11/20/2013 01:37 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

DVDs: The Biggest DVD and BluRay Boxed Set Roundup... Ever!

We're coming up on Black Friday and the holidays and that means boxed sets of your favorite TV shows, movie stars and more. Since the studios believe DVDs and BluRays are on their way out, those companies are desperate to cash in while people are still willing to fork over big bucks for lavish sets. All this means that in the past few weeks, a TON of boxed sets have been released. Here's my rundown. I strongly favor those that are compact and will fit on your shelf alongside other DVDs in your library. At the very least, I prefer slip cases that can be pulled out of sets and put on your shelf. How many fans want to keep a huge, bulky display case out on their coffee table 365 days a year? With so many shows available on streaming, studios should realize the best way to still lure people to buy a boxed set is a low price. Clearly, that's not their opinion right now. I ignore the prices except to single out those that are a bargain; otherwise I'd be complaining about every single release. And what matters most to me is a nice clean copy of the work itself; extras aren't so important though they're nice. On the other hand, I am glad to have a sonic screwdriver on hand for Doctor Who Day this Saturday November 23! Here we go!





FARSCAPE 15TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION ($149.98 BluRay; Cinedigm/New Video)
THE TWILIGHT ZONE: THE COMPLETE SERIES ($169.99 DVD; Image) -- Doctor Who is collected in one massive set that brings together all the adventures and specials of the past three Doctors -- Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith -- for one of the best collections of family entertainment around. Assuming you find it entertaining to scare your kids and make them a little sad at times as well, that is. Relatively speaking, this reboot is a little darker and even a little sexier though still very family friendly, especially for the older kids. This BluRay set contains all the seasons and specials in trim, compact BluRay sets that can be removed and sit nicely on your shelf. Extras include copious amounts on the discs plus a unique Doctor Who comic book, collectable cards and other stuff, most notably a replica of the Tenth Doctor's sonic screwdriver that doubles as a universal remote. The series really does repeat well and younger kids will grow into it so it's ideal for a family's collection. Now if only they would create a megaset on BluRay for the earlier Doctors (Tom Baker anyone?) rather than churn out endless single releases of adventures on BluRay for years to come. Plus, older shows that aired 40 years ago should NOT come at a premium price, especially when there are so many of them. If you buy this set and really want to gild the lily, you can also buy the official history of Doctor Who from HarperCollins. It's a very nice display book with loads of images from the series but it's also a serious, in-depth look at the making of the show with loads of detail that will surely bring new insight to all but the most ardent, informed fan. A nice touch in this hardcover book is the softish cover which makes it more pleasant for little ones to hold.

Farscape is a classic example of a cult TV series with a genuine cult following. It's presented on BluRay with no muss or fuss in the packaging, just a complete selection of this show's entire run along with loads of extras like documentaries and commentary tracks. They still don't have the rights to package the series-ending miniseries made years later but it is represented here by telling the story in a 16 page comic book. Like earlier episodes of Doctor Who, BluRay here actually exposes some of the modest special effects this show had at its disposal -- it was dubbed Muppets in Space for its extended use of puppetry to create alien creatures, though the show is not geared towards kids at all. However, great sci-fi lives and dies based on the writing and the performances, NOT by the special effects so it's no problem here. This imaginative fish out of water tale about a US astronaut sucked into a wormhole and a struggle for existence far away from home is unquestionably unique.

The Twilight Zone has never been matched as an anthology series -- not even by Rod Serling (sorry Night Gallery fans). It's also been the gold standard for what can be accomplished on DVD and BluRay, boasting some of the best remastering and most elaborate extras ever seen for a TV series. It simply doesn't get any better than the definitive deluxe versions. But many people -- like me -- don't give a toss for all those extras. So they're finally making the series available in a stripped down version with just the episodes in pristine condition at a lower price. It should be a much lower price but the intent is a good one and makes sense after the definitive versions have been out for a while and had their chance to make their money back. I understand the desire not to step on your own sales, but the people who want the elaborate sets will pay for them. The rest never will but might be enticed by much cheaper versions of the show. This is a step in the right direction and they've done it with one of TV's all-time classics.


