Finding perfect video gifts to brighten Black Friday

Posted Nov. 27, 2008, at 7:30 p.m.

So, it’s Black Friday. It’s still dark, you’re juiced on caffeine, and you’re ready to roll in stores long before any reasonable person would even consider doing so. Nobody is taking a sale away from you today, baby. You’ve got your game on.

Or maybe you don’t.

For those who feel like paring their list and getting through Black Friday without a black eye, the following are recommended DVDs to get you in and out of stores without a visit to the emergency room. High definition is bigger this year than ever, so we’ll start with the clarity it offers. As with all of the titles that follow, the retail prices are listed. You will be happy to know that each can be found locally and online at steep discounts.

One of the best choices on Blu-ray is the “BBC High Definition Natural History Collection” ($179.98), which is so good, it’s worth making the time to watch it twice. The set includes the BBC’s acclaimed series “Planet Earth,” as well as the documentaries “Galapagos,” “Wild China” and “Ganges.” The photography is as rich as anything you’d expect from the BBC, which has some of the world’s finest cinematographers.

Also recommended on Blu-ray are: “Lost: The Complete Fourth Season” ($96.99); Warner’s comprehensive “Casablanca: Ultimate Collector’s Edition” ($64.99); “Harry Potter Years 1-5 Giftset” ($129.98); The animated “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” ($35.99); The 20th anniversary of the influential high school comedy “Heathers” ($29.98); two titles from A&E: “Paul McCartney: The Space Within Us” ($34.95), which chronicles McCartney’s 2005 world tour, and “The Universe: Complete Season One” ($39.99), which takes audiences into the heavens to question our place within it — and whether other planets could sustain life. (For a more comprehensive collection of that title, look for “The Universe: Collector’s Edition” ($99.95) on standard DVD.)

The complete series of Joss Whedon’s terrific sci-fi series “Firefly” ($89.98) is available on Blu-ray, as is the involving, underseen thriller “Stuck” ($35.98); Eddie Murphy in the comedy “Meet Dave” ($39.99); the Will Ferrell drama “Stranger than Fiction” ($28.95); the sketchy head trip that is “Southland Tales” ($28.95); and the beautifully realized fantasy world showcased in “Mirrormask” ($28.95).

Rounding out the best on Blu-ray are titles from Disney, with highest marks going to the year’s best animated film “Wall-E” ($35.99), as well as to “Sleeping Beauty Platinum Edition” ($34.99); “Tinker Bell” ($34.99); “Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas” ($39.99); M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” ($34.99); “Kill Bill — Volumes 1 & 2” ($34.99 each); and “The Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy” ($82.99).

Obviously, all of the Blu-ray titles mentioned above also are available on standard-definition DVD. They’re equally recommended and, as a bonus, all are less expensive than their Blu-ray counterparts. The downside? They won’t look or sound nearly as nice.

For children, it’s a grab bag of good choices as many solid titles now are available on standard DVD, such as “Storybook Treasures: Treasury of 20 Storybook Classics” ($29.99); “Hannah Montana: The Complete First Season” ($39.99); the Fox comedy “Space Chimps” ($29.99 DVD; $39.99 Blu-ray); and the special edition of “Alvin and the Chipmunks” ($29.98), which includes a digital copy of the movie that will play on computers and portable devices, such as the iPod.

Also recommended are “Robot Chicken: Season Three” ($29.98); “Robot Chicken: Star Wars” ($14.98); “iCarly: Season One, Vol. 1” ($26.98); “Fly Me to the Moon 3D” ($25.99); “Impy’s Island” ($19.98); and “Ben 10: Alien Force: Season One, Vol. 1” ($14.98).

From the BBC comes a bounty, including the vast “Michael Palin Collection” ($249.98), which includes 19 discs on all of his previously released, globe-trotting adventures; the seriously good sci-fi series “Doctor Who: The Complete Fourth Season ($99.98); and “‘Allo ‘Allo! The Complete Collection” ($249.98), which is set during World War II and follows the carousing French cafe owner Rene Artois as he flirts with his waitresses while trying to handle a difficult wife and mother-in-law. He might not always succeed, but this show does.

Same goes for the smart Britcom “To the Manor Born: Complete Series” ($79.98); “Ken Russell at the BBC” ($59.98); the stick heist drama “Hustle: Complete Seasons 1-4” ($99.98); the bizarre creature series “Primeval: Complete Series 1 and 2” ($49.98); and the animated “Charlie and Lola, Vols. 1-8” ($79.98).

Joining that last title in being one of the season’s best choices are four from Paramount, beginning with the hip crime show “The Mod Squad: Second Season, Vol. 1” ($39.98); the final season of “The Odd Couple” ($39.98), with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall closing the series after its popular five-year run; the fifth and final season of the Jim Nabors’ comedy “Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.” ($39.98), in which his co-star, Frank Sutton, steals the show; and the fifth season of “Hawaii Five-O” ($49.99), which finds Jack Lord and his aggressive pompadour taking on the seething evil that is Wo Fat.

For those seeking box sets, the best come down to “Columbia Best Pictures Collection” ($135.95), which includes 11 films, all of which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. A broad range of movies are included, from 1934’s “It Happened One Night” and 1953’s “From Here to Eternity” to 1954’s “On the Waterfront,” 1962’s “Lawrence of Arabia,” 1979’s “Kramer vs. Kramer” and 1982’s “Gandhi,” among others. Another must is “Alfred Hitchcock: The Premiere Collection” ($119.99), which features eight key films, including “Lifeboat,” “Notorious,” “Sabotage,” and “Rebecca.” Extras abound in each set.

Those seeking a shot of noir should turn to Lee Marvin’s 1950s detective series “M Squad: The Complete Series,” ($119.98), which includes all 117 episodes on 15 discs. Those seeking family entertainment likely will appreciate the 42 discs and 150 episodes of “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman: The Complete Series Megaset” ($229.95); while baby boomers should note “The 60s Megaset” ($199.95), which is peppered with documentaries about that era, as well as two western compilations from the ’60s — “The Wild Wild West: The Complete Series” ($129.98) and “Wagon Train: Complete Color Season” ($119.98).

Though at least one other DVD gift guide will follow in these pages before the holidays strike, it would be a mistake not to recommend the three comedy box sets that best reflect the sort of lunacy you’ll need to get through today: “The Complete Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Collectors Edition Megaset” ($159.95), which is a boon of hilarity on 21 discs; “Mr. Bean: The Ultimate Collection” ($69.95); and “Get Smart: The Complete Series Giftset” ($199.95), the last of which hails from HBO and follows the loopy adventures of Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 in 138 episodes on 25 discs.

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