ALL the Salem's Lots! (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

I've never owned Salem's Lot before.  I always appreciated it.  I even saw a few scenes as a little kid when it aired on TV and they were some of the few really scary horror moments for me.  But the fact that it was made for TV did put me off a little in the prime days of DVD.  Couple that with the fact that it never got a special edition, or even could quite decide whether it should be the shorter theatrical cut or widescreen or the TV version or what, and I just never felt compelled to pull the trigger.  But now that Warner Bros has released a killer new HD restoration blu with an all-new audio commentary by Tobe Hooper at a sell-through price, and who could pass that up?  Especially since I've already got the sequel.

Update 12/3/16 - 1/27/17: I wasn't completely happy with this post initially.  It felt like this was one where it was really important to have a proper comparison to the old DVD, but I just didn't have it.  Well, I was able to borrow a copy, so now we can really look at the improvements the blu-ray brings.  And, while I was at it, I figured instead of just having a little, throw-away paragraph about the remake, I'd give that one proper DVD coverage, too, and make this a definitive Salem's Lot post - enjoy!
Stephen King novels don't exactly have a spotless track record for being adapted to film, especially not on television (remember The Langoliers?).  But this one nails it pretty hard, being genuinely creepy and atmospheric with some great, inspired vampire scenes.  If you want an idea of how influential this was, watch Salem's Lot and Fright Night back to back and count all the times they cribbed from it.  James Mason is one cool customer of a villain and David Soul (Hutch of Starsky and Hutch) is surprisingly good as the leading man.  Except for airing in fullscreen with a little extra reliance of close-ups, Hooper does a great job of making this feel like a big-budget film, with a sweeping score and some great effects.  In its full 3+ hour version, Salem's Lot takes it's time building a whole little world of characters to then revel in ransacking.
Is it perfect? Well, no.  As much as I enjoyed seeing Fred Willard perform (well) in a rare, serious part, we do spend the first ninety minutes or so following a sub-plot of him having an affair with Bonnie Bedelia behind George (Law & Order) Dzundza's back, only to have it make absolutely no difference to the overall story (spoilers, I guess? lol).  King likes his over-the-top Norman Rockwell meets broad satire style ensembles, and while Hooper thankfully plays that down and keeps most of the characters real, there are definitely hints poking through.  Plus, the story's Mexican wrap-around does come from the novel, but it just doesn't fit the tone of the rest of the picture.  And a lot of camera set-ups have a cheaper, flatter feel than we probably would've gotten from an actual movie.  ...But for all of that, it's still pretty great.
Like I said, I've never owned it, but Salem's Lot has been available on DVD since 1999.  You know, one of those crappy snapper cases and everything.  It was full-screen, but in this case that's acceptable.  But as you'll see, for a 2016 blu-ray, the master was too old to just slap onto an HD disc like the major studios do with a lot of their catalog titles.  So we get a brand new transfer.  And which version of the film?  The same one as the DVD (and the 1993 laserdisc before it): a hybrid of the longer television version but including some of the extra violent bits shot exclusively for the foreign theatrical version.  So for fans wondering: Willard puts the shotgun to his head, not in his mouth; and yes, Ed Flanders gets gruesomely impaled.  And it's all edited into one long movie, as opposed to being in two parts with their own opening and closing credits like it originally aired.
Warner Bros 1999 DVD top; Warner Bros 2016 blu-ray below.
And boy does it look great!  The detail is so fresh and naturally film-like.  Look at the pores on Kenneth McMillan's skin in the last shot!  Warner Bros hasn't put out much information on what they've done that I've seen, but it looks like they've made taken a fresh scan of the original negatives.  I definitely wasn't expecting it to look this good.  There has also clearly been some color-timing work done, or undone, as you can see in the blue tint removed from the nighttime shot above.  Once again, they've opted for fullscreen, which does feel a little boxy with a lot of free space sometimes; but you really can't fault them for going with the OAR.  And, in fact, it's actually a little zoomed in compared to the DVD.  But before you bemoan any lost slivers of picture, you can briefly catch glimpses of boom mics on the DVD, so the slightly tighter framing is surely more correct.
Warner Bros 1999 DVD top; Warner Bros 2016 blu-ray below.
Just look how much clearer the new transfer is and how much more you can make out of Lew Ayres in this extreme zoom-in.  The DVD just looks soft, smudgy and washed in comparison.  And reviewers often talk about being able to read small text and other detail that wasn't visible in the old transfer, and usually I find that not to be the case.  What was too far away and out of focus on the DVD is still a tiny blur on the blu-ray.  But look back up at McMillan's badge; you can actually read the "POLICE" on it, which you definitely can't make out on the old disc.

