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HTF REVIEW: The West Wing - The Complete First Season (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED).

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#1 of 30 OFFLINE   Herb Kane

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Posted November 12 2003 - 05:08 AM

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The West Wing – The Complete First Season





Studio: Warner Brothers
Year: 1999-2000
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 956 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Standard
Audio: DD Surround
Color/B&W: Color
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
MSRP: $59.98
Package: 5 panel gatefold Digipak with slipcover






The Feature:
With November 18th, on the release horizon, it seems as though every major studio is poised to release a blockbuster and Warner Bros. is no exception with its pending release of The West Wing – The Complete First Season. It promises to be an expensive week…

The West Wing is a fast paced, inside look at the staffers who are responsible for running the prestigious office. The former New Hampshire Governor, Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen) is President of the United States. He is happily married to First Lady and M.D. Abby Bartlet (played by Stockard Channing). Other cast members are Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe), C.J. Cregg (played by Allison Janney), Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff), Leo McGarry (played by John Spencer) and Charlie Young (played by Dulé Hill).

The following episodes are included:


Disc One:
Side: “A”

Episode 1: The Pilot
Directed by Thomas Schlamme – Original Airdate: 9/22/99

Episode 2: Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc
Directed by Thomas Schlamme – Original Airdate: 9/29/99

Episode 3: A Proportional Response
Directed by Marc Buckland – Original Airdate: 10/6/99

Episode 4: Five Votes Down
Directed by Michael Lehmann – Original Airdate: 10/13/99

Side: “B”

Episode 5: The Crackpots And These Women
Directed by Anthony Drazan – Original Airdate: 10/20/99

Episode 6: Mr. Willis Of Ohio
Directed by Christopher Misiano – Original Airdate: 11/3/99

Episode 7: The State Dinner
Directed by Thomas Schlamme – Original Airdate: 11/10/99

Episode 8: Enemies
Directed by Alan Taylor – Original Airdate: 11/17/99


Disc Two:
Side: “A”

Episode 9: The Short List
Directed by Bill D’elia – Original Airdate: 11/24/99

Episode 10: In Excelsis Deo
Directed by Alex Graves – Original Airdate: 12/15/99

Episode 11: Lord John Marbury
Directed by Rodney Sullivan – Original Airdate: 1/5/00

Episode 12: He Shall, From Time To Time…
Directed by Arlene Sanford – Original Airdate: 1/12/00

Side: “B”

Episode 13: Take Out The Trash Day
Directed by Ken Olin – Original Airdate: 1/26/00

Episode 14: Take This Sabbath Day
Directed by Thomas Schlamme – Original Airdate: 2/9/00

Episode 15: Celestial Navigation
Directed by Christopher Misiano – Original Airdate: 2/26/00

Episode 16: 20 Hours in L.A.
Directed by Alan Taylor – Original Airdate: 2/23/00


Disc Three:
Side: “A”

Episode 17: The White House Pro-Am
Directed by Ken Olin – Original Airdate: 3/22/00

Episode 18: Six Meetings Before Lunch
Directed by Clark Johnson – Original Airdate: 4/5/00

Episode 19: Let Bartlet Be Bartlet
Directed by Laura Innes – Original Airdate: 4/26/00

Side: “B”

Episode 20: Mandatory Minimums
Directed by Robert Berlinger – Original Airdate: 5/3/00

Episode 21: Lies, Damn Lies And Statistics
Directed by Don Scardino – Original Airdate: 5/10/00

Episode 22: What Kind Of Day Has It Been
Directed by Thomas Schlamme – Original Airdate: 5/17/00


Disc Four:
Side: “A”

Special Features


As for the packaging, The West Wing is contained in a five panel gatefold Digipak with a relatively attractive slipcover case. I say “relatively” because I think they could have done a better job. When compared to some of the other Warner Bros. television to disc sets, this box doesn’t seem to have the same visual allure. Once again, (and similar to the ER set), Warner Bros. has included a nicely detailed 14 page booklet outlining the episodes as well as a brief synopsis about each particular episode.

