Click here to learn more about anamorphic widescreen!
Go to the Home Page
Go to The Rumor Mill
Go to Todd Doogan's weekly column
Go to the Reviews Page
Go to the Trivia Contest Page
Go to the Upcoming DVD Artwork Page
Go to the DVD FAQ & Article Archives
Go to our DVD Links Section
Go to the Home Theater Forum for great DVD discussion
Find out how to advertise on The Digital Bits

Site created 12/15/97.


page added: 12/6/06



The Spin Sheet

DVD reviews by Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits


Star Trek: The Animated Series

Buy this DVD now at Amazon!


Star Trek: The Animated Series
1973-1974 (2006) - Filmation/NBC (CBS/Paramount)

Program Rating: B+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B/C


It seems as if there's a lot of Saturday morning fare being released on DVD these days, but this might be my favorite of the lot. Like many Trek fans, I grew up watching The Original Series in syndication as a kid, and loved every cheesy episode. But there was a period of time there when the Star Trek franchise MIGHT have just faded away into obscurity. Enter Filmation, which convinced Paramount, NBC and producer Gene Roddenberry to support the production of a half-hour animated series that would continue the Starship Enterprise's "five year mission" where the cancelled Original Series left off. D.C. Fontana, who had been a story editor on The Original Series, was brought back to serve in the same capacity for The Animated Series. A number of writers who were involved with the live-action series came back as well.

What's more, much of the live-action cast came back to provide the voices of their characters for The Animated Series, including William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan and Majel Barrett. Nichelle Nichols and George Takei were originally not invited back for budget reasons, but Nimoy reportedly insisted that they be involved and Filmation agreed. Walter Koenig was sadly not invited back, though he did later return as a writer, becoming in fact the first Star Trek cast member ever to pen an episode of the franchise (in this case The Infinite Vulcan). Of the 22 episodes that were produced (over two seasons), a number stand out as great drama, including Yesteryear (which featured a return to the Guardian of Forever and a look at Spock's childhood), David Gerrold's More Tribbles, More Troubles (which was a sequel to his own popular episode of The Original Series) and The Slaver Weapon (written by noted science fiction author Larry Niven).

For a variety of reasons, Star Trek: The Animated Series has always been given short-shrift by Paramount. It was therefore the last bit of the Trek franchise that the studio released on DVD. Thankfully, however, the episodes have been well cared for in the studio vaults. Shot on film, the new full frame video transfers look fantastic. Rest assured that you've NEVER seen these episodes looking this good before. Color, contrast, detail... they're all first rate. The original prints are fortunately in great shape, so they're surprisingly clean looking. The audio is available in newly-mixed Dolby Digital 5.1, along with the original mono. The 5.1 mixes aren't terribly lively, but they creates a nicely immersive sound environment. And I have to say, I'd forgotten how much I loved the music cues in this series. I haven't been able to get them out of my head since I started rewatching these episodes in recent days.

CBS/Paramount could have dumped The Animated Series out on DVD without any extras (and I can tell you that they ALMOST did). Luckily, a few things were pulled together for you to enjoy. To start with, you get new subtitle trivia tracks by Michael and Denise Okuda on Yesteryear, The Eye of the Beholder and The Counter-Clock Incident. Writer audio commentary is also available on More Tribbles, More Troubles, Bem and How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth, and you get a storyboard gallery on The Infinite Vulcan. You also get a 24-minute featurette with interviews of the various production talent (Drawn to the Final Frontier: The Making of Star Trek: The Animated Series), as well as a text history of the show and a number of very short videos detailing the series' many connections to the rest of the Trek franchise. The featurette and commentaries are cool at least, but I wish CBS/Paramount had put a little more effort into these extras. What you get here just isn't even close to the quality of what BCI's been doing lately on FAR less important Saturday morning series (see my review of their Ark II DVD from yesterday if you doubt me). Still, I suppose we should just be glad that they did anything at all.