MAMA'S FAMILY THE COMPLETE SERIES ($199.95 DVD; StarVista/TimeLife) -- Has there ever been a stranger journey for a sitcom than Mama's Family? It began as a series of sketches on The Carol Burnett Show known simply as The Family. They were notable for their biting humor and screaming fights -- I could relate -- with family members invariably getting reduced to insulting one another. No one was better at the abrupt put-down than Mama, played by Carol Lawrence with understated aplomb. Unlike other shows with their set-up and punchline style, this really felt like the way families talked to each other. I think the groundbreaking Roseanne took some inspiration from it. But as the sketches continued, something strange happened. The tone of them became darker and darker, with the insults more venomous and the humor less apparent. It was like watching a Neil Simon play morph into an Ibsen play right before your eyes. By the end of that variety series, I used to dread the appearance of The Family sketches -- how nasty were they going to be? -- but I never looked away. This may have been exaggerated in my young child's mind, but that's how I remember it. Despite the show's ending, they weren't done with this characters. They were spun off into a TV movie called Eunice and that was spun off into a primetime sitcom on NBC. Mama and the rest were notably softened from their sketch days, since everyone felt viewers needed more empathy for the cast week in and week out. It was an immediate hit, right down to Harvey Korman's silly introductions spoofing Alistair Cooke of Masterpiece Theater. Bu the network moved the show around its schedule, ratings collapsed and the show was cancelled after two seasons. But they weren't done yet! It was revived as a syndicated series and exploded in the ratings again. The characters were dumbed down even further, with Mama's insults becoming standard sitcom fare and the general IQ approaching the dumber yokels on Green Acres or The Beverly Hillbillies. The show ran for four more seasons and only ended because Lawrence decided it was time to put away that grey wig once and for all. This hefty boxed set contains all six seasons of the sitcom, along with a colorful booklet filled with images and some solid extras. One could fantasize about the ideal set that included all the sketches from The Carol Burnett Show and the TV movie but that's churlish. It's amazing the show survived and that it's two incarnations have been brought together here. Plus, these are -- with a few unavoidable exceptions -- the original broadcast versions complete with Korman's intros -- not the edited for rerun versions earlier season sets contained. Best of all, the single seasons can be pulled out and placed in your library if you choose. If you or someone you know owns one of those massive Carol Burnett sets, you can watch all the sketches contained there and then move onto the NBC sitcom and the first run series and have your mind blown about how very different the same set of characters can be when seen in different settings.


BRUCE LEE THE LEGACY COLLECTION ($119.99 BluRay/DVD; Shout!) -- Like James Dean, Bruce Lee is a magnetic presence on screen in everything he did. But his actual film output isn't so great. Lee outshines the material mostly and you're left with the bitter expectation that he would have accomplished so much more if fate hadn't intervened. An earlier version of this set didn't have the best possible masters so trust Shout! to make good -- they pulled the sets, secured the proper ones and reissued it as soon as possible. So here we have four key Lee films on DVD and BluRay in various configurations (dubbed English and original language with subtitles and so on), two documentaries (including one of them in two versions) and copious other extras. It comes in a very handsome coffee table book with sterling images of Lee taken from his films and his life. It's such a large-sized book it won't fit on your DVD shelf or even most bookcases without jutting out. And I'm not a fan of having to slide discs into cardboard pockets or sleeves. But quite simply The Big Boss, Fist Of Fury, Way Of The Dragon and Game Of Death have never looked better and probably won't for years to come.



