As you may have noticed, the comments, likes, and stats are gone. This is because I accidentally nuked the blog in trying to get WordPress’ JetPack functional (it failed). Sorry.
Since Wednesday, the internet (and G.I. Joe fandom in particular) has been abuzz over Paramount’s surprising decision to delay G.I. Joe: Retaliation until March 29th (or, for those keeping track, three months and one week after the world is supposed to end). Rumors state that it’s because Battleship was an instant bomb, or because it might get swallowed up by The Amazing Spider-Man (not likely, as the pre-release buzz has been quite mixed) or The Dark Knight Rises (actually quite likely), and of course the official word that it’s so that Paramount can convert the film to 3D (which is a bit stupid, given the backlash against 2D films converted into 3D, and 3D in general).
Yes, blaming the potential failure of a big budget Hollywood film on a low budget (and often very cheap looking) cartoon show from the ’80s is very silly on many levels, but let me explain. As many of you are aware, the Sunbow G.I. Joe series met a premature end when rival animation studio DiC gave Hasbro an offer they simply couldn’t refuse to assume production of the series (it is also assumed that DiC further convinced Hasbro that Sunbow was a substandard animation studio-an attitude that persists within the company to this day). The thing is, DiC’s G.I. Joe was hardly a creative success, and may very well have been a financial success mostly because it followed Sunbow’s continuity, and was distributed alongside the Sunbow series until USA dissolved the Cartoon Express in 1996.
Further attempts to adapt G.I. Joe to TV and film have been even less successful. G.I. Joe Extreme, Sigma Six, Renegades, the two CGI movies, and Sgt. Savage have all failed to catch on with pretty much anyone, even the mainstream G.I. Joe fandom. I’ve been calling this the Sunbow Curse, partly to be a jerk, but mostly because it’s true: by abandoning that which made the modern 3 3/4″ version of G.I. Joe popular, Hasbro has doomed a franchise that has no real gimmick to it (other than that of the characters and the storyline) to failure. Furthermore, in declaring the comic as the source of G.I. Joe’s popularity, a great truth has been lost: Sunbow’s animation was used to promote the comic, largely as a way to promote the toys in an exciting fashion that ABC, NBC, and CBS would not have otherwise allowed on their airwaves. In fact, the comic quickly became a pit of poor storytelling, as Larry Hama, who was at the time considered a very poor writer, was never able to effectively deal with the ever-expanding cast (see: Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, and Scarlett devolving into Mary Sues), and it seems clear that he was likely getting burned out at around the time where the comic seemed to be actively repudiating popular (depending on your opinion of G.I. Joe: The Movie, mind you) elements of the cartoon (except the Flint and Lady Jaye relationship, which was forced upon Hama by Hasbro).
And really, at its best, the comic was a painful exercise, with its ninja porn, over-reliance on military jargon and acronyms, and navel-gazing over the Vietnam War (energies which were best suited to Hama’s period comic, The ‘Nam). Plus, I can’t emphasize just how much Hama’s hatred of the Sunbow series made getting into the comic difficult: the first issue I was exposed to was #61, which, ignoring the Billy/Cobra Commander/Fred VII B-plot for a moment, confused the hell out of me because not only did Hama refuse to have Hawk rendered as a brunette to match the toys and cartoon (an issue that was downright baffling when reading issue 3 of Marvel’s G.I. Joe/Transformers crossover miniseries at around the same time), but Hawk (or, not-Duke, if you will) actually refused to rescue captured Joes, something wildly antithetical to the ethics of the cartoon……but in tune with Hama’s beloved military protocol. (As an aside, Sunbow, despite the supposed prima facie evidence, did have a writer on staff with military experience: Buzz Dixon, who was responsible for codifying the “we all go home or nobody goes home” mantra, and whom was responsible for about as many “wild” episodes of the series as Supervising Story Editor as his predecessor, the late, great Steve Gerber. The thing is, Mr. Dixon has understood how to balance realism with a good story throughout his career.) So, not only was a comic book aimed directly at kids inaccessible, it contradicted the much more widely distributed (read: free) take on the franchise in ways that go deeper than the subject of just who Scarlett was sprung on.
