Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Lucy Lawless, Renee O’Connor, Ted Raimi, Kevin Smith, Hudson Leick
Extras: Commentaries, Video Interviews, Documentary, Bloopers, Photo Gallery and more
I must admit: I caught bits and pieces of both the syndicated shows "Hercules" and its offshoot "Xena: Warrior Princess" when both originally aired in the 1990s. I never really got into the fan base of either show, mainly because after watching a few minutes from each episode, the need to change the channel became too overpowering. Not that they didn’t have their charms, but frankly I couldn’t plug into their "mythology" of those shows.
"Xena" stars Lucy Lawless as the fearsome warrior who, with sidekick Gabrielle (Renee O’Connor), roams a pseudo Greek/Roman/Celtic-inspired mythological landscape, fighting monsters, megalomaniacs and mashers. While I am not familiar enough with the first two seasons to know if a tone shift occurred, "Xena’s" third season ranks up there with the third season of "Lost in Space" for sheer goofiness of plotlines and situations. Witness the "Joxer" (perhaps riffing on the "Gaston" number from Disney’s "Beauty and the Beast") song in "Warrior…Priestess…Tramp," with a bevy of prostitutes in accompaniment. Season Three also found Lucy acting with a capital A in a few episodes; i.e. driven to madness in "The Furies" and essaying three different roles in "Tramp." By the same token, "Gabrielle’s Hope" straightforwardly explored the battle of heroism vs. maternity when Gabrielle gives birth to a child that makes Damien look saintly. Finally, the two-part cliffhanger episode "Sacrifice" brings back "Hercules" villainess Callisto (Hudson Leick) and takes one of the characters into a new realm altogether. On the action side, the show always offered well choreographed fight scenes and dynamic prop work with all the ornate swords and weaponry.
Anchor Bay pulled out more than all the stops for the third season box set. Eight DVDs are gatefold-enclosed, "Alien Quadrilogy"-style, (The foldout measures precisely 49 ½ inches) with a separate CD-ROM sheathed in the last page. Each disc contains three episodes, along with either video and/or <$commentary,audio commentary> from cast and crew members. Disc Eight not has the concluding cliffhanger episode of the season ("Sacrifice II"), but also a retrospective documentary on the making of the two-parter, as well as alternate edits from the episode and a blooper reel. Whew!
The video is presented in TV-appropriate full-frame. Every episode looks fantastic with rich color rendition and a consistently sharp image. Blacks come across solid and deep, with perfect contrast balance. Even night scenes exhibit superb detail delineation, down to the last engraved sword handle. The source elements showed no blemishes or wear whatsoever and, even with an occasional grainy shot, the transfers are consistently top-notch.
The <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 audio creates an enveloping environment but it also sound like a case of remixing for the purposes of filling speakers. (I don’t know if the show was originally mixed in 5.1.) At times, the audio mixes emphasize every sword swish and metal clink. Music fill accounts for most of the spaciousness, but never overpowering the dialogue. Directional sound effects abound, but more distracting than illuminating for my tastes. LFE enhancement is present, but mostly limited to ominous supernatural moments, so no worries about blasting out the windows or getting an eviction notice.
In breaking down the supplements, each episode has some extra to help flesh out its genesis, making or place within the Xena "oeuvre." Of the twenty-two episodes, eight have audio commentaries including Lucy Lawless on "The Debt," Ted Raimi ("Joxer") on "The King of Assassins," Lawless and O’Connor on "One Against an Army" and Hudson Leick for "Sacrifice I and II." The video interviews run about ten minutes each, with the talent making the same observations as the commentary, but now on-camera. Not being a fan of the show, I really couldn’t get into the details of the different characters, although Ted Raimi was very enjoyable as he doesn’t really seem to take the proceedings as seriously as some of the other cast or crew personnel. I did laugh at Hudson Leick remarking how Lucy didn’t want her to make contact in the fight scenes during "Sacrifice" because she was about to be married and didn’t want any bruises!
With the two-part "Sacrifice," the video interview supplement gets stretched to thirty minutes. Again, this would be of most interest to die-hard Xenasts. The on-camera participants, including Leick, executive producer Steven Sears, writer Paul Robert Coyle, director Rick Jacobson, editor Rob Field and sound designer Jason Schmid (whew again!) practically deconstruct the episode shot-for-shot. (Amazingly, Lawless and O’Connor are absent here.) An affectionate tribute to actor Kevin Smith ("Ares"), who passed away in 2002 while filming in China, ends the look-back.
The "Sacrifice: Alternate Scenes" segment offers forty minutes of additional scene extensions. An eight minute blooper reel recounts the failed props, flubbed lines and giggle fits that didn’t make it into the third season. Passable but again if I was into the show, I’d be beside myself.
The CD-ROM breaks down into "Mythology," "Series Trivia," "Xena Chronicles," "Actor, Director & Writer Bios" and "Original Production Drawings and Sketches." Mostly text-driven information including biographies and show synopses, the only reason the factoids could not have been integrated into the DVDs was because of the elaborate graphics.
Fans of "Xena" no doubt already have their copies in hand. For those who might have a chance to rent separate discs, I recommend "Sacrifice," "Been There, Done That" (Xena’s take on "Groundhog Day"), "Warrior…Priestess…Tramp" (for sheer camp value) and "The Bitter Suite," taking a musical cue from "Buffy." Now, back to the all those bodices…