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The Spin Sheet (continued)

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The X-Files: Abduction - Four-Disc Mythology Collection

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The X-Files: Abduction
Four-Disc Mythology Collection - 1993-1995 (2005) - 20th Century Fox

Program Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B-/B


With the upcoming TV season set to deliver a multitude of extraterrestrial/supernatural-themed clones of The X-Files, it's a lot of fun to go back and revisit the original. This new 4-disc DVD set, the first of four such volumes, features the 15 episodes that started series creator Chris Carter's so-called 'mythology' arc - the conspiracy story that formed the backbone of the series. You'll learn how Fox Mulder's sister, Samantha, was kidnapped by aliens as a child, inspiring his career in the FBI and a life-long search for answers. You'll learn how Mulder was teamed with a skeptical, smart-is-sexy scientist named Dana Scully, when the powers-that-be realized Mulder was just getting too damned close to finding his answers. You'll meet the whole shadowy cast of characters that made this show better with each new episode: Skinner, Cancer Man, Alex Krycek (rat bastard!), the Lone Gunmen, Mr. X, Deep Throat, Duane Barry and the Mighty Morphin' Bounty Hunter, just to name a few. And you'll watch as the skeptic starts to believe, and the believer starts to doubt, and the two learn to Trust No One but each other in their desperate quest for The Truth.


These 15 episodes are culled from the series' first three seasons. They include the series Pilot, Deep Throat, Fallen Angel, E.B.E., The Erlenmeyer Flask, Little Green Men, Duane Barry, Ascension, One Breath, Red Museum, Colony, End Game, Anasazi, The Blessing Way and Paper Clip. All of them are presented in their original full frame aspect ratio (the series switched to anamorphic widescreen later, in season five). The quality is good, just as it was on the previous complete season DVDs (these are the same digital masters). The series is atmospheric by design, with a stylish and muted look. You'll notice some grain, owing to the film stock used for the production. Colors are accurate and contrast is excellent. The show has a bit of a digital look to it occasionally (particularly in effects shots), due to the evolving nature of post-production technology at the time. But there's really nothing here to complain about video-wise. The audio is equally solid, in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround. It's not going to blow you away with panning and rear channel effects, but it matches the video nicely.

Five of these episodes include NEW audio commentary tracks that were not featured on the previous full season DVD box sets (although any deleted scenes and previews they might have had on the previous sets have been left off for space). The episodes with new commentaries are: Deep Throat (by Chris Carter), The Erlenmeyer Flask (R.W. Goodwin), Duane Barry (Chris Carter), End Game (Frank Spotnitz) and Anasazi (R.W. Goodwin). There's one other completely new bonus item here as well - a 20-minute featurette called Threads of Mythology: Abduction. It features new interviews with Carter, series producers Frank Spotnitz, Kim Manners and several other members of the show's production staff, talking about the mythology and how it developed. No doubt it's the first of four such pieces that will be included in these anthology sets. Diehards who already have the existing DVD boxes will rightly be upset to have to buy some of the same episodes again just to get all this new material, but I have to say... it IS worth having if you're a fan of this series. Just for the record, the 4 discs are contained in a pair of double-disc THINpaks (I really love those), complete with a slipcase and a foldout 'mythology timeline' insert.

TV execs are gonna learn this fall that you just can't beat the original X-Files. You can't outfox Fox, baby, and I don't mean the network. With the complete season sets of The X-Files now available for a lower than ever price, there's never been a better time to revisit this show from the beginning. But if you're still too cheap to buy those (hey, I know… it's STILL a lot of cash), this set is the closest thing to Cliff Notes for The X-Files as you'll ever get.




The Jacques Cousteau Odyssey - The Complete Series

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The Jacques Cousteau Odyssey - The Complete Series
1977-1982 (2005) - KCET/The Cousteau Society (Warner Bros.)

Program Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C/C/F


If The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou brings a twinkle to your eye, you probably remember with fondness the original documentary adventures of oceanographer Jacques Cousteau and his noble team of intrepid explorers that inspired it. Cousteau and the crew of the Calypso traveled the globe tirelessly for decades, capturing the natural wonders of planet Earth and its history on film for worldwide audiences to enjoy, and probing its mysteries in the name of science and the advancement of knowledge. I'll wager that many a Gen-Xer recalls hours spent in front of the TV as a kid, thrilling to The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau and The Cousteau Odyssey. I know I sure do.


Warner Bros., working closely with The Cousteau Society, has finally collected the complete Cousteau Odyssey series into a single, 6-disc box set. All 12 documentaries are here: The Nile, Parts 1 & 2, Calypso's Search for Atlantis, Parts 1 & 2, Time Bomb at 50 Fathoms, Mediterranean: Cradle of Coffin?, Calypso's Search for the Britannic, Diving for Roman Plunder, Blind Prophets of Easter Island, Clipperton: The Island that Time Forgot, Lost Relics of the Sea and The Warm-Blooded Sea: Mammals of the Deep. Scores of other films were produced by Cousteau over the years of course, and there are many episodes from other film series he produced as yet unavailable on DVD (click here for a complete list from the Cousteau Society website), but if you're new to his adventures, this is a great place to start.

It's worth noting that these films were shot on a fairly low budget, using somewhat less than Hollywood quality equipment (mostly 16mm film), so they do show their age and character on DVD a bit. They're full frame, fairly grainy looking and there's quite a bit of dust and dirt on the prints. Color is a bit faded, there's a soft look to the image and contrast isn't quite ideal. Still, these films certainly look better now on DVD than you'll remember having seen them on TV back in the 70s and 80s. Audio is an adequate 2.0 mono, and subtitles are offered in English, French and Spanish.