The DTS-HD audio is also pretty full and clear, so Salem's Lot doesn't feel creaky at all here.  Warner Bros has also included optional English subtitles, plus subs in 13(!) other languages and five audio dubs.  They really went all-out in that regard.
But is this a special edition?  Ehh... it's right on the edge.  It's main extra, and the first substantial extra this film's ever gotten, is a brand new audio commentary by Tobe Hooper.  And it's pretty good.  On one hand, it's actually great, with Hooper answering a lot of questions that come up as a viewer, plus some interesting anecdotes you never would've thought to wonder about.  But on the other hand, presumably to pace himself for a commentary that's over three hours long with no moderator, he pauses.  Like all the time.  He basically says a paragraph's worth of stuff, pauses, then another paragraph's worth, and so on.  So when he does talk, he's not stretching for things to say or low on energy, but that leaves a lot of dead air interspersed throughout.  So it's definitely worth the listen, but also takes patience.  But unlike some other slow commentaries, that patience is rewarded.  That and the theatrical trailer are all that's here, but that's still a big step forward.
And why, yes!  There was a 2004 remake starring Rob Lowe, as well.  To its credit, it's also a two-part TV series, meaning it didn't have to compress the characters and details into 90 minutes.  It updates the story to 2004, forsaking the scary atmosphere for internet references, lame quips and rapping, but it's got an interesting supporting cast, including Donald Sutherland, Andre Braugher and Rutger Hauer.  Some scenes are new, while others are direct re-stagings of the 1979 film.  The scene where the two men wait in the morgue for the dead wife to rise from under her sheet while the one tapes together a cross out of tongue depressors is a beat-for-beat reproduction of the original scene, right up until the end, where some awful CGI takes over, covering up the actress's face and then she flies up into the ceiling and turns into sparkly computer dust.  But then, there's a whole new subplot about a hunchback who works at a garbage dump and has a crush on a highschool girl, which to be fair does actually come right from the book.
So I guess the idea is that this is a more faithful "return to the book," which I appreciate.  It at least justifies this version's existence and gives serious King devotees something to pout through.  But like The Shining and its 1997 remake, it really just shows that talented filmmakers tend to know better than literary purists what works best on screen.  And it doesn't help that a lot of the acting and staging is awfully stilted, sometimes to the point of being downright embarrassing.  You've never seen so many over-the-shoulder dialogue shots in your life, Lowe's narration is downright painful, and the CGI looks like cartoonish garbage, unlike the effects from the 1970s that still pack quite a punch.  So give it a pass unless you're a serious fan who just wants to see what's been changed or kept faithful between this, the original film, and the novel.  The most notable being that the vampire Barlowe is back to being a speaking part instead of a snarling blue monster, some major scenes take place in a different order, the priest plays more of a role and there's no Mexico material.  And as I said, that Mexico stuff was in the book.  Plus with the film's need to modernize, I'm not really sure it can be called more faithful.  It's just... differently faithful.
2004 Warner Bros DVD.
But if you are determined to see for yourself, Warner Bros did at least put it out as a no frills, widescreen DVD in late 2004.  And I mean really no frills.  No trailer, no nuffin'.  The film looks fine, though, presented in 1.78:1, which is presumably just how it originally aired on the TNT network.  It's alright for a TV show on an older DVD, suffering a bit in the compression department but otherwise fine.  It's anamorphic, has a 5.1 mix and optional English, Spanish and French subtitles.  Apparently though, this was shot on 35mm, so in theory a fresh HD scan of the negatives could yield a nice improvement.  But that would require people taking an interest in 2004's Salem's Lot, which doesn't seem to be in its future.  And I'm fine with that; I wouldn't buy a blu-ray special edition of this anyway.  If Warner Bros is going to revisit any Salem's Lot follow-ups, I'd much, much rather they look at the 1987's much more entertaining entry by Larry Cohen.
