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HTF REVIEW: ER: The Complete First Season (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED).

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#1 of 31 Herb Kane

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Posted August 30 2003 - 05:18 PM

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ER: The Complete First Season





Studio: Warner Brothers
Year: 1994/1995
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 1179 Mins.
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: DD Stereo
Subtitles: French




The Feature:
Before I start, just a quick apology… I originally requested this title back in July for a review, it only showed up Friday afternoon. Considering the popularity of the series and its recent release, I wanted to get it posted as soon as possible (or at least before the dreaded September 2nd release date).

Since its debut in 1994, I doubt you’ll find many people who have never watched an episode of ER. It has become a staple of Thursday night television in many households all over the planet. Warner has finally brought this incredibly popular TV series to us in a complete first season, four disc set. Fans of the show will be most impressed with the beautiful box set including the gorgeous cover art that adorns the front of the set.

Although, the series first aired in 1994, it’s almost hard to believe the show has been around for ten years now.

Personally, I don’t really watch a lot of television… I do however, watch ER. Although, admittedly, not on a regular basis. My wife is a huge fan of the show so occasionally we’ll spend an hour of quality time together watching a light, stress free drama… nothing like losing grandma to a blood clot or the neighborhood kid due to a stray bullet in a drive-by, to enjoy a nice quiet evening gathered around the tube with your loved ones…

But seriously...

This series is anything but light and stress free. The series is extremely well written, extremely fast paced, high stress filled with action and drama. In fact my only complaint of the show is that it can sometimes be too overwhelmingly fast paced, but I understand it’s that level of intensity that keeps the show’s viewers coming back. The show’s writers have gone to great lengths to make the anatomical scenes very realistic. There really isn’t much difference between this show and “Trauma; Life in the ER”…. the only difference is you know who the characters are. Gone, are the immaculate white surgical gowns and pristine operating rooms after a 5 hour procedure. This series is so realistic you’ll be looking for a pair of latex gloves halfway through the show. Even the opening music adds to the heightened drama.

Credited as creator and co-writer, Michael Crichton (responsible for writing “The Andromeda Strain”, “Coma”, “Jurassic Park”, “Twister”…. plus a myriad of other works) brings us a chronicle of his written experiences as a medical student serving in an emergency room back in 1974. It would be twenty years until those stories appeared in the form of a television series, perhaps one of the most successful shows in the history of TV.

ER is the story of several doctors and nurses who work at Chicago’s County General Hospital in its busy emergency ward. The show is centered around the six main characters whose diverse and unique personalities prove central to the series. The main character, Dr. Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards), plays a pivotal role in the lives of patients (and staff) whom we meet in the ER. His best friend, Dr. Doug Ross (George Clooney) is an easy going guy who seems to walk a fine line with pretty much everything in life including his style of practicing medicine. Carol Hathaway (Julianna Margulies) is a no nonsense nurse who seems to informally run the ER with her knowledge and experience, taking many of the inexperienced doctors under her wing. Dr. Peter Benton (Eriq La Salle) who is obviously a very gifted (but arrogant) physician seems to carry a chip on his shoulder, making him at times, difficult to warm up to. Other notable members include: Dr. Susan Lewis (Sherry Stringfield) and Medical Student John Carter (Noah Wyle).

I continually find it amazing (especially just after having watched a few of these original episodes), that virtually all of the original stars have left the series over the past ten years. In fact, the only original main character remaining is Noah Wyle (and it is rumored that even he now wants to leave the show). While there have been many shows that have had characters come and go, rarely has a show (as popular as ER) done so and sustained the type of success it has. The only show I can think of which has come even close is Law & Order (which has written the book on transient characters). As many others have also done, George Clooney has proven you can leave during a top rated television show and become a huge movie star.

When I initially heard the set will contain almost twenty hours of episodes plus a plethora of extras on a mere four discs, I was concerned. Fear not. Three of the discs are DVD-18 and the final is a SSSL (so, no compression issues).

The set is comprised of 4 discs in a five panel folding digipack case with a 20 page booklet complete with a listing of all episodes, episode credits, air dates, and a brief synopsis about each episode. A very nice inclusion.