Star Trek: The Animated Series has been a bit controversial over the years, with regard to how much of the series can be considered "canon" (a fancy way of saying whether its episodes are officially considered part of the historical continuity of the Star Trek universe or not). According to his wife (Majel Barrett Roddenberry), Gene Roddenberry himself asked for the series to be "decanonized" before he died. No one really seems sure if he did this because he didn't like the series, or if it has more to do with legal issues - for example the series' use of characters and situations created by authors Niven and Harlan Ellison (the latter of whom wrote The Original Series episode The City on the Edge of Forever, which first featured the Guardian of Forever - Ellison has been notoriously litigious in protecting his work over the years).

Whatever the reasons may be for considering The Animates Series "non-canon," to me this controversy is just silly. The series was produced by Roddenberry, it featured almost the entire original cast (as well as writers and staff from The Original Series) and it told great, high-concept Trek stories. Many of the concepts and historical details that originated here were adopted by later Trek series and films. Furthermore, this Emmy-winning series rekindled fan interest in Star Trek at a critical time, eventually helping to convince Paramount to bring the franchise to the big screen. If something looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck... it's probably a duck. Simply put, The Animated Series is pure Star Trek, through and through. It absolutely DESERVES the respect of the fans. Those of you who have never seen it, or who may have dismissed it as "non-canon," would do well to give it a try on DVD now. I think you'll be very glad you did.


M*A*S*H: The Martinis & Medicine Collection

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Buy this DVD now at Amazon!


M*A*S*H: The Martinis & Medicine Collection
1970-1983 (2006) - 20th Century Fox/CBS (Fox)

Film/Program: B+/A
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/B


M*A*S*H is one of those classic shows that you either really love or have little interest in. For my part, I grew up with the series. My family rarely missed an episode, so I have fond memories connected to the show over the years. Based on the 1970 Robert Altman feature film of the same name (which was itself based on a 1968 novel by Robert Hooker), the series follows the daily trials of the officers and enlisted staff of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital unit during the Korean War. In particular, we're introduced to surgeons Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John McIntyre (played by Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould in the film, but made famous by actors Alan Alda and Wayne Rogers on the TV series), who have little respect for rank and use humor as a defense against the seemingly never-ending horrors of war that they're confronted with on the operating table. The film was a success in its day, but it's the TV series that is remembered most fondly, having run for some 11 seasons in all (from 1972 to 1983). Alda made the role of Hawkeye his own, and was surrounded by a fantastic ensemble cast over the years, including Mike Ferrell, McLean Stevenson, Larry Linville, Loretta Swit, Jamie Farr, Harry Morgan, David Ogden Stires and Gary Burghoff, just to name a few.

20th Century Fox has released the Altman film on DVD previously in both single-disc and 2-disc Five Star editions. They've also released the complete series on DVD in individual season sets, the last of which just arrived in stores last month. For those fans who have been waiting for an ultimate box set of everything, however, Fox's new M*A*S*H: The Martinis & Medicine Collection is just what the doctor ordered. The 36-disc set includes all 251 episodes of the TV series, plus the 1970 film, in a single box. The feature film is presented in good quality anamorphic widescreen video, with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and 1.0 mono audio. The TV episodes are offered in their original full frame aspect ratio, with just mono audio. Shot on film, the episodes generally look very good, but do occasionally show their age in terms of print defects, excessive grain, dust, etc. You'll also see digital compression artifacting from time to time, though nothing too distracting.