Return To Salem's Lot cannot be said to be a true sequel to Salem's Lot.  Not only do none of the characters return or get a mention, but the history of the Salem's Lot vampires as told in Return directly contradicts what we saw in the original.  This cannot be the same town after the vampires took over in the first one.  But, having watched them back to back for the first time after previously only having seen them years apart, there are enough similarities that I'm sure Cohen was at least making intentional nods back besides placing more vamps in the same town.  Both have a middle-aged man and a teenage boy as the vampire fighting leads.  Both films opening scenes are in Mexico, which is an odd choice both times.  There's a scene of a child vampire hovering outside a window beckoning the teenage boy to let them in, a clear reprisal of one of the original's most iconic scenes.  Of course, in both films, the vampires mostly look like typical humans with fangs, but the biggest baddest one is a blue, monstrous one.  And there are plenty more I could list, including this fun fact: because they couldn't afford to burn a whole house down, Hooper took b-roll footage that wasn't used in Eli Kazan's 1969 film, The Arrangement. And when a completely different house burns down in Return To Salem's Lot, Cohen clearly used the same Kazan footage.
2016 Blu of Salem's Lot on top; 2006 DVD of Return to Salem's Lot below.
Salem's Lot fans looking for more of the same are surely disappointed by this film.  Scary vampires really aren't what's for sale this time around.  But if you're a Larry Cohen fan, you should be happy.  There are his usual clever moments, there's Michael Moriarity giving another great and quirky lead performance, and just as you think maybe you're getting a little bored with his character and he's becoming too much of a generic, straight leading man... in comes Samuel Fuller as one of the most entertaining characters in any vampire movie ever.  Also look for Tara Reid looking lovely in her first acting role, Andrew Duggan in his final role and Cohen regular James Dixon, who this time also gets a co-writing credit.  This isn't a terribly ambitious picture; and Cohen's let it be known that he only made the film as part of a contract so Warner Bros would fund It's Alive 3.  It's no passion project.  But if you want a low-key enjoyable watch, hey, here ya go.
For ages, Return To Salem's Lot was unavailable on DVD, which was awfully frustrating for a Cohen fan like myself.  But in 2006, Warner Bros released it in Germany under the title Salem II: Die Ruckkehr, as an anamorphic widescreen disc to boot!  More recently, in 2010, Warner Archives finally released it, and that's anamorphic widescreen, too.  Certainly, I'm happy to have the properly pressed DVD rather than an MOD DV-R; but honestly if I didn't already own it, I might take the Archives version as "close enough," and save myself the trouble of importing.
2006 Warner Bros DVD.
Yeah, it's a little soft and obviously standard def as it's a DVD, but I just fired this up on my 65" television and it still looks surprisingly good.  Solid darks, no interlacing.  It's basically 16x9 exactly, but with a little bit of blank space in what would've been the over-scan area, giving us a 1.79:1 aspect ratio.  This could definitely stand a bump up to HD for better compression, and a new scan of the original elements could look even better; but for a plain old DVD, you can't really ask for more than this.
And yes, it's English friendly.  It has optional German subtitles, but they're removable directly from the menu or the remote, and it gives you the choice of the original English audio (mono in 2.0) or a German dub. Unfortunately, it has no extras, not even the trailer (neither does the Warner Archives disc), except for a slightly amusing commercial that plays on start-up.  But it does come in a cool, red case.
So, Warner Bros has finally done Salem's Lot justice.  They also released great new (and affordable) blus of Stephen King's It and Cat's Eye at the same time.  And apart from the lack of special features, they did alright by Return To Salem's Lot, too, at least for DVD.  I'd certainly be happy to see a special edition from the likes of Scream Factory, but Warners doesn't like to license their stuff out, so I wouldn't expect one anytime soon.  This is probably the best we're going to see for any Salem's Lots for a long time, and in the case of the original, now it's actually quite impressive.

