True story: One gloomy winter day, I decided to watch the first season of The Sopranos in one sitting. I blazed through all 13 episodes, getting up only to hit the bathroom and to put a new disc in the DVD player. The experience was rewarding. That first season is truly remarkable, and to see the episodes back-to-back provided real continuity that you couldn't quite get from watching on a week-to-week basis.
But that was back when movie studios and record labels rolled out box set after box set for the holiday season. Now, when digital downloading and on-demand threaten to make CDs and DVDs obsolete, the box set is on the verge of extinction. And it's too bad, really. There's something about box sets that makes them a better gift than, say, a $50 iTunes card. In fact, I still have my Six Feet Under box set that came in a small box with a bit of turf on the top, making it into a mini gravestone.
Even if the box set is about to be rendered irrelevant, here are several worth checking out this winter season, whether you want to give them as gifts or buy them for yourself for those snowy, frigid weekends.
Available exclusively through Amazon, The Complete Miles Davis Columbia Album Collection is a 70-CD box set that includes all 52 of the albums Davis recorded for Columbia. It comes with new liner notes and rare photos in a 250-page book. Though it will set you back $364.98 (the press release boasts that's "only $5.14 per disc"), the collection is truly special. A DVD includes never-before-seen footage of Davis jamming with the Miles Davis Quintet in Europe; it's a terrific black-and-white video that finds Davis and crew blasting their way through "Footprints," "'Round Midnight" and "Walkin'." Columbia wouldn't send out press copies of the collection (we only got a sampling of the material), but it was so terrific that we're sure it'll appeal to more than just jazz aficionados.
The same can't be said for Genesis: The Movie Box, which retails for $99.99. While these Brit prog-rockers sold truckloads of the albums in the '80s and should probably be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, this five-DVD set won't appeal to anyone but the diehard fan. In fact, it doesn't come with copies of recent DVDs When in Rome 2007 and its accompanying Come Rain or Shine disc — apparently the band presumes you already have those and helpfully left room in the package for them. In addition to Live at Wembley Stadium and The Way We Walk: Live, it features Genesis Live: The Mama Tour and Three Sides Live on DVD for the first time. Since the earliest of these movies is 1982's Three Sides Live, that means you get the Phil Collins-fronted Genesis — arguably not as creatively inspired as the Peter Gabriel-fronted incarnation. The DVD of the 1999 VH1 Behind the Music special about the group has also been updated for the box, adding an inconsequential bit about the 2006 reunion and subsequent tour.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum has spent the latter part of this year celebrating its 25th anniversary and has released Rock and Roll Hall of Fame LIVE, a nine-DVD set featuring 125 performances from its induction ceremonies. It retails for $119.96, and the total running time is something like 24 hours. While the set includes all the highlights (Bruce Springsteen jamming with Roy Orbison, McCartney inducting John Lennon, the Band playing with Eric Clapton), it's not organized chronologically, which makes it a little difficult to track the ceremonies year by year. Instead of putting the performances in order, the DVDs are thematic (with somewhat arbitrary titles such as "Light My Fire," "Message of Love" and "Come Together"). But that's a minor complaint about an otherwise terrific collection. And if the price tag for the complete set is a bit too steep for your budget, you can pick up the three-disc abridged version for $39.95.
Bound to provide hours upon hours of confusion, laughter and disgust, Adult Swim in a Box features 12 DVDs of totally fringe Adult Swim series. The somewhat random collection includes Aqua Teen Hunger Force Volume 2, Sealab 2021: Season 2, Robot Chicken Season 2, Moral Orel Season 1, Metalcalypse Season 1 and Space Ghost Coast to Coast Volume 3. It retails for $69.95 and includes a bonus disc of never-released pilot episodes. My favorite pilot is Totally For Teens, a talk-show spoof that parodies teen fears about everything from unwanted pregnancies to anorexia that's hosted by "totally out-of-touch thirtysomethings." It's completely irreverent and hilarious. The custom box the discs come in is a bit flimsy, but that's to be expected for such an affordably priced set.