It’s also worth mentioning that when I opened my set for the review, the discs (although they were securely fastened to their hubs) were in atrocious condition. They were laden with fingerprints, scratches and scuffs to a point where I was concerned if they’d play alright – thankfully, they did. Finally, like other Warner Bros. sets, there is indeed a “play all” option for each disc.



Video:
The show is featured in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. And like other TV sets, all episodes seem to have their own idiosyncrasies. While I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, the video was a little darker – overall, than anticipated. Colors, though nicely saturated, weren’t what I’d describe as vibrant although they did possess a realistic, almost warmer quality about them. Skin tones however looked especially accurate. Black levels were deep and rich and whites were crisp.

Even though there were a great deal of sharply detailed images, the majority of the image is on the slightly soft side. Not to a point of being bothersome, but worthy of mention. Grain was present but a level that couldn’t be any less noticeable. As one would expect for a transfer of elements as new as these, it is blemish free. While I was surfing through many of the episodes, I detected a couple traces of dust or dirt, but it’s hardly worth mentioning.

I was not able to detect any signs of compression issues and only a couple of very slight examples of enhancement.

My only real complaint with the video is the image is slightly softer than what I was expecting… I wasn’t troubled by it per se, but it surely warrants mentioning. For the most part, the video presentation is solid and fans of the show should be pleased.



Audio:
This is an excellent example of a track that might not necessarily be flashy but, it’s certainly solid. This track might be DD Surround but it is primarily an up-front offering.

When the opening theme music starts, there was an incredible sense of formal grandeur with the drums and the beautiful orchestral score. The soundstage seemed to be a wide as it had ever been… it sounded beautiful. I’ve said many times that scoring and music can make or break a movie (or TV show in this case). In the case of The West Wing, I’ve never heard music scored so perfectly to such extent during a television show – it is absolutely brilliant. There are many examples of stringed instruments during various scenes when called upon all of which sound phenomenal and add what’s necessary, when needed. A good example of this can be heard on the episode “In Excelsis Deo” when the Christmas carols are overlapping the funeral scene. Great stuff…!

There is also a hearty side to the track as well which can be heard when large wooden doors, car doors are slammed for example. Dialogue clarity was always exceptional and always intelligible – crystal clear and never a sign of hiss.

I’m afraid the use of surrounds weren’t used to their potential. Not that we’d expect an inordinate amount of information coming from the rears in this series, but there is the occasional scene where surround info could compliment the near perfect track taking place up front.

As I said earlier, this isn’t a flashy audio track and it’s not likely to impress those wanting to see what their theaters are capable of… nor is it supposed to. The DD Surround track supplied is as good (at least up front) as I have ever heard in my HT. Very very nice.



Special Features:
As I expected, there is a healthy array or special features to be explored on The West Wing. First up:


Disc One:
Side “A”
[*] Commentary featuring Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme for “The Pilot”. This is probably the most entertaining and interesting of the commentaries of the set. Discussed is their keen interest of politics but their uncertainty of how to approach filming it as well as their discussion in how they wanted the show “formed” and the direction they wanted to take with it. Also discussed was their feelings toward Warner Bros. and how they believed in the writing and the financial leniency the company afforded them with the building of the most elaborate set ever created for a pilot.


Disc Two:
Side “A”
[*] The next Commentary covers the popular episode, “In Excelsis Deo” featuring Aaron Sorkin, Thomas Schlamme and director Alex Graves. This is another interesting commentary discussing one of the most popular episodes of the series and the aloof nature of Richard Schiff. Also discussed is the U.S. Park Services refusal to let the crew shoot the episode on the Korean’s War Memorial.

Side “B”
[*] Two other Commentaries can be located on Side B of this disc. The first is from “Take This Sabbath Day” featuring Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme and “Celestial Navigation” which features Aaron Sorkin, Thomas Schlamme and director Christopher Misiano.


