Universal Home Entertainment 2023 gift ideas

Nov 17, 2023- Permalink

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment have a trio of new releases they’d like you to consider for your holiday season purchasing and they range from a nostalgic classic to office Xmas party hijinks to an angry Santa bent on retribution. Let’s take a look at the releases…

In celebration of the film’s half-century, we get the American Graffiti 50th Anniversary Edition 4K. Directed by George Lucas before he headed for flights of fantasy in the stars, this 1973 film is a coming-of-age story set against cars, neon, girls, and rock’n’roll. Four friends are enjoying their last night of summer freedom. Curt (Richard Dreyfuss) and Steve (Ron Howard) are heading to the East Coast for college. Curt is having second thoughts, while Steve plans to give the “let’s see other people” speech to his girlfriend, Laurie (Cindy Williams). Toad’s (Charles Martin Smith) task of taking care of Steve’s car starts off on the wrong foot, while their drag racer friend, John (Paul La Mat), faces a challenge from newcomer Bob Falfa (Harrison Ford). Growing up is never easy.

The 2160p HEVC / H.265 encoded native 4K digital transfer with HDR10 is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The American Graffiti 4K video presentation is a slight upgrade from the 2011 Blu-ray release. Don’t mistake that for a ringing endorsement. Though there are a few moments where the image looks great and the HDR adds extra pop to the colours and neon, most of the time digital noise reduction has been so heavily applied that the characters look waxy and what could have been a nice filmic grain structure has been scrubbed smooth. Universal has released many excellent 4K transfers, so you can’t help but wonder if George Lucas’ revisionist way of dealing with his filmography is responsible for this outcome. Again, sometimes the image can look great, but so many times it doesn’t.

On the audio side of things, you have the choice of a new English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack as well as English, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish DTS 2.0 tracks. Subtitles are available for English SDH, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Korean, Mandarin (Traditional), Norwegian, and Swedish. The 5.1 soundtrack does a good job of moving the previous elements into the surround soundscape. Dialogue is clear, but the real star is the music from the Fifties and early Sixties.

The American Graffiti 50th Anniversary Edition 4K also comes with the 2011 Blu-ray and a digital code, though once again the Canadian version of the release is minus the digital code. What gives? It’s unfortunate that there are no new extras to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary, but all the extras from the 2011 disc have made the move over to the 4K. There’s an audio commentary from George Lucas, a 60+ minute behind-the-scenes featurette, screen tests and a theatrical trailer.

American Graffiti 50th Anniversary Edition 4K has its issues so if you’re buying for yourself or someone on your gift list, factor in whether the DNR issues will give you pause. It’s still a nostalgic film with a great cast and an amazing soundtrack.

Next up on the UPHE gift idea list is a 4K release of Violent Night. Now, if you asked Santa, “Hey, didn’t the Blu-ray for this film come out in January of 2023?”, the jolly old elf would tell you that was correct. Directed by Tommy Wirkola and starring David Harbour, Violent Night tracks a heavy-drinking Claus who has lost all Christmas cheer as fewer and fewer people believe him in. When the mansion he’s delivering to is attacked by mercenaries, the naughty and nice list kicks into action and Santa unleashes retribution that is anything but a silent night. The cast also includes Beverly D’Angelo, Alex Hassell and John Leguizamo.

The 2160p HEVC / H.265 encoded native 4K digital transfer with HDR10 is presented in a 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Great detail and the HDR grading really helps the colour palette from the warm reds and greens to the icy blues. Deep black levels with great detail in shadows and darker scenes. Santa has delivered a great visual gift.

On the audio side of things, you have full sleigh full of language choices. There’s an English Dolby Atmos soundtrack that folds back to Dolby TrueHD 7.1, a German Atmos track, French (France), Italian and Spanish DTS-HD HR 7.1 tracks, and French (Canada) and Japanese DTS 5.1 tracks. Subtitles are available for English SDH, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Czech, and Mandarin (Traditional). It’s a fun and powerful Atmos track with bullets and other action elements flying through the surrounds and height channels with the subwoofer giving the action plenty of bass floor.

The Violent Night 4K also comes with a Blu-ray copy and a digital code, though once again, Canada is apparently on the naughty list and doesn’t get a digital code in their version. We get an audio commentary from members of the production team, deleted scenes, and featurettes on various aspects of the production. Violent Night is a gory and deadly Christmas movie that’s a lot of fun as long as you realize that it’s not for all ages.

Finally, Universal is releasing The Office: Complete Christmas Collection on both Blu-ray and DVD. I had the opportunity to check out the DVD release. The collection highlights all seven of the holiday office party episodes from the wildly successful NBC version of the workplace comedy. I’ve linked to the Blu-ray version.

The seven holiday episodes included are:

  • Christmas Party – Holiday cheer is in short supply when Michael insists on doing a last-minute swap of Secret Santa gifts, and Jim becomes alarmed that his sweet and sentimental gift for Pam will end up in Dwight’s hands.
  • A Benihana Christmas – It’s a time for joy and goodwill toward others, but the staff is feeling none of it as Michael deals with a broken heart and Angela and Pam create rival Christmas parties.
  • Moroccan Christmas – It’s time for the annual Christmas party and a drunken Meredith gets into the holiday spirit by setting her hair on fire.
  • Secret Santa – Michael is outraged when Jim allows Phyllis to be Santa at the Christmas party, where holiday spirits are dampened by the company’s troubles. Meanwhile, Andy’s Secret Santa gifts to Erin backfire and Oscar has a secret crush.
  • Classy Christmas – Toby takes a leave of absence and corporate sends Holly to cover for him; Michael forces Pam to hold a second Christmas party on the day Holly arrives; Dwight challenges Jim to a snowball fight.
  • Christmas Wishes – Andy tries to make this year’s Christmas the best ever by granting each person’s holiday wishes; Robert California tries to drown his sorrows at the office party.
  • Dwight Christmas – When the party planning committee drops the ball on the annual Christmas party, Dwight gets everyone to celebrate with a traditional Schrute German Christmas.

On the DVD review copy I received, the seven episodes are spread over two discs. With room to “breathe”, the video presentation looks excellent for DVD and there was no sign of compression artifacts. Obviously, the Blu-ray version will have a sharper image with more detail.

On the audio side of things, both formats have an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack with optional English SDH subtitles. Dialogue is king in a sitcom and here it’s clear and centred. The surround channels are nicely populated with the ambient sounds of the office environment.

The Office: Complete Christmas Collection does not come with a digital code. There are audio commentaries featuring cast and production staff on three of the episodes and several deleted scenes.

If you don’t already own the complete series sets of this sweet, often awkward series, then The Office: Complete Christmas Collection is a great way to get the always entertaining holiday episodes.

And that’s it for the Universal gift guide for 2023. Happy holidays everyone!