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Columbo: The Complete Series DVD Review

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#1 of 10 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted October 21 2012 - 09:10 AM

Columbo: The Complete Series collects multiple DVD sets of the detective series into one package for fans of Peter Falk’s rumpled investigator.  There’s no new content here, but Columbo fans who didn’t pick up the earlier DVDs may find this a nice gift idea for the holidays.  One warning, however – the final batch of mystery movies, going from 1991 to 2004, is presented in widescreen, which would seem to be a strange choice as TV movies of the 1990s would not have been shot or televised in that manner.






COLUMBO

THE COMPLETE SERIES


Studio: Universal

Original Airing: 1968-2003

Length:  69 TV Movies (99 hours, 52 mins)

Genre:  Detective Story/Murder Investigations/Peter Falk


Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 for shows up to 1991, 1.78:1 for 1991-2003

Color/B&W:  Color

Audio:  English Dolby Digital 2.0 (@ 192 kbps)

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French (Seasons 1 & 2), English SDH, Spanish (Season 3), English SDH only (Seasons 4 onward)


Rating: Unrated (TV-safe violence)


Release Date: October 16, 2012










Starring:  Peter Falk


Created by:  William Link and Richard Levinson
Directed by:  Various


Rating:    4 ½



Columbo: The Complete Series is a 34-disc DVD set encompassing the entire run of Columbo mysteries from the first pilot movie in 1968 to the final movie in 2003.  The show is a classic television series which inverts the usual murder mystery in a clever way.  The audience is nearly always shown the murder of the day, and the fun of the show lies in seeing how Peter Falk’s title character will be able to put the clues together to catch the bad guy (or gal).  It usually takes an act or two for Columbo to show up, as we need to first get to know the murderer and their motives.  But like any good 1970s TV mystery, you can time your watch to that final act, wherein Columbo will inevitably confront the murderer with a question or two, followed by “one more thing” that usually knocks down the villain’s house of cards.  Some of these are very simple tells, and some get very elaborate – including one later TV movie appearance where Columbo exits the villain’s office five times, only to return with “uh, just one more thing…”   Fans of the series have always loved the style of the show and Peter Falk’s rambling performance – which suggests that the detective is disorganized on the surface when in fact there’s a razor sharp mind working underneath.  It’s a testament to Peter Falk’s talent and the popularity of the show that so many TV and movie personalities popped up on the show as both murderers and villains over the years, some of them multiple times.   A viewer can tell the actors onscreen are having a lot of fun playing opposite Falk, even as their characters are being driven crazy by his searching for bits of paper in his pockets or his rambling monologues about completely unrelated subjects. 


The DVD set includes all 69 TV movies of the show, starting with the 1968 pilot with Peter Falk, “Prescription: Murder”, and going all the way down to Falk’s final appearance as the character in 2003’s “Columbo Likes the Nightlife”.   I note that this is not a typical series that runs within an hour.  From 1971 to 1978, the show was aired in a rotating schedule as part of the NBC Mystery Movie, first on Wednesday nights and then on Sunday nights.  After a hiatus of over ten years, the show was brought back by ABC and a few movies would be aired a year through the 1990s.   The shows have all been released on DVD before, over the last decade, usually in season sets for the NBC airings and in Mystery Movie sets for the ABC airings.  The current set assembles the files from all of the prior Region 1 DVDs and presents them in a single package.   As an interesting note, the SKU numbers appear to have been updated and the DVD labels indicate a 2012 date, and the discs of the first four seasons begin with the new 2012 Universal logo and piracy banners.  But the content is identical to the earlier season sets, including the only extras present (three episodes of the Kate Mulgrew spinoff series and a more recent “America’s Top Sleuths” featurette).  Since the content is identical, I have to note that the aspect ratio for the final batch of TV movies is in 1.78:1, just as it was when released before.  The problem with this is that the show wasn’t shot for that ratio, so viewers have noted cropping.


One other interesting note – the Universal materials say that the set includes all 69 episodes and all 24 movies.  But they’re miscounting.  There are 69 episodes total, including the 24 movies.



VIDEO QUALITY  2 ½/5

Columbo: The Complete Series is mostly presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, essentially showing the series as it best would have been seen during the original airings.  I’m taking a half point off the score, however, since the final ABC movies have mysteriously been presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic, which makes very little sense for most of them.  I could see the final movie having been shot that way, but not all the others.    