What scant extras were included on the TV season DVDs are carried over here (including the ability to watch the episodes with or without laugh tracks, as originally broadcast). You also get a pair of exclusive new bonus discs that offer tons of previously unreleased special features. These include the A&E Biography episode M*A*S*H: Television's Serious Sitcom, blooper reels, archival interviews, video of various cast members talking about their favorite episodes, selected episode promos, PSAs, clips of the last day of filming, a trivia game, the 86-minute M*A*S*H: 30th Anniversary Reunion special, a featurette on the fans, the 69-minute Memories of M*A*S*H special and even the complete script for an unproduced episode of the series. All of this comes in an oversized slipcase (pictured below), appropriately covered in olive-drab fabric, that contains a cardboard foldout 'medical file' to hold all the discs, as well as a clipboard with a small book featuring photographs, liner notes and a complete episode guide.

M*A*S*H: The Martinis & Medicine Collection

Unfortunately, while the movie is included in this set (featuring audio commentary by Altman, the Backstory: M*A*S*H featurette and the film's theatrical trailer), it's just the single-disc edition - not the 2-disc Five Star release. That means all of the film-related extras that were on Disc Two of the Five Star edition are missing here, which is a real shame. They included the 40-minute Enlisted: The Story of M*A*S*H and 44-minute M*A*S*H: Comedy Under Fire documentaries, the Fox Movie Channel video of the film's 30th anniversary cast reunion and a short featurette on the film's restoration. My solution to this was simply to tuck Disc Two of the Five Star into a paper sleeve and slip it into the case with the rest of the discs. Still, it's shame that it was necessary to do this at all.

The series M*A*S*H was both hugely successful in its day and also critically acclaimed. It was so popular, in fact, that its final episode became the most watched program in the history of television to that point. At $200, Fox's Martinis & Medicine Collection seems a little pricey, but then eleven seasons worth of episodes and a feature film IS a lot of material. I suspect, however, that the box release is going to upset those fans who have already purchased the individual season sets, because you can only get the two bonus discs here. Fox should really think about making them available to those fans who have purchased the season DVDs somehow - perhaps via mail with proof of purchase. That said, the missing Five Star bonus features are really the only strike against what is otherwise a wonderfully comprehensive box set. If you haven't already purchased the TV seasons and can find a REALLY good sale price... this set is recommended.


U2 18: Videos
1980-2006 (2006) - Interscope Records (Universal Music)

Program Rating: A-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B+/B-


U2 18: Singles - Limited Edition
1980-2006 (2006) - Interscope Records (Universal Music)

Music (CD): A
Video (DVD): B
Audio (CD & DVD): A
Extras (DVD & Book): B+


U2: Zoo TV Live from Sydney - Limited Edition
1994 (2006) - Island Records (Universal Music)

Program Rating: B+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B+/B+


U2 18: VideosU2 18: Singles - Limited EditionU2: Zoo TV Live from Sydney - Limited Edition

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEnhanced for 16x9 TVs

Encoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital SurroundEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

Buy this DVD now at Amazon!Buy this DVD now at Amazon!Buy this DVD now at Amazon!

There's a trio of new U2 DVD releases that may be of interest to you music fans, so I wanted to take a look at them for you. They include U2 18: Videos, the U2 18: Singles - Limited Edition and the recent U2: Zoo TV Live from Sydney - Limited Edition. Let's start with the video collection first.

U2 18: Videos presents longtime fans of this band with something of a problem. On one hand, I can understand the desire of the record company and perhaps even the band to release another greatest hits collection. After all, there are many casual fans who might not have purchased the previous "Best of" releases that U2's issued in the past, and given the band's recent success, there are likely some fans interested in just such a collection. As they say on the packaging, U2 18: Videos is the first such collection to span their entire career, meaning that it's one of the only places you can find videos from their last two albums, All That You Can't Leave Behind and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, along with the new track The Saints Are Coming (recorded with Green Day). I also appreciate the fact that you get some interesting extras - 'making of the video' videos, alternate version videos, etc. I just wish that, if the band were going to release another video collection DVD, they'd go back and do a DVD upgrade of their original Best of 1980-1990 VHS release - something that would match their fantastic Best of 1990-2000 DVD from a few years back. As it stands now, U2 18: Videos offers a bit of duplication of the 1990-2000 DVD (three videos - Beautiful Day, One and Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of), while omitting some of the outstanding videos that were on the 1980-1990 VHS release (including With or Without You, Bad, I Will Follow, The Unforgettable Fire, When Love Comes to Town, Angel of Harlem, All I Want Is You and One Tree Hill). Also not included on this disc is a video for the new Window in the Skies, though that might be because one many not have been produced yet.