The set is comprised of the following episodes:

Disc 1:
Pilot Episode (plus two commentaries)
Episode 1: Day One
Episode 2: Going Home
Episode 3: Hit & Run
Episode 4: Into That Good Night
Episode 5: Chicago Heat
Episode 6: Another Perfect Day

Disc 2:
Episode 7: 9-1/2 Hours
Episode 8: ER Confidential
Episode 9: Blizzard
Episode 10: The Gift
Episode 11: Happy New Year
Episode 12: Luck Of The Draw
Episode 13: Long Day’s Journey
Episode 14: Feb. 5 ‘95

Disc 3:
Episode 15: Make Of Two Hearts
Episode 16: The Birthday Party
Episode 17: Sleepless in Chicago (plus commentary)
Episode 18: Love’s Labor Lost (plus commentary)
Episode 19: Full Moon, Saturday Night
Episode 20: House Of Cards
Episode 21: Men Plan, God Laughs
Episode 22: Love Among The Ruins

Disc 4:
Episode 23: Motherhood
Episode 24: Everything Old Is New Again
Commentaries

For purposes of the review, I watched the Pilot and every episode, up to and including Episode 18: Love’s Labor Lost and the final one, Episode 24: Everything Old Is New Again. It’s also worth mentioning that there is a play all option (standard with many/most WB sets eg. Friends).



Video:
As you’ve undoubtedly read by now, there is a pretty comprehensive (and somewhat heated) thread in this forum pertaining to the OAR issue of this set and whether or not it should have been released in 4x3 (technically OAR??) or the 1.78:1 which it has been. Well, I’m going to park myself firmly on the fence on this one and let you folks decide whether you are happy with this WS release or would have preferred to see the 4x3 release. Personally, I have an opinion on the matter but I’ll refrain from including it in the review.

As for the framing issue, I was pleased with most if not all of what I watched. Remember this is a show where characters are literally running through the halls and everyone is moving pretty rapidly. We’re not about to see a couple of characters fixed in the middle of the screen for 15 minutes at a time.

So having said all of that, the video presentation is incredible. It could have easily passed for a major motion picture. In fact, I have many movies in my collection with video presentations that don’t even come close. Contrast and black levels were excellent as was the level of detail with only a very slight amount of grain. Colors were very nicely saturated just slightly muted. Skin tones looked very nice. I could detect no signs of any dirt or noise etc. Also, no signs of any artificial sharpening (EE) or any signs of compression artifacting. My only criticism would be some slight (and sporadic) light popping throughout many of the episodes -- particularly with Episodes 1, 2 & 3. Personally, I didn't find it to be particularly bothersome. In fact, I found myself having to look for it in many cases. Perhaps, the best (or worst...) example is the Episode "Happy New Year", where this seems to be the most prevalent. There were a few scratches as well in a few of the episodes, but again they were very minute.

Some of the footage appears to be very dark (in particular) the Pilot episode, but after watching the commentary, much of that is explained in terms of the budget on lighting and the steady-cam used to film much of the series.

All in all, a most impressive offering.



Audio:
I was every bit as impressed with the audio presentation as I was with the video presentation. Again, I have many movies in my collection that don’t hold a candle to this set.

Considering the action sequences, there is noise coming from all over the place (doors flying open, people yelling in different rooms) and the directionality up front is most impressive. Many of the scenes (like crash cart trays falling) are exceptionally full and robust. Dialogue was also exceptionally clear and never was there a problem with losing any of it due to heightened music crescendos or surround info kicking in.

I have always found the theme music for the show impressive (and most fitting for such a show) and during the opening Pilot, I played it at almost reference levels – wow!

It’s truly hard to believe this is merely a television boxed set!

Very impressive.



Special Features:
Where do I start…? I know many members feel that many of the new discs or sets are rather sparse when it comes to special features. I think this might be a case where there are too many. Let me explain… many of the commentaries feature different participants (actors, writers, producers, directors etc.) and much of what is discussed is repetitive. That wouldn’t necessarily be a big deal however, many of the commentaries are rather long, so we go through a lot of time picking up the odd tidbit here and there that hasn’t already been covered. A case where more isn’t necessarily better. My only other complaint regarding extras (and I’m nit picking here) is that they seem to be all over the place. Two of the commentaries appear on the first disc, two others appear on disc 3 and the remainder appear on disc 4. For the sake of continuity and ease of use, they should have had all of the extras on one disc (perhaps the last disc – disc 4).