AUDIO QUALITY  3/5

Columbo: The Complete Series is presented in an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mix that presents the sound just as it was in the original airings and repeats.  Like other 1970s TV mixes, there was nothing really spectacular here, nor should there have been.  Like Joe Friday, the mix presents “just the facts”, meaning a clear presentation of the dialogue and music.



DISC BY DISC:

As I regularly do with television series sets, I’ll account for what can be found on each disc and in each season, in order.



SEASON ONE:



DISC ONE:


Episodes: 


Prescription: Murder – The first TV movie with Peter Falk in the title role.  Aired in 1968, this was originally a one-off presentation, but it was successful enough for NBC to ask for a proper pilot and a following series.


Ransom for a Dead Man – Here’s the 1971 pilot proper for the series.




DISC TWO:


Episodes:


Murder by the Book – Here’s the first regular episode of the series, aired in the fall of 1971, directed by Steven Spielberg.  In 1997, TV Guide ranked it #16 on its 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time list.


Death Lends a Hand




DISC THREE:


Episodes:


Dead Weight


Suitable for Framing




DISC FOUR:


Episodes: 


Lady in Waiting


Short Fuse




DISC FIVE:


Episode:


Blueprint for Murder  - The final one for the first season was directed by Peter Falk.





 SEASON TWO:



DISC ONE:


Episodes: 


Etude in Black – The second season opener guest-stars John Cassavettes, and actually has Gwyneth Paltrow present, albeit inside her mother, Blythe Danner.


The Greenhouse Jungle



DISC TWO:


Episodes:


The Most Crucial Game


Dagger of the Mind – Columbo goes to London this time, and some of the episode was actually filmed there.




DISC THREE:


Episodes:


Requiem for a Falling Star


A Stitch in Crime – Leonard Nimoy plays a murderous heart surgeon, who provokes Columbo into losing his temper, something that didn’t happen so often in the show.




DISC FOUR:


Episodes: 


The Most Dangerous Matach


Double Shock





SEASON THREE:



DISC ONE:


Episodes: 


Lovely but Lethal


Any Old Port in a Storm




DISC TWO:


Episodes:


Candidate for Crime


Double Exposure




DISC THREE:


Episodes:


Publish or Perish – This episode actually features Mickey Spillane as an author.  Yes, that Mickey Spillane, the one who gave us “Mike Hammer”.


Mind over Mayhem





DISC FOUR:


Episodes: 


Swan Song


A Friend in Deed





SEASON FOUR:



DISC ONE:


Episodes: 


An Exercise in Fatality


Negative Reaction




DISC TWO:


Episodes:


By Dawn’s Early Light


Troubled Waters




DISC THREE:


Episodes:


Playback


A Deadly State of Mind


Bonus Feature:


A Riddle for Puppets – This is the third episode of the spin-off series “Mrs. Columbo”, starring Kate Mulgrew as the wife of Peter Falk’s character.





SEASON FIVE:


(As of this season set, the 2012 Universal and piracy logos are no longer present.  The older logos now play, along with then-current TV on DVD previews.) 



DISC ONE:


Episodes: 


Forgotten Lady


A Case of Immunity


Bonus Feature:


Caviar with Everything – This is the fourth episode of the spin-off series “Mrs. Columbo”, starring Kate Mulgrew as the wife of Peter Falk’s character.  This episode is notable for the picture quality being lower than the others.  There is rampant speckling and print damage evident.



DISC TWO:


Episodes:


Idenity Crisis


A Matter of Honor




DISC THREE:


Episodes:


Now You See Him


Last Salute to the Commodore – This is an atypical episode, in that the murders are not seen onscreen and the audience has to figure out the mystery along with Columbo.




SEASONS SIX AND SEVEN



DISC ONE:


Episodes: 


Fade in to Murder


Old Fashioned Murder


The Bye-Bye Sky-High I.Q. Murder Case




DISC TWO:


Episodes:


Try and Catch Me


How to Dial a Murder


Murder Under Glass  - This episode was directed by Jonathan Demme.




DISC THREE:


Episodes:


The Conspirators


Make Me a Perfect Murder





MYSTERY MOVIE COLLECTION (1989-1990):



DISC ONE:


Episodes: 


Columbo Goes to the Guillotine – The first appearance of Columbo in over ten years finds the detective on a cutting-edge case about how a magician lost his head.


