Top Demo DVDs of all Time 
Home Theater Feature Articles Best Of & Top 100 Lists
Written by Jerry Del Colliano   
Thursday, 13 December 2007


title:
Top Demo DVDs of all Time
category: Featured Articles
reviewed by: Jerry Del Colliano
additional contribution by Abbie Bernstein

Top Demo DVDs of all Time
There is a fine line between clever and stupid. There is also a fine line between a great AV demo and a great movie. AudioRevolution.com has collected 25 of our favorite movies that bring out the best in picture, sound and/or emotional impact.

We’d like to hear from you about your favorite demo DVDs. We’ll factor them into version two of this article. Oh, and as an added value, AudioRevolution.com and Richard Gray’s Power Company are giving away most of these DVDs (or the top CDs – see article) as part of our monthly contest.

Top DVD Demos of All Time (in no particular order)

The Matrix
This past Sunday, ‘The Matrix’ won four Academy Awards (film editing, visual effects, sound and sound effects editing). AudioRevolution.com couldn’t agree more with the Academy’s verdict. While the color of the DVD transfer looks a little green to me, the effects are so over-the-top stupendous that you can’t help but be absolutely blown away even on the smallest of home AV playback systems. The suspended-gravity fight scenes are of note, as is the scene where Keanu propels himself out of a window – flying through the air – while the window explodes with a rain of shattered glass. The DVD also comes with a treasure chest of supplemental materials, including nine mini-documentaries that accompany the effects sequences when you watch the "white rabbit" option. Directors/writers Andy & Larry Wachowski have finally figured out how to make cyberspace exciting visually as well as conceptually – something that had so far largely eluded filmmakers – and they deserve massive kudos for opening the portal to a new storytelling frontier.

Saving Private Ryan DTS
Director/producer Steven Spielberg first used (and invested in) DTS 5.1 digital surround sound for his mega-hit ‘Jurassic Park,’ with great audio and box office success. ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ released as a DTS-encoded DVD, is one of our favorite demos. Spielberg and Co., en route to five Academy Awards including one for Best Director, use spectacular sound effects coupled with some of the most resolute video ever captured on DVD to grab your attention, suck you into the film and provide a fierce dose of you-are-there verisimilitude. The best example of this comes in the first few chapters of the film, when our boys are storming the shores of Normandy. You become immersed in the film as the sound effects realistically reproduce sound of a battle from the perspective of a soldier whose head is sometimes above and at other times below the icy waters. You hear bullets flying above the water as well as plunging into the ocean’s surface. The effect is nothing short of amazing.

Army of Darkness
This B-film, the third in director Sam Raimi’s ‘Evil Dead’ trilogy, features some of the best video transfers of all time to DVD. After our hero Ash (Bruce Campbell at his most fearlessly boneheaded) is sucked into a medieval castle, he squares off with his armored foe with his "Boom Stick" (his term for a shotgun). The whole movie is a bit like Ray Harryhausen fantasy, reimagined for hardcore horror fans, with animated warrior skeletons and vicious corpses popping up at every turn. However, the transfer to video is absolutely stunning. On a good system you can see just how the makeup sits on the face of the actors, with acute detail on each cut and wound. Resolute barely describes this DVD, which is as jokey as it is bloody.


Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
‘Austin Powers’ films (this one and its sequel, ‘The Spy Who Shagged Me’) are spoofs of the James Bond films of the 1960s featuring the comedic genius of Mike Myers (‘Wayne’s World,’ SNL) as both dim hero Austin Power and the villain, Dr. Evil. He also co-wrote the deliriously silly script, which has been directed with campy zest by Jay Roach. The opening dance sequence in ‘Austin Powers’ is perhaps the best combination of video and audio together in a single DVD chapter. The bombastic swinging ‘60s tune, coupled with the lunatic choreography, makes for nothing short of a great time with lots of laughs. ‘Austin Powers’ was released on DTS laserdisc, for those who have players and can locate a copy. I prefer the dynamics of the DTS laserdisc over those of the DVD. However, I accept the death of LD as a format. The DVD is readily available.


Terminator II
James Cameron’s future spectacular competes with ‘Austin Powers’ for the title of best demo scene featuring both music and effects. The truck chase scene is the go-to demo for most viewers on ‘T2.’ However, I prefer the "Bad To the Bone" bar scene. The George Thorogood anthem defines exactly how bad-ass a Terminator is, even buck booty naked. After inflicting a few bone-shattering compound fractures and stealing a biker’s leather ensemble, the Terminator leaves the bar. As he is about to steal a pretty swank cycle, the owner of the bar fires off two warning shots from a sawed-off shotgun. The effect to listen for is not just dynamics of the shotgun blasts, but how crisply you can hear the shotgun shells hit the floor. The chase scene is great, as is the crushing of the skull in the intro future war opening. ‘T2’ is loaded with great demo material and is a great movie as well.


Dangerous Beauty
Directed by Marshall Herskovitz and based loosely on the true story of a real Inquisition-era courtesan, ‘Dangerous Beauty’ is set in Venice, Italy. It tells the story of a young girl who learns the ways of the oldest profession and proceeds to turn her work to her political and personal advantage. The draw of ‘Dangerous Beauty’ as a reference DVD demo disc lies in the beautiful cinematography. The skin tones are so smooth and warm, that this film will come in handy to set up your TV or projector for the proper shades of human flesh (albeit European ancestry only). The costumes in the film are ornate and colorful, adding to the sensual sumptuousness of the experience.


Titanic
Criticized for making the most expensive film of all time, James Cameron showed the world he knew what he was doing when his larger- than-life motion picture reached the screen. Depicting one of the most famous instances of hubris leading to tragedy - the sinking of the ocean liner Titanic in 1912 - the DVD as a demo is a killer for both the beauty of the production design and costuming, as well as the special effects. The eerie audio that accompanies Titanic’s hull breaking apart will resound in your subwoofers and scare the heck out of you.