Having said that, there is a pretty extensive compilation of extras that have been offered up on the set.

1. On disc 1, there is an introduction by Michael Crichton and John Wells describing how they envisioned the show to look, going into great detail as to how they wanted the actors to look (portraying physicians) and how they wanted them to talk using medical jargon. It’s pretty much a “technical focus” laying the groundwork for what has become the show’s trademark. Duration: 86:57 mins.

2. Also on disc one is another commentary featuring director Rod Holcomb casting director John Levey, associate producer Wendy Spence Rosato, editor Randy Jon Morgan and sound editor Walter Newman. Much of this discussion focuses on the casting of various members. This is a commentary I believe portrays much duplication. Duration: 86:57 mins.

Next up is a commentary on disc 3 featuring producer/director Christopher Chulack and writer Paul Manning. Their discussion focuses on Episode 17: Sleepless in Chicago. They go into great detail about the casting of the various characters for the episode as well as a description of how the episode was shot. Duration: 45 mins.

Finally on disc 3 is an in depth commentary featuring the director, associate producer, editors and composer who were responsible for Episode 18: Love’s Labor Lost (thought to be perhaps the best and most moving episode of the entire ER series). An in depth look as to how the episode was shot, a discussion of the casting and what they did to involve the viewers and draw them into the episode. Duration: 45:88 mins.

On disc 4, there is a number of special features starting with Behind The Curtains. It starts with a Prescription For Success: The Birth Of ER. This is a discussion with the heavyweights of the series (Crichton, Clooney, Edwards, Spielberg, Stringfield and Margulies) and their discussion focuses on how the show almost never got off the ground and the process that eventually led to it’s launch. Also discussed here is the casting of the original members. Duration: 20:28 mins.

The second feature is First Year Rotation: Caring For ER. This is a discussion on the building of the set and the itinerary of the shoot. Duration 21:26 mins.

The next commentary is titled On The Cutting Edge: Medical Realism On ER. A discussion with technical advisors and focusing on the medical terms and diagnosis the characters needed to repeat. Noah Wyle repeats one of his original lines (ten years later) and it’s worth the price of the box set alone. Bravo. Duration: 8:58 mins.

The fourth feature is called Post Operative Procedures: Production In The ER. A look at the editing process on the show. Duration: 5.24 mins.

Next is Additional Scenes. They are:
Dr. Greene and Mrs. Kosinski - 00:54 mins.
Dr. Lewis treats Paul – 02:27 mins.
Dr. Lewis falls asleep – 01:06 mins.

Up next is an array of Outtakes… Some of which are very funny. Duration: 10:07 mins.

Finally…. First Year Interns Handbook. Here we are given the following options:

-Staff roster
-Admissions
-Consulting physicians and hospital support staff
-Life support
-Med speak
-County General directory

OK…. I’m done now!



Final Thoughts:
I have not seen any of these episodes since they originally aired almost ten years ago. I’m not so sure the series is as strong now, but having revisiting this really made me appreciate how brilliant the show once was.

Whether you are a fan of the show or not, you cannot deny the writing, casting, directing and acting have given this show an almost iconic status. It has almost become a way of life – at least for many of us. Warner’s have delivered a Complete First Season Set that I believe will make many faithful viewers very happy. They have presented the series in a manner you will find very pleasing, included a ton of special features and packaged it in a way you’ll be eager to add to your library. What more can you ask for…? Highly Recommended!!!




Release Date: August 26th, 2003
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#2 of 31 Ronald Epstein

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Posted August 30 2003 - 08:49 PM

Cover art will be uploaded later today.

Ronald J Epstein
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#3 of 31 Chris_Morris

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Posted August 31 2003 - 12:42 AM

Quote:
I could detect no signs of any dirt, scratches or noise etc.