DEXTER THE COMPLETE SERIES COLLECTION ($459.99 BluRay; Showtime/Paramount)
WEEDS THE COMPLETE COLLECTION ($119.97 BuRay; Lionsgate) -- It's so, so hard to end a series properly. If you're not a hit, you rarely get the chance. If you are a hit, it's hard to walk away from success and the best series you've ever made. Dexter and Weeds both failed to end properly and at the right time, but both have ardent fans and a lot to recommend them. Dexter of course stars everyone's favorite serial killer, a man (Michael C. Hall, always brilliant and deserving of an Emmy) scarred as a child and living by a code: he only kills other serial killers. The series allows us to root for Dexter both as a killer (he's always trying to get away with stopping bad guys) and a human (Dexter is increasingly torn by his need for emotional growth, for genuine love and affection). They reached the perfect finale in season five when Dexter came across a woman (Julia Stiles) who was similarly battered and ready to support him in his work and cuddle with him at night. I could even see the ending: Dexter and his woman driving through the streets of Miami, with Dexter's voice-over echoing the lines he delivered in the very first episode...only this time he wasn't alone. Unfortunately, the series ran for three more seasons and not only did they not try and explore what Dexter would be like in a real relationship where he had nothing to hide, they moved on from Stiles and faced increasingly absurd conflicts until the very unsatisfying finale left all realism behind. This doesn't take away from the great acting featured throughout and those first five, very daring seasons. I'm not a fan of elaborate boxed sets but I have to admit the concept for this one amused me: the discs are kept in a box just like Dexter's blood slide box, the case where he keeps a record of all his conquests. Unfortunately, it feels a little rickety and not nearly as substantial as one would expect so I'm left wishing for the usual compact cases rather than this show piece. It includes many other extras, especially a behind the scenes book that features some great shots from the making of the show that's a nice keepsake. An even more elaborate boxed set contains the series in even more elaborate packaging with a creepy aura but I can't speak to its quality.

Weeds on the other hand is exactly as compact and portable as one could hope -- perfect for your library or for tossing in a bag when your family is on the run from rival pot-selling gangs. Mary-Louise Parker is the star here of course though it would be nice if the packaging on the back featured more than a glimpse of other actors. That makes this look like a one-person show. Parker is of course great as the housewife who turns to cannabis, breaking bad long before that high school chemistry teacher followed suit. Like Dexter, it became increasingly improbable but it was always fun with Parker center stage. You get the entire run, loads of extras and it's all contained in a translucent green case that makes you wonder if you're having flashbacks.




WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE COMPLETE SERIES ($29.98 DVD; Mill Creek) -- You have to be realistic when hoping your favorite show will come out on DVD. So many shows are not available (the list I have of shows I want is extremely long) that you're lucky if any company will make it happen. Hoping for expensive remastering and loads of extras to boot is pie in the sky, especially when it's a smaller company tackling the release and funds are limited. So just be glad Naked City is out at all. It was the Law & Order of its day and has the all-star cast of actors who appeared on the show during its four season to prove it. The list is endless, including William Shatner, Jean Stapleton, Gene Hackman and many many many more. The show was a gritty crime procedural so of course the quality of the tale varied from week to week. Here, so does the picture and audio quality, though season one is the shakiest and the rest range from good to very good. But it's great to have this iconic show available in one boxed set.

In contrast, we have Combat! This series has been packaged and repackaged again, as single seasons, complete series boxed sets and sets devoted to certain characters. Here it is again. (If you're wondering why, big box stores like Walmart don't carry an extensive library of DVDs; they only stock new releases. So if you want your set in stores for the holidays, you have to repackage it and pretend it's "new" so they'll put it on their shelves.) This is another landmark series, this one following a squad of soldiers after D-Day as they fight their way across France. It lasted for five years -- longer than the US involvement in WW II. Combat! was known for a relatively realistic take on war; like Star Trek it was usually the guest stars who joined the squad that were sitting ducks for injury or death but still, it was far more realistic than anything before. Unfortunately, these are the trimmed-down versions of episodes prepared for syndication, not the original full length shows. Apparently the originals can't be found or no one can afford to restore them. You can moan their fate or just knuckle down and get these versions to get a good sense of what this show was like, a show by the way that aired into the late 1960s as US involvement in Vietnam inexorably grew.

