e run hot and cold on Netflix at our house. Typically we exhaust all the released titles we want to see, pay for the service for a few months without using it, question why we’re paying for it, dial it back to online-only, miss a bunch of released titles we want to see, upgrade back to standard service… wash, rinse, repeat.
Anyone who’s tried to make a go of Netflix’s online service knows how lacking it is. In terms of accessibility and convenience, it’s great. It’s the available online library that stinks. Licensing issues makes it nigh impossible to make the good stuff available for streaming. But every once in a while, when it’s 1:00am and your scrolling through the streaming Netflix online library on your iphone because you can’t sleep, you discover a hidden treasure.
So it was with me a few months ago when I discovered that the entire 3 season run (100 episodes) of the 1984 campy, classic after-school cartoon version of “The Transformers” was available through Netflix’s online streaming service. This was the series that started it all – the catchy theme music, the awesome toys, the over-the-top Michael Bay movies from recent years.
“Awesome!” I thought. This was something I could share with my kids that I knew they would geek out over. So we started watching an episode or two, and at first both Episode IV and V liked it. As you might expect the girl’s interest fell off pretty quick. But my son was into it. We watched every episode together, and even managed to find the (horrible) animated movie from 1986 (Orson Welles’s last movie) that ultimately spelled the demise of the series, and watch it for Friday family pizza/movie night.
Somewhere around episode 10, at the peak of Transformers-enthusiasm I was sitting on the couch geeking out with my son when out of nowhere I blurted out, “Hey, do you want Daddy to make you an Optimus Prime costume for Halloween this year?” It was almost an out-of-body experience listening to those words come out of my mouth without thinking about what it was I was suggesting. In the fraction of a second between the offer and the ohmygoshyouarethegreatestdaddyofalltime look on my son’s face I remember thinking to myself “You fool. Think before you open your big yap”. Too late. I was committed.
And that was how I wound up hoarding cardboard boxes and spending ridiculous hours (and generating unadvisable amounts of spousal passive-aggressiveness) in the garage crafting an Optimus Prime costume for my 4-year-old son that had to comport with my own personal standards of accuracy, geekery and functionality. That was in June. It’s now August and it still isn’t done. The entire project is worthy of its own separate blog-post, which will come when it’s finished. As you can see in the picture below there’s still a lot of detail work to do. I’ve only just started on the whole helmet/facemask, which is the toughest part of the whole thing. For now, for the sake of completing the ensemble, we’re substituting a store-bought mask (press a button and it actually says things like “I am Optimus Prime!” and “Roll out!”) but the mask is modern-Transformers. When it’s finished the costume will be classic-Transformers from helmet to toe-caps.
The good news is the assembly is right on schedule. I should have the helmet/mask and detail work done in time for trick-or-treating. The bad news is that during a bout of insomnia the other night I was scrolling on my iPhone through the Netflix streaming online library and found available for viewing the entire series run of the cheezy, campy, undeniably awesome 1984 after-school cartoon “Voltron”
That wouldn’t be such a bad deal except that while cruising the internet the other day I ran across this picture that a dad posted of his daughter:
On one side of the equation, I’m not sure my marriage can survive another one of these projects. On the other side, I can’t let myself be out-dorked by the dad who posted that picture. Besides… it’s my daughter’s turn now.
“Form feet and legs!”
“Form arms and body!”
“And I’ll form the head!”
“GO VOLTRON FORCE!!”
ost people out there are familiar with the “box set”. Whenever a studio is looking to make an extra buck they bundle together a set of movies or music into special packaging, produce the bundle in limited numbers, and then notch up the price tag just when the serious collectors are all in a lather. The idea here is that for the extra $ the buyer gets some special perks/extras/exclusive content that can’t be found outside the box set. It is up to the consumer to decide whether the “extras” are worth the extra cash they’ll have to dish out.
With the recent announcement of the ultra-mega Harry Potter movie box set, I decided to put together a list of
The Top 10 Box Sets You Must Own To Dork-Out With Your Kids
Here they are, in no particular order:
With a jaw-dropping 31 discs included in this Hagrid-sized package, if you’re a hardcore Potter-maniac there just isn’t any way to avoid this set. It includes the Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital copies of each film, and every single inch of footage of behind-the-scenes documentaries that were made during the decade of production. Most of the material can be found outside the box set, but it does seem to include two “parts” that haven’t been seen before. Additionally there are some pretty picture books and a cloth map of the Hogwarts grounds. For my money, I need none of that. I love all the behind-the-scenes stuff. That and the “wow factor” to my kids from the packaging is where the real value is. You can pre-order it on Amazon.com before its release in September. Production is limited to 65,000. At $350 the price tag is pretty steep, but when I look at my three kids and think of all the fun we’re going to have watching those movies someday (they aren’t old enough yet), it doesn’t seem very expensive at all.