Disc Three:
Side “B”
[*] The final Commentary on the set covers “What Kind Of Day Has It Been” also featuring Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme. All of the commentaries are rather interesting and informative. Rarely is there dead time and the intense Sorkin goes into great detail about how his thoughts and ideas are imparted to the actors – a chemistry which is certainly obvious.


Disc Four:

The remaining special features are located on Side “A” of Disc Four. Side “B” is empty. They are:
[*] The Primaries – Is a discussion with Aaron Sorkin, Thomas Schlamme, John Wells and many of the cast members who discuss the initial writing of The Pilot Episode. “There are two things in this world you never want to show how they’re made – laws and sausages”…. Great line. Duration: 17:32
[*] The Inauguration – Is a detailed look at the set design and the visual details pertaining to the show. Duration: 29:02
[*] Capital Beat – Is an interview with several members who were used as consultants to the show including Dee Dee Myers. Duration: 8:09
[*] Sheet Music – This is a great, albeit, brief interview with the musical genius behind the show, W.G. Snuffy Walden who discusses how he came up with the theme for the show and the inclusion of the orchestral scoring. Duration: 6:32
[*] Deleted Scenes – Includes four deleted scenes titled, Toby’s Dark Mood, No Touching, Fourteen Words and Call Neil Armstrong.
[*] Gag Order – Is a three minute clip of flubbed lines and scenes including some pranksters which is somewhat funny.
[*] The West Wing Suite – Which appears to be a trailer, although its not indicated as to what its intended for. Duration: 1:53
[*] Off The Record – Is a rather pointless series of clips where (to make a long story short) a few of the cast members are trying to be funny, but aren’t – period. Duration: 3:31

Finally I located an Easter Egg – I won’t tell you where ‘cause I’d hate to spoil your fun… but thank God I found it. This is a remarkable three minute documentary on “Manny” the security guard who watches over the set… honestly -- no seriously… really… I’m not joking. I’m not sure if I’ve ever stated this before, but did I ever mention I really can’t stand Easter Eggs…?



Final Thoughts:
Although I haven’t watched many of the newer episodes, watching these from the original season reminded me of how great this show is. Brilliantly written and scored to perfection, there is a certain chemistry among the actors who deliver one of the finest dramas on television today. As for the show’s future, all we can hope for is a continuing story that is as sustaining as the one in The Complete First Season – only time will tell.

Though the A/V presentation might not be as flashy as some of the recent box sets to surface in the past couple of months, it certainly delivers what its intended to. At the end of the day, I have to remind myself that I have countless motion pictures among my collection that could beg for a presentation that’s equal to this one. That, combined with a healthy offering of special features and an attractive retail price should make fans of the series thrilled indeed.

Highly Recommended…!!




Release Date: November 18th, 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 30 OFFLINE   David Galindo

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Posted November 12 2003 - 05:12 AM

Firsties!

I really liked the West Wing when it first came out, but have lost intrest in it since then. I think this might be worth a buy just to get me back on the wagon again, especially now that The Lyon's Den is cancelled (why do all the smart dramas get cancelled so quickly?). The first season is the best, I think.

Great review Posted Image

#3 of 30 OFFLINE   Andrea W

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Posted November 12 2003 - 11:11 AM

I have this pre-ordered from Amazon with STL ($34.64). Can't wait until it comes. I love this series.

#4 of 30 OFFLINE   Casey Trowbridg

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Posted November 12 2003 - 11:48 AM

Herb, great review I enjoyed it. I will not be picking this up on release date, there is just too much other stuff, but down the line it might be an impulse buy.

#5 of 30 OFFLINE   Dane Marvin

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Posted November 12 2003 - 02:11 PM

Thanks for the review! I especially appreciated the run times for the special features ... and the inclusion of the easter egg. Hee hee.

Out of everything that's coming out on the 18th, this is the set I want the most. The West Wing is my favorite show ... and the first two seasons especially are about as good a drama as you will find in all of television history. This blows ER, Law & Order and CSI out of the water.

And I am still enjoying the show now in season 5, even after the departure of Sorkin and Schlamme at the end of last season.

