Under the Radar

Universal Pictures Turns 100 With a Massive Box Set


The Universal 100th Anniversary Blu-ray Collection is a giant doorstop featuring 25 movies released over the last century by Universal Pictures. The box set retails for $350 but you can find it online for about ten bucks a movie.

There are a lot of great movies included in this set but the only connecting thread between all of them is a Universal Studios logo in the credits. The studio, currently owned by Comcast. has been through at least half a dozen owners over the past century, most of them over the last 20 years.


Over the last few years, Universal has embarked on a massive preservation and restoration program designed to bring its most important titles back to life. That campaign has yielded some amazing packages: both the Classic Monsters and Alfred Hitchock box sets are both historically important and massively entertaining. They've also reissued dozens of movies in elaborately-packaged deluxe editions that include newly mastered versions of the movie with many of the sets including both Blu-ray and DVD editions.

Here's the complete list of films included in the Blu-ray box: All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), Dracula (1931), Dracula Spanish version (1931), Buck Privates (1941), Pillow Talk (1959), Spartacus (1960), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), The Birds (1963), American Graffiti (1973), The Sting (1973), Jaws (1975), National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978),  E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Scarface (1983), The Breakfast Club (1985), Back to the Future (1985), Out of Africa (1985), Field of Dreams (1989), Do the Right Thing (1989,) Jurassic Park (1993),  Apollo 13 (1995), The Fast and the Furious (2001), The Bourne Identity (2002),  Mamma Mia! The Movie (2008) and Despicable Me (2010). For unexplained reasons, the DVD box set drops the Spanish Dracula and substitutes (upgrades to) Schindler's List.

There's a lot of amazing movies here. Steven Spielberg started his career working for Universal and has made many of his biggest films for the studio. He was obviously into this project because we get spectacular remastered/restored versions of all three of his Universal big guns: Jaws, E.T. and Jurassic Park. American Graffiti and Animal House are two of the most influential movies of the 70s and The Breakfast Club and Back to the Future are equally important 80s films.

What the're doing in a collection with genuinely spectacular restorations of All Quiet on the Western Front and To Kill a Mockingbird is harder to understand. And why the suits chose Mamma Mia!, The Fast and the Furious and Despicable Me as examples of the studio's 21st-century moviemaking is downright baffling.

The collection tries to make a case for a Universal studio house style with a bonus disk full of documentaries about the studio's history, a group of its less-famous-than-Disney cartoon shorts and some short films from the early days. The documentaries about studio founder Carl Laemmle and superagent-turned-studio-head Lew Wasserman give a broad idea about the philosophies that fueled the studio for most of existence but they don't have much to say about the last two decades.

There are some other curious decisions. The Birds wouldn't really be anyone's first choice as an example of Hitchock's best work. There are some incredible films included in the 100th anniversary reissue program that would've made this collection more compelling, including The Deer Hunter, Born on the 4th of July, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Airport, High Plains Drifter and Casino.

Who's the ideal customer for this box set? If you or someone you know wants even half of the movies in this collection, it might might a great gift. I worked for one of Universal's record companies back in the Lew Wasserman days, so I was really interested in the documentaries because I already knew the company history. Maybe they're going to give it prominent placement in the Universal Studios gift shop and promote it on the tour in hopes that enthusiastic visitors will make an impulse purchase. That might work if they offer to ship it back home for free. Otherwise, it's hard to imagine too many customers who were just waiting for a way to get Rock Hudson and Doris Day in Pillow Talk and The Bourne Identity at the same time.

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