Miami Vice: Season 1

Miami Vice: Season 1 (1984)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Don Johnson, Philip Michael Thomas
Extras: Featurettes

It has been eagerly awaited and rights issues surrounding the music of the TV series "Miami Vice" held the DVD release of this great 80s TV show back for a long time. Finally the wait is over and we get to see Sonny Crocket and Ricardo Tubbs doing their crime fighting the Miami way as Universal is rolling out the season one DVD set.

I’ve always been a fan of "Miami Vice" and I think the reasons are easy to see. The show featured a great location – sunny Miami, complete with the ocean, powerboats, muscle cars and bikini-clad ladies – as well as an incredible roster of guest appearances by some of the greatest stars of the time, the coolest music on television, once again starring some of the hottest acts of the time, and intriguing plot lines that helped give the characters depth and dimension. Sprinkled on top class, style and feature-film like explosive action was merely the icing on the cake.

It is hardly surprising how well the show operated, looking back. Michael Mann was the producer of the show, the same man who brought us such incredible movies as "Heat," "The Insider," "Collateral" and "The Last Of The Mohicans" to name but a few. Mann also wrote and directed the show’s pilot, which comes out of the gates with guns all blazing. Playing like a feature film, the pilot has everything that made the show so memorable, and also gave us the chance to get to know the main characters, where they came from, how they met and how their chemistry slowly began to work. With a pilot like that and subsequent episodes, it was almost impossible for this show to fail and hardly surprising it became one of the hottest shows on TV during its six season run the 1980s.

After such a long wait you would expect the show to look absolutely amazing, but unfortunately that is not the case. Universal does not seem to have taken any steps to improve image quality on this release and as such, the image shows a large number of problems. First of all, there is a lot of grain and noise in the image, resulting in overt dot crawl, especially in darker shots and areas of shadow. The pilot is notorious for that, but it can also be seen on each of the episodes. There’s also a lot of artifacting visible, such as a tremendous jerkiness during panning shots. The 2/3 pull down is just not working properly, causing the picture to jump significantly and visibly every other frame or so. The effect is very distracting and considering that "Miami Vice" was produced for television I am not sure why we are seeing these problems on a DVD presentation. To top it off, the image is oftentimes blurry and unstable. A pumping effect can be observed in static shots, as image detail wavers on the screen, turning from sharp to blurry and back again in a constant pumping motion. Very distracting as well.

It would appear that Universal only paid attention to the audio on this release. Remixed in <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital>, the audio presentation certainly knows how to please with a wide frequency response and good dynamics. The track makes fairly good use of the surround channels – expect no miracle, though – and especially the music tracks benefit from the expanded spectrum, offering pounding basses and clear high ends with a wide sound field to engulf the listener. While the music in "Miami Vice" was certainly one of the factors for its success, I think selling the video short and focusing the DVD presentation only on the music is another Universal slip up, of which we’ve seen way too many in recent years.

Aside from all 22 episodes of the first season the DVD set also contains five featurettes, all located on the box set’s first DVD.

"The Vibe Of Vice" takes a look at the splash the show made upon its debut and how it differed from any other cop show seen on TV before or since. Running 5 minutes it is a nice trip back to the first encounter and the associations you may have had with "Miami Vice."

"Building The Perfect Vice" talks with series creator Anthony Yerkovich about the inspiration and ideas behind the original concept and how he put it all together to create the show’s unique style and vibe.

In "The Style Of Vice" examines the impact the show, its look and feel had on the rest of the world as it became popular culture. Similarly "The Music Of Vice" takes a look at the music that helped make the show such a high-energy powerhouse. Just look for the emotional impact that Phil Collins’ "In The Air Tonight" has on the scene it is used in.

"Miami After Vice" is a contemporary look at the city that hosted the show, interspersed with footage form the show. In all honesty the purpose of this featurette is a bit beyond me, but it may still be fun to watch.

If there’s one thing you can count on, it is Universal screwing up any release that needs and deserves a bit of attention. Unless it is a brand new film that comes to DVD for the first time, it is almost guaranteed that no one at Universal took the time or heart to really care for the product and that the studio will put out a mediocre release. Sadly this holds true even for such a high profile show as "Miami Vice" and its shortcoming. While not a complete disaster or disappointment there can be no doubt that the video problems on display here could have been corrected over the course of the many years we have been waiting for this release, and given the show’s stature, I find it once again disrespectful to the show, the filmmakers and the fans to put out a shoddy transfer like this. At the same time I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoy revisiting this show despite Universal’s repeated slip-ups.