Murder, Smoke and Shadows



DISC TWO:


Episodes:


Sex and the Married Detective


Grand Deceptions




DISC THREE:


Episode:


Murder, A Self Portrait



Bonus Feature:


America’s Top Sleuths (29:56, 4x3) – This featurette, meant to advertise the then-current Sleuth cable channel, is a countdown of what detectives were rated highest in a viewer poll.



DISC FOUR:


Episodes: 


Columbo Cries Wolf


Agenda for Murder



DISC FIVE:


Episodes:


Rest in Peace, Mrs. Columbo – Contrary to what you may be thinking, this TV movie does not include Kate Mulgrew.  The oft-mentioned Mrs. Columbo never appeared in an episode of Columbo, even this one.


Uneasy Lies the Crown




DISC SIX:


Episodes:


Murder in Malibu


Columbo Goes to College





MYSTERY MOVIE COLLECTION (1991-2003):


(Again, on this set of DVDs, all the movies are presented in anamorphic widescreen, which is not the way they were originally presented on television.)


DISC ONE:


Episodes: 


Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health


Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star



DISC TWO:


Episodes:


Death Hits the Jackpot


No Time to Die




DISC THREE:


Episode:


A Bird in the Hand


It’s All in the Game




DISC FOUR:


Episodes: 


Butterfly in Shades of Gray


Undercover



DISC FIVE:


Episodes:


Strange Bedfellows


A Trace of Murder




DISC SIX:


Episodes:


Ashes to Ashes


Murder with Too Many Notes


Columbo Likes the Nightlife – Columbo’s final appearance is in this 2003 TV movie, in which the detective notices something really fishy about the death of a reporter…



Subtitles are available in English, Spanish, and French for the first two seasons.  The third season has subtitles in English and Spanish, and all the rest of the sets just have English subtitles.


IN THE END...


Columbo: The Complete Series is a nice catch-all package for all of the various seasons and later movies featuring Peter Falk as the rumpled detective.  The actual content here is identical to the earlier DVD releases of all this material, and there’s nothing new in the package.  But fans of the show who have never caught the earlier releases (or perhaps caught one or two seasons), may want to pick this up to have the complete show.  I still have to take issue with the widescreen cropping of the final series of movies, but that’s a relatively small quibble in the overall package.  This will make a good, albeit heavy, stocking stuffer for fans of 1970s detective drama and of Peter Falk.



Kevin Koster

October 21, 2012.


Equipment now in use in this Home Theater:


Panasonic 65” VT30 Plasma 3D HDTV – calibrated this year and set to ISF mode

Denon AVR-3311Cl Receiver

Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray Player

PS3 Player (used for calculation of bitrates for picture and sound)

5 Mirage Speakers (Front Left/Center/Right, Surround Back Left/Right)

2 Sony Speakers (Surround Left/Right – middle of room)

Martin Logan Dynamo 700 Subwoofer





#2 of 10 OFFLINE   jcroy

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Posted October 21 2012 - 12:03 PM

Are there any double-sided flipper discs in this package?

#3 of 10 OFFLINE   Douglas Monce

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Posted October 21 2012 - 05:24 PM

It would not surprise me at all if the ABC movies had at least been protected for 1.78. I remember reading an issue of TV guide in 1981, that a brand new show, The Fall Guy, was being shot, protected for 1.85, because the producers knew that HDTV was coming down the road (Wow were they thinking ahead) and wanted the show to be HD ready. In was said in this article that many producers of TV at that time were considering the same thing. One other point. The Columbo movies from the 90's were being completed on film, unlike almost all other television of the time. You can tell my looking at the credits which are clearly film opticals not a video title generator. I suspect they might have been thinking that they could be released theatrically in Europe, which may or may not have happened, I'm not sure. Doug
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#4 of 10 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted October 21 2012 - 06:29 PM

The discs are not flippers.  I haven't seen the original season sets, so I don't know if the original ones were.  I remember reading that the original disc packaging was problematic - the new box doesn't have problems there.

Doug, you may well be right that they protected these TV movies for theatrical release.  Not as sure about TV shows being protected for widescreen.  The shows I worked didn't really start doing this until very late in the 1990s, and at that point they were just making sure there were no C-stands in the 16x9 area...  I'm really just puzzled by the choice.  I could see the last TV movie from 2003 being shot for 16x9, but not the earlier ones.   But who knows?  We'd have to find someone who worked on the 90s TV movies to know for sure...