So, it should come as no shocker to anyone that Retaliation was/is going to deviate from G.I. Joe as most of us experienced it: the people behind the film have explicitly stated that they were looking to emulate the comic, which of course means NINJAS! In fact, Roadblock (played by The Rock of all people) is himself a ninja, as well as a more obvious leader of the team (never mind that Flint and Lady Jaye, Power Couple 1A of the Sunbow series to Duke and Scarlett’s Power Couple 1, are in this film). Oh, and since Channing Tatum is too famous for this movie, Duke,THE HASBRO-ACKNOWLEDGED FACE OF THE FRANCHISE, is rumored to die in the first reel. So, despite all of these steps to appeal to the nostalgia crowd (note how Cobra Commander with have his face plate), it seems like story decisions are being dictated by the cast, and not the characters. This simply will not work for G.I. Joe. The characters (and maybe a few select vehicles) are all the line has going for it. And, truth be told, there are a ton of great characters, good and evil, to exploit. There can be a plethora of G.I. Joe movies without Duke and/or Scarlett, or any of a number of other characters, and still be tons of fun. The plot can be sci-fi, pure action-adventure, or even fantasy, and still succeed. Hell, one could blatantly follow the James Bond formula and it could very well work. But pandering to a very small audience with ninjas, and then dictating other plot and character decisions based on who you were able to cast will not work. In fact, it sounds suspiciously like the formula to the Doctor Who “classic”, “Attack of the Cybermen”, which is generally considered to be the very nadir of that long-running franchise.
What was intended to be a celebration for G.I. Joe in its 30th year of the A Real American Hero incarnation has instead turned into bad comedy. And given that Hasbro doesn’t seem interested in giving up on G.I. Joe, even when it desperately needs a break, and probably a good turnover in staff (or, at the very least, a good backing down from the “let’s make a movie out of every Hasbro boy’s toy” mentality), the line will likely continue to falter, and one of the greatest cartoons of the ’80s will still lack a worthy successor.
Thanksgiving (also known as Indian Genocide Day, or Eat Until You Pass Out Day) is upon us, and it can mean one thing:
It means that there are tons of DVDs coming out!
The deluge has already started. Disney has unleashed the fall Platinum Edition, The Lion King (with a special version that has even more impractical packaging than the special version for the old DVD release), and of course Cars 2: Herp And Derp With Larry the Cable Guy is out. Plus, Warner has unleashed the first Looney Tunes Blu-ray set (the whining about the double-dipping of shorts having started half a year ago), and the first Golden Collection for Tom And Jerry, which will (finally!) collect all of the duo’s shorts, fully restored and uncut. However, what’s coming down the pike is even more exciting. Shout! Factory is even in the act, with Part 1 of Conan the Adventurer‘s second season having come out today.
First and foremost, Shout! Factory is releasing a complete series set for Underdog, the first in a cycle of releases that will see all of the Total TeleVision Productions cartoons released to DVD for the first time. And, unlike with the Sunbow shows, there is 1) a definitive, published expert on the studio’s output, and 2) Classic Media, the current owner of the Total TV library, has enlisted this expert, a man named Mark Arnold, to completely rebuild each episode as it was originally aired (as syndicators have long since redistributed the individual Total TV shorts and jumbled them around, often mixing them in with Rocky And Bullwinkle shorts for perpetual rebroadcast). While I hold no claims of being the Sunbow expert (I haven’t even interviewed a single Sunbow staffer in over 8 years of running this site, for one thing), having someone with a good, working knowledge of the Sunbow shows would have been far preferable to letting Brian Ward (who has at times admitted on the Shout! Factory message boards some level of ignorance about the Sunbow shows, to say nothing of his ignorance of what the Doctor Who Restoration Team has proven can be done to restore videotape masters) fumble about.
Next month, Warner Archive is releasing the second volume of Season 2 of The Jetsons (these are more of the ’80s episodes with that Orbitty thing, if that helps any), which will leave only the last 10 episodes of the series unreleased.
Season 2 of Rocko’s Modern Life is coming in February, which leads me again to wonder why You Can’t Do That On Television still hasn’t been considered for a DVD release.
