When it comes to the "gift that keeps on giving," there's nothing like a great DVD set that people will want to watch over and over. Here's the motherlode of Blu-rays and DVDs with fantastic adventures, amazing extras and more.
Firefly — The Complete Series (Blu-ray)
Just a plug, right off the bat, for this pretty great deal — Amazon is selling this Firefly box set on Blu-ray for just $25 today. (It says "offer ends December 4, so I'm not sure if the offer continues all day tomorrow, or just ends sometime tomorrow.) If you have any friends whom you've been meaning to drag into the ranks of Browncoats, now's a darn good time to get it for them. (Just make sure they have a Blu-ray player.)
Batman Beyond: The Complete Series
Note to any of my loved ones reading this — this is probably the box set I'm most lusting after personally. Batman Beyond wasn't just another Batman show, or just "Batman in a science fiction milieu," or whatever. It was one of the coolest things ever to happen to Batman, and a really amazing extension of the Bat-mythos. (Unlike many of the other attempts to do similar things over the years with Bats.) In Batman Beyond, teenager Terry McGuinness stumbles into the Batcave and meets an old, bitter Bruce Wayne who's retired from being Batman. Terry gets hold of a cybernetic Batsuit and uses it to fight crime, with Bruce finally stepping up to become his mentor. I never thought another "future Batman" series would come close to replacing The Dark Knight Returns in my heart, but this show did, largely thanks to how well Bruce mentoring a new Batman actually works. Unfortunately, this box set does not include the TV movie, Batman Beyond: The Return of the Joker, nor is there the Justice League Unlimited episode that serves as a de facto series finale. (In which, if memory serves, you find out that Terry and Bruce are more closely connected than we first realized.) But it's still great to have the whole thing in one place, and there are a few featurettes, plus creator commentaries and season retrospectives.
Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series
Come to think of it, somebody is napping at the switch — or how else do you explain the absence of a single box set collecting the entire David Tennant era of Doctor Who in one place? They could throw in the never-released-on-DVD "Tardisodes" from series two, and then all the completist dweebs like me would have to buy it. (Update: Someone points out the first four series, but not the specials, are collected in a boxset that's only available in England.)
In any case, in the absence of a Tennant mega-set, you should be buying all your friends this collection of the most recent season, featuring new star Matt Smith and new showrunner Steven Moffat. The show got a whole new lease on life, even down to a new color palette and a new "fairy tale" feel. It's a great gift for your friends who haven't gotten into the show yet, and there are some nifty extras including a couple of deleted scenes and a disc of "making of" featurettes for each episode. A full review of the boxset is here.
Doctor Who: Revisitations Box Set
This is the other Doctor Who box set you could consider getting — and this is the ideal gift for the Who fan who already has everything. So far, this box set is released only in England — so you have to order it from overseas, and make sure your giftee has a region-free DVD player. Chances are, any serious fan stateside already has two of the three stories in this set, but only in a relatively feature-poor, less nice-looking form. And they're considered two of the show's best episodes — "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" and "The Caves of Androzani" (although the portrayal of Chinese people in "Talons" will horrify anybody with even a smidge of awareness of the history of Asian stereotypes.) This time around, they're presented in lovely picture quality, with some drool-worthy extras, including hints about what Philip Hinchcliffe, the original series' best producer, would have done if he'd stayed for another season. And the third story, the 1996 TV movie, isn't out yet on DVD in the U.S. (although it will be next year) and it's amusing to revisit the first, unworthy stab at bringing the show back.
Ultimate Machine Girl: Collectors Tin
Few films exemplify the Japanese "ero-guro" (erotic/grotesque) aesthetic as much as Machine Girl, the story of a girl who becomes a gruesomely sexy cyborg to take down a yakuza gang whose associates killed her brother and a friend. (Along with films like Vampire Girl Vs. Frankenstein Girl and Robo-Geisha, which have also gotten nice DVD releases lately.) This 3-disc box set might be the perfect gift for your friend who's into weird Japanese movies but can't quite justify buying the deluxe edition for him- or herself. You get the uncut movie on one disc, the "uncut Ultimate Machine Girl 1.5" on the second disc, and a ton of previously unavailable extras on the third disc. That's a lot of cyborg bloodshed.
Lost: The Complete Collection.