Four CD’s divided up into “Grammar Rock”, “Math Rock”, “America Rock” and “Science Rock” (you can also buy the videos which conveniently all fit on one DVD. We can’t really call that a “box set” now can we?) sport all of the awesome cartoon music we remember from the 70’s and 80’s. I remember back in 6th grade the only way I could recite the preamble of the constitution by memory was to sing it the way they did on “Schoolhouse Rock”. You might think that in today’s world kids wouldn’t be impressed by oldschool 2-D animation and corny music. You’d be wrong. I swear to you just the other day I heard Episode V singing around the house “3, 6, 9… 12, 15, 18… 21, 24, 27… 30. A man and a woman had a little baby. There were three in the family and that’s the magic number”.
Here is a collection of all the Danny Elfman and Tim Burton movie soundtracks all packaged together in one set. As you can see the packaging is pretty unique (it’s an actual, functional zoetrope), and the set itself includes some pretty cool B-takes and demo tracks. The completest in me just LOVES the idea of having *ALL* the soundtracks in one bundle, and the techie in me REALLY likes the idea of every note of music in the collection also included on one USB drive. But the $500 price tag seriously hangs me up. That and the fact that I already had most of the soundtracks in my personal collection before this box set was put together stopped me from laying down the cash. That said, if anyone happens to have it and wouldn’t mind “lending” me the USB drive that came with the set, I would be happy to discuss terms.
The Star Wars soundtracks are not hard to come by. But as a hardcore Star Wars aficionado I believe that if you were looking to distinguish between all the available options out there, this is the one you should get. Originally released in the early 90’s (out of print now, but still available on amazon.com) this set came about before George Lucas launched into his “revisionist period”. That is to say, this is the most complete collection of the original trilogy music BEFORE the special editions, where Lucas tweaked the movies to be more in line with his “original vision”. Musically, the Star Wars Special Editions of the mid 90’s had some noticeable differences from the original music, most notably in “Return of the Jedi”. In that movie the dance sequence in Jabba’s palace was completely re-worked, and the original music “Lapti Nek” was substituted for something else. Additionally the ending sequence to the entire trilogy was re-imagined, and the original finale music where a choir sings “celebrate the light, celebrate the might, celebrate the love” was switched out for something more wistful to better illustrated that the entire galaxy was celebrating, rather than just the Ewok planet. In any case, the tracks from both the original sequences are included in this 4-CD set, as well as all the rest of the music from arguably the greatest soundtrack opus of all time.
You cannot consider yourself a good parent if you haven’t exposed your children to the Star Wars movies. I realize that’s a harsh statement, but a dorkdad has to take a stand somewhere. This set has all 6 Star Wars movies bundled together in spectacular Blu-Ray glory. That in itself would be worth the purchase, but naturally there’s more. Along with this set come all of the behind-the-scenes and making-of documentaries that have been compiled over the years (and there have been many). But the REAL gems here are some deleted scenes and alternate takes of scenes that have never, ever been seen before. There’s a scene early in Return of the Jedi where Luke is assembling his new green lightsaber before heading to Jabba’s palace, and then a scene where the heroes depart the planet Tattooine (ina sand storm) after saving Han Solo and defeating Jabba the Hutt… along with a bunch more. Really, no matter what you think of the prequels the Star Wars magnum opus is a must-have in any home. I can’t think of a single compelling reason NOT to buy this box set.
What? You didn’t see this one coming? This set includes all the Superman movies from the 1978 Christopher Reeve original, all the way up to 2006’s Brian Singer’s “Superman Returns”. It even has the highly forgettable, unforgivably bad Superman IV. Not a lot of people know the history of Superman 1 and 2. Richard Donner filmed both movies at the same time, but between the release of 1 and 2 had a falling out with Warner Brothers and the task of putting together “Superman 2” fell to another director, who essentially did nothing more than edited together all of the footage that Richard Donner shot the year before. Included in this box set is both an “extended edition” of Superman 1 using previously edited-out footage, as well as the “Donner cut” of Superman 2. So in addition to the original theatrical version of Superman 2 you also get Richard Donner’s original vision for the sequel. He was allowed access to his original footage and years later edited together the version of the movie that he originally intended to follow up Superman 1. The cut has a very different narrative in places, and makes use of some interesting screen-tests of Chris Reeve and Margot Kitter originally taken to test their onscreen chemistry. Fascinating stuff.
