Wednesday, January 18, 2006

DVD Review: Space: Above and Beyond - The Complete Series

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“Space: Above and Beyond” (S:AAB) was a short-lived television show that was originally aired on US television during the mid 90’s while I was there finishing my degree. I remember watching the premier episode and was hooked on the series almost immediately after that. Unfortunately for me back then, the series was only at mid season when I completed my degree and had to return back to Malaysia. A few years after that, a local television station picked up the series and I finally able to watch the episodes that I missed the last time I saw the series in the US.

Like “Star Trek” and “Babylon 5” , S:AAB appealing storylines and engaging characters quickly endear the series to a groups of hardcore fans. Thanks to the internet, fan groups started putting up websites supporting this TV series almost immediately after the first few episodes aired. I was personally privy to this development in Malaysia when a group of the show’s fans, myself included, got together to share our appreciation of this show was shown on Malaysian TV. The fans of the show would group themselves as squadrons like the main characters on the series and I think that for the Malaysian chapter of the S:AAB fans were called the “Firebirds” squadron. We all had made up call signs based on a type of bird and were given ranks based on how long you have been in the group. It was my first time being in any type of fan group and I still remember the times that we did managed to get together quite fondly today.

Ever since the DVD market expended to include the release of TV series on DVD, S:AAB continued to be one of the well beloved shows that has always been on the top of any DVD release wishlist. It was a show that the fans wanted to watch again and hopefully relive the excitement that they remembered from the time it was originally aired. The show’s fans were further encouraged after the success of the DVD released of another short lived sci-fi TV show, “Firefly”, whose sales number was impressive enough to convince them to produce “Serenity” which was a feature film continuation of the cancelled series. The fans patience finally paid off when the DVD set for “Space: Above and Beyond – The Complete Series” was released in late 2005.

“Space: Above and Beyond – The Complete Series” DVD set compiles all 24 episodes of this series that chronicles the trials and tribulation of a group of young US Marine Corps Space Aviators thrown together to serve together as the “Wildcards” squadron when Earth finds herself at war with an alien civilization in 2063. With an ensemble of characters that came from diverse backgrounds and personalities, audience followed their journey week after week through several interesting and thought provoking storylines as they progressed from green recruits to becoming a decorated fighting unit. The first season of this show, which regrettably became the show’s only season, ended with a wonderful cliffhanger which left the team suffering heavy casualties and had only 2 surviving members.

While the DVD set has been largely anticipated by the fans, I have to say that the final product was a disappointment. Unlike the more recent and better produced “Firefly” DVD set, the video quality of some of the episodes were borderline unacceptable and suffered greatly at being packed into the double-sided disk. Several scenes especially on disk 1 side A looked like a pixilated copy of the original most probably due to the compression that they had to put the source material through to fit 4 hour episodes on one side. While the video quality noticeable improved in the latter episodes on the DVD set, this defect was enough to ruin the experience to reliving the series for me.

Fortunate for the set, the same could not be said for the audio quality of the DVDs. Each sound effects and dialogue lines were reproduced clearly in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround. I wished that they had taken the same care of the video quality as they did with the audio quality. The difference in quality between the two aspect of the DVD set was too pronounced to ignore.

The biggest crime that the makers of this DVD set made in the eyes of fans of myself was the crime of not knowing their own product. The most glaring of examples is the inclusion a shot of the Babylon 5 space station in the menu selection screen for every disk when the two shows were not even related. The lack of any bonus material to speak off other than several TV spots for some of the episodes was also a big disappointment for the fans who would have appreciated a commentary track from the creators explaining the final fate of the characters that they loved from the show.

All in all the DVD release was a very disappointing one that is hard to recommend to anyone other than the fans of the show. Substandard video quality and lack of special feature presentations unfortunately would not make this set appealing to buyers who the makers hoped would help to repeat the sales numbers enjoyed by the “Firefly” DVD set. While I am thankful that I at least am able now to see the show that I still remember fondly on DVD, I sincerely wished that they had done a better job of producing the set. It was very disappointing to see the horrible treatment that this wonderful show continue to receive till today.

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