Mill Creek, who has sublicensed the DVD rights to a number of DiC shows from Shout! Factory, is releasing an odd 3-disc compilation featuring C.O.P.S., Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors,….. and Pole Position. The latter show has never had a home video release before, which has long been assumed to be a result of Namco asserting their US rights to their early arcade games (most ’80 Namco games were released in America by either Bally/Midway or Atari-the latter of which Namco became a part owner of for a time when the arcade division was spun off as Atari Games after the notorious Video Game Crash). The problem is, Pole Position has 13 episodes, and Mill Creek crams a maximum of 10 half-hour episodes per disc on its releases. I’m sure that you can do the math. Also, you know that those jerks at Cookie Jar/DiC/whatever the Hell the name is now have nuked the original end credits logos (which will cut off part of the end credits theme song, one of the more memorable parts of the series).
Hovering off in the horizon is another run of DVDs for He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and She-Ra: Princess of Power by Mill Creek as part of Mattel’s rather odd 30th Anniversary celebration for the Masters of the Universe toyline. Now, I have it on good authority that the man himself, Lou Scheimer, retains 16mm prints for all episodes of both shows (and one would presume that the same is true for Secret of the Sword and the Christmas Special, though who knows if the same is true for The Greatest Adventures of All and Skeletor’s Revenge), but my faith in Mattel (who seems barely able to control its contempt for Filmation and its co-founder), Classic Media (a prominent example of a “media archive mill” that leeches off the remains of fallen independent studios will little regard for what masters they do or don’t have), and Mill Creek (who is infamous for their “budget” DVD releases) is pretty low. Personally, I think that Lou Scheimer’s personal archives should be raided to fuel as many Blu-ray releases of Filmation shows as is possible, starting with He-Man, seeing as how crappy DVNR-heavy PAL-compressed transfers with a huge chunk of the pilot missing due to “print damage” do no one any good (to say nothing of the heavy amounts of material missing from the Archie and Fat Albert series as currently presented on DVD).
And now for something you’ll real hate! Shout! Factory is releasing the first season of DiC’s G.I. Joe on DVD in January, which has prompted this review from yours truly on Amazon. Shockingly, unlike my scathing takedown of the Shout! “Complete Series” Sunbow Joe set, I haven’t seen my review counterbalanced by the webmaster of “GeneralsJoes.com”, a site run by a guy who has no knowledge or affinity for the Sunbow series, and whose action figure reviews are laden with so many repeated clichés, he has literally inspired a bingo game. (And yes, that sounded sufficiently bitter, don’t you think?) I’m not advocating destroying the DiC Joe masters, but I’d at least like a correct, uncensored release of the Sunbow series before any love for the DiC series is given. Just imagine my reaction if special features that should have been on the Sunbow DVDs (like, say, the Sgt. Slaughter wraparounds) end up on these DiC DVDs.
The key gateway drug to Japanese animation for Americans over the past decade and a half now has been Toei’s epic (if bloated) classic, Dragon Ball Z. Even though it’s not even the first TV series based on Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball comic, the action-heavy approach of Z (as opposed to the mostly comedic approach of the original series) caught on with American viewers, in part due to saturation-level broadcasts on Cartoon Network through its otherwise lackluster Toonami afternoon programming block. This success, though, seems improbable in retrospect: the first 67 episodes were chopped down into 53 for syndication, with Kikuchi Shunsuke’s music replaced by a shockingly unmemorable score from the great Shuki Levy, the dub (which featured a total cast turnover when Cartoon Network finally requested new episodes) was terrible (largely due to horrific choices in the voice direction, as well as a few odd casting choices), the dub script was wildly inaccurate (and not just for purposes of censorship), and Bruce Falcouner’s outright terrible score for the episodes that first aired on Cartoon Network.
Some time after that, Funimation re-dubbed the first 67 episodes properly, and censored versions aired on Cartoon Network. The intent was for those episodes to be released on DVD uncut, but the series of releases petered out after a few discs, to everyone’s annoyance. After a relatively brief wait, Funimation announced the next wave of DVDs, the Season Sets, or “Orange Bricks”.