Super Speedway
‘Super Speedway’ is the ‘Endless Summer’ of auto racing. The film, originally shot for the IMAX format, ranges from laid-back informative sections on race history and auto restorations to all- out in-car race action. The film is narrated by Paul Newman and features appearances by Mario and Michael Andretti, as well as Alex Zanardi and others. The killer demo on ‘Super Speedway’ is the in-car footage of Michael Andretti racing in the rain. The sequence is so loud that 800 horsepower sounds as if it’s raging right behind you. If you aren’t scared to the edge of your seat during this scene, you should have your pulse checked - you might be dead.



Tomorrow Never Dies
James Bond, international spy and collector of the finest toys in the world, takes an ultimate demo DVD title with ‘Tomorrow Never Dies.’ Directed by Roger Spottiswoode, the movie features Jonathan Pryce as a media mogul named Elliot Carver, who is out to make his own news, including war. While the film is far from the best of the series, it contains one of the longest and most explosive chase scenes available on DVD. Pierce Brosnan as Bond has a Chinese martial arts expert, played by the remarkable Michelle Yeoh, in tow for a romp that highlights setting of an entire truck full of firecrackers, as well as sucking a helicopter into a water well. Like an aerial train wreck, the helicopter crash is a test of the audio system if there ever was one. If you have the headroom in your amp and speakers that can keep up with this scene, you know you have a bad-ass theater.


The Best of Sessions on West 54th Vol. 1
From the PBS special, this Dolby Digital-encoded DVD features live performances from artists ranging from Wynton Marsalis to Rickie Lee Jones to Yo-Yo Ma to Sinead O’Connor. Both AudioRevolution.com reviewer Bryan Southard and my friend Tim Duffy hold Keb’ Mo’s performance as a must-play in their demo short list. The sound is resolute and encompassing in 5.1 Dolby Digital and the picture is crispy and clear.



The Mask
Jim Carrey plays the role of Stanley Ipkiss, a loser bank employee, who finds a magical mask that gives him superpowers which completely change his life. Carrey imposes his over-the-top style to the best demo scene of the film, which features Ipkiss turning into the cartoonlike, green-faced Mask and bouncing all over his apartment building. The costuming is colorful and the high-end visual effects are amazing, as is the indefatigible pacing from director Chuck Russell. The surround sound effects are all over the 360-degree soundstage, which proves to be one serious audio trip. Unlike ‘T2’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Dies,’ ‘The Mask’ has the added value of being suitable for most children.


Apollo 13
Director Ron Howard’s fact-based of the engrossing story of how America nearly lost the space race is also a great demo. From a narrative standpoint, the filmmakers succeed in getting knuckle-whitening suspense out of a situation where we know the outcome from the beginning. From a bass standpoint, ‘Apollo 13’s’ rocket launch scenes are perhaps the deepest found on DVD on any film. From a visual standpoint, when the spacecraft is taking off, there is a shot of the navigation controls; on a very resolute video monitor, you can see the ice crystals forming inside of the instruments. The 1970-era wardrobe and overall atmosphere are very realistic and add to the value of ‘Apollo 13’ as a demo.


Strange Days
Bernstein here – for my money, ‘Strange Days’ is one of the most visually, aurally and emotionally movies of the ‘90s. Director Kathryn Bigelow has an opening sequence that looks, sounds and feels as if we’re being dragged along by the collarbone into a robbery that goes wrong. Underneath the trappings of violence, conspiracy and out-of-control cops (given that ‘Strange Days’ was made in 1995, credit the filmmakers with prescience about the LAPD’s current problems), it’s actually a love story. However, a plot device concerning a contraption that allows people to experience playback "tape" clips with all five senses has some of the most intricate audio you’ll ever hear, with sound traveling directionally through the speaker system, mimicking the hearing of the film’s characters.


Out of Print

Caddyshack
‘Caddyshack’ is the greatest sports films of all time and one of my personal favorite films ever. Featuring Chevy Chase (back when he used to be really funny), ‘Caddyshack’ is loaded with one-liners and ridiculous situations. Caddyshack is recorded in two-channel Dolby Digital, which is less than amazing as far as audio wizardry. The picture quality looks dull and worn in comparison to more recent releases, all of which doesn’t matter for one minute. When Al Cervik, played by Rodney Dangerfield, asks the question "So what? So let’s dance!" and he cranks up some Journey straight from his on-board golf bag car stereo, the chapter erupts with an impromptu fairway boogie scene that is worth the price of admission. There is SO much more to ‘Caddyshack.’ I can watch it over and over again, hundreds of times. Be forewarned: DVD copies of ‘Caddyshack’ are becoming hard to find - which could mean there’s a new 5.1 remastered version in the works.

This is Spinal Tap – Criterion Edition
This DVD is currently out of print. However, you can pick one up for $100 to $150 on eBay.com which is a worthy investment in the finest musical film ever. ‘This is Spinal Tap’ is a film parody directed by Rob Riener about a languishing heavy metal band. The video quality of unspectacular onstage concert footage for songs like "Sex Farm" make this an absolute must-have. During "Stonehenge," the band performs a rock epic based on the grandeur and mystery of the legendary stone circle and its mystical implications. The effect is hilariously undercut when our boys must contend with an 18-inch-tall replica, rather than the 18-foot tall setpiece they thought they’d ordered. David St. Hubbins, played by co-writer Michael McKean, laments, "We had a Stonehenge monument endanger of being trampled by Druids." ‘This is Spinal Tap’ is nonstop musical action, which mixes some of the best satirical songwriting ever with a screamingly funny, knowing send-up of the biz.


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