Directed by Alan Smithee et al
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1/1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 236 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, 2.0 stereo surround, 2.0 mono English
MSRP: $ 14.98
Release Date: May 26, 2009
Review Date: May 24, 2009
The vaults of Paramount studios are literally bursting with some of the most incredible dramatic series in the history of television. Four of its signature action-oriented series, each of which boasted lengthy network runs and a rabid fan base, have been selected for this sampler of episodes called Action Packed, each of which either served as the series’ pilot or first official episode. From latest to earliest, they are NCIS (2003), Walker Texas Ranger (1993), MacGyver (1985), and Mission: Impossible (1966).
NCIS is the odd duck in this collection for several reasons. It’s still in production, of course, and during its current sixth season, it has risen to its greatest levels of popularity since the show’s inception. The actual pilot for NCIS is not the episode represented in this collection but rather a two-part episode of JAG shown during that program's eighth season. The episode here is the first broadcast episode of its first season, an episode with allusions to the Wolfgang Petersen film Air Force One. In it, a mysterious death aboard Air Force One necessitates an investigation by NCIS who slowly uncovers a more dastardly scheme.
The show’s principal cast (apart from Sean Murray as Timothy McGee) is pretty much in place for this episode though none of the actors had established their overly quirky characters yet apart from David McCallum’s “Ducky” Mallard whose personality is fully formed by this initial episode. Some other stylistic touches have yet to be added as well, but overall this episode is basically the same NCIS that is still being watched by millions each week apart from a few cast alterations.
Walker Texas Ranger is represented by its two-hour TV-movie pilot (actually 95 minutes) which features all of the principal cast members who continued with the weekly one hour series apart from Gailard Sartain who was replaced by the older Noble Willingham playing C.D. Parker, Walker’s former mentor. The TV-movie is the exact same mix of car chases, shootouts, and martial arts beatdowns that were found in almost every episode of the long-running action drama. The movie features two unconnected plots: an initial bank heist that’s a prelude to a much bigger criminal operation and a young girl who had been raped who is now under Walker’s protection until she can testify against her attackers. The same stolid acting by the principals and the awkward, simplistic plotting found here carried right over to the series, none of which seemed to matter at all to the show’s many loyal fans.
MacGyver’s pilot episode finds a fresh, offbeat approach to an action procedural with Richard Dean Anderson’s resourceful, never-stymied Angus MacGyver called in to solve seemingly insolvable problems. In the pilot, he must find a way to rescue two Nobel laureate scientists who have been buried three levels underground by a mysterious series of explosions, all the time racing against the clock while a missile is aimed at the site ready to blow it up to stop any atmospheric contamination caused from the explosions. Oddly, this excellent episode carries the anonymous “Alan Smithee” director credit, though why someone wouldn’t want credit for directing this exciting and unusual hour of television is something of a mystery, one worthy of MacGyver himself.
The set’s fourth series is one of the all-time greats, the pilot episode of Mission: Impossible. Most surprising to me was that Martin Landau was not among the series regulars in this pilot, instead taking a “guest star” billing. Otherwise, however, the team is in place, the premise for the series fully established (down to the self-destruction message giving details of the mission), and the mission full of twists and turns and, yes, snafus that require fast thinking and quick changes of plans on the fly. In this first impossible mission, the team must steal two nuclear warheads from a Latin American dictator who intends to use them against the United States.
All four of these episodes make for entertaining television though one would think fans of the shows would already own the box sets containing these stories. It’s also interesting which series Paramount used for this compilation given the vast number of choices available to them. (For example, I’d have chosen the pilot episode of The Streets of San Francisco or Cannon or Mannix rather than Walker Texas Ranger, but perhaps that’s just my prejudices showing. I don’t think Walker deserves to be in the same collection with these three other first-rate programs.)
The three oldest shows are presented in their original 1.33:1 broadcast aspect ratio, and of them, Mission: Impossible is by far the most impressive looking. Colors on it are strong and sharpness is excellent. It appears the show was remastered before its DVD release accounting for its excellent quality. Walker Texas Ranger also offers good color and sharpness, but its lack of anamorphic enhancement brings on severe jaggies, moiré patterns, and crawling pixels at regular intervals. MacGyver is the weakest of these three in sharpness and color purity looking a bit dim and sometimes washed out though its color fluctuates during the presentation. NCIS is presented in 1.78:1 and is anamorphically enhanced, so its picture is more solid with fewer compression artifacts than the other three shows.
Though Mission: Impossible boasts a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, you’d be hard pressed to find any surround envelopment apart from the title music. Much more interesting sound-wise are the Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo surround tracks of Walker Texas Ranger and, most effective, NCIS. These more modern sounding audio tracks give a helpful jolt to the action-oriented nature of the shows and are most effective. MacGyver has a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track that is emblematic of the sound design of its era with limited fidelity but clear enough dialogue.
There are no special features in this budget-priced set.
I supposed if one were unfamiliar with any of the four programs represented on this Action Packed release and was curious as to whether to invest in an entire season box set, these episodes would serve as more than adequate introductions to each individual show. Otherwise, I am not certain for whom this release was intended.