Many of us will probably never watch Lost again, after that final episode. But you might not be in the same boat. And maybe one of your friends has never seen the series at all, or has been hit on the head and has forgotten everything that happened. Or is from a "flash-sideways" world where it never aired. In any case, this is the way to own Lost on Blu-Ray or DVD. It's 36 discs, with all six seasons, plus a raft of bonus features. There are new featurettes about the making of the show, including a look inside the "prop house." There are deleted scenes. There's a retrospective. Celebrity fans get in the faces of the producers and ask questions about the final season. There's also a "recovered Black Rock journal entry" (maybe explaining how that journal got off the island?), an ankh containing a message from Jacob (probably along the lines of "Got your money!") and a collectible Senet game, as played in the final season. Relive the madness and the mystery, with a goodly helping of shwag. Plus it's been out long enough that it's cheap now — it's $100 off at Amazon, for example.
Drive-In Movie Classics - 32 Movie Set
We're suckers for these cheapo box sets of equally cheap movies — and this one is a pretty great bargain. It's showing up on various sites for around $12 for 32 movies. Not all of them are science fiction, but you could get just three or four scifi gems for $12 and still consider it a good deal. Includes Blood Mania, Bloodlust, The Creeping Terror, The Devil's Hand, Land of the Minotaur, The Pink Angels, They Saved Hitler's Brain and Lurkers. How can you say no?
Pure Terror — 50 Movie Pack
Ooh, and speaking of cheapo box sets of trashy movies... This one's also about $12 (on Amazon at least), and it's got 50 gems on it! Including The Amazing Transparent Man, Doctor Jekyll and the Werewolf, The House That Screamed, Manos: The Hands of Fate, Night of the Blood Beast, Satan's Slave, They Saved Hitler's Brain (again!), Vampire's Night Orgy, Guru the Mad Monk, and so many more. You should really get these as stocking stuffers for everybody you know.
Big Screen Bombshells: 12 Movie Collection
Just one more of these cheapo collections — this one is only $6.50 on Amazon, and it's worth getting for just one film: Galaxina, the cheapo softcore porn Star Wars ripoff starring Playboy playmate Dorothy Stratten. You can pretty much regard the rest of the box set as just DVD extras, since Galaxina is worth at least $7 or $8 on its own. (Watch a clip from Galaxina here.) But there's also Superchick, a weird-sounding R-rated superhero movie about a flight attendant who takes off her mousy brown wig and turns into a blonde bombshell who fights crime, whenever she's not on duty. (So she wears a "mousy brown wig" the entire time she's working? Including on long-haul flights? No wonder flight attendants get cranky.)
Roger Corman Drive-In Collection
And one more cheapo movie box set, just because it's Roger Corman. Ten films, including Attack of the Giant Leeches, The Little Shop of Horrors, Creature from the Haunted Sea, Last Woman On Earth, The Terror and She Gods of Shark Reef. Plus Dementia 13, written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola! Featuring actors like Jack Nicholson, these films are little slices of B-movie greatness. We also have to put in a plug for the superlative Roger Corman's Cult Classics editions that Shout Factory has been putting out — with beautifully restored pictures for some of Corman's most beloved films, plus tons of extras. These don't really count as box sets, but you should definitely consider getting some of the Shout Factory versions of Corman's films as stocking stuffers.
Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? The Complete Series
I am a total sucker for DVD boxsets with cool packaging, and if they're the complete run of something, that's even better. Here you have the complete run of the classic Scooby-Doo series from 1969, packaged in a Mystery Machine-shaped box. And it's not even that expensive — on Amazon, it's around $60. There are 41 episodes on seven discs, plus an eighth disc full of extras including "Funky Fashions" (guessing that's a featurette), "Scooby-Doo Street," (featurette?), and a Scooby-Doo music video. There are also some extras that have never been released elsewhere, including a featurette about the crew's continuing popularity, the genesis of Scooby-Doo, and the original voice cast talking about how they created the characters' voices.
Or you could just get this instead — packaging isn't as neat, and it's sort of a hodgepodge. But on the plus side, one of the three discs is the immortal Scooby-Doo meets Batman, which really must be seen to be believed — it's a mash-up of the classic Scooby-Doo cartoons with the Hanna Barbera Batman cartoons, and they do just about manage to coexist in the same universe somehow. (Watch a snippet of it here, including a bit where Batman talks about the Gotham Rubber Factory and then suddenly Batman isn't wearing any pants.) Anyway, there are three discs: "Greatest Mysteries" (which consists of a few episodes from Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?), Meets The Caped Crusader (two cross-overs with Batman), and Meets The Harlem Globetrotters (two crossovers with... you can probably guess who.) So there's no model bus... but there are some really weird crossovers. Could be a good trade off.
