best extras: Scattered among the large collection of discs are four optional commentary tracks with mixed cast and crew; plenty of deleted scenes on select episodes; and almost two dozen featurettes (more than two hours in total).

The featurettes cover topics such as selecting the team (with word from the real Mr. O’Brien), the process of building a show, stunts, visual effects and even a brief look at the wonders of the human brain.

Fraggle Rock: The Complete Series: 35th Anniversary Collector’s Edition (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, not rated, 2,371 minutes, 1.33:1 (4x3) aspect ratio, $75.99) Jim Henson’s strange universe of Muppets expanded in the late 1980s through a popular show on HBO featuring species such as Fraggles, Doozers, Gorgs and the Silly Creatures of Outer Space.

Loaded with mirth and music, the kids staple offered old-fashioned fun through practical effects and famed puppeteers bringing some amazing creatures such as Gobo, Boober, the pooch Sprocket and, my favorite, Marjory the Trash Heap to life.

The 10-disc Blu-ray set offers high-definition versions of all 96 episodes of the show as well as the short-lived cartoon series (13 episodes).

The discs are held in a package that looks and acts like a scrapbook with some full color, behind-the-scenes photos, script pages, sketches, handwritten notes, a map of Fraggle Rock, character bios, a separate episode guide and even a cut-out of Traveling Matt.

Best extras: The collection wont win any awards for any remastering of the visuals (the episodes look like just a simple upscale to high definition), but it sure gets a ton of praise for the overwhelming amount of bonus content.

Specifically, start with the ability to sing along with the songs via a karaoke-style presentation and even shuffle the tunes on any disc.

Now, among the almost seven hours of featurettes, fans will most love a 48-minute vintage retrospective, a 36-minute tribute to head writer Jerry Juhl and a 27-minute overview of the final season.

And, toss in on disc 12, more than an hour’s worth collection of the songs, again to remind viewers of the musical magic of this family-friendly masterpiece.

Westworld: Season Two, The Door (HBO Home Entertainment, not rated, 615 minutes, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, $64.99) The Emmy-winning television series adapting screenwriter Michael Crichton’s film about an android-overrun theme park returned for a second season and now really shines in the 4K format through a six-disc set packed in a slightly bulky white box.

Viewers this season found the park with its classic Western, Shogun and British-ruled India theme areas now practically taken over by the often human-abused hosts (once expendable androids) while the Delos company looks to shut down the revolt.

The 10-episode season will require more focus from viewers due to a slightly confusing story loaded with frenetic plot twists that dove deeper into what it means to be human, immortality through technology, and the emergence of artificial intelligence in the futuristic world.

It helps that we get potent performances from Ed Harris as the Man in Black, Jeffrey Wright as Bernard Lowe (head of the Westworld programming division), and Thandie Newton and Evan Rachel Ward as self-aware androids orchestrating the rebellion in the park.

It’s highly worth noting that the ultra high definition transfer of the episodes offers dynamic metadata toning of the high-dynamic range presentation (reacting to a television’s maximum image luminance and gamut quality).

Additionally, the Dolby Atmos soundtrack is impeccably jarring and immersive.

The experience provides a reference quality reason to take the plunge into buying a 4K home entertainment system.

Best extras: Viewers will find more than two hours of featurettes often featuring co-creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy.

Best of the bunch is 45 minutes of actors Leonardo Nam and Ptolemy Slocum interviewing fellow cast members as they cover favorite moments in the show, the themes of love, and comparing the technology-driven Westworld to current society.

Another almost hour is devoted to 10 featurettes on creating the show, touching on building the droid hosts to making a fully realized Shogun World and the technology in the Cradle (the important server farm of the park).

Finally, it’s worth watching a short featurette on the series extreme filmmaking (nicknamed by cast and crew) that explores the primal levels violence on the episodes.

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