Best of all we have Steve McQueen in Wanted: Dead Or Alive, playing the role of a bounty hunter that launched his career. This trim, inexpensive set contains all three seasons of his TV series in very good picture and sound quality along with some modest extras. You can literally watch McQueen finding his way into the part and the steely, sexy reserve that would serve him so well throughout his career. Now that's what I call a killer deal.


RELEASED: THE HUMAN RIGHTS CONCERTS 1986-1998 ($59.98 DVD; Shout!) -- Sometimes a great cause can lead to great art. More often it can lead to good intentions and good art, with some flashes of greatness. That's certainly the case for the four concerts offered here. They were created in the heyday of bad concert editing, where quick cuts a la MTV were the order of the day. Occasionally things calm down and an artist steps up to ignore their own righteous intentions and deliver truly impassioned performances. That happens at various times for Bruce Springsteen, U2, Sting, Peter Gabriel and many others. The four shows range in length from 71 minutes to a massive five hours plus! You also get loads of extras like new documentaries, new interviews with the Boss and Sting, behind the scenes footage shot by tech-crazy Gabriel and even a late night jam session. Most importantly, if it sends one more person to the Amnesty International website and inspires them to write one letter in support of a prisoner of conscience, this set will have done its job,




BOY MEETS WORLD COMPLETE COLLECTION ($99.98 DVD; Lionsgate) -- Digimon is short for digital monsters and if you knew that already, you know that you want this boxed set with the first four seasons of Digimon. It began as a toy pet geared towards boys to counter the digital toy pets popular with girls called Tamagotchi. The main difference? The boy's pets could fight one another. That turned into a TV series which has spawned multiple iterations with multiple casts, not to mention mangas, feature films and more. This very elaborate set is nicely compact and loaded with 32 discs containing more than 200 episodes. They cover the two seasons of the original Digimon, one season of Digimon Tamers and one season of Digimon Frontier which dramatically switched up the entire concept of the series: instead of kids pairing up with their digimon partners, they became warriors themselves. More series followed but they were made for different channels/partners, so this set stops here. Given it contains more than 70 hours of television, that should be enough to start. Just be prepared to buy lots of digimons if your kid gets hooked.

When it comes to live action shows and books and movies, kids like to watch adventures of kids slightly older than themselves. So kids in middle school like to watch kids in high school, kids in high school like to watch kids in college and so on. Of course, once you get hooked you remain faithful. Which is why the biggest audience for Saved By The Bell is adults in their 30s. Still, middle school kids may enjoy this dim-witted but very well cast Saturday morning series. Elizabeth Berkeley, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Tiffani Thiessen and Mario Lopez are the big names that went on to greater success, but they'll always be these teenagers to people of a certain age. This set contains all five seasons, though not the TV movie that aired between season four and five, annoyingly enough. On the plus side, it's very inexpensive and compact and there are a few modest new extras.

In comparison, the sitcom Boy Meets World feels like Shakespeare. It wisely avoided the trap of all TV shows starring kids. It let its hero grow up by following him chronologically from middle school to high school to college. Ben Savage is our hero and his world includes interracial romance (quite daring in its day) and the usual travails of being a kid. It too is compact and inexpensive. And it's out just in time to prepare people for the spin-off Girl Meets World set for 2014. The fact that Savage will play the father of a girl entering middle school herself makes me feel very, very, very old.




HERE'S EDIE THE EDIE ADAMS TELEVISION COLLECTION ($49.99 DVD; EdiAd/MVD) -- Here are three labors of love I never expected to get a release. The Dean Martin celebrity roasts were disposable television and I'm sure Martin would be astonished that people still watch them today, not to mention continue the tradition on Comedy Central. They're sporadically funny and often dull, though always intriguing in a time capsule sort of way, unintentionally revealing the mindset of an era in the comments that they make. You get all 50+ roasts featuring notables like Ronald Reagan, Bette Davis, Johnny Carson, Lucille Ball and many more. Happily, the sets come out and can be stored on the shelf or you can keep them in the keepsake box along with a souvenir booklet and -- rather bizarrely -- a Dean Martin figurine. Wouldn't a shot glass have been more appropriate?