Controversial Blus: Dark Star (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

John Carpenter has a real talent; his films run the gamut from wonderful to captivating misfires.  And Dark Star, his first feature film made when he was still a student, is certainly no exception.  In fact, despite its obvious budgetary limitations, it holds up as one of his most successful ventures.  To be honest, though, I feel the creator's stamp of writer Dan O'Bannon on this that Carpenter.  Maybe that's partly because he also stars in this, but really it's in the humor, not to mention the obvious similarities to his next, much more famous film, Alien.  Whoever deserves however much credit, though, it's an utterly successful collaboration and a great little film that deserves a great release.  And, well, there is a blu-ray...

Update 4/5/17: It really doesn't feel complete without having all three versions on here, so I've included the Hyperdrive Edition to the comparisons.  👍
If you haven't seen it, Dark Star is a comedy set in space.  It's not really a parody or spoof (though there's some 2001 in there to be sure), but a clever piece of character humor.  There is some semblance of a plot; we have a space alien and the crew faces imminent death during a tense climax.  But for the most part, it's just a light-hearted look at a small crew of men going completely stir-crazy.  Their biggest threat isn't the creature loose on their spaceship or the intelligent bomb that's determined to blow them all up.  It's boredom.  This film takes man's epic battle with the doldrums beyond the stars and it's pretty great.
This film has a terrific look to it.  Cheap or not; it's very well designed, and the sometimes home-made looking special effects actually become part of the appeal.  Also, everyone in the cast nails it.  O'Bannon is the most fun to watch, but everyone is spot-on.  The music is also by John Carpenter and very effective; but don't expect "a John Carpenter score" like we know them today.  The soundtrack here owes a lot more to its sci-fi peers than Carpenter's more recognizable style.  And all these elements work together in service of the writing, the real star of the show.  It's just smart, fun and still able to pull you in, all these decades later.
I suppose now I should talk about the two cuts.  There's sometimes a little confusion surrounding this title, thanks to the fact that there are two versions of this film in popular rotation.  In short, this film was originally 68 minutes long.  That's how it was first screened for the public.  Then, when it got a great reaction and the chance for a distribution deal, more scenes were shot to bring it to proper feature length (83 minutes), so it could get a wide release.  And fortunately, the additional material is not only up to par with the rest of the film, but raises the entirety of the film up a level.  When I watch the short version, I really miss the scenes.  It's like watching a cut of Vacation where some editor said, "hey, this story doesn't need all the parts with Randy Quaid and Imogene Coca.  Snip snip, and now this film really flies!"  That might be true, but it's so disappointing to not have all their moments you've come to love.  To me, the original cut is academic.  If you just want to see it to know what the film was like originally, great.  But to truly experience Dark Star, the extended cut is the only way.
Dark Star has only been released by VCI in the United States.  They released the 1992 laserdisc, the 1999 DVD, the 2010 DVD "Hyperdrive Edition" re-release, and most recently the 2012 "Thermostellar Edition" blu-ray.  The initial laserdisc featured the shorter version and just included the extended material as separate deleted scenes.  Both subsequent DVDs (and just about all international discs) included both cuts.  But the blu-ray makes the curious decision to pare that down and only release the longer, extended cut.  Disappointing for some to be sure, and reason to hang onto your old DVDs.  But that's not even what makes this blu controversial.
 1999 VCI DVD top; 2010 VCI DVD middle; 2012 VCI blu-ray bottom.
So the first thing you should notice is that the 1999 DVD's non-anamorphic.  That's one thing the 2010 DVD corrected, at least; and obviously the blu-ray doesn't have that problem.  The 2010 DVD, however, is unfortunately interlaced.  In fact, the blu-ray is clearly an improvement in just about every area: detail, clarity, and it's properly matted 1.85:1 framing has more picture on three of four-sides compared to the old DVD's 1.82:1 and even a bit more than the newer DVD's 1.78:1.  The color timing is different on all three releases, and while it's clearly worst on the 1999 DVD, it's hard to say which is better between the 2010 and 2012.  They're different, but without any insight from the DP or an official source, it's going to come down to taste.  Personally, I prefer some shots on the blu and some on the DVD, so that particular aspect winds up as a tie for me.
2010 VCI DVD left; 2012 VCI blu-ray right.
But there's something off about the blu.  It's very soft.  Now you might say, hey, it's an ultra-low budget, old student film.  VCI has talked plenty about the conditions of the materials they had to work with.  This is as good as it could ever look.  But this film was shot on 16mm (then blown up to 35mm for wide release), and one thing we should know from all the 16mm we've looked at before here on this site is that 16mm is high on grain and low on detail.  Well, this film's low enough on detail, but where's the grain?  Ahhh... that's why it's so soft.  This film has used DNR (Digital Noise Reduction) or other digital software on the master to smooth away all the grain.  It sure doesn't look like a 16mm film now, and that explains why the whole thing's so soft.  In fact, the 2010 standard def DVD actually resolves more natural film grain and even actual picture detail than the blu-ray.  Grain haters may think it's great; and admittedly, since this is 16mm, we didn't erase as much detail like other heavily DNR'd blus have in the past.  But we've definitely lost ground between 2010 and 2012, not gained it.