The Puppet Master Collection
Okay seriously... did you know they made nine Puppet Master films? I doubt even the makers of these movies knew there were that many, it was probably one of those binges that got out of hand. Speaking of binges, your loved ones could have one hell of a hash-fueled weekend of not leaving the house with these films. They feature puppets animated via magic, miraculous brain fluid that resurrects the long-dead, Nazis, Ninja puppets (!), and a character named Decapitron, who's just what he sounds like. Oh, and one of the puppets is named Leech Woman, because she vomits up leeches that kill you. There's nine films worth of this stuff. Buy it for your pals, and then get them to invite you over so you can join in the "appreciation."
Trigun: The Complete Series
If you caught this classic anime series on Adult Swim back in the day, you'll need no convincing to want to pick up this collection of all 26 episodes on four discs for that special someone in your life. If you've never seen it, this fairly inexpensive box set is a great way to get into it. Vash the Stampede is a gunslinger who's got a $$60 billion (not a typo, it really is 60 billion double dollars!) pricetag on his head. Two insurance agents, Meryl and Milly, are sent to hunt him down, and stop him from doing any more damage. But to their surprise, Vash turns out to be a donut-loving pacifist. It's got a very Western-meet-science-fiction vibe, which I'm guessing won't be a problem for anybody reading this site.
Thundarr The Barbarian: The Complete Series
There are a lot of classic animated series out there, but only this one is the brainchild of Howard the Duck creator Steve Gerber, with character designs by Alex Toth and Jack Kirby. Thundarr The Barbarian takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, where civilization had been cast down and it's up to a man named Thundarr to restore order with his sunsword. He's joined by a sorceress, Princess Ariel, and his friend Ookla the Mok. It's got mutants, wizards and robots, all fighting against the backdrop of ruined cities. Right now, it's only available as a set of made-to-order DVDs from the Warner Archive. We ran an exclusive clip from it here. At $30 for four discs, it's a smidge pricey... but it's Thundarr.
Guyver: Bioboosted Armor: The Complete Box Set
Skip the lackluster 1990s live-action films, and go straight to the later anime version, with this collection of 26 episodes on four discs. Here's the blurb:
While investigating a mysterious explosion near his school, Sho Fukamachi happens upon the Chronos Corporation's greatest weapon: a techno organic suit of bio armor known as "the Guyver". But Chronos is determined to conceal its secrets at any cost. Sho soon finds himself relentlessly pursued by its army of horrific bio-monsters. With nowhere to run, Sho is forced to call upon the fearsome power of the Guyver and rip his opponents limb from limb in a desperate struggle for survival.
According to this review over at Blu-Ray.com, it sticks closer to the original manga's storyline than the live-action films, and remains surprisingly entertaining across all 26 episodes, despite the fairly simple storyline.
Fist of the North Star: The TV Series Volume 1
Judging from the reviews I've read online, this collection of the post-apocalyptic brawl series from the 1980s is the nicest package of a classic anime TV series on DVD lately. The picture quality and audio are both supposed to be great, and there's an English soundtrack as well as the original Japanese with decent English subtitles. Basically, it's an ultra-violent series about a guy named Kenshiro who roams around the post-nuclear landscape fighting gangs and trying to defeat his arch-rival Shin. Another great anime series that's just come out on DVD: The Dirty Pair, about a couple of operatives who go around the universe trying to solve crises, but usually causing massive disasters in spite of their best intentions.
Angel: The Complete Series
It's entirely possible you already have this series on DVD, and so does everybody you know — but on the off chance that you have a friend who only has Buffy on DVD, here's your chance to get them into the spin-off show. Unlike Buffy, which was pretty decent in its first season and great in its second through fifth seasons, Angel took a long time to get off the ground. The first two seasons are pretty hit and miss, and then it starts to become unbelievably great sometime in the third season. The fourth season is more excellent still, and the fifth is pretty much a shining exemplar of excellence, despite some dodgy bits. Anyway, this isn't the first time Angel's been available in a single box set — but this time around, it's really cheap to own the whole thing in one go. There's also a new version of the complete Buffy box set, but it's not quite as cheap, on a per-disc basis, as this is.