Now, the Three Stooges never got respect during their career. Saturday morning cartoons rarely got respect either. So a Saturday morning cartoon starring the New Three Stooges? Double no respect! And yet, somehow, here they are, all 156 shorts and 40 live action wrap-arounds created for its one and only season. As a bonus, you get a disc of the Stooges singing Christmas carols. (You can't make this sort of stuff up. Christmas carols!) Unfortunately, they've gone backwards in time to get these, seemingly grabbing them from VHS tapes as far as picture quality and sound are concerned. Rhino released some of these shorts long ago and they looked better way back when. Happily, it is complete. If you're wondering why there are only 40 intros featuring the Stooges clowning around, it's because they just reused each intro three or four times in front of different shorts.

Best of this batch is Here's Edie, the variety series starring and overseen by Edie Adams, the smart and sexy wife of comic legend Ernie Kovacs. When he died unexpectedly, she was saddled with debt and launched this show in part to pay it off. A Tony and Emmy-winning talent best remembered for her silly/sexy cigar commercials, Adams was a triple threat and proved it here, singing and dancing and clowning around with everyone from Bob Hope to Duke Ellington. Clearing the music rights for this must have been a nightmare but it's great to see Adams coming into her own. Extras include all her musical performances from various shows with Kovacs and those Muriel Cigar ads. A true labor of love.




DIAGNOSIS MURDER: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION ($299.95 DVD; Vei/CBS) -- Some shows gained fame by launching in the once-quiet backwater of summer. Think Northern Exposure and American Idol. But Beverly Hills 90210 is I think the only show to debut in the fall and then really find its audience by continuing to make new episodes and airing them in the summer. It was practically the only new thing to watch in the summer of 1991 plus they had the added bonus of featuring the sexy young cast in their swimwear. The gang must have been exhausted but it was worth it: the show turned into a phenomenon and ran for ten seasons. It was essentially a soap for teens, but great casting helped tremendously: Jason Priestly, Shannon Doherty, Luke Perry, Brian Austin Green (who never quite made the transition to a music career the way Drake did from DeGrassi) and Tori Spelling all had substantial success on TV. I was a fan: here's my oral history of the show as it reached its finale. But I certainly didn't watch every episode of all ten seasons. Here they are gathered together in a massive boxed set made to look like two high school yearbooks. I really don't like sliding discs in and out of cardboard sleeves but this is clever packaging for those who want to display their love for the show on their coffee table. For everyone else, it's bulky and hard to fit most anywhere.

Family Ties had good actors in the lead roles, notably Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross as liberal parents who find themselves trying to relate to a conservative teenager. It was a clever twist on the parent-child dynamic and perfect for the age of Reagan. But the show skyrocketed of course because of the immense charm and talent of Michael J. Fox as Alex P. Keaton. The show was already doing pretty good by edging into the Top 40 in its first two seasons. But it really took off when moved to Thursdays and placed right after the instant smash hit The Cosby Show. Even talent like Fox's can use a lucky break. Unfortunately, the series had already stopped exploring the unique angle it launched with and settled into more familiar comic terrain but Fox always remained a delight. The rest of the cast were definitely supporting him though. Whenever an episode focused on another character, it was usually pretty thin stuff. This boxed set is presented as a family album, including some nice photos. But you have to slide discs in and out awkwardly and it won't fit on your DVD shelf or all but the deepest bookcases. As with so many other boxed sets, it's impressive looking but impractical. Still, this is a fitting collection for a pretty good sitcom with a great star.