The Orange Bricks were promised as a high-quality restoration, but when they arrived, the truth was evident: Funimation had simply adjusted the color timing on the prints Toei had provided them-and badly. Furthermore, the episodes were cropped into a widescreen format. The only positive was that the standard Japanese and English-with-Falcouner’s-score audio options were joined by an English-with-Japanese-score option. The English soundtrack was also further revised to correct mistakes in prior translations. Fans in the know were particularly upset, as Toei had long since properly restored all of the Dragon Ball TV shows,and the non-canonical movies, in a deluxe series of box sets known as the Dragon Boxes.
The Dragon Boxes, which were priced at ultra-premium prices (upwards of $1,000 in US dollars at the time) and were available only to those people who had pre-ordered the sets. However, the packages were viewed as well worth it: everything was restored from the original negatives and the best possible audio tapes (the original audio masters having been discarded not long after the shows had aired), and packaged with in-depth booklets and a variety of special features that accounted for virtually every scrap of animation Toei had created for Dragon Ball at that point in time. However, with no English subtitles (and no reason to include them), these sets were nigh useless to the majority of American fans.
Shockingly, the Dragon Boxes for Dragon Ball Z were adapted for American fans after Season sets for Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball GT were released, albeit without the special features (but with the booklets), and without the two TV specials (which have always been sold separately as movies in America). No word has come on whether or not the other Dragon Boxes will follow, but something else has been released: DBZ on Blu-ray.
Obviously, a Blu-ray release is the logical next step for any show that has film masters available. However, in this case, it’s another set-up for a double-dip from Funimation. The masters used to make the Blu-rays are the ones that Funimation has possessed for a decade and a half; second (or possibly even third) generation 16mm film prints that are missing the episode previews (or missing the audio for these previews, as some reports have stated). So, already, a key advantage of the Dragon Boxes has been lost. Secondly, Funimation’s masters show other signs of incompleteness: the earliest episodes have the wrong intro, and as such, Funimation borrowed the intro from one of the movies, and none of the episodes feature the Japanese-language credits.
Perhaps most shocking is that since Blu-ray Region A includes North America and Japan, Funimation is pretty much banking on reverse importation: while a projected total cost of $450 seems a bit steep for Americans, it’s an outright steal for Japanese buyers. For Americans hoping that Toei again pulls the original negatives out of cold storage for a Blu-ray release, two problems exist: the probable high cost of any such release, and the lack of English subtitles that will be certain for Japanese-market Dragon Ball Blu-rays. And let’s not even think of the possibility of Funimation releasing the other Dragon Boxes (for the movies, the original series, and Dragon Ball GT) in America before restoring their prints for those shows on Blu-ray. The excessive cycle of re-issues could go on even further if another tangible home video format emerges while Funimation and Toei are going through the current cycle.
The clear winner in all of this is Funimation. Besides keeping the Dragon Ball name alive in America at a time where it seems highly unlikely that Akira Toriyama will attempt or even authorize a full-scale continuation of the series, they get to collect loads of money from consumers who keep buying the latest “definitive release”. Toei, who has only released Dragon Ball on DVD twice in Japan (the Dragon Boxes were later sold in single-disc format in wide release), and three times if you count Dragon Ball Kai (a whole other can of worms due to the issue with the music that was originally composed for it), is a victim, as their good name gets dragged in the mud (even though Funimation’s efforts result in pure profit for the studio). But we, the viewers, are the biggest losers, as the jerking around continues unabated, with little hope that Funimation will either lose the North American license to Dragon Ball, or put a stop to this silliness.
Perhaps even moreso than The Three Doctors back in Season 10, The Five Doctors is about seeing a bunch of old friends ham it up on screen with the current cast. And with so many old faces around for the ride, there’s a lot more to notice.
-The Second Doctor, however, hasn’t gotten over the prospect of regenerating into the Third Doctor.
-Susan’s admiring look at the Fifth Doctor is a great little bit of acting by Carole Ann Ford.
-Elisabeth Sladen was right: rolling down the hill is pretty embarrassing, especially since the scripted meeting with the Third Doctor is quintessential Pertwee.