You know, when I was a teenager, I once saw Cousteau's ship, the Alcyone, docked in port on the Mississippi of all places. Its cylindrical, white Turbosails were absolutely unmistakable to anyone who'd ever seen one of his TV shows. I just thought it was the coolest thing. There's something inherently exciting about any endeavor that dares to push back the edges of the unknown. That kind of thing's always gotten my blood pumping.

Still, in today's edutainment and McJournalism culture, I'm sure that some will probably find these films about as exciting as watching paint dry. That's just sad to me. Even if you're not fascinated by the mysteries of the natural world, how anyone can resist a film with a name like Time Bomb at 50 Fathoms, I'll never know. They don't cut many guys from the same cloth as Cousteau anymore. For anyone who ever had a subscription to National Geographic, this is classic, classic stuff.



Speed Racer: Limited Collector's Editions - Volumes 1-3
1966-1968 (2003-2005) - Tatsunoko Productions (Lions Gate)

Program Rating (all 3 Volumes): B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras - Vol. 1): B-/C/C+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras - Vol. 2): B-/C/C
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras - Vol. 3): B-/C/F


Speed Racer: Limited Collector's Edition - Volume 1Speed Racer: Limited Collector's Edition - Volume 2Speed Racer: Limited Collector's Edition - Volume 3

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Speed Racer is the very first TV show I can ever remember watching as a kid. I was born a month after it debuted in syndication in the U.S., and my parents tell me I was hooked from the word go (or should I say, "Go, Speed Racer, goooooooooo!"). The show chronicles the adventures of young Speed Racer, an up and coming race car driver who's just emerged from obscurity to compete on the world stage. His car of choice, the Mach 5, was built by his genius mechanic father, Pops Racer. It's packed will all kinds of high-tech gadgetry that would have made James Bond envious, and for some reason Speed's nosy kid brother Spritle is frequently a passenger in the trunk (along with his monkey sidekick, Chim Chim - hey, I'm not making this stuff up). Still, even with a smokin' ride and a hot babe like his girlfriend Trixie to hang on his arm in the winner's circle, something missing from Speed's life. You see, there's a rogue's gallery of villains gunning for Speed - guys like Snake Oiler, Captain Terror and Cruncher Block. Making matters worse, Speed's older brother Rex ran away from home years ago, after a falling out with Pops. Fortunately, Speed finds an ally in a rival driver, the mysterious Racer X. Little does Speed know, Racer X is secretly… ah hell, you don't already have the rest memorized, you're no fan of this show.

Lions Gate has made the first 36 episodes of the series available on DVD in three volumes - 11 in the first volume in 2003, 12 in the second last year, and another 13 just this week in the third. The video quality of the episodes on all three sets is good, if not great. The program shows its age a bit unfortunately. The episodes look overly soft at times, there's the occasional bit of dust on the prints and a little too much compression artifacting visible. But contrast and color are both generally excellent. The reality is, a lot of older Japanese film productions have suffered from improper handling over the years, so we're probably fortunate to have the show looking as good as it does. The audio is presented in the 'original' dubbed English mono, as U.S. fans will remember it. I say original, of course, because Speed Racer was one of the first Japanese animated series to air in the States back in the late 1960s. American actors Peter Fernandez, Corinne Orr, Jack Grimes and Jack Curtis were hired to dub the episodes into English, and to fill in all those funny little exclamation sounds: "Ahhh?" "Huhhhh?" and "Ohhhhh!"

Man, I love this show.

Sadly, there's not a lot in the way of extras on these DVDs. Volume 1 features some interactive Speed Racer Files - text and menu based details on the history of the production, the car, the villains and the like. For example, you can press all the buttons on the Mach 5's steering wheel and you'll see video clips of the appropriate gadgets in action. There's also a theme song sing-along option, and a very limited gallery of merchandise photos. Volume 2 has several Easter eggs (including very brief video clips and text trivia). Volume 3 has no extras at all. I wish Lions Gate would offer something substantial - maybe video interviews with the surviving cast members or something? Probably what will happen is that after the final volume is released, Lions Gate will come back a year later with a super Ultimate box set with MetaExtras or something. Just kidding (I hope).

Lions Gate's packaging for these DVDs is rather clever, I'll admit. Volume 1 features a slipcase with simulated rubber tire tread on the front. The slipcase for Volume 2 plays the theme song to the show when you squeeze it, and the headlights on the Mach 5 illuminate (sadly, the battery in mine is long dead). The just-released Volume 3, unfortunately, doesn't come in a keep case - the disc is packaged in a round medal tin, the front of which looks like the Mach 5's steering wheel. Anyone who purchased the Total Recall: Limited Edition, packaged in that silly Mars tin, will know exactly what I'm talking about. It sits atop a cardboard holder, which is rather flimsy and most people are likely to just throw it away. Without it, there's nothing to keep the tin from rolling off your DVD shelf but luck. I just put my disc in an Amaray and scanned the cover to make an insert.

I really wish Lions Gate (Artisan, when they started all this) had just released the complete Speed Racer series as a box set. There are only 52 episodes after all, and God knows every fan in their right mind would have purchased it. Having to wait a year for each new volume is a major drag, and with 36 episodes now available, that means we'll have to chill at least one more year to get the final 16. A DVD box set was available briefly a few years ago from the official Speed Racer fan club, but only a very limited number were made (selling for a hefty $300 each) and I missed out. So here I am, waiting yet another year for yet another volume. Wonder what the packaging will be? I'm almost afraid to ask.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com



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