Space: 1999 Season 1 (Blu-ray)
Finally, one of the most loved space opera series of the 1970s is out on Blu-ray, with crystal clear picture and sound. Maybe now the story of Moonbase Alpha struggling to survive on the Moon as it's ripped out of orbit and flung through space will get some respect. It's easy to poke fun at the show's camp value, but a lot of the first-season stories are actually quite thrilling and creepy, with some totally weird aliens and spooky planets. Extras include a ton of featurettes about the making of the show including the special effects, some of the actors and crew reminiscing, creator Gerry Anderson's commentary on a couple epsiodes, a demo version of the opening theme, a 1975 special on Gerry Anderson's work, and tons more. If you know anybody who's a Space: 1999 maniac or ever owned a toy Eagle or weird hand-grip gun, then this will be an instant trip down memory road.
Space Precinct: The Complete Series
Speaking of Gerry Anderson, here's one of his lesser-known shows — much lesser known, since we'd barely heard of it until recently — coming out on DVD for the first time. You may have noticed Syfy doing marathons of this show lately, and it's really quite fun. It's a hardboiled cop show set on another planet on the other side of the galaxy, with alien criminals, flying cars and weird mysteries. It's very much the Gerry Anderson aesthetic, updated for the 1990s, but it features a lot of great people, including stalwart James Bond director John Glen. An intriguing surprise for your friends who only know Anderson from Space: 1999 and Thunderbirds.
Fringe: The Complete Second Season
We're not including too many single-season TV box sets here, because otherwise this list would be mostly one-season sets. Plus there are enough collections of entire TV shows out there at this point. But we have to put in a plug for Fringe season two — get it for all your friends who watched bits of the first season and then gave up on this show. Here, in season two, is where it starts to get really great. The mythos starts to get a lot deeper as we discover exactly what the mad scientist Walter Bishop did to become such a broken man — and just what else he may have broken along the way. Plus, if your friends zip through this box set quickly enough, they can catch up on season three online, in time to start watching when the show returns (on Friday nights, bah) next year. Now is a really, really good time to be spreading the word about this series, and the second season is the best way to get people hooked. (Sadly, Hulu only has six episodes of season three, not the whole thing.) Extras include a gag reel, "analyzing the scene" sidebars on six key episodes, a featurette on "the mythology of Fringe," unaired scenes, and "The Unearthed Episode." You can help save a great show, and help give your pals hours of entertainment, by giving this box set to everyone you know.
Wonders of the Solar System
A cute British physicist tells you about all the strange things in our solar system, including how the sun works, the solar wind, the formation of the solar system itself, different planets' atmospheres, and the search for life on other planets in the solar system. This BBC series is a really fun way to get steeped in the science of our immediate planetary neighbors and learn more about our world into the bargain. Plus Professor Brian Cox really does have a lot of infectious enthusiasm for the subject.
Battlestar Galactica: The Complete Series
This is another complete series that's quite cheap on DVD, and especially so on Blu-ray, where it's going for 50 percent off on Amazon. For around $140 or so, you can get all four seasons plus the miniseries, including features that aren't available on the individual season box sets — like "never-before-seen deleted scenes," and new making-of featurettes. According to some reviews, you also get extended versions of a few episodes. And according to commenter OrbitalGun, unlike the earlier "complete BSG" box set, which had the Cylon figure on top, this version does include the last TV movie, "The Plan." Which may or may not be a good thing.
The Six Million Dollar Man Complete Collection
Speaking of long-awaited series finally making their way onto DVD... this is one that a lot of people have been waiting for, and I believe this is the first time it's all available in one place. It's only available via Time Life, and the price tag is a bit steep at around $240. You'll just have to ask yourself how much you love your loved ones. The box set includes a "bionic sound chip" (??) and a 3-D hologram of Steve Austin running in slow motion. In addition to every episode — yes, including the ones where he fights Bigfoot — there are all three of the pilot TV movies, plus every reunion movie and every crossover episode with the Bionic Woman. There are audio commentaries, 17 exclusive featurettes, and exclusive interviews with Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner. Admit it — you can already hear the creaking-bedsprings sound of Steve Austin running, in your head. (Here's an interview with Lee Majors about the boxed set coming out.)