As I said though, U2 18: Videos does include some nice extras. You get the featurettes The Making of Vertigo and A Story of One, along with alternate video versions of Beautiful Day, Pride (In the Name of Love), Vertigo, One and Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own. You also get a booklet with credits and liner notes on each of the videos included. The videos are all in full frame (often letterboxed widescreen), though The Making of Vertigo, Vertigo - Lisbon Version and Vertigo - HQ Version are anamorphic widescreen. They look generally very good, with the overall quality depending on the age of the video and the format it was shot in (high-def video, analog video, 16mm film, etc). The audio for the entire disc is 48kHz/16bit LPCM stereo only, but it's excellent across the board. The set comes packaged in a Super Jewel case.

Also newly available from the band that might appeal to DVD fans is a U2 18: Singles - Limited Edition. It includes the regular 18-track CD release, along with a DVD disc that offers an hour-long, 10-song live concert performance recorded in Milan during the band's 2005 Vertigo tour. The CD sounds great, but obviously has the same track duplication issues as the Videos DVD, although it does offer the two new songs. The DVD however is material that hasn't been released before. It's presented in anamorphic widescreen video of good quality (there's some compression artifacting visible, but that's often the case with concert discs), with great sounding audio available in Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1 and 48kHz/16bit LPCM stereo options. The whole concert DVD is basically included as a bonus item, as is the packaging/disc holder, which is a mini hardcover book that features photographs, cover art for the various single releases, song lyrics and credits.

The third new DVD release from U2 is the U2: Zoo TV Live from Sydney - Limited Edition that was released a couple months ago. It's basically a DVD upgrade of the live concert VHS originally released back in 1994. The Limited Edition (in Digipack packaging) features two discs - the concert itself and a disc of bonus material (the regular edition comes in a Super Jewel case and features only the concert disc). The concert disc is presented in the original full frame video (which has been digitally tweaked to look as good as possible on DVD), with audio in Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1 and 48kHz/16bit LPCM stereo. The bonus disc includes 4 more tracks filmed during various concerts on the Zoo TV tour, along with 3 documentaries (A Fistful of Zoo TV, Zoo TV: The Inside Story and Trabantland). You also get sample footage of the Video Confessional from the tour, as well as a karaoke version of Numb without the Edge's vocal track (allowing you to sing along) and 3 well-hidden Easter eggs (instructions to find them are available several places online). Via DVD-Rom, there are also screensavers and the like.

Whether or not you chose to buy U2 18: Videos or the U2 18: Singles - Limited Edition is going to depend in large part on how serious or casual a U2 fan you are. Some fans will probably balk at the prospect of having to purchase many of the same songs again. On the other hand, more casual fans may find these collections attractive, while the diehard completists will no doubt see them as must-haves. For my part, I'd rather have all-new material or DVD upgrades of previously released VHS titles from the band. For that reason, I consider the U2: Zoo TV Live from Sydney - Limited Edition the best value of these three releases (and I hope we'll eventually see DVD upgrades of U2: Live at Red Rocks and U2: Best of 1980-1990 as well). While the music is certainly first-rate, I can't really recommend either of the U2 18 collections... but then I can't say they're crap either. What I would leave you with is this: Just know what you're getting and remember that your own mileage may vary.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com
E-mail the Bits!


Don't #!@$ with the Monkey! Site designed for 1024 x 768 resolution, using 16M colors and .gif 89a animation.
© 1997-2002 The Digital Bits, Inc., All Rights Reserved.
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com