The Top 15 3D Blu-rays for Christmas

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3D films have been around since the advent of film itself. But it’s only in the past decade or so that the techhnology has got good enough to make it a truly enjoyable cinema experience (despite the silly glasses). It’s probably fair to say that 3D finally seems to be losing its “nothing but a gimmick” status. Now that experience can be replicated in the home – which is often better than what you get in the cinema – thanks to excellent 3D TVs and Blu-ray players. And 2014 has been a particularly good year for 3D Blu-ray releases. Here are 15 of the best 3D Blu-ray releases to consider buying as a gift for your 3D-loving loved one.

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The House of Magic

Let’s start with the best animated 3D release of the year, shall we? (The best live-action 3D film of the year, The Young and Prodigious TS Spivet, strangely did not recive a 3D Blu-ray release in the UK.) The House of Magic is an unashamed kids’ film, but is an absolute 3D delight. The co-writer/co-director Ben Stassen has quite a history with – and clearly an abiding love for – 3D film-making. Since the late 1990s, he’s made several shorts, features and documentaries using the format – such as Encounter in the Third Dimension, Wild Safari 3D, Fly Me to the Moon 3D and A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures. Practice makes perfect, and this latest release shows just how effective 3D can be in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing.

The House of Magic is a fun, bright and breezy tale with cute characters and colourful animation. And Stassen understands and makes great use of the 3D, having loads of it – we get everything from wonderful depth, clever angles, some typical in-your-face gimmickry to some and some beautifully done first-person joyride sequences. If you only plan to buy one 3D Blu-ray this Christmas, make it this one.


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Dawn of The Planet of The Apes

This is a very smart, tense, engaging and exciting sequel to 2011’s surprise hit Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Much has been made of the motion-capture technology used to create the apes for this film, and it is truly impressive. The Planet of the Apes films of the 1970s used actors in (very good) latex masks to play the apes, and we still have actors in masks here – although these masks are made of pixels, not rubber and glue.  What’s also impressive about Dawn of The Planet of The Apes is that the mo-cap tech was been taken out of the studio – all the action takes place on location, which adds another layer of reality to the story. And adding yet another layer of impressiveness is that the 3D was also shot natively, on location. All that combined must have been a technical and logistical nightmare, but it pays off handsomely. It’s a visually stunning and compelling film full of big ideas and wonderful performances. And it’s well worth watching in 3D.


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 Gravity

If you saw Gravity in the cinema, you’re probably wondering how well it holds up on the small screen. The good news for those of you with a 3D TV and Blu-ray player is that it holds up very well indeed.

Gravity is a film that was both loved and loathed by the critics. I’m firmly in the “love it” camp – Gravity is a stunning piece of work, a filmmaking tour de force. It’s a very simple plot – an accident in space while making repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope leads to novice astronaut Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) fighting for survival and trying to get back to Earth. But it’s a gripping, breathtaking thrill-ride for its 90-odd minute runtime, which will leave you exhausted and exhilarated. It’s dizzying and nail-biting, a visual and aural spectacle that shows Cuarón to be one of the best directors working today.

And on Blu-ray, much of the spectacle is retained – especially in 3D. OK, it is a film that needs to be seen at least once on the big screen, and with a big sound system (IMAX is highly recommended). But if you have a decent-sized flatscreen at home, and a 3D Blu-ray setup, then the experience is almost as good, and you’ll find yourself fully immersed in the movie.


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Mr Peabody & Sherman

Mr Peabody & Sherman is based on the Peabody’s Improbable History shorts that were part of the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon series in the late 1950s and early 60s, created by the brilliant Jay Ward. Mr Peabody (Ty Burrell) happens to be a dog, but a dog who is also a genius – he’s an inventor, a scientist, a gourmet chef and an Olympic champion. Sherman (Max Charles) is his seven-year-old adopted son, and the pair live in a penthouse apartment in New York. Oh, and they are also time travellers, thanks to Peabody’s invention, the WABAC machine.

The film’s biggest strengths are first-rate 3D (pretty much a given with modern CGI), great animation, the wonderful voice cast (ably led by Modern Family’s Burrell) and the humour, which sticks closely to the pun-ridden formula of the original shorts. As with most DreamWorks animated efforts, there’s plenty here for the whole family. Mr Peabody & Sherman is a satisfying adventure for all the family that really does leave you wanting to see more from these characters.


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The Nut Job

The Nut Job is a decent little kids’ film about a squirrel, voiced by the wonderful Will Arnett, who causes all sorts of havoc among the other creatures he lives with Liberty Park, in Oakton City, and ends running a heist alongside a bunch of humans running a similar heist. The animals are all cute and mostly likeable – although Surly is a selfish little so-and-so who softens as the film progresses. The Nut Job uses slapstick and gangster-film references to good effect, and the 3D is terrific. Younger viewers are sure to enjoy the fast pace and sometimes childish humour – fart gags never get old, do they?