On the pilot, I agree, but on episodes 2 and 3, I noticed alot of print damage. Lots of white specks in places. Other than that, I agree with how well this looks for a 10 year old show, better than Friends.

Having bought this as an almost blind buy (I saw one episode, the 1998 season finale), I am very impressed with the set. Posted Image Warner


Chris

#4 of 31 Dane Marvin

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Posted August 31 2003 - 04:23 AM

I noticed the white specks for a moment in episode 3 as well, but it has looked damn good otherwise (I'm currently on episode 8).

#5 of 31 PeterKelly

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Posted August 31 2003 - 06:55 AM

Quote:
Considering the popularity of the series and its recent release, I wanted to get it posted as soon as possible (or at least before the dreaded September 2nd release date).


ER was released on August 26th. I noticed lots of white specs on the episode after the pilot. I I have not gotten further than side 1 of disc one, but I hope the dirt and specs become less and less.
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#6 of 31 Herb Kane

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Posted August 31 2003 - 08:11 AM

Peter.... I have the correct release date at the bottom of my review. The inference to September 2nd refers to the other thousand releases that take place on that date...

As I said in my review, I was able to view The Pilot and Episodes 18 & 24. All three of which looked very nice. Fortunately (unfortunately...???) I wasn't able to detect any white specs during these 3 episodes.

Herb.
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#7 of 31 Herb Kane

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Posted August 31 2003 - 09:29 AM

In addition to my previous post, I'm going to take some time out tomorrow to watch a few of the episodes in question (Episodes 2 & 3) and will report back.

I welcome your feedback...

Herb.
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#8 of 31 Dane Marvin

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Posted August 31 2003 - 10:13 AM

I think you'll notice the spots in episodes 2 and 3, but they are only very momentary and I haven't seen them since (now on episode 11). I'll admit that I may not be noticing them anymore because I am so engrossed in the show, but I just don't think there are any more. I'm completely satisfied with this purchase.

#9 of 31 Roy Van Nostrand

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Posted August 31 2003 - 02:06 PM

Nice review! Although, I tuned TV out at the time ER aired, my wife will love it, she's the big fan. It's on order.
"Don't Lose Your Head To Gain A Minute, You Need Your Head Your Brains Are In It" ...Burma*Shave®

#10 of 31 Herb Kane

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Posted September 01 2003 - 04:43 PM

Well folks... My intent was to cover the first three episodes in question. After getting the backpacks ready for tomorrows back to school ordeal, we ended up watching every episode from The Pilot (again) up to and including Episode 18. It was an "ER fest"...

A few of the posts in this review thread describe what appears to be specks in the earlier episodes. That description is accurate. In particular, I found the "Happy New Year" episode to be a good example to demonstrate this speckling. And while the initial three episodes seem to suffer the majority of light speckling, personally however, I did not find it to be overly bothersome. In fact, much of the time I had to actually remove myself from the show and actively look for it.

Note: I have edited my review to reflect this in the video portion along with my notation of what I watched for the purposes of this review.

Thanks for the feedback.

Herb.
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#11 of 31 Jonny P

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Posted September 02 2003 - 03:57 AM

Thanks for the review Herb.

The transfers aren't perfect, but I think there was a desire to have congruity between seasons and release them all widescreen.

The first season in my opinion is still the best season of the show. As the series has progressed, it has had its ups and downs.

Still, though, it is a worthy series to own, and the price of the set is reasonable.

#12 of 31 Iain Jackson

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Posted September 02 2003 - 09:10 AM

I also noticed some white specks in the first few episodes, especially in episode 2 (with Rosemary Clooney). Obviously to get the (very well framed*) widescreen transfers they had to go back to the original film elements which clearly weren't kept in pristine condition. However, aside from that the amount of grain and print damage has been minimal (I've now watched the pilot and 8 episodes). The actual DVD transfer is amazing - I have not noticed a single compression artifact or sign of edge enhancement so far.

Unfortunately at one point on disc 1 side B I had momentary picture break-up and sound loss, despite there being no obvious marks or scratches on the disc's surface. It seemed to work OK in my DVD-ROM drive, though... What I am worried about though is what appears to be a speck of the green printing ink that has strayed onto the surface of disc 2 side B - I'll bet that when I get to that episode that it'll throw up some serious problems... I might have to get a replacement (which is annoying, living in the UK).