#5 of 10 ONLINE   The Obsolete Man

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Posted October 21 2012 - 07:19 PM

The discs are not flippers.  I haven't seen the original season sets, so I don't know if the original ones were.  I remember reading that the original disc packaging was problematic - the new box doesn't have problems there.  Doug, you may well be right that they protected these TV movies for theatrical release.  Not as sure about TV shows being protected for widescreen.  The shows I worked didn't really start doing this until very late in the 1990s, and at that point they were just making sure there were no C-stands in the 16x9 area...  I'm really just puzzled by the choice.  I could see the last TV movie from 2003 being shot for 16x9, but not the earlier ones.   But who knows?  We'd have to find someone who worked on the 90s TV movies to know for sure...

Law and Order was shot for Widescreen, with the usual 4x3 safe area, starting with season 4 in 1993. ER was also shot for widescreen from the time it began in 1993. Although neither were broadcast in 16x9 until the 2000s. L&O happens to be a Universal show, like Columbo, so it's not completely illogical to think they might have been shooting other things in that era with an eye toward the future, especially stuff they thought might have a good Syndication life ahead of it.

#6 of 10 OFFLINE   Douglas Monce

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Posted October 21 2012 - 09:23 PM

The discs are not flippers.  I haven't seen the original season sets, so I don't know if the original ones were.  I remember reading that the original disc packaging was problematic - the new box doesn't have problems there.  Doug, you may well be right that they protected these TV movies for theatrical release.  Not as sure about TV shows being protected for widescreen.  The shows I worked didn't really start doing this until very late in the 1990s, and at that point they were just making sure there were no C-stands in the 16x9 area...  I'm really just puzzled by the choice.  I could see the last TV movie from 2003 being shot for 16x9, but not the earlier ones.   But who knows?  We'd have to find someone who worked on the 90s TV movies to know for sure...

I was working at Universal around 95, and actually frequently parked in Peter Falk's parking space. (They weren't shooting a Columbo movie at the time) However I was working on a feature and would have no idea how they were shooting Columbo. However Shane makes a good point about Law and Order and ER. As I said it wouldn't surprise me if they were "future proofing" the movies, or even thinking of theatrical release. Doug
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#7 of 10 ONLINE   TravisR

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Posted October 22 2012 - 12:11 AM

Doug, you may well be right that they protected these TV movies for theatrical release.  Not as sure about TV shows being protected for widescreen.  The shows I worked didn't really start doing this until very late in the 1990s, and at that point they were just making sure there were no C-stands in the 16x9 area...  I'm really just puzzled by the choice.  I could see the last TV movie from 2003 being shot for 16x9, but not the earlier ones.   But who knows?  We'd have to find someone who worked on the 90s TV movies to know for sure...

I don't have a problem believing that the 1990's telemovies were protected for widescreen but I find it hard to believe that the shots were composed for anything but the then-normal 1.33 frame. Like many other 4x3 shows that were protected for widescreen of that era, I'd guess that nearly all the 'new' information on the sides is unimportant or just empty space.

#8 of 10 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted October 22 2012 - 02:28 AM

Good point about L&O and E.R.    And it's certainly possible that they were leaving the 16x9 area clear in case of the shows being seen that way.   But the shows I worked, including JAG, were done under the dictum that they were to be shot "in the box".  I remember this being both a network and studio thing, where the network wasn't thinking in terms of HD channels yet and the studio wanted to maximize its syndication on SD stations.  Once HD became a real thing, everyone began protecting the 16x9 area.  I worked one other show, First Monday, where we shot for 16x9 even though the network said to shoot for 4x3, and the fur flew when they found out.  And then the producers began blowing up the shots to make them work for 4x3...



#9 of 10 OFFLINE   FanCollector

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Posted October 22 2012 - 02:53 AM

Not to sidetrack us too much, but what was your experience on First Monday? I enjoyed the show and loved the actors.

#10 of 10 OFFLINE   JoeDoakes

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Posted October 25 2012 - 06:24 AM

There's a thread around here somewhere about the final Columbo release with screen caps. It appears that Universal was shooting it so that it could be presented full screen or wide screen. The full screen version cuts off some information at the sides while the widescreen version cuts out some information at the top and bottom. At least in the screen caps in that thread, the wide screen version cuts out the more important information, but its a judgment call. The HTF review for a recent Murder She Wrote set said that he actually preferred the widescreen for that show. Maybe in Blu-ray set we can have both aspect ratios via seemless branching. :)





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