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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Extended Edition)

As the final film in this latest Middle Earth trilogy hits cinema screens around the world, what better time to revisit Peter Jackson’s middle instalment? The Desolation of Smaug is an entertaining (if slightly long-winded) adventure. Obviously it lacks the weight and significance of the original Lord of the Rings movies, but for much of the way this action-filled romp is cheerfully diverting. Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the dwarves continue on their journey to the Lonely Mountain, and while en route they meet skin changer Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), nasty spiders, and trusty Legolas (Orlando Bloom) who is keen on she-elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), but she falls for one of the dwarves, vulnerable Kili (Aidan Turner).

With her lithe frame and plucky determination Lilly is a welcome addition to the franchise, an attractive contrast to the hairy, smelly dwarves. It’s a fun affair that climaxes with a battle of wits between Bilbo and the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedisct Cumberbatch) and this extended edition is perfect for Blu-ray because you can pause it for those much-needed loo breaks (it has a running time of 186 monutes – and that’s just for the main feature). The 3D is glorious, and the extensive bonus features give a wonderful background to the making of these films.

And why not dip even further back? Also available as a 3D Extended Edition is the first film in this trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey


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The Lego Movie

Everything is pretty awesome in one of the funniest films of 2014 (it’s one of the best animated and one of the best 3D films, too). The Lego Movie  is about an ordinary, rather nondescript minifigure named Emmet Brickowoski (Chris Pratt) who lives his day-to-day life happily following the instructions. It’s a world ruled over by the ruthless tyrant Lord Business (Will Ferrell), a megalomaniac who hates anything or anyone that deviates from the rules. Business plans total control of the universe, but a mishap sees simple construction worker Emmet mistaken for the prophesised “Special” and is enlisted by freedom-fighter Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and sage Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) in the fight to save the Lego worlds.

The Lego Movie is that rare beast: a virtually perfect film. It speaks to the child in all of us, yet is full of sly satire and sharp digs at corporate branding that adults will embrace. It’s very smart, incredibly funny and a true delight for all ages.


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Transformers: Age of Extinction

Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way first, shall we? Yes, it’s overloaded with the usual full-metal Bayhem. Yes, it’s got bloody big robots knocking the circuit boards out of each other for what seems like four hours. Yes, much of the dialogue and plot are nonsense. Yes, the pretty, skinny blonde Hollywood teenaged Tara Reid/Amy Smart clone is simply there to look good in very, VERY tiny shorts and need to be saved a lot. And yes, it’s about an hour longer than it really needs to be. But when all is said and done, Transformers: Age of Extinction is really quite fun. Especially for kids. And particularly in 3D.

This new Transformers movie does, of course, contain robots. Lots and lots of robots. Robots that try to kill humans, and other robots that save humans from certain death. Robots that fly, robots that punch each other (and the odd building here and there), robots that fight with swords, robots that toss ships around Hong Kong island – and, of course, robots that ride atop fire-breathing dinosaur robots. It’s all utter nonsense of course, nothing more than a live-action cartoon. But it’s a thousand times better than Transformers 2 and 3, and there is enough here to entertain even those who dismissed it out of hand as soon as the first trailer landed. The fans of the franchise know what to expect, and Michael Bay knows how to give it to them.


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Maleficent

Actors always say that villains are far more interesting to play than heroes. But on what criterea does one define either? Maleficent blurs the lines in a hugely entertaining and engaging live-action reworking of the classic fairytale Sleeping Beauty, and in the process gives us one of the best performances we’ve seen from Angelina Jolie in quite some time.

As with Frozen, there’s a strong feminist tone to Maleficent. And like Frozen’s Snow Queen – until now portrayed in stories as a cold-hearted villain, yet actually a misunderstood victim of circumstance – we learn that the “wicked witch” who cursed the Sleeping Beauty was herself actually a victim. The film looks superb, which is understandable given that first-time director Robert Stromberg was the production designer on Avatar and Oz The Great and Powerful. It may be a little too dark at times for very young children, but Maleficent is a real treat, with a spellbinding performance from Jolie at its core.