Meanwhile, we get two audio options on the 2010 and 2012 releases.  There's the main stereo mix, where the audio's not exactly crystal, but unlike the grain scrubbing, I'd say it's fair to blame any audio issues on the original materials.  And then they've also included a more boisterous 5.1 mix that still has the same root issues, but both are clear enough for music and dialogue so long as don't expect it to sound like Avatar 2.  They're in LPCM on the blu.  Oh, and interestingly, the original DVD only had the 5.1 mix, so including the stereo mix on the later releases was a nice nod to the purists.
And extras?  You want extras?  Well, the original DVD had nothing but the trailer, but the biggest selling point of the Hyperdrive re-release was the wealth of new DVD extras, that necessitated making it a 2-disc set.  And the blu-ray?  They didn't create anything new, but they ported everything over.  Well, except for the trailer.  I wonder why they left that off?  Oversight, or maybe they felt it was too low quality for HD and they didn't want to remaster it?  Oh well, the trailer's always the least important extra (except for booklets, amiright fellas?), and everything else is here.

And what is all of that?  Well, the main attraction is a 2-hour documentary by the fine folks at Ballyhoo Pictures.  They get really in-depth and talk to everyone they can, from Tommy Lee Wallace to Dan O'Bannon's widow.  Carpenter doesn't participate, but they do include some vintage interview clips with him, so he's not so glaringly absent.  It's a pretty terrific doc.  Then, there's an audio commentary by a "super fan," which sounds horrible, but is actually pretty good, as he has really studied the film and its history and comes off as a well informed expert providing a lot of great information.  A lot of better-known journalist commentators could actually take some notes from this guy.  Then there are long on0camera interviews with actor Brian Narelle and author Alan Dean Foster.  All these extras are taken from the DVD, so they're basically SD quality upconverted to HD, but it's fine for extras.  And the Foster interview is particularly interesting, I found.  Finally, there are some odds and ends like a trivia track, an introduction written by Dan O'Bannon and an interactive map of the spaceship from the film.  Again, no trailer.
So for now, if you don't already own Dark Star, I recommend the blu.  It's a terrific little film, packed with extras.  But if you've already got the 2010 DVD set, this is a very minor upgrade if it's an upgrade at all.  You lose detail, which is a big step down, plus the trailer if that bugs you.  But you fix the interlacing, which is an almost even trade-off.  Certainly, if you've already got either one, I wouldn't spend money to replace it with the other.  And I'm forever day-dreaming of the day the a label like Arrow or Synapse can wrestle this title away from VCI and give us a truly definitive version.  Unfortunately, that's not likely to happen any day soon.  So us fans may gripe, but we've all got one of these discs on our shelves.

Ken Russell's Women In Love (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