-So, in addition to being bastards for the mind rape of Jaime and Zoe, the Time Lords are responsible for killing Bessie. Yes, I’m keeping track of this.
-The Third Doctor’s attitude towards the Cybermen seems to mirror that of Terrance Dicks.
-Why is it that Susan, who’s got on a decent pair of boots, the one to sprain her ankle, instead of Tegan, who’s wearing heels?
-You know it’s an anniversary spectacular when the Cybermen are slaughtered in the most delightfully gory ways possible.
-Despite not wanting to make like Polly and get him some tea, Tegan gets on pretty well with the First Doctor.
-It’s astonishing how little Wendy Padbury had changed since ’69 in this special. She’s probably the best looking of all the ex-companions in the whole thing.
-Also, *big* plot hole in how the Second Doctor remembers his trial, which directly preceded his forced regeneration.
-The Third Doctor assuming the role of the know-it-all at the Tomb of Rassilon is classic Pertwee.
-I’m pretty sure that Nick Courtney enjoyed slugging Ainley just a bit too much.
-The ending is pitch perfect, as it happily returns the show to its roots, of the Doctor being on the run from the Time Lords while hopping from place to place.
I’ve spent an unbelievable amount of time, effort, and hard drive space complaining about Rhino and Shout! Factory’s Sunbow DVDs (and I fear I shall be doing it again once the recently announced Jem DVD set arrives), with the most attention laid upon the first season of The Transformers, which are an utter disaster on American DVD releases.
The episodes as seen on these DVDs are a bit less than perfect though, but it’s mainly because of the intros and the end credits. All three parts of “More Than Meets the Eye” feature the opening from Season 3 reruns-which is to say, the Season 2 opening with the Season 3 version of the theme song. However, the episodes have their correct end credits, unlike the current US broadcast masters, which have the textless Season 1 end credits. And, as an odd aside, the first two shots of Act 3 of “More Than Meets the Eye” Part 1 are cut out, which is the only truly hideous offender in the race to remove the commercial bumpers (a note or two of music is lost in a couple of episodes around the commercial breaks at most other than this example).
Most other episodes feature the Season 1 open with the textless Season 1 end credits, but “Roll For It” and “Heavy Metal War” have a version of the Season 3 rerun opening without the vocal track, and the Season 2 end credits. Also, as with the US broadcast masters Part 1 of The Ultimate Doom has the original Season 1 credits (the version with the fixed music credits). But, best of all is the sound mix used for “Heavy Metal War”: it’s the original version with the properly mixed sound effects, and not the remix that makes the effects practically inaudible.
What this means, of course (since these PAL video masters are also used on Madman’s Region 4 Transformers box set, though paired with the 5.1 mix from Rhino), is that all of the video for the first season does in fact still exist, even if the NTSC tapes are missing chunks due to aging as has been claimed, and at least one episode would be better served by using the mono track currently paired with a PAL-format episode. As the first season of The Transformers is where the overwhelming majority of the issues with the broadcast masters lie, it seems that there’s really no excuse for not using the broadcast masters. Would it be more preferable to use the 35mm prints? Yes, but they’re missing footage, with “Fire in the Sky” and “Heavy Metal War” being around half missing in 35mm by my best guess. Plus, the pulldown on the Rhino transfer is utterly atrocious, with jaggies particularly present in the first season. Until the missing footage is found and given a quality telecine transfer, it makes no sense not to use the best available complete version of The Transformers (or any other Sunbow show, for that matter).
On a mildly tangental subject, I’m not going to be using the Shout! DVDs for screen grabs if I can help it after the long-delayed review for “Divide And Conquer” (for which the image capturing has long since been finished). The re-take/alteration issue has been a severe headache for me, if you haven’t noticed.
Besides, the color red is far too saturated on those “remastered” things.
Credit goes to Leanne Hannah for first teasing this little scene in the second part of The Space Museum, wherein Vicki finds herself caught in the worst place possible: right in the middle of your friends’ fighting, when both of them are in a relationship.
