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DVD Review - Airwolf Season 1

June 4th, 2005

For most people Airwolf is one of those forgotten shows from the mid-80s. Like The A-Team or Knight Rider, this show still holds a certain appeal for many fans, but will they be satisfied with the long awaited DVD release?

Nominally starring Jan-Michael Vincent and Ernest Borgnine, Airwolf's real star is the super-tech Helicopter itself. Heavily armed and armored, it is also able to break the sound barrier (which is technically impossible due to the nature of helicopters and how they create lift, but that's just one of many problems with the show). In the pilot movie, Airwolf is built by a secret government agency imaginatively called The Firm, but is stolen by its creator and flown to Libya where it is to be sold to the highest bidder. The head of The Firm, Archangel, hires Stringfellow Hawke to recover it and return it to him. But instead he keeps it for himself, forcing The Firm to look for his brother, who is MIA in Vietnam, in exchange for helping them out on certain missions.

The basic setup is okay, nothing too original but there's plenty of opportunity for drama and action. The execution, on the other hand, was average at best, and in some aspects, downright inexcusable.

The best episode, One Way Express, might rank as high as 7 or 8 out of 10. It is the only episode that has any tension between Stringfellow Hawke and Dominic Santini and one of the few shows with any dramatic tension at all. Other good episodes include Mind of the Machine, with a surprisingly good guest performance by David Carradine. Bite of the Jackal, is a completely different story as the chemistry between Ernest Borgnine and guest star Shannen Doherty is particularly brutal, bringing the whole episode down.

Overall the acting is passable, the writing and directing is nothing special and the show has not aged well both thematically but especially technically in the twenty years since it first aired. The video wasn't remastered and the quality suffers because of that; it is most noticeable for the stock footage. The sound is in mono, so forget getting any use out of your surround sound home theatre. None of that would have mattered if the aerial combat scenes were well done, but this is not the case. There are three main problems with the combat scenes: subpar special effects, overuse of stock footage / reusing footage and dialogue and sound effects.

The subpar sound effects is the most obvious problem, but also the most forgivable. The show was made 20 years ago, after all. A lot of the time the missiles are just glowing, semi-opaque, balls that shoot across the screen, and while it's embarrassingly bad compared to today's standards, it probably didn't look so out of place in 1985. Other techniques used are better, but still detract from the show. For instance, some of the aerial footage is sped up to make the combat scenes more exciting, but it just makes them look silly. Also, the pyrotechnics are better, but not good enough to be considered a selling point.

The producers overused stock footage shots so you see Airwolf fly over the same landscape several times, destroy the same helicopter several times, etc. This is particularly noticeable when it came to the 'Missile Cam.' 90% of the time when Airwolf is shot by a missile it is the exact same missile, which seems to follow the exact same path, sometime blowing up with the exact same explosion. And speaking of stock footage, if I see another stock footage shot of a bald eagle I'm going to snap.

The final major problem with the combat is the dialogue. Most of the aerial fights have absolutely no dialogue; there doesn't need to be a lot of talking, but some chatter between Jan-Michael Vincent and Ernest Borgnine would really help, as would some taunting between them and the bad guys. What's worse, some of the combat scene not only have no dialogue, but no sound effects either, just really, really bad music. There's no reason to do this, it adds nothing to the show and reduces what should have been the most exciting aspect of the show to a monotonous repetition of shots.

Special features: None. Absolutely nothing. Nadda, zip, zilch, zero. It doesn't even look like they put a lot of thought into the menu and packaging. A real disappointment.

The Big Three. I first mentioned The Big Three on my review for the Monk - Season Two Review. They are: Captioning / Subtitles, Play All Button and Proper Chapter Placement, and fortunately this set has all three. In fact, the first chapter of each episode contains just the pre-credit teaser and the opening credits, allowing the viewer to easily skip both. I really do not like teasers at the beginning of shows and I'm glad they went out of style.

Airwolf has a cult following and these dedicated fans will be happy that the show has finally hit DVD, but the dubious quality of the show and the total lack of special features will mean it won't be earning many new fans today.

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