It's time for another Ken Russell classic on blu-ray.  And this one might be the absolute pinnacle of them all; his powerful adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's Women In Love.  This time, however, there isn't a dual US/ UK option like with Valentino, where BFI put out one edition, and Kino another.  This time there's just the BFI disc.  But honestly, BFI's special editions have been right up there with the very best from Arrow, Synapse or any other perfectionist label lately, so I'm not worried.
If you're looking at this and worrying that it's going to be a boring old romance, you don't know your D.H. Lawrences or your Ken Russells very well.  I mean, in some ways maybe it is Ken Russell's most romantic picture.  It's certainly one of his most picturesque, with beautiful photography, luxuriant landscapes and Lawrence's idolization of nature artfully captured on film.  But this is more of an unflinching examination of relationships formed and broken without the niceties of love or affection rather than some kind of cutesy Jane Austen match maker.  Most of these peoples' relationships seem to end in attempted murder more than anything else!
Instead what you have are some powerhouse performances by Oliver Reed, Glenda Jackson and Alan Bates, brilliant, faithfully reproduced writing, and Russell's flair for opulence and spectacle muted just enough to breath far more life than any other director would've into the material, but without going over the top and becoming an a 1920's Tommy.  One doesn't usually think of Russell as walking fine lines as a filmmaker, but he certainly does here.  Everything from the costumes to the inclusion of Lawrence's poem about figs into the material is pretty spot-on perfect in this film.
Women In Love has been on my "to replace" list for a long time, because MGM's 2003 DVD had been one of the few remaining non-anamorphic hold-outs in my collection.  I'd scoured the internet, and unfortunately, the UK DVD was also non-anamorphic, as was the Australian DVD and every other version in existence.  Until, finally in 2016, BFI announced a new blu-ray edition!  Hallelujah!  Not only would it be HD and finally anamorphic, but a new 4k restoration from the original negatives, with a whole ton of new special features!  So let's see how far we've come.
2003 MGM DVD top; 2016 BFI blu-ray beneath.
Well, of course just being anamorphic is already a huge step forward, but even though this film seems to have a high grain-to-detail ratio (it almost looks like it was shot on 16), it's much clearer and more refined than the old DVD, which looks like a smudgy, high contrast mess.  Here, the grain is natural, so I doubt the film could ever look much better.  Interestingly, the BFI presents the film "in its original theatrical ratio of 1.75:1," which leaves the film still pillar-boxed, but cropping away a tiny bit of vertical information along the top and bottom of the DVD's 1.66.  The DVD also seems to have some unsharp mask or other edgework done to it, and a bit of a redder tone.  Really, the blu is an improvement in just about every way.

Both releases feature the original English mono track, with the blu presenting it in a lossless LPCM.
Both also include English subtitles, though the old DVD did also feature Spanish and French subs for any non-English speakers in the audience who must be struggling through this review.  😉
So the MGM DVD did have some strong qualities to recommend it, not the least of which were two terrific audio commentaries.  The first was by Ken Russell himself, and fans of Russell films should know he always does excellent commentaries, which are both highly entertaining and yet genuinely informative.  But the other audio commentary, by producer/screenwriter Larry Kramer.  He was involved with the film before even Russell, so he has a lot to say that no one else can, and a lot of passion for the project which keeps things energetic.  The DVD also included a photo gallery, the trailer and one of those lame MGM commercials that auto-played on start-up.
Thankfully, the BFI disc carries all of that over (except the MGM ad), as those were some real treasures to be preserved.  And in addition to that, there's plenty more.  First of, is an almost 90-minute interview with Glenda Jackson, which isn't an audio-commentary (it was recorded back in the early 80s), but is played over the film.  Then there's a 15-minute vintage BBC television program called The Pacemakers, which is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Women In Love and Sunday, Bloody Sunday with Glenda Jackson.  If you're in the mood for something brand new, there's a nearly hour-long interview with the film's cinematographer, Billy Williams, which goes over his whole career, but focuses a lot on Women In Love specifically.  And perhaps the most surprising inclusion is Second Best, an short Lawrence adaptation (27 minutes) from 1972 that Alan Bates produced and starred in.  The quality's a bit rough and the pacing could lose about 5-8 minutes and still be slow, but it's actually quite good.  Finally, the disc comes with an excellent 26-page booklet with detailed notes and illustrations - I particularly appreciate how they cover each of the special features.
So a top notch release of a first class film, BFI does it again!  Still, if it weren't for the non-anamorphic thing, I could see people saying they'll just hang onto their DVD.  But since it's one that bears replacing anyway, it's pretty sweet that we can do it with such a cool upgrade.