Less than a week away! Posted Image

#6 of 30 OFFLINE   Andrew Bunk

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Posted November 18 2003 - 04:30 AM

Quote:
It’s also worth mentioning that when I opened my set for the review, the discs (although they were securely fastened to their hubs) were in atrocious condition. They were laden with fingerprints, scratches and scuffs to a point where I was concerned if they’d play alright – thankfully, they did.


Boy, Herb wasn't kidding about this! I just got this set today, and my discs were in the exact same condition. Fingerprints everywhere on both sides of all discs, and scuff marks as well. What the hell happened here? Did WB forget how to handle double-sided discs?
My DVD, Blu-Ray and HD DVD Collection @ DVDSpot

#7 of 30 OFFLINE   Jeff Swearingen

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Posted November 18 2003 - 12:13 PM

The names of each episode when they appear on screen...for that matter all the credits...looked very digital in nature. Other than that the video looks very close to the broadcast versions I have seen...I don't know if it ever was sharper.

I really am not keen on either the four double sided discs or the packaging. The digipak packaging is inferior (IMHO) to any of the FOX sets that I have.

But what the hell am I complaining about? I don't have to keep catching reruns at 1130 on Saturday night - no Bravo for me Posted Image

#8 of 30 OFFLINE   Kevin Porter

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Posted November 18 2003 - 12:35 PM

Though most close to me frown upon the show because of the blatantly partisan writing, I love it. It's like Sports Night in the White House. After evaluating this one over and over, I've come to the conclusion that no matter what your political philosophy is, this is one fine example of a television drama. If you can look past the stuff you don't agree with in the show, you will be royally entertained.

I'd feel guilty buying this one by myself so I'm asking for it for Christmas. With Sports Night last year, maybe every Christmas can be an Aaron Sorkin Christmas.

Danny Federici, we'll meet you in the land of hope and dreams

#9 of 30 OFFLINE   Dane Marvin

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Posted November 18 2003 - 06:51 PM

I don't think the show has BLATANT partisan writing at all. In fact, that was one thing Aaron Sorkin stated he never wanted to do (he didn't want Republicans to not watch the show -- that's a lot of Americans that would be tuning out). Of course, it does have to lean toward making the left out to be good because, hey, they're Democrats (as is Sorkin).

However, as a diehard fan of this series who has watched these episodes over and over, I can vouch for the fact that the staff's stances on most issues are not liberal Democratic, but closer to the middle of the road. And many times, a political stance held by a senior staffer (and none of the main characters have been exempt from this) is often called into question and sometimes exposed as dead-wrong by the writer (mostly Sorkin, who penned all but one of the first four season's episodes).

A good show that I think most anyone with even a passing interest in politics could get into. In fact, I'm taking it to my right-wing parents' house next week and I'm going to make them love it. Posted Image

#10 of 30 OFFLINE   Aryn Leroux

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Posted November 20 2003 - 07:18 AM

I just received my set from amazon and this is the strangest thing i have seen yet. There is no disc 1 or Disc 3 in my set those two spindles are completely empty. I only have a disc 2 and 4 sitting there. Totally Bizzare they better not give me a problem exchanging this set.

#11 of 30 OFFLINE   Dane Marvin

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Posted November 20 2003 - 07:24 PM

Okay, I saw a couple reviews about The West Wing DVD set but none of them have mentioned this fact:

The commentary for the "Pilot" with Sorkin & Schlamme is just a bunch of hacked up bits from their interviews which are featured as part of the documentary on the set ("The Primaries"). These audio clips are placed in at opportune moments during the episode.

So if you're wondering why it sounds pretty static and like they're not even really reacting to what they're seeing on the screen, this is why. Thankfully, all the other commentaries are authentic, the most interesting of which include three participants (directors Alex Graves and Christopher Misiano join S/S for "In Excelsis Deo" and "Celestial Navigation", respectively).