For the past month and a half, the DVD backlog has taken a back seat to Netflix, in part because of a free month given away via Xbox Live. Granted, I had been long considering joining up, but the free month was the tipping point. Through the service, I’ve seen such things as the British Office and Fawlty Towers for the first time, as well as reacquainting myself with Inspector Gadget, and even giving Batman: The Brave and the Bold the full attention it deserves. Suffice to say, the experiment has been a great success.
The thing is, the show left me thinking, “That’s it?” after the final episode, “It Came From Earth”, which I also remembered seeing back in the ’80s. After thinking about it, I realized what was bothering me: while CBS certainly did not interfere with the series to any obvious amount (though I suspect that they may have been the primary advocates behind “The Brain Blaster”), Galaxy High School would have been far better served with a companion 65-episode syndicated season, like the one that The Real Ghostbusters received. For one thing, I suspect that the full cast would have been better used under this arrangement (Henry Gibson’s characters in particular disappear after the first few episodes), and that there would have simply been more. As it stands, the relationship between Doyle and Aimee is barely established, and Wendy is only briefly teased as a spoiler to that relationship. Furthermore, Beef is the only character who received enough exposure and development for me to be satisfied with a paltry 13 episodes.
My thoughts turned to the possibility of a remake or sequel series, and I had to quickly dismiss the idea for a variety of reasons. First, the deaths of Howard Morris and Henry Gibson would, I fear, negatively affect things in a revival. While Icenstein is certainly overused as a plot crutch, Luigi is not, and I fear that no suitable replacement for their two extremely distinctive voices. Secondly, Aimee is too much of a product of the ’80s to be successfully adapted to modern times. She is very much cut from the same cloth as the likes of Molly Ringwald, and really, you had to be there to understand her appeal. Besides, most teen starlets these days are, quite frankly, jailbait. Aimee, like Molly Ringwald in her heyday, exudes a maturity well beyond her years, and most certainly was never staggeringly beautiful (and that was a big part of the appeal). A revival would see a lot of this disappear. The final reason, however, is the most damning: the prevalence of CGI today would mean any revival would be a live-action re-make. I hate live-action revivals of cartoons. The entire concept has been little more than a cash-grab that has upset fans of shows left and right, starting with the first of these revivals, The Flintstones, when Rosie O’Donnell was cast as Betty Rubble simply because she was a famous stand-up comedienne at the time, and could accurately replicate Bea Benedaret’s famous laugh (which was ironic since the then-current voice of Betty Rubble in the cartoons, B.J. Ward, was never known to replicate that same laugh). Not shockingly, though, a CGI animation studio called Vanguard Animation has some proposal sketches online for a re-make, which inspires absolutely no faith in yours truly.
On the side of things is Doctor Who, which has a revival currently in production, in addition to an extremely long lifespan. It’s this long life, added to the rather vague presentation of the series (until I looked online, I literally had no idea which episodes came first) and the 108 lost episodes that have kept me away for well over a decade. Now, with Season 1 of 31 (plus some specials and the ’90s revival TV movie) out of the way, I must say that I’m quite pleased with the show. The cast is generally great, even if it took me a while to properly appreciate everyone. I enjoyed Susan’s character from the start, and Ian and Barbara warmed on me by the end of the first story, and I fully warmed to The Doctor during the Marco Polo story (which is quite ironic since that story exists only as the soundtrack with various screenshots and promotional stills forming the imagery for the fan reconstruction). Likewise, the guest characters got stronger as the season proceeded-the famed Daleks are the first interesting guest characters, and Derren Nesbitt is genius as Tegana in Marco Polo, but starting with The Keys of Marinus, the guest casts begin to become more interesting overall.
The production values are certainly up to snuff, but the reasons are visibly obvious: the show was shot on video, and it seems particularly obvious in the early going that the budgets were limited: The Edge of Destruction for one is a classic “bottle” show, featuring only the main cast in the main TARDIS interior set, and the scope of The Daleks is communicated a lot more with inference and dialogue than in later stories. However, you can tell that the crew put forth a top-notch effort: the sets and costuming make the most of the limited resources, and what special effects there are are direct and greatly effective.