The Essential Pride and Prejudice (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Being one of the most read and beloved books in the English language, it's no surprise that there have been a few efforts to bring Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice to the screen.  There's an entertaining early attempt in 1940, a particularly faithful BBC miniseries in 1982 that I really own and need to revisit one day soon, and of course that Keira Knightley movie, which was an okay abridgement, though I felt they kind of dropped the ball with Mr. Darcy.  But really, there's little reason to keep taking additional shots at it, because the great Andrew Davies got it as right as anyone could ever expect to in 1995.  It's both my personally held opinion and a fairly wide consensus that this is the definitive Pride and Prejudice, and now it's got a pretty definitive blu-ray presentation to suit it.
This was a pretty massive effort for the BBC at the time; moving their traditional first class literary adaptations out of the sound-stages and mounting a full, Hollywood-level production on locations, and shooting on film rather than video.  Lavish estates, large horse-drawn carriages, and a smart, memorable score lay the stage for their largest undertaking yet.  Like the 1982 series, this adaptation was also made for British television in six hour-long episodes, which is pretty essential for telling the story.  Most full-length novels are too long for single films, but this Austen classic is particularly filled with plot turns and new characters, all of which need time to develop and flourish to truly work their effect. And here, it all pays off.  Colin Firth was already an established, notable actor in 1995, probably best known for playing the titular role in Valmont, but it's his turn here as Mr. Darcy that really set him for life.  He and the literary character will forever be associated, like Christopher Reeves is to Superman.  Jennifer Ehle also seems born to play her leading role of Elizabeth Bennet, and the supporting cast is full of terrific English character actors like Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Alison Steadman, Susannah Harker from House of Cards, Crispin Bonham-Carter (yes, they're cousins), the familiar face of Benjamin Whitrow and Absolutely Fabulous's Julia Sawalha.
I don't say the series is quite flawless.  Some of the comedy, particularly by Alison Steadman, is played pretty big, and in the first episode particularly, probably too far over the top.  I suspect they wanted to assure viewers that this would not be some dry, historical school lesson, but an entertainment modern audiences could relate to... but they might've gone a little too far.  Still, by the time you hit episode four, you're smiling every time Steadman enters the frame.  And yes, this version does take a few liberties with the novel.  But almost any criticism you might have at the outset is washed away by how appealing the production is, and how smart the combined writing of Austen and Davies.  Like Firth, Davies was already a success in his field, but this is the one that made him a Masterpiece Theater rock star.
And as the most universally beloved Austen adaptation, this has been released on home video dozens and dozens of times.  Even just in the US, it's been issued and reissued on DVD many times, starting with Image's 1998 release.  That was a fullscreen "chop off the sides, not open matte" affair, which looked like a VHS tape had been crudely digitized.  Then in 2001 came the 2001 Special Edition from A&E, which proclaimed itself the "First Ever Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1) Presentation in the U.S."  We'll see in a moment how they didn't quite get that right, but it was still a big improvement over the awful Image disc.  The same Special Edition version was packaged inside a large A&E Literary Classics: The Romance Collection boxed set in 2002, but was more notably released with a book on the making of the series and a third disc of extras in 2006 as the 10th Anniversary Collector's Set.  Then, in 2010, there was a new restored edition, on both DVD and blu-ray.  And most recently, A&E and Lions Gate have come out with a second blu-ray version, The Keepsake Edition, with all new special features!

Now, for all of those releases, certainly each disc will have its slightly individual encodes, but there are essentially four transfers that pop up on any of these discs.  The Image fullscreen version, which I got rid of long ago, so you'll just have to trust my embittered memory of poor that was, the Special Edition version that brought the film to widescreen, the DVD remaster and the HD blu-ray (both blus are essentially the same, in terms of picture quality). Specifically, the discs I have on-hand that we'll be comparing are the 2001 Special Edition, the 2010 restored DVD and the 2014 Keepsake Edition:
top: 2001 DVD, mid: 2010 DVD, bottom: 2014 blu.
So where to begin?  Well, okay, the "First Ever Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1) Presentation in the U.S." is not actually in 2.35:1, and neither is any other release.  I highly doubt the film was ever intended to be framed that way.  Instead, it and all the subsequent releases are in 1.78:1, which looks quite correct, although the blu does lose a pinch of information along the top and right-hand edges.  The Special Edition is indeed anamorphic, but has a terrible interlacing problem.  Even when compared to other interlaced discs, it looks bad.  It's like they took an interlaced transfer, and interlaced it again (in fact, I seriously suspect that could be what happened, with them brutishly importing PAL transfers to the US).  It's also undergone boosted contrast, clarification and other destructive tweaking.
left: 2001 DVD, mid: 2010 DVD, right: 2014 blu.
The 2010 DVD thankfully does away with most of that.  It's still interlaced, but not as badly, and it doesn't have most of the extra tweaks.  Consequently, it does look a little soft, but its colors, detail and motion (particularly the horizontal panning) looks much more fluid.  It's like they've gone back a generation or two, and it's all the better for it.  Still, it's downright bizarre that this came out in conjunction with the first blu-ray edition, as the blu-rays feature a much more attractive restoration taken from the original negatives.  For all its improvements, it's still taken clearly from a black crushing print.  That, or they "tweaked" it in an unfortunate, destructive way.  But the blu?  Wow.  The series was shot on 16mm, so expect a high grain-to-detail ratio, but it's such a vast leap forward in quality and naturalism.  Really, if you only own this one on DVD, this is a title you'll really want to upgrade.