Honestly there is no benefit to buying this collection other than convenience of having them all in one place in one package. There is no bonus material that you can’t find in other releases of these individual films. The packaging itself is cute and very Pixar-y, but ultimately unnecessary. Arguably this trilogy is the signature body of work from the Pixar studios, and is a crucial component to any home collection… whether you have kids or not. If you don’t own any of the “Toy Story” movies you must know that you can’t have just one. You have to have all three. If you’re gonna buy all three, you might as well buy ‘em all together. This is the way to go.
This set is an amazing cross-sectional snap shot of the musical legacy of the entire Disney catalogue. It effectively samples the best tracks from all of Disney’s signature genres. There are tracks from each of their tent-pole movies (of course) going all the way from “Snow White” to “The Princess And The Frog”, but it also has tracks from some of their episodic animation (Mickey, Daffy, Goofy shorts… including “Turkey in the Straw” from “Steamboat Willie”), the best stuff of Disney TV from the 50’s and 60’s (“Old Yeller”, “Davy Crocket”, and “Mickey Mouse Club”… trivia question: what song did Sean Connery sing for Disney?), and even stuff from Disneyland itself (“Tiki Room” and “Electric Parade”). An earlier version of this set came with 4 CD’s. The latest version has 5 to accommodate the latest feature films. If you enjoy sharing the fairytale fantasy and childhood imagination (rampant commercialism, blatant capitalism) of Disney, this is a fantastic set to load onto your MP3 player.
This ultimate goober-licious collection has both the Wheedon-tastic “Avengers” released earlier this summer, as well as each of the dork-gasmic individual movies that lead up to this summer’s ultimate ensemble hero-movie (“The Hulk”, “Iron Man 1 and 2”, “Captain America”, “Thor”). The set comes in a steal briefcase that looks like something an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. would need a biometric scan to open, and inside along with the discs comes a replica of the Tesseract (that you would only recognize if you remember it from last year’s “Thor”). The box set hasn’t been released yet, and details about its contents are slow in coming, so I honestly don’t know if the extras are worth the effort. I certainly don’t have any use for a stainless steel briefcase and replica Tesseract lying around the house. But if anyone wants to get this for my birthday, I wouldn’t turn it down.
It may be last on the list, but it certainly ain’t the least. Yeah, I know my kids are too young for this, but with the impending release of “The Hobbit” (trilogy) the Tolkien-effect is in full-force in our house. Seriously though, this box set may not have the flashiest packaging, and it may not offer anything new since the identical DVD release years ago, but the extras… oh the extras. First of all it’s important to distinguish that these are the *EXTENDED* editions. These are the full 3-hour/film experience that Peter Jackson couldn’t squeeze into the commercial release. These are the entire vision, and the extra 40-ish minutes of footage per film only makes the trilogy that much more epic. But beyond the films themselves are the dozens of hours of behind-the-scenes, making-of, and production-diary movies. Seriously, this is a master-class in what Blu-ray/DVD “extras” are supposed to be. You can spend days immersing yourself in everything from how the sets were built, to how the script was developed, to how the languages were fleshed out, and on and on. They even engage the world’s best Tolkien scholars to give the history of the man himself, and discuss the broader academic and cultural relevancy of the Lord of the Rings series. You could write a PhD thesis using just the extra materials that come along with these special extended editions. If you have any love in your heart for Middle Earth and the greater art of filmmaking, you simply must have this. Period.
Of course this isn’t the definitive list of *ALL* box sets that you must have to maintain your geek-cred. I had to keep the list down to 10 collections that were age-appropriate for my kids. There are all sorts of honorable-mentions that I could go into:
Frank Sinatra – The Columbia Years (12 discs!!)
The Ultimate Matrix Box Set
The James Bond Ultimate Collector’s Set
The Indiana Jones Soundtrack Collection
Star Trek – Original Series, 3-Season Collector’s Set
(and while I’m at it I’ll throw a shout out to the guys at La-La Land Records for a project they’re working on that speaks to my own personal film/television score geek-ness)
I’m sure you faithful readers have your own ideas about what box sets are crucial for raising your own children in the grandest dork tradition. I’d love to hear what they are. Please share your thoughts (links too) in the comment section below. I want to know what I might be missing out on.