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 Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez reteam for a sequel to 2005’s Sin City. Weaving together Miller’s classic stories with new tales, Sin City’s hard-boiled citizens once again cross paths with more reviled inhabitants. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For features a stellar ensemble cast including Eva Green, Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta, Jamie Chung, Jeremy Piven and Juno Temple. In Just Another Saturday Night, Marv (Rourke) struggles to recall a nasty run-in with some frat boys. In A Dame to Kill For, Dwight McCarthy (Brolin) forsakes his battle with his inner demons to help Ava Lord (Green), the woman of his dreams and nightmares. And in Nancy’s Last Dance, Nancy Callahan (Alba), mad with grief and rage over Hartigan’s death in the first film, vows revenge. It’s a worthy follow-up that offers up a rogue’s gallery of exciting new characters – and Eva Green makes anything she stars in a must see.


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Goodbye To Language

This is a challenging, dense, multi-layered sensory assault that demands to be seen in 3D. Eschewing the CGI that characterises most 3D, Goodbye To Language is lo-fi, tactile, artisan film-making at its best. Jean-Luc Godard uses multiple formats – from crappy, pixelated home video to crisp Hi-Def – to layer images and soundtracks beyond the conventional 3D effect. The only film to get a round of applause mid-screening at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, Goodbye to Language has a simple, if unusual, plot: a stray dog wanders from town to country, and over the course of some seasons observes a married woman and a single man as they meet, love, argue and fight. Or perhaps it’s the audience viewing one couple, or two couples, or an alternate version of the same couple. As film-making goes, this is vibrant and exciting stuff.


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Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow is a time-looping alien invasion tale. Tom Cruise stars as Army PR man Major William Cage who, against his will, is sent to the front line. A few minutes into the battle, he’s killed… and then snaps awake back at Heathrow, in handcuffs and soon to depart to the front line for the battle. Where he gets killed again and snaps back awake at Heathrow… You get the picture. And as the day repeats and repeats and repeats, like Bill Murray learned to play the piano in Groundhog Day, so Cage learns to become a superior soldier, edging towards, it appears, the way to reclaim Earth for humankind. It’s a slick, mostly clever, highly entertaining bit of sci-fi.


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How to Train Your Dragon 2

How To Train Your Dragon was a surprise smash hit back in 2010, loved by critics and audiences alike, and now this superb sequel raises the stakes – and succeeds. If you liked the first one, you will love How To Train Your Dragon 2 even more. Returning writer-director Dean DeBlois takes everything that the first film got right and builds on it. Unlike many sequels, it’s not merely a rehash of the first film. The characters have changed, and grown – and the character development continues in this film, too.

This is a classic example of how to do a sequel right. It takes the world established in the first film and builds on it, bringing in new characters but not forgetting to give the main characters from last time a compelling story. The animation is beautiful and stunning – everything is so gorgeously textured. How To Train Your Dragon 2 is phenomenal, sure to be adored by children and adults alike, and finally proves that DreamWorks can make a film that’s as good as anything we would get from Pixar.


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X-Men: Days of Future Past

If you’ve never seen an X-Men film before, then Days of Future Past is not the one to start with. Definitely not. You need to have seen the previous six films – yes, even the two solo Wolverine ones – to really understand what is going on here. For in his return to the series (he made the first two X-Men back in 2000 and 2003), director Singer has crafted a love letter to the fans. And what a love letter it is. Singer has a lot of fun with his return to the X-Men universe, uniting the casts – from both the classic trilogy and First Class in a time-travel tale set mainly in the 1970s.

Hugh Jackman probably gets the most screentime, and he’s clearly very comfortable in Wolverine’s skin – which is no surprise, as this is the sixth film in which he’s played the gruff but lovable mutant with claws.  There’s loads of action, a lot of laughs and an intriguing and compelling story mixed in with some decent drama.


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Guardians of the Galaxy

For the uninitiated, Guardians of the Galaxy follows the adventures of an unlikely band of “heroes”: Star-Lord (aka Peter Quill), a human who was abducted as a child and has become a sort of space outlaw; Gamora, the adopted daughter of Thanos; Drax the Destroyer, a mountain of a man hell-bent on revenge for the deaths of his wife and children; Rocket Raccoon, a genetically engineered, wise-cracking, gun-toting raccoon; and Groot, a tree-like creature with a vocabulary limited to “I am Groot”. They are about as unconventional a team as you could hope to find, as they take on the might of Ronan the Accuser, a fanatic with his sights set on destroying the planet Xandar.

Being a Marvel film, it goes without saying that GOTG looks amazing. The galactic scope of the film really allows for a contrast of landscapes and a backdrops, which plays to the Mouse House subsidiary’s strengths in production. When combined with the awesome soundtrack (which plays an important role in the film, as much as any individual character), this really sets the stage for the epic sheer size of the world that writer/director James Gunn has created. It is, without a doubt, one of the best films Marvel has made in recent years.


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Stuart O’Connor