The blu-rays feature a solid uncompressed LPCM audio track.  English subtitles are also included, which are a welcome site, as all the older DVDs lacked them.
Now, the story with the extras is as complicated and confusing as anything else with this series' DVD history, so let's just take it chronologically.  The Image DVD was barebones; that's simple enough.  And the 2001 Special Edition earned it's title with the inclusion of one, quite worthwhile, 23 minute featurette simply titled The Making Of...  It also included a nice 8-page booklet with quotes from the cast and crew and an attractive slipbox.  The 10th Anniversary, then, added a pretty great, new hour-long retrospective feature as its main attraction, called Lasting Impressions, where most of the cast and crew (bar Firth and Ehle) reminisce on the filming and success of the series.  They also include the episode of A&E's Biography about Jane Austen, which had previously been released on DVD on its own, plus a short "walk about" featurette with actors Lucy Briers and Adrian Lucas.  They're affable enough, but the walk's a bit of a wash, as they revisit one of the film's locations but have nothing of substance to say to one another.

Now, in 2010, the restored DVD and the initial blu-ray feature the same extras.  Specifically, they have the Lasting Impressions, the walk about, and two new features.  One is an excellent half-hour featurette that interviews much of the cast and crew but manages not to be terribly redundant in conjunction with the other extras (across all extras for this film, only a handful of anecdotes get repeated), called Pride and Prejudice: A Turning Point for Period Drama.  And there's also a brief but informative exploration (thankfully, he doesn't talk down to us) of the restoration process, which any reader of this site should appreciate.
2001's The Making Of...
The new Keepsake Edition, then, features all of the extras from the 2010 releases: Lasting Impressions, Turning Point, the walk about and the restoration featurette.  Plus, it has four new featurettes, which are all quite good.  The main one is The Definitive Pride and Prejudice, an overall history of the miniseries, starting with Austen and the novel itself, and interviewing many of the key players.  The following three, then, are essentially further interviews from the same time, on more specific subjects (though a few interviewees only show up in these later featurettes): Love or Money? Courtship and Marriage In Pride and Prejudice, The Music Of Pride and Prejudice and Lifestyles of the Wealthy in Early 19th Century England.  Those are all about ten minutes each and more focused on the show then some of the historical titles suggest.

I believe the idea of this Keepsake is to be a definitive edition, hence rounding up all previous extras as well as including new ones, but unfortunately they missed the original making of from the 2001 Special Edition.  And that one was quite interesting as it was filmed around the time of production, so not only are the interviewees noticeably younger, but they have a lot of great behind-the-scenes footage and on-set chats all of the other extras lack.  I suspect they left it off because it's fullscreen and they only had an interlaced, standard def copy that would look pretty poor on their otherwise beautiful blu-ray, but it's still a disappointment.  By the way, rather stupidly, they only list four of the 8 special features on the back of the box, making it seem like they've just repackaged the previous blu without coming up with all that cool, new content. It also includes several bonus trailers, which annoying all play on start-up, and comes in a nice slipcover.
So, there's not much debate over which is the release to get; the Keepsake Edition has the terrific HD negative restoration and the most and best special features by far, with no detriment to recommend a previous release, except the disappointing absence of the original Making Of...  The Keepsake Edition should be more than enough to satisfy casual fans, though, as that's already a couple solid hours of extras.  And happily, more dedicated fans can pick up the old Special Edition super cheap (as in under $2) online, so you can easily make compile a more complete special edition for yourself anyway.