Perhaps most impressive are the stories: for a television series that was intended as “family hour” programming, there’s no attempt to dumb down things for younger viewers: violence in the historical stories (which include the Aztecs and France’s Reign of Terror as their subject matter) is handled accurately and without editing (though, obviously, said violence is not graphic). Additionally, there’s some really smart material: the Daleks are not robots are I initially suspected, but creatures that have retreated into suits, relying on the bulky things for all physical tasks. The Aztecs centers on Barbara’s vain attempts to bring an early end to the Aztec human sacrifice rituals, and The Sensorites touches on racism and xenophobia. In the end, I can’t helped but be pleased with the decision to-finally-leap into the world of Doctor Who.
I mentioned in the blog’s first post that I’ve purchased some Blu-rays for things I already know that I want to upgrade. One of these was none other than G.I. Joe: The Movie.
The short review: It’s the first Sunbow release that Shout! Factory has gotten right.
The long review: I like the Rhino DVD for G.I. Joe: The Movie. It’s a huge step up from the VHS releases in visual quality, even if it simply uses the same telecine transfer as the various VHS releases. Plus, it has a pretty good amount of the show’s PSAs in decent quality (especially compared to the bootlegs and online videos, which was the only place to see most of them at the time the disc was released). The problem is, the sucker’s old, and looks it in every way. The video has pretty heavy artifacting, and the 5.1 audio mix creates an echo effect with the background music (which was essentially mono, and created for a TV show that was barely stereo at its absolute best). The extras beyond the PSAs are quite silly, with an ancient ad for the original 12″ G.I. Joe, and an ad for MASS Device that was originally designed to have station IDs and voice overs thrown in in the middle and at the end. So, obviously, there was room for improvement, and the Sony/BMG DVD re-issue of Transformers: The Movie showed that the Sunbow feature films most certainly have their 35mm elements intact.
So, now, we have this new Blu-ray and DVD. Two wrinkles are immediately obvious: The Blu-ray is only available in widescreen (simulating the aspect ratio the film would have had if it had made it to theatres as planned), and the DVD has both the widescreen and the 1.33:1 format that the film has always been screened in. Unlike the notorious Dragon Ball Z “Orange Box” DVDs and the recent pair of Looney Tunes discs, the matting doesn’t result in a great deal of headless bodies or other vital information missing from the screen, belying the intended release format. In fact, one could argue that the movie could and should be shown at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, though the difference is incredibly minor when you get down to it. The stereo mix is also much better than Rhino’s 5.1 mix, as the background music is finally as clear as it was on VHS and the various TV airings.
While this alone would be enough to make it the best Sunbow home video releases in quite some time, there are special features to deal with. The main draw is the commentary track by Buzz Dixon, and it’s at least as good as the commentaries that Christy Marx and Roger Stern recorded for Rhino’s Jem DVDs way back when. The other features are a bit of a mixed bag, though: the PDF script confined to the DVD is of course a great thing, and as Dixon notes, the differences between it and the final feature a pretty subtle save for a couple of deleted scenes (including a funny sub-plot for Tomax and Xamot that would have set up their separation from Cobra in the never-made Season 3), but the art gallery is not much more than line art seen on the back of the original VHS releases and over at Dave Thornton’s website, JoeGuide.com, which is simply played for about a minute instead of selectable like most other DVD galleries I’ve seen. Worse are the PSAs. First off, these 8 are here because Shout! in their great ignorance (and because their G.I. Joe DVDs are not much more than ports of the discs that Rhino prepared) failed to search through the broadcast masters for. On the Blu-ray, the PSAs look and are encoded rather poorly (as I had issues advancing through the PSAs, especially when I noticed the fairly poor encodes). They look much better on the DVD, matching the quality one should expect for most of the Sunbow broadcast masters: clean, if aged, telecine transfers. But, again, these should have been on the so-called “Complete Series” box set.
As these are the last G.I. Joe DVDs we’ll see for awhile (at which point we can only hope that Hasbro and whatever distributor they choose stick with the uncut ’80s broadcast masters for the TV series), it’s comforting to finally see a release that generally gets things right, even if it’s a bit sparse in the special features department. Now, if only The Hub manages to continue this trend by using the broadcast masters for their reruns of G.I. Joe and The Transformers.