Diagnosis Murder already had a star in Dick Van Dyke, one of TV's legends thanks to his eponymous sitcom that set the standard of sophistication for many workplace comedies to come. Van Dyke was older now and looking for a cushy job a la Angela Lansbury's sweet gig on Murder She Wrote. He found it with a guest spot on Jake And The Fatman (a series that was remarkably dependable in the ratings no matter how often it was moved around on the schedule). Van Dyke played a medical doctor who helped solve a crime. That led to three popular TV movies, with Van Dyke paired with his real life son Barry playing his character's TV son, a homicide detective. (Van Dyke would also pepper the crew with family members.) Those led to a series which was almost cancelled after two seasons but ran eight years in all. And STILL they weren't done with it, delivering two more TV movies to date. This sturdy boxed set (more compact than most) contains the Jake and the Fatman episode, all the TV movies and all eight seasons of the show. You'll find an endless supply of guest stars of a certain age who were happy to appear since The Love Boat was in dry dock. And of course, Dick Van Dyke's endless charm.


TWILIGHT FOREVER: THE COMPLETE SAGA ($74.99 BluRay; Summit) -- Obviously, ardent fans of the movies bought them as they came out on BluRay and DVD. But if you're going to cap off a franchise like Twilight with an elaborate set, this is the way to do it. You get ten discs, all five movies and loads of extras -- including some new ones -- in a beautifully designed, compact set. You get two cover options: Bella and Edward clutch in one; Jacob stands alone in the other. If you care intently about which cover you get or can't decide, then this is the set for you. The better the film directors, the weaker the movies -- which is a lesson both for studios and film directors when choosing projects. But fans don't care. They just want the complete saga and here it is, presented with the care and attention to detail a franchise like this deserves.




THE HOUSE OF ELIOTT COMPLETE COLLECTION ($99.99 DVD; Acorn) -- It might seem rude but I should say these collections of TV shows that aired more than 20 years ago do seem a tad pricey. But putting that aside, Absolutely Fabulous has never looked better. Early seasons enjoyed some nips and tucks in the remastering and this boxed set is trimmer and sleeker than previous editions and thinner is always better, darling. The outrageous, desperate antics of Edwina and Patsy remain funny because at some level the series really does know that they are truly desperate. They're not just pushing the envelope to be outrageous because nothing dates faster than that. But these women, as shrill and cartoonish as they appear, are women and their fears and prejudices are hilariously exaggerated examples of what many deal with every day. Mind you, it's mostly just silly fun. This set is contained in a neat pink purse covering that lets it fit on your DVD shelf but stand out in a crowd.

Keeping Up Appearances features Patricia Routledge as the hopelessly snobbish but middle class Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced "Bouquet," she'll fruitlessly insist). It's comfort food, the Britcom your mother watches and rewatches every time its Britcom night on your local PBS station. Still, Routledge is impressively funny and had the good sense to call it a day after five seasons, when clearly they had wrung out every possible bit of humor from the situation. This set -- contained in a package perfect for your garden party, complete with seeds to grow your own bucket, I mean bouquet -- contains every episode, the specials and other extras.

The House Of Elliot is about two women struggling to make it in the world of fashion but it's decades and light years in sensibility apart from AbFab. Here we are watching two sisters in 1920s London trying to make a go of it after their father unexpectedly died and left them broke. Stella Gonet and Louise Lombard are the heart of the series and keep it always watchable. It was created by Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins, the team behind the brilliant Upstairs Downstairs, but put all thoughts of this show reaching that height out of your mind and you might enjoy it. There was a hint of the strong drama it might have become during season one. But it soon failed to build on that and season two and three are soap opera antics rescued by the cast and elevated a tad. Best of all, the fashions on display really are absolutely fabulous.


Most titles listed here will be available in multiple formats and in multiple combinations, including DVD, Blu-ray, digital download, video on demand, streaming and the like. The format listed is the format provided for review, not all the formats available. It is often the most expensive version with the most extras. Do check individual titles for availability in all their various guises and price points.

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the founder and CEO of BookFilter, a book lover's best friend. It's a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. It's like a fall book preview or holiday gift guide -- but every week in every category. He's also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day and features top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It's available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website and his daily blog.

Note: Michael Giltz is provided with free copies of DVDs and Blu-rays with the understanding that he would be considering them for review. Generally, he does not guarantee to review and he receives far more titles than he can cover.