#12 of 30 OFFLINE   David Von Pein

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Posted November 28 2003 - 04:33 PM

Quote:
They were laden with fingerprints, scratches and scuffs to a point where I was concerned if they’d play alright...
My set, too, was in a similar scratched-up condition. (I'm seeing a trend here...and it ain't exactly a desirable one. Posted Image)

"What the heck?? [+ expletive of stronger ilk]", I uttered, as I, one-by-one, noted that each and every one of the four discs had a noticeable semi-lengthy mark/scratch on Side B. All in the exact same position, and all with a kind of curved appearance to each scratch. (Appears, what with the symmetry of the marks, that it's being caused by the automated equipment of some kind. How else could EVERY disc [and ONLY on Side B] be marked up in the exact same fashion, and all in the same location (near the outer edge of each disc)??)

#13 of 30 OFFLINE   Chad R

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Posted November 29 2003 - 05:13 AM

Mine weren't scratched, but they did have the fingerprints on each A side from the factory worker placing them in the trays. Can't Warner afford cloth gloves for these people?

Luckily, they cleaned up fine and played beautifully -- at least so far, I'm about half way through the season.

#14 of 30 OFFLINE   David Von Pein

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Posted November 29 2003 - 09:36 AM

Anybody else wanna chime in with the proverbial "I got scratched WW discs too!!" complaint??

I only hope I'm as lucky as our resident WW Reviewer, Mr. Kane, and they play OK. (It appears, to the touch, that the marks are not real deep...i.e.: I can't really "feel" a rough area where the scratches are. Does this "smoothness" normally indicate that the laser beam will probably be able to still read the data through the mark? I appeal to the techno-savvy among us. Posted Image )

#15 of 30 OFFLINE   Dane Marvin

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Posted November 29 2003 - 09:41 AM

Mine had a few smudges too, which seemed odd to me. But they played fine.

#16 of 30 OFFLINE   David Von Pein

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Posted December 04 2003 - 03:32 PM

No "scratches" on any of yours, Dane? Just smudges (fingerprints)??

I found my rather "symmetrical" scratches rather odd indeed. Just like a piece of automated equipment went out-of-whack and was scraping each disc. Very curious.

Although I *did* have this same type of thing happen to a set of Old-Time Radio CDs once, which were unplayable at the scratch points. Did somebody here say that DVDs were more (or was it less?) "resilient" than CDs when it comes to scratched discs?

#17 of 30 OFFLINE   Yee-Ming

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Posted December 04 2003 - 05:29 PM

Quote:
Anybody else wanna chime in with the proverbial "I got scratched WW discs too!!" complaint??


Me. Some rather nasty looking scratches on some of my discs, one in particular caused a glitch while I was watching In Excelsis Deo (commentary), although after backtracking it, that portion played fine. Otherwise, the rest of scratches or smudges have not, so far, caused any other problems in playback.

Humph. Posted Image to Warner's manufacturers.

#18 of 30 OFFLINE   David Von Pein

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Posted December 04 2003 - 06:19 PM

Thanks, Yee, for your report on this. The "scratch reports" are adding up.

Yee-Ming: Are your scratches, like mine, all the same (curved in nature, all toward the outer edge of Side B)?

#19 of 30 OFFLINE   Yee-Ming

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Posted December 04 2003 - 08:16 PM

David: I'll double-check when I get home, but IIRC, no, they seemed more like they'd been handled by a klutz . The worst scratches tended to be physically on side B (i.e. the side that is read for side A's material, and is the "down" side as delivered in the box), mostly near the edges, weren't very deep but didn't go away with light rubbing with a soft cloth either.

#20 of 30 OFFLINE   Dax P

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Posted December 05 2003 - 05:53 AM

Scratches and fingerprint talk makes me nervous, especially considering the beast of a time (two exchanges) I had getting a playable set of ER: Season One (dvd-18 glitches).

Somewhat hopeful that nobody's mentioned encountering any of these yet (bad five minute-or-more freezes).

Waiting 'til after Christmas to get WW, but I'm sure I will (great price at Costco...).





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