* As for the widescreen framing, I think it looks great. Originally I was sceptical that they had originally intended it to be in widescreen, but looking at the composition of the frames I have to say I'm convinced. Not once have I found myself distracted by "dead space" at the sides, and quite often the composition seems to take full advantage fo the widescreen format.

A great set all round. When's Season Two out? Posted Image
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#13 of 31 LDfan

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Posted September 02 2003 - 12:36 PM

The first season was the best in my opinion. I don't have this set yet but episode #18 still goes down as one of my favorites. I've only seen it once and that was back in the first season but it's one that definitely sticks in my head.

Jeff

#14 of 31 Wade M.

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Posted September 04 2003 - 09:49 AM

Something I'm a little confused over: Two of the extras on disc one are introductions or commentaries (the latter is a confusing usage if Herb meant featurette or documentary); they're both 86:57 long. Is this possible? I know they can't be inline with episodes since those are less than an hour long, but I find it sorta hard to believe that two specials like this could be of exact length. If so, WB sure know how to edit their stuff.
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#15 of 31 Chris_Morris

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Posted September 04 2003 - 10:23 AM

Wade, the two are commentaries for the pilot which was 90 mins.


Chris

#16 of 31 Dene

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Posted September 05 2003 - 11:13 PM

I began to watch the Pilot on this new set last night, and at the beginning of the episode I noticed something weird...

...when Dr Greene is assisting a drunken Dr Ross to the examining room, the very same portion of the shot is repeated for a few seconds. I can't describe it any clearer than that -- you'll see what I mean when you watch it.

It looks lousy: Greene and Ross are already at the door, then in the next cut they're some distance away from it again.

This was not part of the original episode. Anyone know why this might have been done? I did notice that the superimposed credits have been redone presumably because of the new w/s prints (and they continue over this scene), but that shouldn't have lead to this.

A minor quibble -- the picture quality on the set is superb -- but it sticks out like a sore thumb.

#17 of 31 Duncan_N

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Posted September 06 2003 - 03:57 AM

Excellent set. It appears to be region free also.

#18 of 31 Steve K.H.

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Posted September 08 2003 - 11:50 AM

Herb, here's a kudo...

I always thought that purchasing a TV series was absolutely insane... (BoB, or StarTrek for Trekkies, or specials excepted)...

...and in some respects I still do. Your review of this box set changed my thinking and I decided to take you up on this one. The thoughts are:

This is definitely an excellent addition to any HT collection!

I still won't go out and recommend anyone buy the MASH series, or other comedies like the Simpsons, but I'm a lot more open to considering series such as:

-CSI, Sopranos, and others.

Thanks for the review. Posted Image

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#19 of 31 Jonny P

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Posted September 08 2003 - 04:04 PM

It does seem somewhat insane owning a TV series.

Some may ask, "Why do it? Isn't it a big investment?"

I have gone back and forth on this issue. Sometimes I feel reluctant to start collecting TV series because it is an investment in money and patience.

There is no telling when the following seasons of "ER" will be made available. I hope it is soon, but it is tough to say for sure.

When I buy sets such as "ER" or "Friends" or "24" or "Alias" or "The Shield" I do it because it is really a lot of fun.

Network shows seem a lot better without commercials. It is fun to watch at your own pace. It is nice to have great picture quality and sound. Plus...it is a heckuva lot of entertainment for the dollar.

Still...though...it is a big monetary expenditure. Usually the purchase of TV sets like "ER" means I will cut back on some of the other DVDs that I am on the fence about.

But, I won't spend $100 for one season of any TV series.

#20 of 31 Herb Kane

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Posted September 08 2003 - 06:16 PM

Steve... thanks for the kind words. To be honest, I felt the same way about TV box sets (still do to some extent). Prior to ER the only other TV set I had was the Twilight Zone complete series and my wife has all the Friends sets.

After going back and double checking the reported speckling, we wound up going back and finishing off the remainder of the season the following night... it is a great set.

If season 2 were released tomorrow... I'd be first in line.

Thanks again...

Herb.
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...





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