Avatar: The Collector's Edition
It's entirely possible that many of your loved ones jumped the gun and bought the "vanilla" release of James Cameron's mo-cap masterpiece, last summer. And then they felt sheepish about going and buying this three-disc deluxe version, which has all the extra features you'd been hoping for the first time. In that case, do your friends a favor and get this for them as a present, thus alleviating the guilt of double-purchasing. Even if you saw the movie three times in theaters, this set will give you a renewed appreciation for it, with an alternate opening set on Earth, over 45 minutes of new deleted scenes and an "interactive scene deconstruction" that lets you view scenes through different stages of production in three different viewing modes. There are also 17 featurettes delving into exactly how James Cameron made all the madness happen, and an "Art of Avatar" feature that includes 633 images. (Most of this stuff is on the DVD, but the Blu-ray does have some extra goodies.)
Back to the Future: the 25th Anniversary Trilogy
Even if you've already seen the BTTF films recently — and they're repeated on cable TV a lot these days — you'll still want to get this, for yourself or your loved ones. The films have never looked better than they do in these nice restored versions, and the film-makers finally cracked open the vault for the extras, including a glimpse of the notorious earlier version starring Eric Stoltz. There's a six-part documentary featuring the cast and crew, tons of deleted scenes, seven "archival featurettes," a storyboard sequence of the nuclear test site ending, "original makeup tests," some outtakes, some features about designing the films' various aspects, and audio commentaries. Go back to the trilogy that made time travel cool again, and discover how much love and attention went into these films.
Thriller: The Complete Series
Hosted by Boris Karloff, who also appears in five episodes, this horror anthology series also featured appearances by William Shatner, Richard Chamberlain, Rip Torn, Leslie Nielsen, Robert Vaughn, Mary Tyler Moore, Chloris Leachman, and Marlo Thomas. Plus scripts by the likes of Richard Matheson. Some of the storylines sound very Twilight Zone-esque, including one about a pair of glasses that reveal terrifying truths to whoever wears them. Other storylines include a cursed painting and a demonic tailor's suit. Extras include tons of commentary tracks, episode promos, isolated musical scores by Jerry Goldsmith and others, and more. Stephen King reportedly called this the best horror series ever to appear on television. Fans have been waiting years for this show to appear on DVD.
Max Headroom: The Complete Series
And when you're talking about long-awaited shows finally coming to DVD, you can't get much more long-awaited than Max Headroom, the cult classic that's been kept off DVD for decades. Rewatching the show now, it's amazing how prescient and clever it often is, with its social satire and jabs at cable TV news still feeling as fresh as they did back in the 80s. The extras include one retrospective featurette, plus a roundtable discussion with members of the cast, and a feature about the science behind the show. We reviewed the box set here.
The Alien Anthology
The Alien films have already been released before, in a variety of configurations, but this may be the best assemblage of Alien-ness you'll ever see — and it's going for just $70 on Amazon right now, or half price. You get all four films, each in the original version and in a later remastered/director's-cut version. You can also watch each film in MU-TH-UR mode, with the Weyland-Yutani Datastream providing some kind of interactive experience. There are also deleted scenes, commentary tracks, isolated scores, and all that jazz. Plus two discs of extras, including one disc that's just nothing but "making of" featurettes about all four films. (There's one featurette just called "Beauty and the Bitch: Power Loader vs. Queen Alien".) The second disc of extras appears to be just a grab bag of stuff, including Dan O'Bannon's original first draft script for Alien, storyboards, continuity polaroids, and so on. Basically, the extras alone are enough to keep your favorite geek awake all night for a few nights in a row.
Life On Mars: The Complete Collection
I believe this show was previously only available in individual season box sets, but now you can watch both seasons in one go. In the wake of the stillborn U.S. adaptation, the frustrating-but-sometimes-great British sequel Ashes To Ashes, and approximately 1 squillion other high-concept shows that nosedived on both sides of the Atlantic, it's great to revisit this show and see just what it had that the others lacked — chemistry. Personality. Warmth. And a willingness to twist the knife a whole lot. The story of a cop who gets hit by a car and finds himself in the early 1970s works as a cop show as well as a commentary on how society has changed — but it never stops playing with the concept of mental time displacement in fascinating ways. Give this to your friends and family who only think they know what good television is.